Things to do in Phuket, Thailand
Phuket may be an island, but it feels more like a peninsula of Thailand, mainly because of its vast size. However, it has buildings and culture which feel distinctly different from the mainland—home to a melting pot of Chinese, European, and Thai architecture, and its own regional dialect called Baba Malay.
Many people know Phuket as a party destination. However, if you look in the right places, there is so much more on offer. Discover its lush greenery, colonial-style old town, and buzzing markets with all the top things to do in Phuket.
1. Phuket Old Town
Explore the beautiful streets of Phuket Old Town, home to a unique mix of Chinese and European architecture, due to its location on ancient trading routes. In the 19th century, merchants came to Phuket and began building pretty homes, some of which look straight off a Portugal postcard. In fact, at times, it’s hard to believe you’re in Thailand!
Get lost among the streets and colorful buildings, many of which have now been transformed into cute shops, trendy cafes, or interesting galleries and museums. The area is also very artistic and has become famous in its own right for street art. As such, you’ll find huge murals that plaster the walls and regular art workshops on offer.
Weekend Night Market
Don’t miss out on the bustling weekend market in Phuket! On Sunday nights the Old Town comes to life with stalls and vendors selling traditional and local products.
As the sun sets, weave your way down the lively street lit up by fairy lights and try all sorts of authentic Thai dishes at the many street food stalls. It’s also the perfect place to shop for handcrafted souvenirs and be entertained by street performers.
Tip: Get there early to avoid the bigger crowds, as it’s a popular market for both tourists and locals.
Cafes in the Old Town
There’s nothing better than grabbing a delicious cup of coffee in one of the many great cafes in Phuket Old Town. Some of our favorites are:
- Campus Coffee Roasters
- GRAPH Phuket
- MŌMUS coffee
- Shan coffee
2. Wat Chalong
Wat Chalong is one of the island’s most important and beautiful temples and one of the best things to do in Phuket! Discover the expansive temple complex, home to five temples, each one unique and different from the others.
Crafted from white and pink marble, gold detailing, and beautiful tilework, these temples are as stunning on the outside as they are in. Best of all, visiting Wat Chalong is free!
Come at the end of the day when it’s less busy. During this time, you’ll have more space to take in the sacredness of this important site. You may even get the chance to witness some of the rituals taking place. For example, candle lighting or offerings to the gods.
Alongside this, there is the unique practice of lighting firecrackers in the temple complex. This ritual is believed to ward off bad energy and evil spirits and bring positivity and good fortune to temple visitors—a must-see!
How to get to Wat Chalong
The temple is located just 25 minutes from Phuket Old Town and is easily accessible by car, motorbike, or taxi. Remember, you’ll need about an hour to see the entire complex, and it closes at 5 PM, so leave plenty of time. The easiest option is to join a tour that includes many of the main sites in Phuket, including Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha.
3. White Big Buddha
Seeing the big Buddha up close is one of the most extraordinary experiences in Phuket. Standing 45 meters high, the enormous buddha overlooks Phuket, offering 360-degree views across the entire island.
Although you’ll find big buddhas like this one in places like Chiang Rai and Pai, this has to be one of the most beautiful as it’s extremely detailed with beautiful white and grey tiles and ornaments. Even the staircase to the top is exceptionally intricate, crafted with the traditional naga (snake) sculptures up the side. It’s nearly 100 steps to the top, but well worth it to experience this sacred environment.
The temple is free to visit (although donations are appreciated) and open from 6 AM until 7.30 PM. We visited around 8.30 AM, and it was relatively quiet and peaceful. Make sure to leave enough time, usually 1 hour, to stroll around the complex and visit the multiple viewpoints.
The Journey to the Big Buddha in Phuket
The drive to the Big Buddha is all part of the experience; it’s a stunning drive through lush green forest, which is doable with a motorcycle or car. In total, the journey from Phuket Town is 40 minutes. However, from the highway, it’s only about a 10-15 minute drive to the top.
Make a stop halfway at a lovely restaurant named Mountain Breeze, where you can order some food and enjoy incredible views over Phuket.
