Fucket lets go to Phuket, Thailand! Thailand is a backpacker’s paradise with unlimited adventures, culinary flavors, and all at budget prices! I think the best way to explore the island is by purchasing tours that include multiple destinations or tours. I did several of these ‘packages’ and saw more of Thailand than I would have on my own. Tours often pick you up directly from your accommodations, include food stops, and guide you to many notable sites around Phuket. Alternatives include renting a driver, or doing it by yourself with a motorcycle or moped.
The best time to travel to Phuket is outside of the monsoon season, with the best weather between December and May. The hottest temperatures on the island occur between May and August, but outside of these months will still offer tropical climates and periods of sunshine. I travelled to Phuket during June and it was perfect. Here is the ultimate guide that I have developed to get you in and out of Phuket feeling fulfilled and like you have seen almost everything. This guide includes many unique sight seeing opportunities and describes how to get around Phuket.
The Great Buddha statue has to be on the top of your sight seeing list for Phuket. The official name of the statue is Phra Phutta Ming Mongkol Eknakiri, shortened to the Ming Mongkol Buddha. It sits high atop the Nakkerd Hill near Chalong city, and is the third tallest statue in all of Thailand. This Buddha is over 45 meters tall, covered with white marble, overlooking Ao Chalong Bay. You can walk around the grounds and go inside the base of the statue. When we went they were still doing construction on some of the foundational aesthetics but those have been completed since 2017. The grounds are filled with smaller Buddha statues, an array of wind chimes, impressive steps up to the top, and even wayward monkeys.
Wat Chalong Temple
Chalong Temple was included on one of the tours I chose but if you want to immerse yourself in the Thai culture, come and visit even without a tour. This is one of the most important temples in Thailand where locals have come to pray for centuries throughout Thailand’s history. The temple is covered with intricate designs, lavish pagodas, and marvelous statues. Take your time walking around and get a look at the paintings and intricate carvings on the temple walls. The temple is about 8 km southwest of Phuket and just over 18 km from Patong.
Things to Note:
- Wear modest clothes covering your shoulders, chest, belly, and legs if you want to enter the temple.
- You have to remove your shoes before entering the buildings and they must stay outside, so don’t be wearing any of those Gucci or Balenciaga slippers.
- Open Daily from 8am to 5pm
Methee Cashew Nut Factory
Stop here if you like nuts! We went to this cashew nut factory on one of our tours and it actually ended up being pretty fun. You get to see workers processing cashews in the back and packaging them for resale. The store has many other products unique to the region you can sample and explore, especially interesting from a western point of view. I remember trying more cashew products that day than my entire life.
Big Bee Farm
Ok you have been to one bee farm, you have been to them all, but when was the last time you went to a bee farm? Honestly I was not expecting it to be as interesting, but was pleasantly surprised. It was fascinating to watch the Thai process of honey harvesting and bee care. They harvest honey from bees without stingers which means you can hold and interact with them more intimal than those rascally stinger honey bees. They have demonstrations and will let you hold a frame full of bees. This souvenir shop was one of the best I have been to. They had many samples, and honey products that you can only dream of! Plus check out the big bee babe outside. 😉
If you are looking for a nice spot for a lunch or sunset head up to the windmill viewpoint between Ya Nui and Nai Harn beaches in south Phuket. The area has several windmills providing energy to the southern cape of the island. The hilltop has panoramic views featuring Phuket’s west coast with Ya Nui beach and Promthep Cape to the south, and Nai Harn beach to the north. The small island in the bay is called Koh Man, decorated by long-tail fishing boats and cruise ships returning from Singapore. On the hill you will find model airplane enthusiasts, parasailers, and local vendors selling drinks and jewelry. The parking is relatively limited but that makes it seldom crowded and perfect for enjoying anytime of day.
The next two spots were included on a day tour package we worked out through taking us to 5 islands including kayaking, swimming, a show, and lunch. There are many package options and customizable tours on many websites and brochures. The hostels in Phuket are especially good at promoting tours and customizing options to suit all of your travel desires.
