Phuket’s natural charms may include soft sand beaches, swaying palm trees and placid turquoise waters, but if you are not the type who's content to spend the whole of your holiday lounging in the sun, the island is also full of other options. Whether you want to explore a little of Thailand’s culture or seek more of an adrenaline rush with some deep-sea or jungle exploration, the choices are vast and varied. Individuals, couples, families and groups of friends will all find multiple activities to keep them stimulated and entertained for the duration of the stay.
Phuket attracts divers from across the globe with its diverse array of marine life, exquisite coral reefs and striking underwater rock formations. For visitors who have never dived before, the island is home to a number of dive schools where it is possible to study for a PADI qualification necessary for open water scuba diving. Some of the most popular dive sites for day trips in the vicinity of Phuket include Shark Point and Koh Phi Phi to the east of the island. Experienced divers in the area should keep a keen eye out for majestic leopard sharks, which are hard to miss at over two metres in length. Luckily, divers have nothing to fear from the leopard shark, which is known to be a peaceful creature. Other popular spots for divers include the waters off the idyllic secluded islands of Racha Yai and Noi to the south of Phuket. These offer exhilarating drift dives with excellent visibility, as well as stunning hard coral growth.
The best places to go snorkeling around Phuket are the more peaceful locations away from the crowded beaches like Patong. It is possible to arrange day tours that take you on a boat to some secluded snorkeling spots that are less crowded with sun-seekers. Snorkeling tours usually include transfers to and from your villa, as well as a light lunch and a selection of fruit and snacks throughout the day, in addition to the equipment itself. However, visitors that want a bit more freedom to explore Phuket’s vibrant waters on their own can easily get hold of their own snorkeling gear from shops on the island and charter a speedboat.
The best snorkeling sites are to be found in the waters off the small islands surrounding Phuket, particularly the Similan Islands. If you haven’t got time to head all the way out to the Similans, which is often more than a one day trip, Coral Island and Bon Island are closer. A two-day tour to the Similan Islands is ideal if you want to fit in some relaxation around your snorkeling. Again, it is possible to organise tours through travel agents on Phuket which will take you to the main island where there is accommodation and restaurants.
For snorkelers who want to stay on Phuket, the little-known Banana Beach near Naithon on the northwest coast is one of the best destinations for snorkelling. Although it can be a little tricky to find, the seclusion and privacy of this charming beach are worth it once you get there, and there is also a handily placed restaurant to stop at for a bite to eat. Also located on right on the island of Phuket is Ao Sane Beach on the southwest coast near Chalong, which comprises three small coves that make it a more interesting place to explore. Facilities at Ao Sane include a small restaurant and dive centre from which snorkeling equipment can be rented.
For visitors in search of a little adventure, kayaking is one of the many activities available on Phuket that will allow visitors to get up close to nature. Kayaking is also a great way of exploring the nooks and crannies of some of the smaller islands' coastlines without disturbing their natural eco-systems with motorized boats. Kayaking tours available through Phuket travel agents vary somewhat, so if you have your heart set on this activity it is best to book your place a few days in advance. Kayaking the legendary waters of nearby Phang Nga Bay is an ideal trip for explorers who have never done kayaking before, and a great way to get up close to the area’s wildlife and impressive limestone rock formations. Another popular destination for kayak tours from Phuket is Hong Lagoon, where kayakers can explore the naturally formed caves in the area. John Gray's Sea Canoe tours are among the most long established and adventurous options from Phuket.
Many different kinds of boat trips are available from Phuket, whether you want a quick day drip out to the stunning Phang Nga Bay or a privately chartered speedboat cruise at dusk to the Phi Phi Islands.
Phang Nga Bay is best known for the imposing limestone rock formations that jut vertically from its peaceful waters. Typical tours of the bay, which is home to over 40 islands, include stops at the famous James Bond island (featured in “The Man with the Golden Gun”) and the Pannyi Sea-Gypsy Village where visitors can browse the local handicrafts. Another favourite boat trip destination is the stunning Phi Phi Islands, which are situated around one and a half hours from Phuket. Phi Phu Don and Phi Phi Ley provide fabulous photo opportunities for visitors, and remain largely free from development.
The majority of day boat trips leaving from Phuket include transfers, lunch and an English speaking guide. If you are after something a little more romantic, why not go on a sunset cruise with your loved one and watch the sun dip into the Andaman Sea? If you opt to go with on a privately chartered speedboat, it is even possible to arrange a candlelit dinner on the beach when you arrive back on Phuket.
If you fancy yourself as a King of Jungle, you can enjoy the ultimate thrill by taking a canopy ride through the tropical forests situated deep within Phuket’s jungle exterior. For travellers who haven’t quite mastered Tarzan’s ability to swing from tree to tree, Phuket’s Cable Jungle Adventure offers an ideal alternative. Each adventurer is strapped into a harness which runs using a pulley connected to cables that are linked from tree to tree. The cable runs through 1,200 metres of lush forest at a height of 3-6 metres from the ground, with 15 stations along the way. Before flying through the air with the greatest of ease, visitors are briefed on the flying and breaking positions they should assume when they are zipping past the ancient trees that make up the jungle canopy. Tours with Cable Jungle Adventure include transportation, equipment and snacks. Visitors who opt to go on the cable are advised to wear sensible shoes and long trousers.
