Best things to do on Phuket Island, Thailand
Surrounded by the wondrous Andaman Sea, Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and much more than a waypoint on your travels to Koh Phi Phi. Phuket Island presents a mix of vibrant small cities packed with culture and delicious eats, along with exotic national parks complete with waterfalls and off-shore adventures.
From Phuket Town, you’ll have your choice of local markets for street eats plus historic temples and neighborhoods. From there you can jump between Patong Beach, the Phi Phi Islands and the rural north with ease.
However you choose to explore, keep this list of the best things to do on Phuket Island by your side.
Roam Phuket Town
On the island’s southeast coast, Phuket Town is a glimpse into the past. The small city contrasts with the relatively quiet streets around the island, thanks to a burst of local and tourist activity. Phuket Town is a common departure point for those venturing to Koh Phi Phi, but is well-worth exploring on its own right.
The vibrant architecture, using a range of bright colors, reflects the early influence of Chinese and Portuguese immigration. Within these classic designs are a flurry of hotels, massage parlors and ample restaurants. But the real star of the show is Old Phuket Town. Phuket’s provincial capital, the Old Town provides an abundance of preserved shophouses, the town’s old red light district and temple after temple.
The district itself remains small and easy to walk around. So keep your eyes peeled and the camera ready for the many beautiful sights along the way.
See the Big Buddha
Standing almost 150ft above, the Big Buddha is a stunning and imposing sight on Phuket Island. The white marble statue glistens under the bright Thai sunlight, on the summit of Nakkerd Hill. Far from being an ancient monument, construction on the Big Buddha started in 2002 entirely with the help of donations.
Getting to the monument can be done on a motorbike, while you’ll find plenty of tuk-tuks ready to take you. The road is windy and steep but leads to amazing views of the island and the Andaman Sea. Although popular, the atmosphere at Big Buddha goes to another level during Buddhist holidays;
Visiting the Big Buddha is one of the top free things to do on Phuket Island. But remember, it’s also a place of religious significance, so be sure to dress appropriately. You can leave a donation and write your name on a white tile that will be added to the statue, allowing you to be a part of Big Buddha forever.
Hit up the local beaches
When you picture Phuket Island, your mind no doubt flashes towards swaying palms, sparkling white sand and water as blue as the sky above. Thankfully, Thailand’s beaches haven’t been exaggerated and you can experience all this right here on Phuket Island. There are dozens of spectacular beaches painting the island’s shore, making it almost impossible to choose the best one. Luckily, you can’t go wrong.
One of the most popular beaches on Phuket Island is Patong Beach, at the end of the infamous Bangla Road. To escape the crowds that flock here, make the quick 15-minute trip to Karon Beach for golden sand and space to breathe and relax. To really go off the map, find your way to the rocky, remote and outwardly stunning Ao Sane Beach.
Take a Thai cooking class
Thai cuisine has made its way to the four corners of the globe. The delicious cuisine is easily accessible and, for many of us, a part of our everyday lives. But any traveler that’s been around the block knows you can’t beat the real thing. When in Phuket, sign up for a cooking class to not only create authentic Thai cuisine but gain further insight into local life and customs.
There is a wide range of cooking classes on offer all around the island. But for convenience and an exceptional experience, you can’t beat this half-day cooking class. With hotel pickups from several areas, including Patong and Phuket Town, drive straight to a local market to pick out your fresh ingredients. Later, under the tutelage of your own chef, create mouthwatering eats and learn how to re-create the Thai’s patented burst of fresh flavor at home.
You could fill your itinerary twice over with all the things to do on Phuket Island, but with so many stunning islands just off-shore, you would be remiss not to do some further exploring. Within the Andaman Sea, in southern Thailand, are a smattering of small islands with such famous locations as Maya Bay (sans Leonardo DiCaprio) and Koh Phi Phi.