Hong Islands and Sea Cave Kayaking
The tour picked us up from our hostel included in the price, and making it a stress-free day. We boarded a double-decker boat with at least 20 other people and headed off. I wore a swimsuit and brought a backpack with water, sunscreen, snacks, and my Gopro. The boat ride was relaxing and there were hardly any waves, so if you get seasick I wouldn’t be too worried unless weather conditions are unstable. The boat took us out to the Hong islands first where we dawned life jackets, got into kayaks, and explored the rocky cliffs and sea caves. Each kayak has a guide that paddles for you so you just get to enjoy the sightseeing.
Phang Nga Bay
After the Hong islands we drove to Phang Nga Bay where we kayaked in between large rock pillars jutting out of the ocean. We kept telling our guide to race other tourists so we ended up getting into the bay before anyone else, and it was magical! The water is an emerald green color and the lighting bounces off of its calm surface, reflecting light against the limestone cliffs. Vines and other vegetation drape the walls and hang over the opening where the bay gets its light. We jumped out of the kayaks and floated around in the dreamy water. This was an amazing addition to our Phuket tour and something we never would have heard of if not for our great hostel and the Phuket tour packages.
James Bond Island
Heading to James Bond Island our boat was too big to dock at the actual island port, so it anchored off of the island in deeper water while smaller canoes dispatched from the port. We climbed aboard one of the wooden canoes in the first load and were shuttled over to the island. The port already had many people on it as it is a popular tourist attraction. The Thai name for the island is Khao Phing Kan and was featured in the James Bond movie, The Man With the Golden Gun. We walked around the limestone towers and onto the beach where it was PACKED! Luckily for us the previous group of people were leaving so a large majority of the tourists left shortly after we arrived. We climbed up to a rocky overlook to escape some of the people and were able to shoot pictures without people in them. Then we climbed back down to the beach and walked into the water. If you want pictures without people in the background, walk past them into the shallow water. It stays shallow all the way out to the rock, only rising to about mid-calf.
After leaving James Bond Island our tour anchored our boat next to a small island with a beach and told us we could jump in. I was all for it and flung myself off the top of the boat, much to the spectacle of the other tourists and boat guides. I was doing backflips and crazy stuff, and soon other people joined me in the water. This is definitely not the crystal clear water you would find on Ko Phi Phi or other beaches in Phuket, but I was living my best life! After swimming and jumping around for a while we began to drive again and that’s when I remembered there was a show included on this tour, and I could never have been prepared for it.
Any Tour Package’s ‘Show’
I learned very quickly on this trip that the Thai people have a great sense of humor, and be prepared because they are going to use it. When I saw our tour included a show I envisioned like a cultural performance, maybe some children or a play? Wow, I was so wrong. As I reveled in the endorphins from jumping and swimming in the water, stuffing my face with the included meal on the upper deck, a shimmer from down the stairs caught my eye. I looked closer and my mouth dropped when I saw our kayak guide wearing a shiny sequin dress, wig, and more makeup than any of the girls I was with. I lost my mind, and was like, “we have to get off this boat right now”.
They parked the boat in the middle of the channel on the way back to port and started playing wild pop music tracks. Then one-by-one the guides, now dressed as ‘lady-boys’ each came up the stairs to dance around the upper deck. Every single guy was targeted on the boat and the lady boys totally violated them, all in good fun >> @ 2020 cancel culture. As I was figuring out how to escape one guy broke away from his seat and tried to run away from the encroaching performers, but that elicited an even worse scenario and all of the lady boys began chasing him until he succumbed to their unique show. So with running away out of the options I decided I was just avoid eye contact, and it was working pretty well. Then one of the girls I was with yelled at the performers, “WAIT! No one has done him yet”. Great here was my turn and the guides came over and yada yada yada, you’ll have to find out for yourself.
What happens on the Phuket boat tours, stays on the Phuket boat tours.
