Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, and arguably the most famous. Blue waters, sandy beaches, spicy Thai cuisine, and excellent snorkeling and diving are all part of the appeal. Arriving from all over the world, travelers flock to Phuket for relaxation and adventure, and the island rates as one of the most popular destinations in Thailand.
Phuket has an exceptional climate with warm, sunny days year-round. Monsoon season is usually mid-May through October, but it might only rain once or twice a day during this period. Phuket is also easy to access; it’s a short one-hour flight from all the big-city attractions of Bangkok.
- Catch Some Rays at Patong Beach
Phuket’s longest beach was also once its most beautiful, until development and tourism turned it into a bustling hub of activity rather than a retreat from the world. Still, Patong is great for people watching, and part of the fun of Thailand is that (in addition to being a land of smiles) it is one of contrasts.
You may not be able to find a quiet spot on Patong to read and contemplate life, but you’ll find plenty of shopping and activity to keep you entertained. Many resorts are strung along the beach road, and one of the island’s best hotels, the luxury Amari Phuket, perches on a headland overlooking the sea.
- Walk the Golden Sands of Kata Beach
Fringed with casuarinas and palms, Kata Beach is a lovely, curving bay hugged by lush hillsides at either end. Although it’s still touristy, it’s more peaceful than Patong Beach with less hawkers. A tiny islet sits just offshore, and the beach itself is broad, with soft, white sand and decent snorkeling spots at either end.
If you’re hungry, you can grab a papaya shake or a snack at one of the beachfront stalls, and larger restaurants are within walking distance. At the southern end of the beach sits The Boathouse Phuket, a luxury boutique hotel that is one of the only resorts fronting the sand. If you want an even quieter slice of shoreline, head south to adjacent Kata Noi Beach.
- Swim at Karon Beach
Less developed than popular Patong Beach, about 15 minutes away, Karon Beach is a 3.5-kilometer-long strand of squeaky, golden sand and sapphire sea that attracts many couples and families. When the weather is calm, it’s a beautiful spot for a swim, but when the winds whip up, big waves pound the wide-open shoreline here, so take care if you are swimming during these times.
Restaurants and resorts are spread out opposite the beach along the busy road, but a few four-star resorts offer direct beach access, including adults-only Beyond Resort Karon and the luxury bungalows of the nearby Marina Phuket Resort at the southern end of the beach. At its northern end, Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket overlooks the shoreline with its own water park.
- Discover the Past at Phuket Town
Phuket Town lies on the southeastern coast of the island on a picturesque bay. This island city bustles with activity thanks to its many hotels, restaurants, massage parlors, and other tourist attractions that have sprung up in the decades since Patong Beach was opened to development in 1980.
The architecture reflects the influence of Chinese immigrants and a Portuguese aesthetic and provides an interesting contrast to the more traditional Thai styles seen elsewhere. Make sure you stroll through the streets of Old Phuket Town, with its well-preserved shophouses, Sino-Portuguese mansions, temples, and shrines.
Other things to do in town include visiting Phuket Trickeye Museum, an interactive 3D art gallery and paying your respects at the Jui Tui Shrine, a colorful Chinese temple.
- Experience Island Boat Tours
You may be tempted to lounge on the beach for your entire stay (and really, who would blame you?). But if you’re willing to exert just a little effort during your island getaway, sign up for an island tour to discover the stunning seascape surrounding Phuket.
Particular mention must be made of Maphrao, Nakha Yai, and Nakha Noi (on the east coast, with pearl culture at the latter) as well as Koh Kaeo, Racha Noi, and Racha Yai (off the southern tip), and finally little Koh Poo on the west coast off Hat Kata.
Organized tours are the best way to make sure you see all the highlights. The nine-hour, guided Phang Nga Bay Day Trip from Phuket includes a visit to the distinctive “James Bond Rocks,” and the eight-hour Phuket to Phi Phi Islands Tour takes you to Koh Phi Phi and the famous Maya Bay beach from the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach. An expert guide, transportation, food, and refreshments are all included.