Published on 09/12/2017. Updated on 19/05/2021.
Few places in the world can rival Phuket for idyllic marine beauty, from extraordinary beaches featured in Hollywood blockbusters to kaleidoscopic coral reefs. But, of course, it's not just about sea and sand. We round up some of the highlights in and around Phuket, from Thailand's best unspoilt beaches, perfect for a luxury getaway, to unexpected adventures.
If you're flying to Phuket, you might be tempted to head straight for the Andaman Sea or into Phang Nga Bay to one of the nearby island paradises. And we don't blame you. But before you hop on a long-tail boat, there's plenty on Phuket Island itself that's well worth exploring, from spiritual landmarks to cultural attractions and landmark beaches.
This stretch of the island's far southern coast has some of the most idyllic scenery on Phuket and makes a great place for a relaxed beach escape. Promthep Cape has some of the most beautiful sunsets on the island and there are some exceptional beaches, such as Yanui, where you can find some superb hotels and resorts nearby.
If you have some to spare in Phuket City, the provincial capital, be sure to visit the markets. Many are best explored at night, when you can find a combination of souvenir and craft vendors, street food stalls and buskers, which all create just the easy-going party vibe you'd expect from this part of the country. The Indy Market on Limelight Avenue showcases independent traders' wares on Thursday and Friday evenings, and Chillva Market has a hipster feel, with excellent street food.
Another cultural landmark and source of local price is Phuket's Big Buddha. Out in the Nakkerd Hills, also south of Phuket City near Chalong, this immense statue of the Buddha was built in 2004 and towers over the surrounding area at 150ft high. The statue is remarkable and surrounded by a noticeably serene, quiet atmosphere, and the panoramic views of Phuket Island are fantastic.
The largest and most important Buddhist temple on Phuket, Wat Chalong is one of the province's major landmarks. About four miles south from the centre of Phuket City, the temple complex was built in the 19th century and is a spectacular sight, with its ornate gilding and impressive Grand Pagoda. Architecturally Wat Chalong is stunning, but it's also worth visiting for a real insight into Buddhism.
Imagine a Thai island paradise and you're probably picturing the Phi Phi islands. Koh Phi Phi Don is the largest island of the group, but if you have a clear picture in your head of dramatic limestone cliffs, covered in dense greenery and framing an idyllic white beach, it's most likely Koh Phi Phi Leh you're seeing.
The group's main island is the only inhabited one. Despite the islands' popularity, it's ideal for a supremely relaxing, indulgent beach break in a genuinely unique setting. If you're looking for a quiet, romantic place to get away to, you'll find several four- and five-star resorts on Koh Phi Phi Don, typically with bungalow-style accommodation that gives you lots of privacy. To get there, broadly, there are two options: firstly, you can take the ferry from Rassada pier in Phuket City to Ao Tonsai on Koh Phi Phi Don. From there you can take a speedboat or one of the region's typical longtail boats to Phi Phi Leh. Alternatively, for a more exclusive experience you can charter a speedboat from Phuket to Phi Phi Don – this is, of course, more expensive, but it's undeniably romantic as you cruise up to the pristine islands on your own.
The Phi Phi group's second-largest island became the archetype for Thailand's undiscovered islands when it starred as the location for The Beach. Koh Phi Phi Leh was actually popular with travellers before the film, thanks to its extraordinary natural beauty, but its profile grew exponentially with its Hollywood fame. However, the Phi Phi islands are part of the Hat Noppharat Thara–Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, so Phi Phi Leh remains uninhabited and still has an untouched feel with plenty of quiet corners.
Maya Bay was the main filming location for The Beach, so it draws the biggest crowds, but you can find uncrowded beaches away from here. It's still a must-see, though, for its extraordinary beauty – a pristine beach with clear water, enclosed in a ring of sheer limestone cliffs, topped with tropical vegetation. Visit first thing or go in the evening to avoid the crowds.
Though some of Thailand's better-known islands have developed a reputation for mass tourism, there are still plenty of thoroughly unspoilt spots where you can find the kind of blissed-out beach paradise that brought visitors here in the first place. The pick of the bunch is sleep Koh Yao Noi, where locals live in houses on stilts alongside luxury eco resorts. You'll want to spend a fair bit of time on the typically stunning beaches here, but deep-water soloing (rock climbing), yoga retreats and more are all also on offer.
Phuket is also the gateway to some of the best dive destinations in Asia. Like many popular sites around the world, Thailand's coral reefs are increasingly fragile, and there's rightly a growing focus on conservation – but you can still enjoy the extraordinary natural beauty and biodiversity with a clean conscience, and there are plenty of stand-out locations where you can snorkel over fringing reef or dive with leopard sharks, spectacular lionfish and massive groupers. Whether you're keen to add on a bit of snorkelling to a beach trip or are looking for your next diving expedition, Phuket deserves your attention for its outstanding diving.
To the south of Phuket Island, these two islands are a relatively quiet paradise of usually idyllic beaches and unusually excellent diving. Racha Yai is the larger of the two, with some accommodation, while smaller neighbour Racha Noi is uninhabited. You can easily visit both from either Rawai or Ao Chalong ports, with journey times taking between 20 minutes and two hours, depending on the boat you take.
Racha Yai's waters are among the clearest anywhere in Thailand, and you can snorkel either from a boat or setting out from the northern beaches. Racha Noi has deeper sites that are more suited to experienced divers. Expect a huge variety of marine life, with a range of different corals, including colourful staghorn and table coral.
If you're a serious diver, this national park is probably already on your radar. Out in the Andaman Sea about a 90-minute speedboat journey from Thap Lamu to the north of Phuket, it's a feasible day trip for a couple of dives, but it's also popular for liveaboard trips. Anita's Reef is a particularly colourful spot, where you can see coral-chomping parrotfish and different kinds of coral, as well as clownfish – probably the most popular fish in the sea, thanks to poster boy Nemo. You'll find trips to cater to most budgets, from basic day trips to luxury liveaboards on elegant sailing ships with full-sized beds.
If you fancy an adventure back on land, you'll be pleased it's not all about beaches on Phuket. Much of the island is covered with artificially created plantations of oil palm and rubber trees, but there's still native forest for exploring. And if a simple walk doesn't cut it, you can get some excellent views at one of the island's canopy ziplining centres. Flying Hanuman is one of the most popular in the centre of Phuket Island.
Flying to Thailand's favourite island has just been made easier. From July until the end of September 2021, Thai Airways will operate one weekly non-stop flight from London to Phuket, becoming the only airline offering this direct link.
Departing every Saturday at lunchtime, this convenient and seamless 11.5 hours flight, allows you to explore the Thai island paradise and start your adventure as soon as you arrive, the next morning.
Browse for flights to Phuket today and start planning a dream trip.