The mini-archipelago called the Phi Phi Islands can easily be explored on a boat tour. Roam the cadet blue seas in search of remote lands for your own private beach experience. Spend the afternoon exploring the town in Koh Phi Phi and the wonderful Loh Dalum Beach. Or endure the crowds for your own amazing experience in Maya Bay. Going on your own private tour will help you set the itinerary, but if that sounds like too much planning, check out this boat tour. See shark Point and Monkey Beach plus an unforgettable sunset.
Explore the Promthep Cape
Speaking of impressive sunsets, you can capture all the blazing evening colors from the peak of Promthep Cape. At Phuket Island’s southernmost point, the cape offers panoramic views of the Andaman Sea, nearby islands and an uninhibited sunset.
Getting to the cape is simple with your own transport, although it’s always good to get there early to claim the best spot. If you have some time, you can complete the short walk to the Promthep Cape Lighthouse. The lighthouse features beautiful Thai architecture that is matched by the incredible vistas.
Learn to surf at Kata Beach
Yet another highly rated beach on Phuket Island is Kata Beach. The curving bay is backed by dense forests with picturesque snorkeling at each end of the sandy bay. There are several beachfront shacks to make use of, whether that’s to enjoy lunch or simply grab a Singha.
But the calm swells at Kata Beach are the real MVPs here. The waves are ideal for beginners and intermediate surfers looking to get out on the breaks and improve on their skills. Venture into the turquoise waters with the hillside backdrop creating picture-perfect scenery as you wait for the perfect wave.
Not ready to head out on your own? Get the help of a pro surf instructor with these Kata Beach surfing lessons.
Walk down infamous Bangla Road
Phuket Island has some great nightlife to rival that found in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand. In terms of revelry and raucousness, the scene peaks at Bangla Road. The notorious street makes Soi Cowboy and Khao San Road feel like a stroll through the quiet countryside.
A busy street during the day, car and scooter traffic is quickly replaced by the pitter patter of flip-flops as Bangla Road becomes pedestrian only. On either side of the street you’ll find rows of bars which extend tenfold into the distance. In between the bars are nightclubs, home to ping pong shows and other red light district experiences.
The atmosphere is intoxicating, with stray hands pulling you in either direction. The beer is cheap and flows like a waterfall. You can find a (relatively) quiet bar and play game after game of Connect 4, or dive headfirst into the madness. Either way, it may not be for everyone and one night may be enough, but be sure to leave the kids at home.
Go snorkeling in the Similan Islands
As impressive as the Phi Phi Islands, but harder to access, the mesmerizing Similan Islands are well worth the trouble. Around 60 miles (100km) northwest of Phuket Island, the island chain presents crystal clear water on a silver platter and is one of the best diving spots in Thailand.
There is an abundance of options to choose from, including day trips and liveaboard experiences. On this day trip, depart early so you can see all the top spots, including the famous Donald Duck Bay. Hit up remote golden sand beaches, explore the exotic underwater world of colorful coral and beautiful marine life with ample opportunity to swim alongside sea turtles. Have lunch at Honeymoon Bay and hike up a short trail to the phenomenal Sail Rock.
Hike through Khao Phra Thaeo National Park
In the northern region of Phuket Island, an untouched paradise waits to be explored. Khao Phra Thaeo National Park is an unspoiled rainforest that remains as it has always been. Renowned for its wide array of bird life and native animals, there’s no better way to experience this wild landscape that on two feet.
A great alternative to another beach day, trek through the lush jungle canopy on the Thanyapura Hills Loop. Walk through the virgin rainforest, enjoying the sounds of birds. The 3.1 mile (5km) trail is rated moderate but features only steady incline along the way.
Once you’ve completed the warmup trek, it’s time for the main course, the Bang Pae Waterfall. After a short uphill hike, the jungle opens up to show the largest waterfall on the island. Splicing the landscape, the falls create gorgeous vistas that are best enjoyed from the comfort of the refreshing waterhole.