A more relaxing kind of exhilaration can be found on Phuket' golf courses. The island is home to six top quality courses, which have been landscaped to make the best of the island’s lush tropical trees and water features. Standards of the courses on Phuket are high, and they are designed to challenge golfers.
One of the most challenging golf courses on the island is situated at the championship standard Blue Canyon Country Club. The course comprises 730 acres of secluded land, and is nestled deep in a valley that overlooks magnificent scenery. The club offers two courses, which include the World Championship Canyon Course and The Lakes Course, which challenges golfers with water hazards on 17 of its holes.
The Red Mountain Golf Club also attracts many golfing enthusiasts on Phuket, and is situated only a 15-minute drive from Phuket Town. The 18-hole course is set within 224 hectares of land, and facilities include an exquisite restaurant looking out over the charming landscape. Other popular courses can be found at the Laguna Phuket Golf Club, the Loch Palm Golf Club and the Mission Hills Golf Club.
If you travel to Phuket in a family group, you should not miss out on the chance to encounter some of the magnificent creatures that call Phuket home. A great place to meet some of Thailand’s elephants is at the Siam Safari elephant camp in the hills overlooking Chalong. You can learn how the local mahouts (elephant carers) look after the daily needs of these gentle giants and also about elephant conservation in Thailand. However, the real treat of the day is feeding an elephant bananas before taking a ride on its back through the palm plantations and forest.
A trip to one of Phuket’s waterfalls can also be a great day out for the family. The largest waterfall on the island, Bang Pae, is situated in the Thaeo National Park in Thalang, just north of Phuket Town. During the wet season, Bang Pae is a great place to take a refreshing dip in the waterfall’s pool and also a good place to grab a light meal at a restaurant located near the start of the trail to the waterfall.
For kids who want to experience some of the island’s exciting marine life without venturing too far into the ocean, the Phuket Aquarium, located on Cape Panwa, is also an excellent spot to visit.
Phuket Old Town
For visitors in search of traditional Thai culture, Phuket will not disappoint. Phuket’s Old Town has a quaint charm, and visitors can discover Chinese and Buddhist temples and shrines, colourful shop-houses and a number of museums.
The captivating allure of Phuket’s Old Town comes largely from the wealth which the town amassed during the island’s 20th century tin mining boom. There is even a tin mining museum located in Kathu on the road to the Loch Palm Golf Club (visitors should go with a guide as much of the signage in the museum is in Thai). The informative museum houses a number of displays that illustrate the day-to-day lives of the labourers who fuelled the island’s tin boom. Outside the museum, it is also possible to see some of the actual mining equipment that was used at the time.
The Old Town itself is home to streets lined with a number of colourful renovated buildings, particularly the lane known as Soi Rummani. Many of the old Chinese buildings house quaint and increasingly upscale restaurants and cafes, so day or evening visitors will never struggle to find somewhere to eat, whether they are in the mood for Thai or Western food. There are also several modest coffee shops and a few stores selling local souvenirs. Those in search of authentic Chinese cuisine can also find some excellent examples in Phuket Old Town, eateries like Raya on Dibuk Road are over 50 years old and still attract local and foreign diners for their delicious, Chinese-influenced local cuisine.
Many people say a Phuket holiday is simply not complete without taking in a live performance. The island has a range of exciting entertainment options with professional dancers and performers taking to the stage to delight and entertain the crowds.
The Phuket Fantasea Show has become one of the island’s biggest tourist draws since its launch in 1998. Put on in an impressive theatre that seats 3000 people, the show is an excellent chance to learn a little about Thailand’s rich culture and traditions. The theatre is surrounded by replica temples and monuments that are intended to represent traditional Thai life, including food stalls and a number of rides for children. For visitors who find these kinds of attractions a little gimmicky, the “Fantasy of a Kingdom Cultural Illusion Stage Show” features actors, dancers and gymnasts who perform a series of impressive stunts, which flash by in the colourful blur of their traditional Thai costumes.
The Siam Niramit Show is also popular with visitors who want to get a taste of Thai culture through a visually exciting show. The show is based more firmly on Thailand’s history than “Fantasea” and is performed both in Phuket and Bangkok. Over 150 actors take to the stage to depict the unique history of each of Thailand’s distinct regions: the North, the Northeast, the Central Plains and the Southern Seas.
For something a little different, many visitors choose to take in a trip to the Simon Cabaret Show whilst they are holidaying on Phuket. Simon Cabaret is one of Thailand’s most famous Lady Boy cabaret shows, and features an eclectic range of musical genres. The glitzy performers either sing or mime classic pop hits by the likes of Whitney Houston and Madonna, and their talents are also in high demand in locations across the globe.
by MAX VEE