Phuket is famous for electrifying nightlife, high-end seaside resorts, and unforgettable island hopping, but Thailand’s mountainous rainforest island offers much more than that.
Faced with an endless list of attractions, what to do in Phuket is a legitimate question, just as how to get to Phuket from Bangkok is. While most people fly from Bangkok to Phuket, you can hop on a ferry from Koh Phi Phi to Phuket or Krabi to Phuket. Either way, we’ve done the draft-mule work for you and gathered the five best places to visit in Phuket.
1. Visiting the lesser-known cape of Laem Krating
Unlike Laem Phromthep, rumored to be the best spot to watch the sunset on the island, Laem Krating is still fairly little-known. While Laem Phromthep attracts up to 3,000 people per day, some locals haven’t even heard of Laem Krating. Visiting this cape is one of the best things to do in Phuket because it’s possible to get a sense of place and admire the unbroken view of the sun setting into the sea.
After a draining 30-minute hike up a steep hill, starting from Baan Krating Resort close to Nai Harn Beach, you’ll find yourself in front of a horn-shaped rock. You can sit down here with your legs dangling and enjoy the panoramic views of the ocean. As you’re enjoying moments in solitude, you won’t even hear the waves crashing into rocks; the silence is only broken by Mother Nature speaking to your soul.
2. Strolling at Lard Yai Sunday night market
You’re wondering where to go in Phuket on a Sunday? Thalang Road in Phuket’s Old Town transforms into a vibrant walking street every Sunday at 4 p.m. when the Lard Yai Sunday Night Market opens its doors. Colorfully lit, the historic Sino-Portuguese buildings along both sides of the road are a sight for sore eyes, and the splendid variety of stalls offering eye-catching handicrafts, clothes and local delicacies make for loads of fun.
Ambling along the market, you can dig into meats that come in a mouth-watering variety of spicy tastes, grilled on a skewer. The air is filled with tantalizing aromas of succulent meat and sticky calorie bombs. Kanom Bueang, crispy pancakes with coconut cream and sweet shredded coconut toppings, or Kanom Ko, rice flour dumplings with sugar and shredded coconut, are only two of Thailand’s scrumptious desserts that’ll satisfy the sweetest tooth.
Pandan croissants, sweet grilled sticky rice, taro and coconut pies or Oreo ice cream – Thai people know darn well how to tickle your taste buds. Obviously, Thailand’s cuisine doesn’t only consist of sweet foods. Aside from spicy Som Tam – locals’ beloved papaya salad – street food vendors offer anything from grilled fish cakes and oysters to chestnuts.
The Sunday Night Market also boasts an array of trinkets, plants, plates and bowls that make for great gifts, and if you’re into entertainment, you’ll love the live music, Thai manora dance performances and other street shows.
3. Going fishing with a sea gypsy at Phuket’s south coast
Bang Lai is a 60-year-old sea gypsy who was born in Phuket. He goes fishing off the islands of Koh Bon and Koh Kaeo whenever the wind isn’t too strong and catches six fish per trip on average. “When I was young, I went free-diving to spear fish,” he said. These days, he casts his line and uses drift nets and traps of rattan and wire.
To make ends meet, he lets foreigners join him on his fishing trips. For a fee of 1,000 to 2,500 baht ($33 – $83), he shows them the best places in Phuket and beyond. The 1,000-baht ride includes a trip to Koh Bon and back to Phuket. For 2,500 baht, he’ll go around the whole island of Koh Bon and bring you back to Phuket, which will take about four hours.
Bang Lai lives on a small patch of Rawai Beach near the Seafood Market. Roosters roam here, and calming sounds of ocean waves wash up against the shore, an idyll with a sweet deception at the heart of it. The sea gypsies’ settled life is at stake, because whether developers move from Koh Samui to Phuket or Koh Lipe to Phuket, they’ve been trying to claim these grounds for themselves.
Head for Rawai at Chalong’s traffic circle with its clock tower and continue to drive straight ahead until you arrive at Rawai Beach. Turn left and pass the seafood market. At the very end of that street, you’ll find the sea gypsies sitting in wooden shacks. Ask for Bang Lai or call him up at +66 (0) 89 292 9616. He speaks a little English.
4. Lounging on Banana (Rock) Beach
Hidden behind woodland in the northwest of Phuket, you’ll find a piece of paradise called “Haad Hin Kluai,” or “Banana Rock Beach.” Here at this brown, coarse sand beach, the water isn’t shallow for a mile like on many other Phuket beaches, and it’s as secluded as it gets in the off-season – considered by some to be the best time to go to Phuket.
But even in the peak season, Banana Rock Beach is never packed. Swimming in its clear, green-tinted waters with plenty of space around you is invigorating and a welcome change from Patong’s more crowded and murky seas.
At high tide, the waves may wash up to the tree line. Your best chance of not ending up with a wet sandy towel is at Banana Beach’s northern and southern end. Also, you can check out the two family-run restaurants. They work with fishers who bring round their catch, and their handful of beach chairs entice guests into lazy afternoons. You can sip a sweet exotic fruit juice, cocktail, or ice-cold beer, and enjoy mouth-watering seafood.
5. Sipping coffee at a trendy cafe called Hom • mes
From the moment you open the door, this cosy little cafe will make you feel at home. Featuring a living- and dining-room-style interior that’s lovingly adorned with cacti beauties and other house plants, Hom • mes in Phuket’s Rawai area is white, clean and bright.
Whether it’s the home-made espresso and the baked treats you fancy or the tasty mango smoothie, you can slump into an armchair or make yourself comfortable in a wooden rocking chair. Prefer an open-air setting to an air-conditioned room? You can sip your coffee in the garden under the Norfolk Island Pine or by the swimming pool next door that makes for fun photographs.
When travel opens up, people will flock to Thailand’s largest island again. With this list at hand, though, you can be your very own guide and leave the tourist crowds behind.