Visit Wat Chalong
Phuket has almost 30 temples, each with their own eye-popping designs and stories to tell. Perhaps the most beautiful and certainly the biggest, is Wat Chalong. The temple was built in the early 19th century and has a history to match its ornate designs.
Within a sprawling spiritual complex, Wat Chalong has been hailed as having healing powers. After all, it was founded by a group of monks that included Laung Pho Chuang and Luang Pho Cham. Both of which were renowned for their healing exploits.
Visiting the temple may or may not heal what ails you, but it will be a pleasant experience. The space is surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery and rarely feels crowded. Aside from the breathtaking Wat Chalong, you’ll come across a 200ft (60m) pagoda, which is home to a part of Buddha’s bone.
Have a drink at Baba Nest rooftop
There are some amazing views to be had around Phuket Island. But it’ll be hard to top the experience from the rooftop at Baba Nest. For the perfect date night experience, make a reservation at the astonishing venue before settling in on one of the comfy oversized cushions .
Baba Nest features exceptional 180 degree views, with the rooftop deck surrounded by an infinity pool with no fence to speak of. It evokes the sensation of being on top of the world, allowing you to take in an unforgettable golden hour. Watch the sun slowly fall behind the off-shore islands, with the bright blue ocean being enveloped with reds and oranges. The infinity pool turns pink and slowly the stars take over the show and the balmy night begins.
Kick back with a refreshing cocktail alongside your significant other and enjoy one of the most exclusive experiences to be had on Phuket Island.
Kayak in Phang Nga Bay
Rising out of Phang Nga Bay are immense limestone pillars, standing like natural statues on the jade green water. The bay is home to 40 such karsts along with a series of lagoons, caves and mangrove wetlands. The scenery is unlike anything else in the region as the water changes from bright blue to dense green and the white sand beaches are traded for flooded caves.
There are many ways to experience the home of James Bond Island. You can embark on a speedboat tour, or join a sunset trip onboard a junk ship. But the best way to explore the bay and the many “hongs” (caves) is on this kayak tour. Alongside an experienced guide, see all the best spots, venture deep into the hidden caves and learn all about the unique geological formations.
Go deep sea fishing in the Andaman
For the anglers in the crowd, Phuket Island offers some amazing on-water experiences just for you. From the island, you can venture far into the Andaman Sea for some deep sea fishing surrounded by magical vistas and some of the most epic fishing in Thailand. However you choose to tackle this incredible assignment, your knowledgeable guide will take you to the happening spots, set you up with the right gear and guide you through landing your own prized catch.
On this Racha Island Game Fishing tour, you’ll enjoy a full day on the water with friends and family. Try your hand at landing a massive barracuda, kingfish, blue marlin, shark or wahoo with views of the sparkling coral beneath the water. Enjoy lunch onboard before diving into the beautiful waters and exploring beneath the surface.
Watch Muay Thai at Patong Boxing Stadium
With its popularity now spread throughout the world, Muay Thai has made Thailand a destination for martial arts. Similar to those traveling for yoga retreats, every year thousands of adventurers touchdown around the country to learn the ancient art, whether to compete themselves or simply to get fit under the blazing Thai sun.
For the rest of us, we can simply enjoy the show. Traveling around Phuket, you’ll find a number of “off Broadway” fights, simple events put on by semi-pros within pubs and bars. But for the real deal, you’ll have to head to Patong Boxing Stadium to witness Thailand’s national sport. Held regularly throughout the year, get the best seats ringside or join the rowdy masses in the bleachers and bet on your favorites.
Peruse the night markets
Phuket is home to several wonderful night markets where the line between market and bazaar blurs to the extreme. Each market has different schedules, with some opening during the week and others only on the weekend. One of the popular night markets is the Naka Market held on the weekend.
