Top Phuket Hotels
Phuket is for beach lovers. Beaches vary in appearance and mood, some are energetic with activities and others graced with swaying palms trees and seclusion. Broadly speaking the west and south of the island have the better beaches with the east having more mud than sand. Getting away from it all can be a challenge, but there are still some quiet spots. Hair braiding, manicures, massages, beers are all available on the more popular beaches and you dont have to move. Vendors patrol with ice-cold drinks, fruits, ice cream and colorful sarongs. If you fancy water sports, like parasailing, jet skiing or banana boating, make sure you bargain. Some offer prices with insurance but ask to see some paperwork. During the dry season between November to February the sea is most suitable for swimming and snorkelling.
Note: The monsoon season usually starts from August and this is the time when red flags warn against swimming currents are strong and dangerous. Other times are safer (see Thai Weather).
The happening hub is Patong Beach with tourists far outnumbering Thais. Theres too much concrete in this area, hotels, restaurant, pubs, go-go bars and shops all jumbled right by the beach. Beaches here are crowded and therefore more polluted but the vibrant bustling beach is one of Thailands best places to party and have fun.
An old favorite is Karon Beach, Phukets second largest beach, known for its white powdery sand and pristine waters. The long and broad strand of beach gives you plenty of room to find your own private spot and all the developments are kept across the road. It is not polluted and has some beautiful coral reefs towards the southern point.
Next to Karon Beach is Kata Beach, a small beach popular with families. The beach is nice, with the mountains on the sides but the area is quite developed however still less crowded than Patong.
North of Patong is Kalim beach, a rather rugged beach for swimmers but well-located for those wishing to be away from the pace of the centre but still close enough to the action. Further up the hill from Kalim is Kamala beach, a sleepy area where there is little to do. The beaches are nicer in the north end and surrounded by a trail of mountains.
Down south, for a little more serenity and space escape to Cape Panwa, sheltered with thick forest with hotels located further apart. Beaches look promising and its calm enough to swim all year round.
Another quiet spot with a gorgeous lagoon is Nai Harn beach with the least developments mainly due to the local monastery.
A group of top hotels in Bang Tao Bay form an upscale resort area known as Laguna Phuket. There is an air of sophistication in this posh bit and the secluded palm fringed beaches are close at hand. They are rather narrow and compared to some others, and perhaps a little disappointing but the mood is more relaxed.
Moving on from beaches, Phrom Thep Cape is a famous sunset viewpoint. Scenic but certainly not a place to meditate, the chattering during this crucial moment can be annoying.
Outside of the beaches there are only a few cultural attractions worth visiting. The most commendable is the Phuket Fantasea. The amusement park is the islands pride and joy and its impressive 140 acres is a playground for both young and old. Highly recommended is the 45-minute cultural show depicting the epic story of a magic elephant. Shows are held in a state of the art theatre holding up to 30 elephants, with amazing ceiling acrobatics and a colorful cast in traditional Thai costume. Well done and entertaining. Fun for the family!
Apart from some old buildings, Phuket Town is a dead end. But if architecture excites you then the Chinese and Portuguese influences might appeal. Head to Dibuk Road in Old Phuket Town where the buildings are typically long and narrow, with wooden louvers, carved wooden doors, and a Chinese signboard hung above the door and an interior with floral ceramics.
Most hotels have a spa and it is difficult to resist some tempting pampering. Spas range from the crme de la crme like the ritzy Banyan Tree down to the makeshift. Treatments dont come cheap but are creative and invigorating with things like Royal Thai honey wrap or Seaweed Body Masque available.
Other worthy hotel spas feature at the Marriott Phuket, Thavorn Beach Village and Amari Coral. The Hideaway is a more affordable spa with branches on Nanai Road near Patong, outside the Laguna Phuket area, and on Kata beach.
Phuket is also blessed with natural landscapes that make for stunning golf courses. The mountainous surroundings and natural water-filled canyons at the Canyon and Lake Courses of the Blue Canyon Country Club make it one of the worlds most recognized courses. The Johnny Walker Classics tournaments in 94 and 98 were held at the Canyon Course, rated highly by the likes of Tiger Woods. Phuket Country Club has a reputation as one of Thailands most beautiful golf courses, and the swaying coconut trees at the Banyan Tree Club and Laguna help calm your mood when youre stuck in the bunker - another golfers paradise.
