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Warm balmy waters, sea breeze and good surf

Phuket is arguably still the most popular tourist destination in Thailand, but I am going to state up front that it’s not in my favourite list of Thailand holiday destinations. It’s just a bit too touristy for my tastes, and a bit too expensive (in value for money terms, as Thailand is pretty cheap regardless of where you go). But there are good points to Phuket, so let’s look at some of those.

Phuket is an island in the Andaman Sea, about 860 kilometres south of Bangkok, the administrative center of which is Phuket town. There’s a lot more to Phuket than the town, but most travellers start out in the town (south-east corner of the island) because that’s the easiest place to get to from Phuket Airport (north-west corner of the island). Once you get to Phuket town (take the minibus for 100 Baht or a taxi for 500 Baht, it’s pretty cheap and easy to grab a songthaew (minibus) to Patong or other major beach locations for less than 400 Baht.

Being located on the Andaman Sea means Phuket island enjoys warm waters, balmy breezes and some tolerable surfing. The best beaches are on the west coast of the island, away from Phuket town. The weather in Phuket is hot and humid all year round, but hottest from March through to May. Being very tropical, it also enjoys its fair share of wet weather, with the wettest months between May and October. So if you’re looking for the best time to visit Phuket, we’d suggest November through to February when the weather is a little cooler and drier.

Lying on the Andaman Sea trade route, Phuket also has an interesting mix of cultures and ethnicities not found in many other places in Thailand, including people of Thai, Chinese and even Melanesian descent. It has a mix of Bhuddist and Muslim culture, with the Muslims more likely to be found away from the popular beach locations. Most of the beach resorts are run by Thai-Chinese.

Because Phuket has an international airport, you can fly there directly from Australia (V Australia), Malaysia (Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines), Singapore (SilkAir, Thai Air Asia and Tiger Airways), Germany (Air Berlin), Hong Kong (DragonAir) and Taiwan (China Airlines), to mention just a few. There are also lots of domestic flights from Bangkok or Chiang Mai (Thai Airways, Thai Air Asia, Orient Thai and Nokair fly daily).

Places to get away from it all on Phuket

Some of the more popular destinations on Phuket island (mostly on the west side) include:

  1. Chalong Bay
  2. Karon Beach
  3. Patong Beach

The map below shows the location of each of these Phuket beaches.

1. Chalong Bay

Chalong Bay Phuket
Chalong Bay – a great jumping off point for the islands off Phuket

Chalong Bay is not the greatest swimming beach in Phuket but the yachties love it for its safe moorings. Come down in the mornings and evenings and you’ll see lots of boats coming in and out of the marines and yacht clubs along this piece of coast. On the long jetty there are restaurants and cafes to grab some fresh seafood. Chalong is a great place to charter a fishing boat or jump on a diving or snorkelling trip out to the reefs.

If you want to stay around Chalong Bay area, the best accommodation options are:

  • Villa Zolitude Resort and Spa – a 5-star villa-style resort tucked away in rainforest in the hills overlooking Chalong Bay. Not cheap, with rooms starting from almost 9,000 Bt and up to 11,000 Bt for a Grand Pool Villa, but very stylish and well positioned.
  • Chalong Chalet Resort and Longstay – a 4-star chalet-style resort on a hilltop on Patak Road above Chalong Bay. Rooms start at around 3,000 Bt with garden views and up to 7,000 Bt for a 110 square metre suite with sea views. Best value are the Junior Suites for around 4,000 Bt per night with spa bath.
  • Anchan Boutique Hotel – a 3-star resort-style hotel on Soi Ta-Lad and very convenient if you’re interested in Muay Thai boxing classes. Rooms start at around 3,000 Bt for a two-bedroom unit with a kitchen so you can cook for yourself if you want.
  • Jula Place Hotel – a basic 1-star hotel on Chaofa Road East that seems to wow everyone who stays there. Five minutes from the beach, air conditioned rooms starting at 1,200 Bt per night and up to 2,000 Bt for a deluxe double room. Incredible value for Phuket and very good reviews.

2. Karon Beach

Karon Beach Phuket
Karon Beach – the most developed spot outside of Phuket town, with good facilities and good beaches

Karon Beach is one of the longest beaches on Phuket Island and also has some of the best sand. You can snorkel right off the beach at the southern end. In the middle of Karon Beach is a shopping centre with nice restaurants and cafes and some entertainment in the evenings. After dinner, take a leisurely walk along Karon Beach Road to the Karon Bazaar.

