Holidays to Phuket offer everything from sleepy beaches to wired party resorts. And it’s this little-bit-of-everything approach that makes the island one of Thailand’s most popular destinations.
There are a lot of threads in Phuket’s tourism tapestry. The island is just off Thailand’s southwest coast and its capital, Phuket Town, is an animated city of early-morning markets and beeping tuk tuks.
The coastline, meanwhile, is home to a league of beaches – 40 kilometres’ worth to be exact. Some of the stretches of sand are pin-drop quiet. All 11 kilometres of Mai Khao Beach are protected as part of the Sirinat National Park, so there are hardly any signs of life along its breadth.
Kamala Beach is another one that keeps itself to itself. The unspoilt sand here is accompanied by a village with Thai tradition at its heart. This is the place to come to learn local cookery or to experience an authentic Thai massage.
At the other end of the scale you’ve got Patong Beach. Like all good sandpits, this place was made for playtime – it’s just footsteps away from a directory’s worth of bars and restaurants. After sunset, the main strip is closed to vehicles, and human traffic fills the streets, making U-turns in and out of bars and discos.
Kata and Karon
The middle ground is occupied by Kata and Karon. On these beaches sunloungers are spread out in Goldilocks fashion – there’s just the right amount – and snorkelling is the main watersport on offer. The beach scene is complemented by sand-side promenades, quirky souvenir shops and lively restaurants.
Things to See and Do in Phuket
Thailand’s biggest island
As Thailand’s biggest island, Phuket has around 90 miles of coastline to its name. And the sea has nibbled coves and bays out of every stretch of it. Not every strand of sand can be tarred with the same brush, though. Some beaches, like Patong, are really lively, while others, like Kamala, live life in a lower gear.
The big beach
Measuring up at 11 kilometres long, Mai Khao is the longest beach in Phuket. Tourism is kept on a very short leash here, too. This leggy beach is protected as part of the Sirinat National Park, so development is kept to a minimum. Footfall on the beach is light. Some areas of sand get more visitors from sea turtles, who come here to nest between November and February every year.
The secret beach
Phuket is Thailand’s fair-haired holiday destination, so there’s not much of it that remains secret. Even so, you can still find sandy beaches with low head counts. Ao Bang Beach is one such beach. There are sunloungers at the south end of this 4-mile strip, but they’re reserved for hotel guests. The further you inch north, the more the people-to-sand ratio slips in favour of sand.
Real Deal moments are readily available in the antique shops of Phuket. For vintage Chinese and Tibetan furniture, try Chaofa West Road in Phuket Town. For wood, bronze, and stone Buddha statues, head to the emporium on Bypass Road. For art, meanwhile, visit the antique gallery on Rassada Road. International shipping can be organised at all of these places.
For better-the-devil-you-know shopping, head to Beach Road Patong. This is where you’ll find internationally-recognised stores like Rip Curl and Hello Kitty. If you’ve come to Thailand to give off-the-peg a miss, however, head to Th Yaowarat in Phuket Town. There are fabric shops here, and tailors who make made-to-measure suits.
There’s no shortage of markets in Phuket. On Tuesday and Saturday, stalls are set up in the grounds of the temple in Karon for traders to sell everything from jewellery to bikinis. Kata’s vendors set up shop on Soi Malisa every day at 5pm, and flog the likes of batik scarves and muay Thai boxing shorts. In Kamala, meanwhile, Friday is the main market night and stall holders colonize the area outside Phuket FantaSea.
Eating out takes on a new meaning in Phuket Town. Trail blaze your way around the food stands at the weekend market on Chao Fa West Road and eat in the open air. Another highlight of the after-dark scene is Phuket FantaSea in Kamala. There’s a 2,000-person theatre here where you can watch acrobats and aerial ballet on the stage.
Certain parts of Phuket are hot-wired at night. On Bangla Road in Patong Beach you’ll find cocktail bars, live music pubs and clubs with dance floors. Karon has a reputation for being Patong’s little sister. Around Patak Road and Soi Islandia, you’ll find a good selection of pubs and bars.
Pad Thai is the culinary equivalent of high ground. It’s safe. Traditional Pad Thai doesn’t differ that much in Thailand to the dish you’ll have tried in your local take-away at home. Essentially, it’s made with noodles, bean sprouts, fish sauce, chillies and a shower of chopped peanuts.
Salads in Phuket run circles around the ones you’ll be used to in the UK. Som tam is the most popular, probably because it showcases the four tastes of Thai food. A combination of shredded green papaya, fish sauce, palm sugar and sour lime make it sour, sweet, salty and bitter all at the same time.
Every day is pancake day in Phuket. Crepes may not be the most Thai of dishes, but you can buy them from street food vendors all over the island. Their sizes range from coffee coaster to hub cap, and you can top them with everything from banana to peanut butter.
Massaman curry is a melting pot dish. It’s made by stewing a meat such as beef, duck or chicken together with coconut milk, potatoes, cashew nuts and chillies. A spice rack of spices are added, including cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, star anise, turmeric and nutmeg.
Noodle stands are a dime a dozen in Phuket, and people eat the foodstuff for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each street food vendor has their own recipe for noodle soup, but as a rule, noodles are boiled in a vegetable broth and meat or crushed nuts are thrown in afterwards.
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Tri Trang Beach
Phuket Tri Trang is a happy-medium sort of place. It’s pretty and peaceful, consisting of little more than a sandy bay and a smattering of tropical greenery. That said, it’s just a 10-minute tuk tuk ride from Patong, one of Thailand’s most frenetic towns. Here, street food stalls line up by the dozen in front of party bars and dance clubs.
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