Phuket is a traveler's bucket-list destination for a multitude of reasons: the shimmering golden sands, turquoise waters and luxurious resorts make it a haven for beach and sun seekers.
Located in the Andaman Sea on the west coast of Thailand, this charming island is home to some of the country's most popular and expansive beaches as well as a bevvy of restaurants, spas, nightclubs and bars. You may be surprised to know that it's not just sipping cocktails in the sun which Phuket has to offer but religious and cultural experiences, too.
To get the most out of your visit to Phuket, here are 10 attractions not to miss:
The most popular and buzzing town in Phuket is by far Patong and the gorgeous stretch of white sand that is Patong Beach. People all over the world come in droves to bathe in the sun during the day and enjoy its infamous nightlife when the sun goes down. Lining the crescent-shaped beach is a multitude of cafes, restaurants and markets to browse in, not to forget the street food stalls selling delicious Thai food. The vibrant and "anything goes" atmosphere of Patong means it's best to keep an open mind, enjoy yourself and let yourself get swept up in its madness.
2. Old Phuket Town
For an interesting stroll, there's no better place than Old Phuket Town. Built from the riches of last century's tin-boom, this walkable town is made up of Sino-Portuguese buildings, ornate shrines and beautifully decorated shops, making it shine with quaintness and charm. There's also an excellent selection of restaurants and cafes to choose from when you are needing refreshments. At the heart of its historical center is Thalang Road, the most well-known of its streets, where you can find little gems here and there. Go when the sun isn't as hot to best enjoy the experience.
3. Bangla Road
Possibly one the more notorious party spots of Thailand is Bangla Road and the hoard of nightclubs, bars and raunchy shows lining its streets. Loud music blending into each other from the open bars, promoters beckoning you in with drink specials and go-go shows, neon lights flooding the streets; colorful is the least to describe it. The chaotic atmosphere draws hundreds to thousands of people each night to see what the rage is all about.
Make sure to keep an eye out for the ladyboys parading their extravagant outfits, but be aware that they will ask you for money if you take a photo with them. As long as you keep an open mind and a sense of fun, it can be highly enjoyable.
4. Phang Nga Bay
Ethereal and comparable to Halong Bay in Vietnam, Phang Nga Bay is especially not to be missed while you are in Phuket. Tall limestones rise out of the jade waters making you feel as if you were in another world. The most notable spots in this bay is James Bond Island (named and made famous by the movie) and Koh Panyee. James Bond's signature feature is Ko Tapu, a vertical rock measuring 20-meters tall and can be enjoyed by kayaking around its perimeter. Koh Panyee is a small and remarkable village built on stilts with a giant rock at its rear. Make sure you also visit the "hongs," or rooms, of the bay; open-air caves greet amazed visitors once entered and is best experienced by sea-kayak.
5. Simon Cabaret
For an unforgettable experience while in Phuket, a visit to the Simon Cabaret comes highly recommended. The performers are made up of beautiful ladyboys in glitzy costumes and makeup, and they act with such grace and loveliness that it leaves audiences in awe. It draws thousands of people from all over the world every night, with three shows being performed everyday. It has been described as a flamboyant and fun show, with the resident choreographer saying that "no two days are ever the same" - so you know it will be a unique experience.
6. Big Buddha
For those of you wanting a more spiritual encounter in Phuket, the Big Buddha is a must-see. Combining a 45-meter tall Buddha statue with a stunning 360-degree view of the island, this site is considered one of the most revered landmarks in Phuket. Because it sits on top of the Nakkerd Hills and is made of a white jade marble, the statue can be seen from far away and dazzles brilliantly in the sun. In the background, you can hear gentle music, the soft tinkling of bells and the whipping of flags, making it a refreshing and peaceful getaway from the rest of the island. Make sure you dress appropriately as it is a religious attraction, otherwise sarongs are available to borrow on site.