Around the island, especially around Karon and Kata, various sites have elephant rides and monkey shows. At asia-hotels.com we generally do not condone this type of 'attraction' but try telling that to your kids. One project worth supporting is the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project near Bang Pae Waterfalls - the project is completely funded by visitors and aims to get abused gibbons back into the wild. Small but informative.
If you are big into boats head on down to the Boat Lagoon just north of Phuket Town. Sunsail offers a chartering service from here. The Yacht Haven on the north tip of the island also offers mooring facilities.
Entertainment and Eating Out
Phuket is not short of anything in this department. Restaurants are located in the more popular beach areas like Patong, Karon and Kata. Choices of cuisine are broad. In Patong youre spoilt for choice - there are restaurants and fast food galore. Phukets seafood restaurants are a great place to sample the fruits of the sea. Vendors display their days catch on long iced trays and prepare to your liking either barbequed or spicy Thai style. The prices are a little higher here but the food is delicious.
One of the islands upscale Thai restaurants is Baan Rim Pa. Set in a traditional teak house by the lagoon, the ambience is elegant and the food is refined. Sea Hag on Soi Wattana has earned a name for cooking up the best Thai food on the island. It started out as a popular gay hang out but its excellent and reasonably priced food has drawn crowds from all over. Another top end establishment with a solid reputation is The Boathouse in Kata Bay. Whilst the food is expensive, the atmosphere and view are fantastic. Other upscale restaurants can be found in the top hotels. Banyan Tree has some truly excellent food in stunning settings but you may wince at the bill!
The Green Man English country pub and restaurant has a very large menu with a mix of traditional Thai and English cuisine. Theres always something happening there, some live music or theme nights. The child-friendly restaurant has board games for kids to do while waiting for meals. A lot of character and good value.
Natural is tucked away on Pattana Road in Phuket Town. Sprouting vegetation you cannot miss this cheap but excellent restaurant. The food from this rambling two storey restaurant is authentic and excellent.
White Orchid is a beach hut style restaurant on Kamala Beach. It does not look much but the food is excellent, especially the peppered crabs.
You can tell La Gaetana Italian restaurant is no ordinary place when you get a scarf pinned over your shoulder with a clothes peg. Found on Phuket Road in Phuket Town the experienced Italian chef and his Thai wife run a restaurant set in a Sino Portuguese house with beautifully blended Italian and Asian decor. Great service.
Located on Takuapa Road, Ka Jok See has an international menu and is frequented by the local expatriates. An intimate and nostalgic atmosphere is created with old posters of Chinese cigarette ads, plenty of old pictures on the wall and ceramic pieces. The cozy and unpretentious ambience is what makes the place charming. Cash preferred.
Opposite McDonalds in Phuket Town, Gitano Music Caf is managed by a group of expats. Food there is not a big deal but it is a nice alternative to the ever-present go-go bars and provides a decent place for the family to hangout with good music and service.
Timber Hut is the place to go for live entertainment and a boogie. A popular spot for the young and trendy, this is full of characters and a top spot to drink and dance.
Patong remains the center of Phukets wild nightlife, with a string of girlie bars and pick up joints. Nightlife remains vibrant and colorful despite a crackdown which resulted in many closures and a strict 2am chuck out time. The main gay area is Paradise Complex just in front of the Royal Paradise Hotel. Here you can also find many restaurants, bars and discos and the islands most popular is the Boatbar, an open-air beer garden, terrace bar and disco with cabaret shows.
Simon Cabaret on Patong Beach is famed for its eye-popping lady boys. Known for its excellent lip sync, choreography, outrageous make up and high heels with attitude, it certainly makes for mad night out.
For those needing an adrenaline fix there is Go-Carting at Kathu, Cable water-skiing on the Kathu Waterfall road and Bungee Jumping.
Note: Entertainment and dining establishments rapidly change hands and names. The latest generation can be found in Phuket magazine, and the travellers tales section also provides feedback from recent visitors. 'Where to eat' contains honest reviews and 'Phuket - Food, Shopping and Entertainment' is helpful. For those looking for at the islands culture try 'Art and Culture Phuket.'
Choices are limited but you can still haggle some good buys. The major shopping avenue is along Patong which have mainly cheap mass produced souvenirs and all things fake sold at silly prices. Make sure you bargain. For a better selection check out Baan Rim Pa at the corner across the street from the hotel Novotel Coralia. The restaurant-gallery is small but packed with a refined collection of silks, cushion covers, clothes, jewelry and unique handicrafts. Pricey but definitely better quality than Patong.
