The Pearl of the Andaman

What to do and where to do it when visiting Phuket

There’s never quiet enough time to do everything as something exciting is always happening on the island. And with a land area of 540 square kilometres, Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, making it an exotic and expansive playground. So with this in mind, it is recommended to arrange transportation services in advance. The attractions are located in different portions of the island and taxis are not always readily available, so having a ride whenever and wherever your curiosity takes you is a luxury not to take for granted.

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* Images by Limestone Adventures

While Phuket itself is a beautiful island, the smaller gems that surround it are also worth visiting. There’s a reason some of them made it on the silver screen as locations of unforgettable movies. These magnificent havens, strewn across the sea, are striking marvels that represent everything that’s wonderful about beach holidays. From majestic limestone formations to priceless interactions with locals, not only does venturing further afield showcase more alluring visual splendor, but also exposes touching stories that otherwise would never have been discovered.

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Koh Phi Phi, which gained tremendous popularity after being featured in The Beach, has become iconic. The place tends to get a little too crowded at times but it’s a splendid area nonetheless. Phang Nga Bay, with
its towering limestone cliffs and caves, is another popular option. It was named James Bond Island after it appeared in The Man with the Golden Gun and up to now, continues to mesmerise visitors with its unique form. Make sure to drop by Ko Panyi, an entire community on stilts, and observe the unique lives of the locals.

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For the vacationer who likes to take it slow, Mai Khao Beach is the perfect base. This area is removed from the crowd so the stretch of its golden shores is often deserted. The waves can get a little wild so swimming is not always a good idea. Nonetheless, it has many wonderful spots to commune with the Andaman Sea. Pine trees fringe the coastline of Mai Khao Beach, making for some dramatic scenery. The sand is fine and perfect for lying down while taking in the rays to achieve that coveted golden complexion.

One of the most scenic spots in Phuket is Layan, where the beach is hardly populated and the waves are gentler, beckoning everyone for a dip. The presence of Koh Kala, a small island on the northern portion, creates a sort of lagoon with calmer waters, so swimming and other water activities are perfect for this area. Rent a kayak from one of the few resorts here and make your way around Koh Kala to take in the beautiful vistas. The most exquisite haven in the area is Anantara Phuket Layan, a breathtaking resort that opened only this year, boasting  luxurious villas that allow guests to sleep a few steps from the shoreline.

Koh Hong and Koh Khai are nearby destinations that are just as alluring but not as frequented by tourists. Rent a traditional long-tail boat or select from a fleet of boats from Limestone Adventures and explore the islands in comfort and style.

Shop and Party

Whether it’s for traditional souvenirs or trendy fashion finds, Phuket Town has a variety of retail hubs that offer keepsakes. The biggest shopping center in this part of town is Central Festival, which hosts both international and homegrown brands. This is where everyone converges to momentarily break away from the shores and have a taste of the burgeoning local mall culture.

If you’re looking for bargains, Supercheap, which is essentially a huge warehouse with a wide assortment of merchandise, fits the bill. Jim Thompson, renowned purveyor of Thai silk, has a great selection of products to remember any Phuket trip by. It has several stores on the island, including one in Central Festival, but the Courtyard factory outlet in the Muang District offers the best deals on hand-woven creations.

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The center of tourist activity, Patong is a chaotic melting pot that brings locals and tourists together. During the day, the beach is lined with beach chairs and umbrellas with countless tourists frolicking under the heat of the sun. It’s a great place for socialising and entertainment, and that’s exactly what people come here for. The activities continue well into the night, giving Patong a reputation of having the wildest nightlife the island has to offer. Bangla Road is the site of Phuket’s hottest parties, from the wholesome to the type no one would want their mom to know about.

Ladyboys and Muay Thai

Thailand is known for its fabulous ladyboys and these beautiful performers put up some of the most unforgettable spectacles. Aphrodite is the go-to spot on the island to catch some of the most elaborate cabaret productions. Besides the glamorous appeal of the shows’ stars, it’s the world-class comedy, song and dance numbers that entertain tourists to no end. Different languages, including English, Thai, Chinese and Japanese, are used in the performances to cater to an international audience.

One unique way of experiencing Thailand’s local culture is to train for it – or simply watch from the stands. The country’s national sport, Muay Thai, is alive and kicking in Phuket based on the ubiquitous training camps on the island. The Rawai and Patong areas have the most to offer with a range of training classes. Whether you’re looking to train for an hour, a day, a week, a month, or simply intend to watch one of the matches, delving into Thai boxing promises to be a highlight. The subtle intricacies of the sport, the rituals involved, and the values of dedication and hard work make the experience a truly worthwhile foray into this aspect of Thai culture.

Eat & Big Buddha

No Phuket trip is complete without spending a few poignant moments amidst some of its meaningful monuments. One of the most iconic and spectacular is the Big Buddha that hovers above Chalong. This 45-meter structure, made of white Burmese marble, can be seen from several points in Phuket because of its size, but nothing compares to admiring it up close. Right next to the Big Buddha is a smaller version made of brass. Besides the massive Buddha itself, the sweeping views from this site make the hike worth the time and effort. This is a spot that will get anyone snapping away after a few minutes of reflection.

Thai is a cuisine celebrated in many parts of the world and for good reason – the spicy, sweet and sour flavors hit just the right spot. The island has an array of food choices, ranging from hole-in-the-wall eateries to upscale restaurants. The Phuket Weekend Market is the best way to dive into the local palate, with its overwhelming assortment of food. The favourites in the local restaurant scene, including Joe’s Downstairs, Baba, Mom Tri’s Kitchen and Breeze at Cape Yamu, are definitely worth a visit but know better than to overlook the unassuming food stalls along the streets, often manned by friendly local families.

This tropical gem reserves a kilometric list of experiences fit for travellers of all persuasions.

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