Flying into Phuket we weren’t sure what to expect from this well known and very well worn tourist destination in southern Thailand. Most of the people I know that have been to Thailand have visited Phuket at some stage on their trip; from long-term budget backpackers to flashy holidayers and romantic honeymooners. So it seemed like a place for everyone and anyone to enjoy, and we were ready for it! With that in mind we entered Phuket with an open mind and a willingness to experience everything that was on offer.
Phuket is an island off the south-eastern coast, which is regarded as one of Thailand’s prime tourism destinations. With its lavish beachside resorts, stunning coastline, adventure activities, local culture and family friendly atmosphere, it’s no wonder herds of people from all over the world pack this spot throughout the year, particularly in high season when the weather is best.
Phuket backpacking has many things on offer, some more exciting than others. For the beach lovers the coasts of Patong, Karon, Kata and Rawii, among many others, are superb. That’s if you can beat the masses to secure a spot. For the adventure seeker there is anything from shooting ranges and Muy Thai training camps to zip-lining and riding ATVs. There are quiet local bars or rowdy international hot spots full of live sport, go-go dancers and plenty of tattoo shops.
And while we’re not here to preach, I would recommend against those monkey shows, elephant rides and Tiger temples. Unfortunately tourist money often trumps animal welfare at these types of attractions.
So far Phuket backpacking might sound pretty touristy, but there are many more cultural activities you can enjoy with a simple tour of the island. If you’re game we recommend hiring a scooter from the abundance of rental stores scattered throughout Phuket. At 200-250 baht ($7-8) a day you really get the best value for money, especially if there are two of you to split the price. One single ride taxi per person could cost upwards of 200-300 baht depending on where you’re going, so if you want to get around and see all the sites, a scooter is easily your best option. Either way, here’s a couple of fun activities to do around Phuket…
The drive up to Big Buddha is roughly a half hour from Phuket Town, and takes you on a really nice windy backstreet ride through more of rural Phuket. Scale the mountain side and climb to one of the best viewpoints in all of Phuket. You get a picturesque 360 degree look at the island. Aside from a really beautiful viewpoint of the city you can marvel at some stunning Buddhist statues and see the ongoing construction of Phuket’s 45m tall Buddha. For those wanting to pay tribute, or simply be a part of the action, you can purchase your very own construction tile and write a message on it. It’s a nice touch, albeit a little touristy.
As a side note, remember that this is a religious site for the Thai, and that you’re a guest to their country and culture. Ladies you’ll need to cover those shoulders and knees, guys you won’t be asked to, but it’d be respectful to dress appropriately anyway. Although they’ll provide you with shawls to cover up if you forget, don’t be like some of those people we saw show up in just a bikini and board shorts 30km from the beach. And we’re not even kidding!
The beaches of Phuket are stunning, even if they are crowded. That being said, if you’re looking for a quiet spot you can still find one. For some reason most people crowd into the same spots along the beaches of Patong, Karon and Kata, but you can find quiet spots to yourself if you take a walk outside the tourist zone. We’d recommend the long stretch of Karon, where we found isolated sections all along the sand.
Situated about 30mins walk from town, or a short taxi ride, you can get right into the market mix with the Phuket Town Weekend Night Market. It’s a hustle and bustle of cheap knock off clothes, tantalizing smells wafting through the air and people packed to the rafters. Considering how touristy it is, if you’re looking for a bargain buy it’s decently priced compared to other spots on the island.
If you’re not interested in shopping we still recommend checking it out for the food and the experience. Think of it like a Thai version of tapas, where you can walk up and down the aisles picking at loads of different foods and sampling everything. If you’re new to Thailand food it’s a fantastic way to try everything in a night! Don’t forget to try the mango sticky rice for dessert!
If you’re staying in Phuket Town there’s a pretty cool half day trip you can check out only 20mins from town. Just 6km from Phuket Town, into nearby Ko Siray, you’ll find the sea gypsies, a small community of people famous for their nomadic wandering throughout the Andaman Sea. Due to development around Phuket they’re not as nomadic as they used to be, instead taking up temporary residence in a small shanty town on the coast of Koh Siray.
It’s an interesting contrast to the flashy resorts and development off the west coast and if you’re going to check them out try and head there earlier in the day when the fisherman are getting back in with their morning catch. Admittedly when we showed up around 1pm most of the men were asleep out the front of house (or drinking), and the women were gambling at the back of the house.
On the west side of the island there are some terrific cliff top spots to take in the scenery and catch the sundown. From 3 Beaches Viewpoint (often called Karon Viewpoint or Kata Viewpoint) you’ll get an awesome view of Kata, Karon and Patong beach all in a row. It’s a pretty amazing sight!
At Promthep Cave Viewpoint you get another perfect look up the northern coastline, with all its jagged coves and peaks on display. This is a particular crowd favorite for sunset, and you can expect to see a lot of people here. The 3 Beaches Viewpoint is considerably quieter in terms of other tourists, and you’ll definitely have a bit more room to move compared to Promthep Cave. Both are free to view, so if you’re not impressed with one, check out the other.
Overall we found Phuket to be a really enjoyable first stop on our year long adventure. Staying in Phuket Town was a nice break from the crowds and we really enjoyed staying at some of the hostels there, like Ananas Hostel and Eco Hostel. If you’re headed to Phuket Town, be sure to check out our review of each place.