Despite the plethora of noisy nightclubs, swanky resorts, upmarket Western restaurants and adventurous activities, many of Phuket’ss main attractions remain refreshingly natural. With an extensive national park packed with wildlife and more beaches than anyone could reasonably require, this popular island really has the best of both worlds. There is also a sprinkling of culture skulking around the relatively modern town for those willing to sniff it out, and an endless list of daytrips to truly idyllic destinations.
The natural beauty of Phuket really comes into its own when walking around the area. The viewpoint at Kata Noi’s most southern point offers visitors the chance to get their bearings while enjoying breathtaking vistas of Patong, Kata and Karon. Nai Harn beach, which is particularly quiet and underdeveloped, can be found by continuing on farther south, while trudging on a little more will bring you to Promthep Cape, which is a popular spot to marvel at the kaleidoscope colours of the Phuket sundown.
Phuket’s beaches are obviously one of the biggest draws for tourists here, and there are plenty to choose between. Kata beach in the south is clean but lively, with a whole host of water sports and beachside bars to keep even the most easily-bored beachbums out of mischief.
North of Patong is the clean, sweeping bay of Kamala, offering great swimming and sunbathing opportunities during the day and a generous smattering of beachside barbeque stalls at night. A little farther on is Surin, which is small but home to a much more exclusive attitude. Probably the biggest draw for beach connoisseurs however is Bang Tao, which boasts a string of pretty lagoons and swanky resort complexes.
Holidaymakers can abandon civilisation and get back to nature with a visit to the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park. Bang Phe and Tong Sae waterfalls can be found here, along with the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre. There are also some rarely-visited mangrove thickets along the east coast.
With its legacy as an influential trading centre, Phuket Town and its surrounding area holds a few nuggets of intrigue for curious culture-seekers. Architecture enthusiasts will still be able to detect a Chinese influence among the town’s traditional shophouses, while Sino-Portuguese design splashes some multiethnic colour along Thaland Road.
The Sea Gypsy Village to the south of town near Rawai Beach and the nearby Shell Museum are also worth a nosey, while Phuket Orchid Garden and Thai Village provides an authentic taste of Thai life for anyone willing to venture a little away from the sand and Samsung.
Wat Chalong is the only temple worth getting sweaty for in Phuket. Near to Phuket Town, it boasts a striking chedi and some intricate design features. The Heroines Monument can also be visited on a driving tour. It stands in memory of two sisters who saved the island by warning against the marauding Burmese.
One of the best things about staying in Phuket is the ample opportunities for day trips. Several islands can be viewed in a single day, including Koh Yao, the Similan Islands and the Phi Phi islands. The latter includes Maya Bay where Hollywood blockbuster The Beach was filmed.
Despite being overrun with day-trippers, is still worth becoming part of the crowd if only for the iconic group-jump photo. Sticking with the Hollywood theme, Pha Nga Bay, also known as James Bond Island for its role in The Man With The Golden Gun, should be an obligatory stop on any self-respecting island-hopper’s agenda.
Phi Phi Don is also a great fun party island, packed with busy bars and nightclubs, but is losing its appeal for paradise seekers due to its extensive over development. Krabi’s Railay Beach, which is cut off from the mainland by stunning karst cliffs, is still one of the most naturally beautiful spots in Thailand, however.