Here you can load up on fresh fruits and produce to sample throughout your travels. Your eyes will soon drift to the rows of fascinating objects, craftwork and cheap clothes to round out the wardrobe. Floating through the air will be the constant aromas of street eats, especially the sweet presence of corn on the cob. Located just out of Phuket Town, Naka Market is a great way to experience local culture as travelers and residents mix in equal numbers.
Wat Phra Thong
A dramatic temple on Phuket Island, Wat Phra Thong, is shrouded in mystery and legend. The temple is home to an intriguing half-statue of Buddha that only tells part of Wat Phra Thong’s amazing history.
It begins when a young boy tethered a water buffalo to a piece of metal rising from the ground. While looking after the animal, the boy suddenly dies. He later appears in his father’s dream, inspiring him to dig beneath the metal. His efforts led to the discovering of the enormous gold Buddha statue. After the giant and heavy statue could not be excavated, the temple was built around the site in the 18th century.
A second excavation attempt occurred after the Burmese captured the region, which caused the statue to break in two. With one half now gone, you can see the other, along with the intricate designs of the beautiful temple that’s surrounded by lush grounds.
White-water raft down Song Preak River
Coursing through the Phang Nga Forest is the surging Song Preak River home to one of the most hair-raising experiences to be had on Phuket Island. For those searching for an adrenalin rush after days of beach cocktails and wading through calm seas, can jump in a raft and navigate the intense white-waters.
Great for beginners and kids, your expert guide will do all the heavy lifting, allowing you to experience the heart-pounding journey through the crazy rapids. Begin your trip with a thorough safety demonstration and a demo on paddling skills. But if you want, you can simply hold on for dear life and watch it all unfold before you.
On this white-water rafting trip, experience the height of thrill before visiting local waterfalls for a relaxing dip. Finish the day with a zipline adventure and a trip through the jungle on an ATV!
Explore Sirinat National Park
On Phuket’s northwest coast, you can discover a protected underwater world teeming with marine life. Once known as Nai Yang National Park, Sirinat National Park covers over 22,000 acres of predominantly ocean flanked by remote white sand beaches. Away from the crowds, you can easily find a quiet haven to enjoy the views away from the scores of scooters and packed bars.
Two of the four beaches within the national park, Hat Nay Yang and Hat Mai Khao, are nesting grounds for leatherback turtles. Between November and February, they arrive in significant numbers and they’ll find ample protection from Phuket residents. Grab some snorkel gear and swim off-shore for the chance to see turtles, vibrant reefs and colorful fish.
Tour the Chalong Bay Rum Distillery
Any time spent in Phuket comes with polishing off your fair share of local beers from Chang to Leo. But what many visitors don’t know is that the southern island is home to one of the best rum distilleries in Thailand. Chalong Bay Rum Distillery produces up-scale white rum that is beginning to make its name around the world.
You can sign up for a tour of the distillery to learn about the process from start to finish, getting fantastic behind-the-scenes access to a burgeoning distillery. Finish the tour at the memorable cocktail workshop where you can learn a variety of handy cocktail recipes to take home with you. And yes, you’ll be able to taste test.
Capture the views from Karon Viewpoint
There are some fantastic views to be had all around Phuket Island. Whether that be from your sunlounger, hotel balcony or from the top of the hill. Karon Viewpoint is one such place where the trip is ultimately rewarded with spectacular panoramic vistas. The best part? You can drive there yourself.
The road begins south of Kata Noi Beach. Head towards the southern tip of Phuket Island. Half way between your starting point at Nai Harn Beach, you’ll reach the stunning viewpoint with epic views of the Andaman Sea and three beaches below you. This is the reason Karon Viewpoint is often called Three Beach Hill.
Predictably, you’ll be sharing the views with a lot of others that had the same idea. So come early in the day and use the view to choose which of the three gorgeous beaches you’ll enjoy that afternoon.