4. Pottery Class
Sitao Ceramic Studio is a popular spot for pottery classes, located in a cheerful bright yellow building in the middle of Phuket Old Town. Perfect for a rainy afternoon, you can spend a few hours crafting your own unique souvenir to take home, made with local clay and paint. You can even make magnets!
Phuket has a long history of ceramics production, with influences from China and Europe blending together to make unique and intricate designs. Learn about this fascinating history, while you create something special of your own. Alternatively, browse the collection of handmade pottery on offer in their shop.
Open every day except Wednesday, 10 AM – 7 PM. It’s recommended to book in advance, as it’s a popular activity.
Good to know: Sitao Ceramic can ship what you make to your home address. This saves you from carrying around fragile ceramics for the rest of your holiday!
5. Samet Nangshe Viewpoint
Motorbike through green jungles and small villages to Samet Nangshe Viewpoint – easily one of Thailand’s most breathtaking natural views! Beautiful at any time of day, but especially spectacular at sunrise, the viewpoint is perched atop a (very!) steep hill. Once you’re at the top, you’ll be rewarded by a view over Phang Nga Bay, a stunning body of turquoise blue water dotted with hundreds of limestone islands and framed by a luscious mangrove forests.
We recommend staying a night somewhere close by, so you can enjoy the sunrise and some fantastic stargazing. It’s worth noting that it’s not on the Phuket peninsula, so you might want to book a night close to the viewpoint. We stayed at the lovely Baan Kamana, about 30 minutes away, but you can also stay at this resort. There are a few different spots to take in the view. The main ones are Samet Nangshe Viewpoint and Bay View Cafe.
6. Thai Cooking Class
Phuket has incredible food; the wide variety of fresh, local ingredients available including fantastic seafood, are used to create a fusion of Thai, Chinese, and Malay cuisine, which has grown from their international trading past.
Have a go at making Hokkien-style noodles, spicy soups, and traditional Pad Thai at a local cooking class. There are all the delicious secrets of these dishes are revealed, and you can learn more about Phuket’s unique culinary culture.
Most classes will include a tour around the local market to pick out fresh ingredients first. Delicious!
7. A Night Out on Bangla Road in Patong
Bangla Road in the Patong Beach district of Phuket is notorious for its wild night out, where you can party until the early hours. Grab a drink, enjoy the music, and watch the crowds of people embracing the party atmosphere at one of Thailand’s top nightlife spots.
Thailand has faced a lot of controversy for its animal tourism over the years. This is paticularly the case with elephants, who are forced to perform or give rides to tourists and are often abused in the process. To have the chance to see these beautiful creatures in an ethical environment, visit the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. This retirement home (for older and injured elephants) works to rescue these incredible creatures from the logging and tourism industries.
Visiting the Elephant Sanctuary
Take a guided tour of the sanctuary, through their 30-acre forest, and observe the herd bathing from a respectful distance. As you learn about their heartbreaking stories, you can also watch them roaming freely from the 600-meter-long canopy walkway in the treetops. Human contact is limited to keep the elephants calm and happy.
Soi Dog Foundation is a non-profit organization and shelter for street dogs and cats. They currently have over 1800 animals in their care. You can take a free 40-minute guided tour of the shelter, where you learn about their programs and also play with the animals!
What’s more, if you are planning to stay in Phuket for a while and would like to help, there are several volunteer programs you can get involved with.
Open Monday – Friday, tours run at 10 AM and 1:30 PM. No entry fee, but donations are welcomed.
10. Banana Beach
This quiet and somewhat secluded beach on the north-west side of Phuket is surrounded by lush green forest, with soft white sand and gorgeous clear blue water.
From the main road, it’s a short trek down through the trees to reach the beach and enjoy an undisturbed afternoon of swimming and snorkeling in stunning natural surroundings. There is a small beach bar, but no sunbeds or umbrellas, so bring towels.
Good to know: Please respect the natural beauty, take your trash away, and wear reef-safe sunscreen.
