I often hear that travelers avoid Phuket, Thailand, like cats avoid water. Yes, there are plenty of reasons not to go to Phuket, such as the hordes of speedo-wearing, backpack-toting tourists and the polluting and seedy overcommercialization. But if you look beyond the grit and longtail exhaust, Phuket offers landscapes of astounding beauty, fantastic food, and wonderful culture. So go to Phuket and attack this bucket list in no particular order…
1. Have breakfast at Maya Bay, made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach. Getting there early in the morning means you will miss the crowds that are understandably drawn to this scenic and famous bay. You can get there by renting a longtail or speedboat. Or you can include Maya Bay as part of a tour itinerary. We chose the Simba Sea Tour of the Phi Phi Islands and totally LOVED IT! Amazing itinerary. Amazing food. Amazing snorkeling. Amazing staff. Amazing.
2. Have a photo fest at Phra Nang Beach by Railay Bay, one of the most beautiful and iconic bays in Thailand. You can actually stay at Railay Bay at one of the resorts, or you can just visit via longtail or speedboat. We chose to visit by speedboat, because between noon and 3 o’clock, this beach is one of the busiest hotspots for tour groups. But if you hang around, you are guaranteed a spectacular sunset!
3. Explore the Phuket mangrove swamp by river boat and kayak. This is a great way to experience the rural side of Thailand and to get up close and personal with some of the mangrove’s most cheeky residents–the monkeys! Check out River Rover Ecotours–we really enjoyed cruising with them!
4. Visit a local floating fishing village such as Koh Panyee, which was originally established by nomadic Malay fishermen 200 years ago. Go early to skip the crowds or go at lunch for the Tom Yam Goong.
5. Take a speedboat tour through Phang Nga (made famous in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun) to witness 42 rugged limestone islands rising sharply out of emerald water. It’s absolutely stunning. Don’t miss spelunking in Koh Phanak, paddling through Koh Hong, and exploring Koh Phing Kan and Koh Tapu (James Bond Island).
6. Climb up the Nakkerd Hills to the 45 meter tall Big Buddha and get a striking view of the whole island. The Big Buddha is called “Phraputthamingmongkol Eaknakakeeree” by the locals. That’s one big name, but this is one big Buddha! There are also some beautiful wats to explore at the top of the hill. You can reach the Big Buddha by taxi or by motorbike (if you are really brave and really good at navigating potholes!).
7. Enjoy a fresh coconut milk with a view at Nark-Kird Sea View Restaurant. This incredible bird’s eye view of Phuket is on your way to the Big Buddha.
8. Visit Phuket’s spiritual center, Wat Chalong, one of Thailand’s most important temples and said to house a bone splinter from Lord Buddha.
9. Sink your feet in the incredibly fine, white sand at Monkey Beach. Monkey Beach boasts azure crystalline water and the most beautiful sand I’ve ever seen…and monkeys. Yes, there are monkeys, so keep your camera close! To find Monkey Beach, make your way to Phi Phi Don, the only inhabited island in the Phi Phi Archipelago.
10. Go snorkeling via a day trip through the Phi Phi Islands or at good snorkeling beaches, such as Ya Nui Beach, Laem Signh Beach, and the southern end of Naithon Beach.
12. Explore the hidden beaches of Phuket: Ao Yon Beach, Ao Sane Beach, Hua Beach, Laem Ka Beach, Freedom Beach, Haad Sai Kaew, and Banana Beach
13. Eat delicious Thai food and drink fruit juice. Lots of fruit juice. And don’t be afraid to try the cheap and plentiful street food. Most people in Thailand get at least one meal a day from a street food vendor, so it is easy to find quality street food in Phuket. Just look for well-cooked dishes. Try the Khao Mak Gai, Gai Yang (grilled chicken), and of course the Pad Thai.
14. Get off the tourist path and explore local markets and villages. One of our favorite days was when we rented a car and got lost on the way to Had Nai. We ran into a local market and wandered around with the locals, munching on spiced skewered chicken and examining the household goods on sale in the stalls.
15. Get giddy watching a spectacular Phuket sunset. They are that incredible! The sunset at Kata Beach and at Promthep Cape are two of the most photographic sunset locations.
16. Experience the nightlife and charm of Phuket’s historical old town, which is full of shops and restaurants. I dare you to try to avoid leaving with ten pairs of knockoff sunnies!
Other activities worth mentioning are to try learning a new skill, such as trapeze, Muay Thai boxing, or a thai cooking classes. Also, buy a custom-tailored suit and button-up shirts. Or seven. Get seven of them. You will thank me later. And do this on the first day to allow plenty of time for sewing. 🙂
Have you been to Phuket, Thailand? What were your favorite activities? Thanks for reading!