Around Patong Beach Hotel you can find a selection of antique, ceramics and rosewood shops which are worth a look but bear in mind items usually come from up North so prices are inflated.
You might be able to find some small inexpensive and ethnic items in the hotel gift shop, a few good choices are at Le Meridien Phuket and Chedi Hotel. The Banyan Tree is a good place to get spa items like incense and aromatherapy oil.
Note: watch out for tailors who can produce suits in 24 hours. The workmanship is usually not that good. It is not worth the disappointment, despite the tempting price.
Getting from A to B
The roads in Phuket are well paved and somewhat winding and hilly but not difficult to navigate.
There are no taxis to flag down in Phuket and tuk-tuks are the most common form of locomotive. The price of the ride seems to go with the steepness of the hill more than distance. If the constant haggling gets too tiresome than renting a car with a driver for the day might be a better option. For under US$25 during low season its value for money for those wanting to explore the island.
If you prefer to be behind the wheel then hire cars or jeeps can be rented for as little as 800 Baht a day for a cut-price banger without insurance. Avis and Budget are available if you prefer to go with more familiar car rentals.
Another good and cheap alternative is to rent a motorbike. It is convenient but also dangerous especially during the rainy season. Make sure the bikes you rent have good brakes because youll need them going down the winding hills. Please take care as tourists have died in motorbike accidents. Two local firms cheaper than the international brands but still offering insurance are Via Rent A Car and Pure Car Rent.
To reach Bangkok overland involves a 5-hour bus trip to the Surathani province and a 10-hour train snaking up the country. There are no trains direct to Phuket, although cheap tourist buses can connect to the island from all over.
Domestic flights with Thai Airways from Bangkok to Phuket are regular and run almost every hour from early morning till late evening. Flight time is about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Cheaper tours squash you into a big group and traveling takes up half the tour so there isnt enough time to enjoy the snorkelling or relax by the beach before the whistle blows and you are hollered back to the boat. Despite the lack of personal attention, tours are well organized. Alternatively you can splurge on a private boat and move around at your leisure - but will cost you an arm and a leg.
There are many beautiful islands scattered around Phuket and the most popular has to be Phi Phi Don. This island has given way to much development to become a destination on its own with hotels, restaurants, shops and various water activities. The neighboring islands include Phi Phi Lae, this uninhabited island was made famous after the movie The Beach was filmed on Ao Maya Beach. The picturesque Phang Nga province is worth a visit to be spellbound by some of the most beautiful islands surrounded by limestone cliffs, sea caves, stunning beaches and coral reefs.
You can visit what is now the overly commercialized James Bond Island. The inhabitants of the island include rip-off souvenir and food vendors cashing in on the continuous tourist hordes. The island is surrounded by impressive rock formations and the main star is the single small rock sculpture sticking out from the sea that seems so fragile with its tiny base and oversized peak. The peak that spouted an evil solar powered laser beam in the movie The Man with the Golden Gun is the most photographed spot.
A consistent favorite is canoeing into the splendid sea caves in Phang Nga Bay. You can only paddle into the caves in low tide and some of the pathways of the caves are pitch black and low so youll need to lie on your back to pass under the rocky ceilings. The experience is a breathtaking one once you emerge from the darkness into the brilliant interior of a secret lair. Its like entering the inside of a well and looking up to a circle in the sky with the sun beating on the rocky surfaces, bird calls and water ripples made by mudskippers. Although the experience is shared with a whole entourage of canoers no one seems to mind.
For something both exotic and romantic take a sunset cruise on board a Chinese junk boat and set sail along the Promthep Cape for day trips and go island hopping further afield. Nakalay Junk specializes in dinner cruise for an enchanting evening under the stars.
Phuket has long been a major diving destination. P.I.D.C Divers managed by a French national who has been around for more than 10 years can arrange dive trips and live aboard boat stays for 2 nights upwards.
2 hours from Phang Nga by ferryboat is a group of 9 small bejeweled islands known as the Similan Islands. This is a diving and snorkeling paradise and an underwater wilderness of colorful corals and tropical fish amongst rock crevices. Full day island hopping tours are available. You can camp at the National Park or stay on a boat for a few days of diving and exploration.