11. Hanuman World
Hanuman World is an incredible zipline in the hills of Kathu, a 15-minute drive from Phuket Old Town. You can do activities like ziplining, waterfall abseiling, and sky bridge walks. See the beautiful natural scenery of Phuket as you fly through the rainforest—one of the most exhilarating things to do in Phuket, Thailand!
Opening Times & Entrance Fee: Open 8 AM – 6 PM daily. The price depends on the package of activities. There is also a shuttle service for visitors who book a tour in advance (300 THB / 8.50 USD).
12. Kamala Beach & Laem Sing Viewpoint
Kamala Beach, once a quiet fishing village, is now a popular destination for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling. However, it’s still kept its laidback and peaceful atmosphere, with its beautiful palm trees and untouched blue bay. Spend a day here, sipping from a coconut at one of the beachside bars or taking a walk along the clean white sand.
Laem Sing Viewpoint overlooks the beaches of Kamala and Surin and offers incredible panoramic views of the Andaman Sea and the surrounding coastline covered in tropical forests. Come here at sunset when the whole bay turns breathtaking shades of pink and orange.
13. Nai Thon Beach Staircase
To reach Nai Thon Beach you’ll need to make the steep climb down 200 steps. However, this tucked-away staircase is actually the most picturesque thing to do in Phuket! The wooden stairs, lined on either side by thick green jungle and palm trees, lead down to a tropical paradise of white sand and turquoise water.
Although the stairs are now a popular photo spot, the beach itself is a beautiful place to relax and spend a few hours watching the sun go down. Because it’s difficult to reach, it’s also relatively quiet.
Unfortunately, the beach was highly polluted during our visit, with a lot of plastic washed up on the shore and by the stairs.
14. Karon Beach
Another tiny fishing village turned tourist hotspot, this long stretch of sand in Karon is stunning, with soft white sand and an inviting clear blue sea just waiting to be dived into! The popular area can get busy, but it is big enough that you should be able to find a quiet spot for yourself.
There are plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops here. We’d recommend Soul I Vegan Cafe & Restaurant for a delicious and nourishing meal to keep your energy up in between swims in the sea.
Tip: If it’s super busy, try Kata Beach or Kata Noi Beach, which are quieter.
15. Bang Pae Waterfall
Bang Pae Waterfall is a stunning natural feature In Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, the only remaining rainforest in Phuket. The falls cascade down a rocky cliff into a natural pool below, surrounded by tropical plants, and it’s a great place to cool off in the hot and humid weather!
The park is a natural sanctuary for rare and endangered wildlife, so keep a close eye out for flying squirrels and macaques as you walk. You are also closeby to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project if you want to learn more about these amazing animals.
16. Go Island Hopping
Phuket is the perfect jumping-off point for island hopping. Because of its location in the stunning blue Andaman Sea, there is easy access to hundreds of beautiful limestone islands with white sandy beaches and dramatic green cliffs. Spend a few days exploring pristine beaches, snorkeling and diving in coral reefs, and visiting floating villages.
Many of these islands are only a short boat ride away, so you can base yourself in Phuket and make day trips. Alternatively, pick your favorite and spend a few nights away in a tropical island paradise.
Getting there: Book a tour from the many operators in Phuket, or there are plenty of flexible transport options, including speedboats and ferries, which can take you to most islands in under an hour. Prices: 1000-4000 THB (30-120 USD)
One of the most famous places in Thailand, Phi Phi is, in fact, a group of six islands, all with beautiful beaches and crystal clear water. Come here for out-of-this-world snorkeling and diving spots, stunning scenery that you may recognize from movies like ‘The Beach’, and vibrant nightlife.
Koh Racha Yai and Koh Racha Noi are two beautiful islands, only one of which is inhabited. Both have snowy white beaches, clear azure water, and world-class snorkeling and diving. These quiet islands are also great for stargazing.
These stunning islands are what you see on the posters—home to untouched sandy beaches, bright blue water dotted with small wooden boats, and palm trees waving in the breeze. The island has a relaxed and authentic vibe, making it the perfect place to unwind and snorkel in the shallow waters.
Coral Island, also known as Koh Hae, is home to the beautiful Banana Beach and breathtaking coral reefs, great for snorkeling and diving. It is also only 15 minutes by speedboat from Phuket, so it’s an excellent option for a day trip.
