Sunbathers, snorkellers and hikers all give Phuket holidays the thumbs-up, thanks to its stellar crop of beaches, national parks and dive-friendly isles.
The Pearl of the Andaman
Phuket dangles off of Thailand’s south-west arm. This place is so big that it barely looks like an island, but it’s only attached to the mainland by a single stretch of tarmac. Its core’s stuffed with jungles, while the curvy coast’s padded out by suede-soft beaches. And you could pretty much paint by numbers with the islands floating off-shore.
Alphabet of beaches
There are salt-white beaches left, right and centre here. You just need to decide whether you’re after something mellow, like Bang Tao Beach, or a party animal, like Patong Beach. Tri Trang Beach is a compromise, since it’s just around the corner from Patong’s bar-jammed Bangla Road and buzzy beach. On the east side, long-tail boats ferry people over to Phang Nga Bay’s unreal limestone islands.
Welcome to the jungle
If you like your holiday destinations with a bit of greenery, Phuket works like a charm. Here, there’s a palm buffer behind every beach. For a real dose of jungle, you can daytrip to a pair of national parks. There’s diddy Sirinat in the north-east, as well as Khao Phra Thaeo on the other side, where you can trek to waterfalls and gawp at gibbons.
Things to See and Do in Phuket
Bumper pack of beaches
Phuket is Thailand’s beefiest isle, so it goes without saying that it comes up trumps for beaches. Some are glossy beach club types, others are as quiet as a mouse. The best bit? They’re all free to use. And they don’t stop at the shoreline – you can lounge about on a load of squirreled-away stretches, courtesy of the islands off-shore.
The big beach
It might not be Phuket’s longest, but Bang Tao still racks up a decent six miles’ worth of sand. This means there’s enough elbow room for everyone to sprawl out. It nails the built-up-meets-untouched balance, too. You’ve got a couple of beach clubs, but you can easily opt out for an uninterrupted snooze, as well.
The secret beach
There’s a reason Banana Beach is so hush-hush – and it’s not just the locals trying to keep it on the sly. It’s only 15 minutes’ drive from bubbly Bang Tao, but it’s tricky to track down. You need to look out for a break in the fence near the Trisara hotel. It’s well worth it, though – this place is brochure cover stuff, with cling film-clear waters and a ramshackle seafood joint.
You get a lot of bang for your baht in Phuket City. In the old town, there’s a walking street stuffed with stalls. In between retail therapy, buskers and performers keep things interesting. Another option’s Chillva Market. This night market – with shops made out of shipping containers – is permanently open. But, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, a flea market rocks up, too.
Patong’s Jungceylon shopping centre’s a top choice for a rainy day. This place is a whopper, with 200-odd shops, a cinema and a bowling alley. Downstairs, you can snap up everything from a rug to a massage, while upstairs is a bit more la-di-da. On a sunny day, meanwhile, make tracks for the Banana Walk’s rooftop minigolf course.
Premium Outlet Phuket’s the Bicester Village of the island – think al fresco setting and big name brands. You can bag Adidas, Nike and Converse clobber for a bargain price. Five minutes’ drive inland, you’ve got another of Phuket’s big dogs. Central Festival Phuket’s packed with high street faves, like Dorothy Perkins and Zara, as well as fancy-pants Guess, Lacoste and Playboy.
Phuket’s known as a bit of a party isle. But there are plenty of places that keep things on the down-low. Trade go-go bars for a slap-up meal at Kamala Beach. It’s still got its fair share of beach bars, too, for post-nosh cocktails. Meanwhile, southerners Kata and Rawai are top picks for families, thanks to relaxed beach clubs and chilled bars.
If you want to paint the town red, Patong’s Bangla Road’s the way to go. Its neon lights are so bright, you’ll need to crack out your sunnies. And bar crawls here will have you hopping from rock and reggae bars to Irish pubs and underground nightclubs. It’s not the be-all and end-all, though. Bang Tao Beach is Patong’s classy cousin, with swanky beach clubs serving the partying punters.
This is breakfast, Thai style. Simply put, kanom jeen’s made up of rice noodles and a curry sauce of your picking. It can be anything, from fish to chicken or beef. And Phuket’s version generally comes with veggies from south Thailand, like bitter beans.
Thai food’s not the only thing on the menu here. Phuket branches out into Chinese fusion food, too. Grab a few mates and share some dim sum, AKA Chinese tapas. Steamed dumplings, minced pork and crab cakes are dished out in bamboo containers.
Khao man gai
Simple, but spot-on – that’s khao man gai in a nutshell. It’s a take on Hainanese chicken rice, a traditional dish from southern China. In the Land of Smiles, they chuck boiled chicken in with jasmine rice, then smother it with a ginger, garlic, chilli and soy sauce.
This one’s a street food hit. It’s basically the Thai equivalent of a crepe, made with flour, egg, condensed milk and sugar. The filling’s up to you, but banana’s a top choice.
Chang is Thailand’s most cherished beer brand. The locals like their beer strong, though – at around 5-6% minimum. Plus, it can vary in strength – you’ve been warned. But, at £1.80 a pop, who’s complaining?
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Tri Trang Beach
Tri Trang Beach steers well clear of the spotlight, and instead cuts its teeth as a proper under-the-radar resort. All eyes are on its better-known buddy, Patong, which is a five-minute drive around the headland. You can hop here for full-moon parties or stay put for peaceful beach strolls – whatever takes your fancy.
Bang Tao Beach has hollowed out a big wedge of Phuket’s west coast. It’s got textbook Thai sands, tucked in by mountains on both sides. The belt’s backed by trees, but the greenery’s sometimes substituted for a plush hotel or two. In fact, it’s got one of Thailand’s biggest and fanciest resort complexes on its turf.
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