Visit the Soi Dog Foundation
One of the more popular things to do in Phuket for families is to pay a visit to the heart-warming, equally somber and uplifting Soi Dog Foundation. A home for up to 400 dogs and cats, the foundation looks after the island’s surging stray pet population, protecting them from maltreatment.
On a guided tour of the foundation, the entire family can see what’s being done to protect the vulnerable animals along with nursing them back to health or finding their forever home. Kids can end the experience with some time with the playful cats and dogs, while you’ll have the opportunity to volunteer to further look after these beautiful animals.
Than Bok Khorani National Park
Encapsulated by a series of striking limestone mountains, immense rain forests, and mangrove wetlands, Than Bok Khorani National Park is an amazing example of Thailand’s diverse landscapes.
Along a series of maintained trails, you’ll be able to capture all sides of the picturesque national park. Meander through dense woodlands and wetlands on your way to waterfalls and swimming holes. The main highlight is the Than Bok Khorani Waterfall with electric blue water surrounded by bamboo groves and overhanging rattan leaves. The water gets its cloudy blue color from nearby calcite deposits and creates an otherworldly scenery.
Hike up Monkey Hill
The highest hill within Phuket Town has many viewpoints, but that’s not why travelers choose to visit. Along the hike up the aptly named Monkey Hill, you’ll cross paths with dozens of cheeky creatures that are just as cute as they are conniving. It’s estimated that there are 400 macaque monkeys on the hill all huddled in little groups along the way.
Like the Monkey Forest in Bali, Indonesia, the monkeys aren’t known for being outright aggressive, but hikers should be keenly aware of their belongings, especially any dangling treats. Take your time to enjoy the views and appreciate these humorous and adorable animals along the way. After returning to the base, you’ll find a shrine that honors the holy spirits of Toh Sae Dang, Toh Sae Kaow and Toh Sae Dam. It’s been said that the shrine is a place of luck and locals often come here to ask for lottery numbers.
Go Viral at Mai Khao Beach
Although Sirinat National Park is the place to chase the peace and quiet, one of its beaches is home to a viral phenomenon, Plane Spotting. From the soft golden sands of Hat Mai Khao you can capture Insta-worthy shots of you beneath massive passenger planes that fly over, mere feet above your head, on their way to the nearby Phuket International Airport.
If you have arrived during the high season, between November and May, the planes will approach the runway from this side of the island as the wind blows from east to west. Keep an eye on the flight tracker to arrive on schedule and capture some photos that will be talked about for a long time.
Experience the Simon Cabaret Show
Within a state-of-the-art theater, the Simon Cabaret Show continues to wow guests year after year. Far from your typical “shows” in Patong Beach, you can experience the height of cabaret with a Vegas-style performance. Here the costumes are vibrant and just one aspect of what makes the show tick.
For over thirty years, the Simon Cabaret Show has been performing in multiple languages with shows for locals, along with ones focused on an international audience. For a night out with a twist, you can’t beat this theater experience.
Have a round of golf
All around Phuket are pristine golf courses that are sure to excite anyone with the itch for some fun on the fairway. You’ll find a strong concentration of courses on the northern end of Phuket along with even further up in the Phang Nga province. Picking one is the hardest part, as you’ll have a variety of challenging but spectacular courses along the coast and further inland.
One of the best golf courses on the island is Red Mountain. With amazing scenery and a unique course layout, you’ll have a hard time choosing between getting your shots in or simply admiring the scenery.
Cycle through the jungle
A fun way to explore the remote parts of Phuket Island is on the back of a bicycle. Leave behind the beaches, the white sands and the snorkel gear, and put on your helmet for a rugged mountain experience.
The Phuket Jungle Bike Tour begins and ends at your hotel, making the entire experience a breeze. Start your journey in one of the most rural parts of the island, Pla Kok. Cycle through pineapple and rubber tree plantations learning about local customs and culture. Ride by lush forests before visiting the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project and stunning Bang Pae Waterfall.