17. Visit the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project aims to rescue, protect and rehabilitate gibbons that have been illegally captured for the tourism and pet trades. The team works to repopulate the endangered species and reintroduce them back into their natural habitat, which is also sadly Phuket’s last remaining rainforest.
The visit includes a visit to the nearby Bang Pae waterfall, a beautiful natural oasis where you can cool off.
Best Cafes and Restaurants in Phuket
Phuket has countless restaurants and cafes offering everything from international cuisine to delicious local dishes and incredible seafood, of course! There are loads of great vegan and vegetarian options as well, and you can cafe-hop for days.
There are so many amazing places to choose from, but here are some of our absolute favorites:
- Beach Coconuts Bowls
- Laem Sai Cup Cafe
- Soul Vegan Cafe
- Three Monkeys Restaurant
- The Neighbors Cafe
- Origami Cafe
- Maimorn Seafood & Karaoke
- Pizzeria Da Moreno
- The Vegan Table
- Amore Mexican Tapas & Bar
Where to Stay
We recommend splitting your time between the beach and the old town, spending at least 2-3 days in each. There are plenty of accommodation options, from cheap and cheerful hostels in Phuket to upmarket hotels and luxury villas. Here are some of the most popular areas for your stay:
The best time to stay here is during the weekend when the Sunday night market is on, and there is a lively atmosphere. Although small, it’s the cultural and historical heart of the island, with beautiful colonial architecture, museums, and many cute cafes.
Patong is the most popular area for visitors as there are plenty of restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops to explore. There are also lots of backpacker hostels here, and if partying is your thing, this is where you should be based.
Come here for relaxed beach vibes, stunning natural scenery, and more peace than busy Patong. Laid-back Kata is a bit quieter than Karon.
Bang Tao is a huge stretch of beach (one of the longest in Phuket), where many resorts are based. It’s much quieter, a little fancier, and has beautiful sunsets.
How Many Days in Phuket?
There are so many things to do in Phuket that it would be a shame to pack it all into a few short days. We recommend staying at least a week to fully explore and experience everything that this huge island has to offer. There are loads of different towns and beaches to visit, great shopping, fantastic cafes and plenty of parties! You should also definitely spend a day or two island hopping if you have the time.
How to Visit Phuket
There are international and domestic flights to Phuket, with daily flights from Bangkok taking just under two hours. If you’re lucky enough to have a window seat, keep an eye out for Mai Khao Beach while landing, which is right by the airport, where you’ll see people plane-spotting on the sand!
From the airport, it is a 40-minute drive to Phuket Old Town; you can take a shared van (120 THB / 3.50 USD) or a public bus, and there are always plenty of taxis waiting if you have a slightly bigger budget (550 THB / 16 USD). Please note that Grab, Indrive, and other apps are not allowed inside the airport.
If traveling from Bangkok, you can take a night bus or train (both take around 12-14 hours), which is a more affordable and sustainable option. The train stops at Surat Thani, so you must take an onward bus from there to Phuket.
You can rent a motorbike for around 5-10 USD per day. However, remember that traffic in Phuket can be heavy, and road safety is not always a top priority. Tuk-tuks are the easiest way to get around and generally the cheapest, as taxis are a little more expensive. Grab taxi is another handy option. Alternatively, you can rent a car to have complete freedom.
How Much Does Phuket Cost?
Phuket is a popular holiday destination for all kinds of budgets, whether you’re looking to treat yourself or you’re on a budget. There are plenty of great hostel options, and choosing local restaurants or street food is also great for saving money.
Tip: During the high season, from November to February, prices will be higher.
Best Time to Visit
Phuket can get very busy during the high season (November to February), which means higher prices, but the weather is cooler, and there is less chance of heavy rain. The shoulder season of March to May is an excellent time to come if you want to avoid the bigger crowds and enjoy lower prices while still having good weather.
Tip: If you’re here in September/October, don’t miss out on the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a colorful and lively event with different ceremonies over 10 days and lots of firecrackers!