Phuket: what to see and do. Beautiful beaches, lush rainforest hikes, spa heaven and great Thai food

Why go

Known as the pearl of the Andaman, Phuket is the largest island in Thailand. With beautiful white sandy beaches, rainforest-covered mountains and rich cultural history, it is easy to understand why this is the oldest and most popular destination for foreign tourists in the area.

Away from the brasher town of Patong, Phuket is teeming with five-star retreats and hotels and is one of the top destinations for spa and wellbeing in south-east Asia.

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What to do

Phuket. Siam Safari. Elephant trek view point
Siam Safari elephant camp has attained the government standard for elephant care

Visit Old Phuket Town to see its fine examples of Sino-Portuguese architecture. One of the most magnificent examples of this colonial architecture is The Blue Elephant restaurant on Krabi Road, which used to be the governor of Phuket’s mansion.

If you’ve always wanted to go elephant trekking but worry about how these magnificent animals are treated, book the Siam Safari, the only elephant camp in southern Thailand to attain the Thai Government Standard award for the care of their elephants.

Where to stay

The luxury Aleenta resort has one of the best spas and this stunning infinity pool
The luxury Aleenta resort has one of the best spas and this stunning infinity pool

For those looking for rest and relaxation, Aleenta in the quiet northern part of Phuket should be high on your wishlist. The resort is secluded and has one of the most picturesque stretches of soft, golden sand and offers luxury private pool suites and beachfront villas. The zen-like spa has complete detox and wellbeing packages and there are plans to increase its medi-spa offerings this year.

Moevenpick Resort Bangtao Beach Phuket has one of the longest pools in Phuket
Family fave: Möevenpick Resort Bangtao Beach Phuket has one of the longest pools in Phuket

Families are well served in Phuket, with several hotel brands offering kids’ clubs, free watersports, babysitting services and a huge range of activities. One of our favourites, Möevenpick Resort Bangtao Beach Phuket, is well located for both the airport, towns and markets and has great facilities for kids, including a wonderful pool area and indoor play area for use during those short. tropical showers.

Choose a super-stylish eco villa for friends and family The Naka Island from £180 per night!
Choose a super-stylish eco villa for friends and family The Naka Island from £180 per night!

For something a little different, The Naka Island is a private island resort an easy ten-minute boat transfer from the Phuket mainland. With sun loungers positioned actually in the infinity pool, luxury eco villas blessed with outdoor baths for two, showers and clifftop plunge pools it’s five-star heaven.

Travellers looking to fly and flop will enjoy Indigo Pearl, a Bill Bensley designed hotel set in its own tropical gardens and an easy ten minutes from Phuket International Airport.

Where to eat

There is no shortage of good food on the island, from street sellers and night markets to high-end eateries at the numerous luxury resorts. Taste Surin Beach offers contemporary western food with a Thai twist, beautifully presented by its Swedish chef and owner Martin Ostlind.

Kan Eang@Pier’s panoramic outdoor terrace along Chalong Bay is the perfect place for a leisurely meal. Often there is a fabulous swing band playing jazz standards that make you want to get up and dance.

Getting around

Tuk tuks can be expensive and unpredictable these days so metered taxis are a good alternative. If you can’t find a metered taxi, barter hard and agree on a price before getting in. Motorbikes are also available but make sure you know how to ride and are properly insured.

When to go

The high season is from November through to March. In late summer and early autumn it can rain for weeks at a time, but the temperature is around 30° all year round. It can be humid, with the odd thunderstorm or overcast sky, but there is always plenty to do, such as diving, hiking or a visit to the spa.

Travelling with family

Movenpick's resorts on Phuket offer adjoining rooms and large family apartments for economical and easy family holidays
Möevenpick’s resorts offer adjoining rooms and large apartments for easy family holidays

It may be a long-haul flight away but Phuket is a fantastic multi-generational destination with hotels such as Möevenpick set up for large families. Many hotels offer a range of large apartments, adjoining rooms and villa-style suites to give you enough room to house everyone in comfort.

Three things we like

Phuket. Wat Chalong Temple. Wikimedia Commons
Wat Chalong Temple is the most important of the 29 Buddhist temples in Phuket
  1. The marine life. Some of the beautiful snorkelling and diving locations are just a boat trip away. Enjoy the warm and clear water and brightly coloured tropical fish.
  2. Wat Chalong Temple. This is the largest buddhist temple on the island and definitely worth a visit for it’s rich decorations and icons
  3. Shopping. From sunglasses, bags and shoes to local crafts and mini-Buddhist icons you’re sure to find something to remember your time on the island.

Something we don’t like

The beach and town of Patong in like the local sin city, with girly shows and drunk revellers. Enjoy it for its shopping, but its best to find other places to go in the evening or for a day at the beach, especially as there are so many other wonderful spots.

Don’t miss

Phuket. Big Buddha Chalong. Flickr CC Jeff Gunn
Big Buddha: the huge white statue is 45m tall and towers over the south of the island

A sunset on the west coast. Watch the sun dip into the ocean and create beautiful pink skies while you have your feet in the sand, sipping a cocktail – perfect!

The Big Buddha. Overlooking Chalong is the huge white marble-clad Buddha that can be seen from most of the south of the island. It is even more breathtaking close up.

Phang Nga Bay will look familiar if you’re a James Bond fan. It was put on the map after its starring role in The Man With The Golden Gun and it’s easy to see why. Despite the number of boats that now visit there, Phang Nga Bay and Maya Bay on Phi Phi (another day trip from Phuket and close to The Naka Island), which featured in the Leonardo DeCaprio film The Beach, are worth visiting.

High50 insider tips

  • Never talk negatively about the Thai Royal family. Not only is it highly offensive but it’s against the law so could land you in jail.
  • Indulge in a massage. You can get a Thai massage from many shops and on most beaches and it will cost less than a tenner.
  • Don’t be afraid to eat from the food carts at the market. There is a high turnover of food and it is all pretty fresh so you’re unlikely to get sick.

Need to know

  • Dengue fever can be a problem here and the only way to prevent is not to be bitten by mosquitos so take precautions.
  • The time zone is seven hours in front of the UK (GMT +7).
  • Two-pin European plugs or horizontal flat pins are standard.
  • As it’s hot all year around, loose clothing, open shoes, a hat and sunglasses are advisable.
  • The currency is the Thai Baht.
  • British passport holders do not need a visa for Thailand as long as you are there no longer than 30 days. Holders of other passports should check visa requirements.