There are some good accommodation options close to Karon Beach, including:

  • Movenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach – a 5 star resort hotel at the top of Patak Road with three swimming pools, a spa and DVD lounge. Big, comfortable rooms with breakfast from around 7,000 Bt per night with a garden view and up to 25,000 Bt per night for a two-bedroom family suite with sea view.
  • Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort – a 5-star resort with its own private beach and rooms arranged around the huge pool. Has its own gym and squash courts, water sports and kids club. Garden view rooms start at 9,000 Bt per night, with deluxe ocean terrace rooms from 15,000 Bt per night.
  • Allstar Guesthouse – a beach front 2-star hotel with air-conditioned rooms and ensuite bathrooms. Big, airy and comfortable rooms start at just 1200 Bt per night or up to 1600 Bt with a balcony view. Location is quiet and very close to the beach with lots of restaurants nearby.
  • Living Room Guesthouse & Cafe Bar – a 1-star hotel that manages to amaze guests with cheapish, clean rooms and all the basic facilities, but it can get a bit noisy due to its location close to busy Patak Road. Rates are weekly only, starting from about 7,000 Bt per week for a double room.

3. Patong

Patong Beach Phuket
Patong – probably the biggest, busiest beach destination on Phuket and a hotspot for bars and nightlife

I would never stay right in Patong because I find it too tacky, but the beach itself is stunning with bright white sand and great facilities (mostly owned by resorts). If you can tolerate the touts and the louts, Patong offers some of the best nightlife in Phuket with and endless variety of beer bars, go-go bars, cafes, restaurants and pubs to choose from, especially around Soi Bangla.

The best accommodation options around Patong area are:

  • Islanda Privacy – a very popular 2-star hotel with nice private rooms, each with air-conditioning, flat-screen TV, balcony, fridge and private bathroom. Islanda Privacy is located about 10 minutes from Patong Beach. Mr Min, who runs the hotel, is always keen to make guests happy and organises some of the best value tours in Phuket. Room rates are around USD$35-45.
  • AD Guest House – a cozy 3-star guesthouse on Nanai Road about 4km from Patong Beach with clean, spacious rooms that come with air-conditioning, a fridge and an en-suite bathroom. Mama and Papa, who run the guesthouse, are really friendly and chatty and serve some of the best coffee in Patong! They will help to book tours and show you where to shop and eat. Sells out very quickly, so book early! Room rates are US$30-35 per night.
  • Amari Coral Beach Resort  – a glamorous 4-star resort hotel almost on Patong Beach and with its own private beach area. The rooms are big, airy and well appointed rooms with a private balcony, fridge, TV, air-conditioning and coffee making facilities. The resort boasts two big pools and amazing beach views. The breakfasts are very good – in fact all the meals are great. It’s so quiet and peaceful it seems like it’s far from everything, but it’s actually just a few minutes walk from downtown Patong. Room rates are $200-250 per night.

Things to do in Phuket town

While you’re in Phuket town, there are a few tourist attractions worth checking out:

  • Temples – Put Jaw (the oldest Taoist temple in Phuket) and Jui Tui (its more modern annex) are just west of the bus station, while the classic Thai Wat Mongkol Nimit in Thanon Dubik is famous for its colourful glass mosaics.
  • Scenic spots – Khao Rang Hill in the north-west corner of Phuket has a great view of the town and nearby islands, plus some good eating places, while Saphan Hill (at the ocean end of Phuket Road) has some nice new parks and picnic spots.
  • Culture – the Phuket Cultural Museum at Rajabhat University has a lot of Phuket’s history on display, while the Phuket Cultural Center (Yaowat Road heading out of town) has lots of historical books and implements of everyday Thai life. Chinese life on Phuket is on display in the Thaihua Museum (Krabi Road).
  • Attractions – The Phuket Butterfly Farm (also on Yoawarat Road heading out of town) has a great collection of butterflies, insects and marine creatures, while the Thai Village and Orchid Farm (Thepkasattri Road heading out of town) has a popular lunch and cultural show with Thai kick boxing and elephant displays. There’s also the Phuket Zoo (on the road to Chalong Bay) where they run daily elephant and crocodile shows.

Markets and shopping in Phuket

While we don’t consider Phuket to be much of a bargain-hunters paradise (save your shopping dollars for Bangkok), if it’s the only place you’re visiting in Thailand and you want some bargains, you can try:

  • Patong Beach – lots of market stalls packed along Beach Road and the adjoining sidestreets, with both day and night markets.
  • Ranong Day Market – located on Thanon Ranong, offers a good variety of gold and jewellery, but tending more towards fresh food and fabrics – don’t go there in the hot or rainy season as it can be very oppressive.
  • Municipal Market – located next to Robinson Ocean Plaza great for fresh food shopping, but look for clothing on the northern edge where the Indian market stalls are located.
  • Chatuchak Market – not the one in Bangkok, but a smaller version located on Phang Nga Road with cheap clothes, jewellery, crafts and some decent eating spots.
  • Shopping Centres – if you can’t find what you need at the markets, or get very bored, there are also some shopping centres and shopping streets around Thalang Road, Krabi Road, Dibuk Road and Yaowarat Road, plus some huge supermarkets on the bypass road.

View Phuket Thailand travel guide map in a larger map

Phuket weather forecast

A traveller’s review of Phuket, Thailand

Lauren Bercarich shares her very detailed review of what it’s like to holiday in Phuket.  Don’t forget to leave your comments in the comments box below!