The rainforested, mountainous island of Phuket in the Andaman Sea is one of the jewels in Thailand’s crown, and packed full of amazing things to see and do.
Home to some of Thailand’s most popular beaches, along with a huge assortment of high-end seaside resorts, spas and restaurants, Phuket daws huge numbers of visitors every year. The island isn’t short on local culture too, with colourful night markets and Buddhist temples and monuments aplenty. We’ve picked out 12 of the most unique Phuket attractions and activities below.
Take a boat trip to some magical nearby islands
Pronounced ‘Pee-Pee’, much to the amusement of younger visitors to Thailand (and perhaps even some adults too), the Phi Phi islands are among the most popular destinations for Phuket boat tours. Separated by some 25 miles of ocean, the picture-postcard archipelago can be reached in just 45 minutes by speedboat or 90 minutes by ferry. On arrival, you’re greeted by a veritable treasure chest of natural beauty, with everything from pristine beaches and stunning rock formations to vivid turquoise waters teeming with colourful coral reefs and marine life, all set against striking limestone cliffs.
Take a stroll around Old Phuket Town
No visit to Phuket is complete without a look around the island’s historic Old Town. Compact enough to wander around in a morning or late afternoon when the temperatures aren’t too oppressive, the district is an enchanting hotch-potch of old and new, with Thai temples and Chinese shrines sitting side by side with colourful shops and authentic local restaurants and coffee shops. Meanwhile eye-catching mural paintings and street art adorn the walls of centuries-old buildings, adding to the area’s visual drama.
Check out the Big Buddah
Despite its long Buddhist heritage, one of Phuket’s most recognisable religious landmarks is actually a new addition to the island’s physical landscape. The 45-metre-tall white marble statue known as Big Buddah was only constructed in 2005 and rapidly became a major tourist attraction, drawing some 1,000 visitors daily. A sweeping staircase leads you up to the closest vantage point to the sculpture, from which you are also rewarded with breath-taking panoramic views of Phuket Town, Kata, Karon, Chalong Bay and more. Near its base is an exhibition hall chronicling the project’s history, along with some Buddhist teachings and donation boxes.
Karon, Mueang Phuket District / Mon-Sun 6am-6.30pm
Look around a fascinating museum
The long history of Phuket is preserved and celebrated at a number of museums and cultural venues dotted across the island – and among the best is Phuket Thai Hua Museum. Located in the Talat Nuea subdistrict, the museum consists of a two-storey Sino-Portuguese building which originally served the purpose of a school offering classes in the Hokkien dialect of Chinese. Exhibitions related to the lifestyles and history of Hokkien Chinese migrants in Phuket allow visitors to find out about their unique customs, beliefs, and traditions, as well as their relationship with the Phuket locals.
28 Krabi, Tambon Talat Nuea, Mueang Phuket District / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
For a more unusual museum experience, Phuket 3D Museum certainly fits the bill. Spread across a gallery of about 100 painted and sculpted scenes that use trompe-l’oeil (French for ‘deceive the eye’) techniques that place visitors in amusing and unreal world-like situations, the space offers great fun for families. Highlights include the chance to appear in blockbuster movie-like scenes such as standing on a broken bridge above rapids, hanging on a rope ladder pulled by a helicopter in front of a huge waterfall, and sharing a subway wagon with a zombie.
130 1 Phangnga Road, Tambon Talat Yai, Mueang Phuket District / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
Delve into Phuket’s vibrant nightlife
From mega-nightclubs featuring acclaimed international DJS to rooftop bars, dinners with shows, cocktails on the beach, and quiet backstreet pubs, Phuket’s nightlife scene has something for every nocturnal predilection. The undisputed epicentre of the island’s after-dark entertainment is Patong – and, specifically, Bangla Road – on the Phuket’s western fringe, where from mid-evening every night of the week the buzzing beach town pulsates with energy and activity – and doesn’t stop until the small hours.
Head to the beach
When it comes to beautiful beaches on Phuket, you are truly spoilt for choice. But if one stretch of glorious sand stands out from the crowd then it has to be Freedom Beach. Set in a pristine cove surrounded by thick jungle and crystalline sea on the island’s western coast, the beach is remarkably tranquil and quiet thanks to its relatively tucked away and difficult-to-reach location, allowing for its sprinkling of daily visitors to soak up the majestic scenery in relative seclusion.
Pa Tong, Kathu District
Explore Phuket’s biggest temple
The largest and most important of the 29 Buddhist temples of Phuket, Wat Chalong is considered a masterpiece of Thai architecture, the jaw-dropping temple complex attracts tourists and locals alike, many of whom come to pray and pay respects to respects to the revered monks who founded the temple at the start of the 19th century. Built over three floors, visitors can marvel at the walls and ceilings decorated with beautiful paintings illustrating the life of Buddha, before climbing to the top floor terrace to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the ground as well as a glass display housing what is said to be a fragment of bone from Buddah himself.
6 Chao Fah Tawan Tok Rd, Chalong, Mueang Phuket District / Mon-Sun 8am-5pm
Browse a colourful market
There’s no better way to get under the skin of a place than by taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a local market. Phuket is brimming with public bazaars and among the most popular is Chillva Market. Situated close to Phukert Town, the market exudes a bohemian vibe and a distinctive appearance thanks to the use of colourful shipping containers as shopfronts, where everything from food to garments to souvenirs are sold. At the heart of the market is a small stage book-ended by a pond and amphitheatre, where live performances regularly take place.