Kata Beach is likely to be one of your favorite beaches and definitely in my top 5 for Phuket. The beach features white sands, clear water, tropical breezes, and many paid-for activities. Kata beach is family friendly, close to countless amenities, and has many shady areas throughout the day. Night life for partiers lies one block from the beach, filled with karaoke bars and local clubs. The beach is lined with restaurants and outdoor cafes that offer spectacular views of the coast. This beach is much less hectic than Patong or other popular spots in Phuket, but expect to see crowds during peak seasons.
Another one of my top three Phuket beaches is Nai Hard, which is isolated in south Phuket and less crowded. The beach has perfect sandy conditions with calm, crystal clear water. There are lots of places to eat and drink lining the beach. This is a great beach to watch the sunset, and it is right below the windmill viewpoint perfect for a quick hike and lookout.
Drop everything you are doing and come to this beach! It is on the west coast of Phuket like most other beaches, and has almost an entire kilometer of white sandy beach front. The surrounding real estate hosts many of the millionaire properties and famous people that visit Thailand. It is lined with luxury resorts, so maybe not the best to stay at for budget travelers, but great to visit. Surin is unique because it does not permit any commercial businesses on the beach, a stark contrast to the busy Patong Beach. This beach offers great snorkeling until monsoon season in late October, when it becomes a surfer’s paradise.
Patong is a 3 kilometer stretch of sand within walking distance from the center of the city. This beach has countless vendors and activities that you can pay for directly on the beach like surfing, parasailing, massages, food, and drinks. The beach is lined with restaurants that cater to all tastes and at night it turns into a party strip filled with bars and karaoke. This is one of the busiest beaches in Phuket, but is worth it especially if you just want a quick dip after a long day.
Grab a drink and watch the sunset, you deserve it.
Where To Stay
When I went to Thailand I stayed in a hostel for only $6 USD per night and in Phuket they range from $4 to $15 typically. Hostels are great because their receptions help you arrange adventures during your trip. Our hostel had relationships with local tour operators and we were able to get multiple deals on day tours, drivers, and custom trip packages. If you are traveling with a small group or stray away from the hostel lifestyle, I recommend renting one of the many Airbnbs. Phuket Airbnbs are top quality with spacious rooms, amenities, pools, and sometimes even meals or butler services included in the price. Seeking out tour packages is easy without a hostel and brochures can be found in most stores and markets along the main streets.
What To Eat
Thailand has some amazing food and Phuket is no different! I had the best Pho I have ever had at a small market a block from our hostel in Patong. The local night vendors offer a wide variety of chicken, seafood, curry, and noodles. We would go out every night and just grab a la carte from the vendors as we walked, just to try everything! I also had some of the best fruit I have ever eaten like passion fruit, star fruit, mangos, and pineapples. Make sure to try something new every night because there are so many options!
Things To Note:
- Bring medicine incase the food you eat doesn’t sit right. Thai food involves a lot more spices than typical western diets are accustomed to, and it could result in an unwanted scenario if you are unprepared.
- Be careful of fruit that is not packaged or sealed because it could have bacteria or also make you sick.
How To Get Around
Immediately when you arrive in Phuket you will realize transportation around the island is drastically different from western means, and typical of many southeast Asian countries. There is relatively uniform flow of traffic but imagine narrow roads packed curb-to-curb with vehicles, pedestrians, lights, motorcycles, and noise. The easiest way to get around in Phuket is by hiring a private driver, taxi, walking, or renting a moped. If you book packages or day tours they almost always have accommodation pickup and return included in the package. I love this about Thailand because it takes away all the stress and energy involved with navigating in a foreign country, and you get to focus on the bulk of the tour.
Taxis in Phuket are more expensive than other Thai cities because they drive up rates and include airport fees around 100THB ($3 USD). A 1 hour trip from the airport to the center of Patong will run you around 700THB ($23 USD), almost 3 times the price for a similar ride in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Reserving a driver will cost you between 400THB and 700THB ($12 to $23 USD) depending on the size and type of the vehicle. I have had friends rent motorcycles or mopeds for as little as 200THB ($6 USD), but be wary because tourists are more likely to be cited by police and make sure you have a valid drivers license and a helmet at all times.
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