7. Phi Phi Islands
The darling of islands, Phi Phi was initially made famous from the movie "The Beach" starring Leonardo di Caprio and is now oftentimes the sole reason people flock to Phuket. It may be hyped and busy, but it doesn't disappoint. Larger-than-life cliffs greet you when you first approach the islands and the waters become so azure that it looks unreal. It is made up of five islands: Phi Phi Don where the village and hotels are; Phi Phi Leh, home of the gorgeous Maya Bay; Koh Bida islands which is perfect for diving enthusiasts; and Mosquito and Bamboo Island up north. The long-tail boats, bright blue waters and white sand make the Phi Phi Islands incredibly picturesque and not to miss while you are here.
8. Wat Chalong
The most popular and visited Buddhist temple in Phuket belongs to Wat Chalong. Built in the 19th century, this complex is filled with paintings, illustrations and artefacts depicting the life of Buddha. Open to locals and foreigners, it is where people can glimpse a splinter of the Lord Buddha's bone in the Grand Pagoda and gaze at the statue of Poh Than Jao Wat. Ornate and intricate in design, Wat Chalong is perfect if you want to learn more about Buddhism. Be mindful that you must take off your shoes when entering some of the buildings and that appropriate dress is required, as is with most religious sites in Thailand.
9. Promthep Cape Viewpoint
Romantic in its nature, and best enjoyed with friends or a loved one, this viewpoint is arguably the most popular in Phuket and for good reasons why. It is extremely photogenic as it sits overlooking the Andaman Sea, features a lighthouse which visitors can enter to see maritime artefacts and has a restaurant, handicraft shop and stalls which you can peruse in at your leisure. While it is very popular, drawing people from every corner of the world daily, it is worth the visit and best enjoyed when the sun is going down over the horizon.
10. Muay Thai Boxing
Now world-famous, Muay Thai is Thailand's national sport and has a popular and loyal following in Phuket. As well as Patong Beach, Saphan Hin Stadium in Phuket Town features regular matches with experts in the field. It is a riveting sport to watch, with super-fit and fast fighters inducing excitement and awe from spectators, not to mention the frenzied atmosphere from the combination of the betting and dramatic music. Before the match starts, the boxers perform a dance called "ram muay" while they wear a headband given by their trainer. Every fight lasts three minutes each with five rounds in total. If you don't mind violent contact sport and want to see the highly-ritualized art of Muay Thai in action, this island is the perfect place to do so.
Phuket's potent concoction of relaxation and play make this idyllic island a dream for people all over the world who want to see what the fuss is all about. Its unique surrounding islands make it a stunning, once-in-a-lifetime experience that unapologetically demands your full attention. For some of you, it may be love at first sight. Whether you're looking to party in its vibrant nightlife, seeking a spiritual experience learning about Buddhism or simply want to sip a cocktail while lounging on a resort beach, you won't be disappointed provided you keep an open mind and a sense of adventure. All Phuket asks is that you simply relax and enjoy.
Phuket - How To Get There?
If you want to make this bucket-list destination a reality, business class flights from Europe to Phuket may be more affordable than you think. From London Heathrow Airport, Malaysia Airlines fares go from 1900 EUR, Finnair's from 2050 EUR and Eva Air's from 2090 EUR. Qatar Airways also do one-stop flights from London Heathrow from 2600 EUR - or a lot of less if you find a good campaign for cheap business class flights.
For a less expensive alternative, flying to the capital of Bangkok can shave off a few hundred pounds. From London Gatwick Airport, both Turkish Airlines and Ukraine International Airlines fares go from a total of 1650 EUR.
Whichever carrier you decide to go with, it is worthy to note that the most affordable business class flights tend to fly from London and that it is less expensive to fly into Bangkok first.
If you plan on holidaying in Phuket after visiting the chaotic city of Bangkok, the best and quickest way to get there is by a regional flight. With over 50 flights going back and forth between the two cities daily, you have plenty of choice when it comes to which carrier you want to fly with and at what time during the day. A flight from Bangkok to Phuket (and vice versa) takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes one way. Before you visit Bangkok, remember to read our city guide designed to give you all the information you'll need to get the most out of your stay in Thailand's City of Angels.