Visit an elephant sanctuary
In Phuket, a visit to an ethical elephant sanctuary is among the most highly sought-after experiences for travellers. This 4 to 5-hour tour takes you to one of the city’s best known, the Phuket Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, where you will be able to take part in the elephants’ daily routine by feeding and bathing them, while learning about their lifestyle and behaviours from your expert guide. Once the elephants are clean, you can take some final photos with them as a souvenir. The tour price includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, as well as lunch, snacks, seasonal fresh fruits, and water.
Join a food tour
Get a taste of Phuket’s rich and diverse culinary scene on this small-group Old Town food tour. Meeting in Phuket Town Central Market, over four hours you’ll explore the city’s historic district, stopping off at several eateries and foodie outlets – including some unknown to most tourists – to sample local dishes and delicacies. Along the way, your guide will offer insightful commentary that teaches you all about Thailand’s culinary heritage. Included are 14 or more food tastings, as well as bottles water and soft drinks. Highlights include smokey Hokkien noodles, poh pia rolls smothered in rich tamarind sauce, and Phuket-style coconut crepes cooked over fiery coals.
Let your hair down at a carnival experience
For a night of wonder, entertainment, and excitement, there’s nothing in Phuket to match the Carnival Magic Experience. Aerial ballet, exotic dancers, animatronics, and dazzling special effects all take place on a huge stage, together with a spectacular parade through the carnival grounds, plus games and attractions such as a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and haunted house. Following the evening’s performance, visitors are invited to wander through a secret garden forest and discover the many enchantments and special treasures found within. Tickets can include hotel pick-up and drop-off, as well as the option to add on a delicious buffet dinner.
You can book entry tickets to the Carnival Magic Experience at GetYourGuide
Go island hopping on a jet ski
Take in jaw-dropping views as you cruise through the turquoise waters surrounding Phuket on this enthralling half-day jet ski island-hopping tour. Spend the day, following your local guide to a total of seven picture-postcard tropical islands, including a stop off on Monkey Island, famed for its community of free-living monkeys playing around on the beach and beyond. As you speed around the archipelago, you’ll also get to glimpse a rich underwater world packed with colourful sea life. If you lack confidence in riding a jet ski yourself, you can also buddy up with someone and sit on the back. The tour price includes your experienced guide, jet ski hire, hotel transfers, and lunch.
Make a splash at a waterpark
Home to a grand total of 29 thrilling waterslides, an artificial wave pool where visitors can try out surf lessons, and a host of other fun-packed rides and activities, Andamanda Water Park, situated around 7 miles northeast of Phuket Old Town, is the perfect place for cooling off in the blistering sun. While the kids get wet ‘n’ wild, the grown ups can unwind in the three relaxation zones and sip on a drink in the swim-up bars. There’s also a floating restaurant serving up a varied menu of authentic Thai cuisine.
You can book entry tickets for Andamanda Water Park at GetYourGuide
Soar through the jungle on a zip line
Another hugely popular Phuket attraction for those with a thirst for heart-stopping excitement, Hanuman World is an expansive rainforest adventure park featuring a vast network of treetop walkways and zip lines. Situated about 3.5 miles southwest of central Phuket, the park offers adrenaline-junkies the chance to soar high above the lush Thai jungle, stopping off at high platforms, or navigating the rappels, spiral staircases and sky bridges. At the end, there’s also the chance to purchase souvenir photos of the experience as a memento.
Wichit, Mueang Phuket District / Mon-Sun 8am-6pm
Traverse the wilds of Phuket on an ATV
For adrenaline junkies, there’s no more thrilling way of exploring Phuket than aboard an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV). There are a wide number of reputable tour companies that offer the chance to enjoy a fun-packed ride on an ATV through the island’s jungles, along its rugged trails, past local and villages and across rubber plantations. Many of the tours include hotel pick-up and drop-off and all of them offer a full safety briefing on how to use the vehicle before you depart.
Watch a Thai martial arts bout
The martial art of Muay Thai has gained popularity around the world and visitors to Phuket can watch some of the combat sport’s finest exponents in action at the Pa Tong Boxing Stadium. Situated in the beach resort town of Patong, about 15 miles west of Phuket’s Old Town, the small arena hosts regular bouts featuring men, women and juniors from across the globe. Popular western refreshments including French fries, popcorn and soft drinks add to the entertainment.
2 59 Sainamyen Road, Pa Tong, Kathu District
See how rum is made
Thailand’s reputation for rum is perhaps not widely known, but the country in fact has its own traditional style of making the famous liquor. The Chalong Bay Rum Distillery on the southeastern coast of Phuket is at the heart of Thailand’s rum-making scene, with visitors invited to come and see the production process as well as taste some of the 100 per-cent natural handcrafted rum for themselves. In addition, the distillery also hosts frequent cocktail-making workshops.
14/2 Moo 2, Palaisoi 2, TambonChalong, Amphur Muang Phuket / Mon-Sun 11am-10pm