Easily accessible is the Richie Lieu Rock, a submerged boulder where theres a good chance of sighting the worlds largest fish, the huge but placid whale sharks.
Note : hotels are happy to book tours or you can nip down to Patong and find the best deal there. Since many island tours leave from Laem Sai Pier, Phuket City, its usually both easier and cheaper to join a tour than arrange one yourself.
From April 13th, Thais welcome their new year with water splashing fun during the Songkran Festival. In Phuket the celebration coincides with the National Fishermans Day during this day baby turtles are released into the ocean as a mark of thanksgiving for the sea. On the 13th of March the Thao Thep Krasatri and Tao Sri Sunthorn Festivals are held in honor of the two heroines who protected the island during the Burmese invasion. Colorful floral garlands are draped around and on the monument in Thalang District.
The 1st of November marks the day for a Patong Carnival to welcome the beginning of the tourist season. A colorful event celebrated with parades, food stalls, games and beauty contests.
The Gay Pride Festival kicks off every year with a grand parade down Patong Beach and plenty of dancing in the streets.
During the celebration of Loy Krathong in October, lovely little flower boats are lit with candles and a short wish is made before setting them afloat into the Ocean. This festival is celebrated nationwide with colorful display of fireworks.
Phuket holds many sporting events at the end of the year, the rainy season ends and ideal conditions begin. In November the Laguna Triathlon brings together fitness fanatics to Bang Tao Beach for a circuit of 1500m of swimming, over 50km of cycling and a 12km run.
Phuket Kings Cup Regatta is held the week of the Kings birthday on December 5th at Nai Harn Beach. Competitors from all over the world arrive to take part in this yearly event. The beach is turned into a trendy setting for the boat enthusiasts.
As a major destination, cyber links are well established. You can log on at most hotels so theres no need to go far. Connections are slow but the hourly rates are cheap at less than 50 Baht an hour.
If youre looking for a place to get a bite and surf at the same time, check out internet caf such as Connect Bar at Paradise Complex and on Patong at the Pizzadelic or Cyberbeach.
Featured Phuket Hotels
Phuket Travellers Tales
There are several nice restaurants nearby. The Indian restaurant towards Kata Beach, Dino''s (which looks gimmicky but serves excellent food) and Buffalo Steak House are all good.
Phuket, a great holiday, the water trip to James Bond Island is well worth it. The elephant rides a great day out. The night life with a fantastic show at the Moulon Rouge - Bangla St. all in all a great holiday.
A number of the organised tours e.g. Phi Phi Island were being offered at 40% discount by local travel agents close to the hotel. Please be aware of the large number of taylors close by who are very keen to sell you a suit. I counted about 6 between the hotel and the beach
great scuba dive tours (west coast divers) speed boat trip to phi phi islands, feeding fish and snorkeling was great excellent conditions after tsunami
The best way to get around is to hire mopeds. We paid 200bht each for one days use. A great way of exploring the many beaches along the cost.
I had never been to Phuket and was surprised that things were generally more expensive than Bangkok. Because of the tsunami aftermath, most areas were still quiet and when shopping, i did not have the heart to bargain. But still some good bargains to be found.
High season in Phuket was at around 30% of normal post Tsunami. Diving trips using Dive the World was good value as they sourced the operators and program within constraints of customer and gave discounts. Another excellent cheap way of sight seeing the island is by suzuki small truck at 800Bht/day. Just remember not much fuel is used so don''t fill the tank if your only going out for the day.100Bht petrol would probaby do. White water rafting is excellent day option for novices in this activity.
For food I recommend to go outside the hotel, better food and much lower priced. The beach restaurant LOTUS about 5 minutes walk on the beach, is highly recomendable. Also just outside the Laguna are good restaurants. Forget the restaurant in the Canal village, no good!
I enjoyed very much the Khao Sok National Park, about 2 hours drive from Phuket. Superb natural beauty in what they call the "Guilin of Thailand". A pleasant guided walk is just what is needed to see the world''s biggest flower, the "Rafflesia".
Trip Trek Tours took us on the Phi-Phi Islands trip the day the earthquake struck and if it hadn''t been for the boat guides, I wouldn''t be here to type this account. They saved our lives with their quick thinking and knowledge of the seas around them. A few days before we did the John Gray''s Sea Canoe trip round the caves. Again, the crew were funny, knowledgeable and make the day a memorable one.