The hundreds of islands scattered in both the Andaman and the Gulf are extraordinarily unique from one another. Each one offers a profusion of experiences, and Phuket, otherwise known as the pearl of the Andaman, is arguably favorited over the rest. Thailand’s largest island features extravagant resorts and remote hideaways, yet it is still a perfect destination for those looking to island hop and party. Here, a weekend guide to the island of Phuket.
Getting to Phuket
There are several ways in which to reach the island of Phuket. The most convenient and sometimes affordable way is to fly to the Phuket International Airport. Try to arrive to the island early Saturday morning or late Friday evening to make the most out of your weekend. Once exiting the terminal, visitors will find a number of minibuses which will take visitors to some of the main parts of the island: Patong (฿180 per person), Karon (฿200 per person), and Kata (฿200 per person). Grab and Uber were upwards of ฿800 for the same distances, and the minibuses are quite convenient, as they take passengers straight to their hotel. Opt for a minibus and head to your accommodation option in order to begin your busy weekend on the island.
Morning: Stay in Kata and check out the beach
Kata beach is one of the most stunning stretches of sand on the southern coast of the island. It certainly lacks the touristy vibe that Patong Beach proudly sports and is also free of any nearby shiny new mega-resorts and structures. Instead, the crescent moon stretch of sand is both clean, welcoming, and is encompassed with lush greenery on all sides. There are very few beach hawkers approaching foreigners in hopes of making a baht or two. Playful stray dogs cavort in the sand while tourists and locals alike partake in beach games, lounge, and swim in the seemingly never-ending sea. Though the curved rock formation on the beach blocks visitors from getting a great sunset, this is still a lovely spot in which to welcome an evening and enjoy the sun, sand, and sea until then. Ample nearby dining and shopping venues gives those visitors something to do who want to do more than just lounge by the beach, as well.
From Kata Beach, visitors will want to get a taxi or a local bus to the next stop on our itinerary: the Big Buddha. As taxis can be quite expensive, we recommend taking the local bus. It takes visitors to the bottom of the hill where the Big Buddha is found and is only ฿40 (approximately $US1.20). From there, you have to get a taxi service, as it is about 3.5 miles to the top.
Afternoon: Take the local bus and visit the Big Buddha and Wat Chalong
No visit to the island of Phuket is complete without frequenting the Big Buddha. The glistening white religious structure is found on the peak of mount Nagekerd in Karon. It stands at a towering 45 meters tall and is 25 meters at its widest. Almost the entirety of the Buddha is festooned with white Burmese jade and is arguably the most stunning of religious structures on the island. Entrance to the Big Buddha is free, and it is open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily.
Wat Chalong is one of the most revered Buddhist temples found on the island. It is also home to Poh Than Jao Wat, an important Buddha image found in the western hall. It is believed that an old man visited this statue several times, consulted it, and won many lotteries by doing so. Wat Chalong is about a 15-minute drive from the Big Buddha. There are taxis available at the Big Buddha that will take you to Wat Chalong for about ฿200 (approximately $US6) a person. You can also get a motorbike taxi down the mountain for about ฿50 (approximately $US1.50) a person and then wait for the cheap local bus to pass, as it goes to Wat Chalong, as well.
Evening: Visit a viewpoint at sunset and go out at Bangla Road
Bangla Road is one of the great highlights of Phuket’s nightlife. This seedy stretch of road is made up of tacky bars and restaurants luring in visitors with happy hour deals and half-naked dancers. The crowd this area attracts is often less than ideal, with drunken brawls breaking out on a Friday or Saturday night and ping pong shows just a stone’s throw away. That being said, visiting this street is a must as all visitors must take on Bangla Road before departing the island.
Day two of our journey includes more beaches, some delicious cuisine, and architecture that will blow the minds of even the most avid of designers. If visitors are comfortable with driving a motorbike, the rental shops found around the island only charge ฿200-300 (approximately $US6-9) for an entire day. For today's itinerary, we suggest renting one in order to zip around the island conveniently and affordably.
Morning: Check out Patong Beach and enjoy Southern Thai cuisine
If you are looking for isolation, Patong Beach is not the stretch of sand you want to visit. Instead, the beach here is ideal for sunbathers and water sport loving visitors, with plenty of jet skis and kayaks available for those looking for some excitement. Hawkers are at the ready to pester beach visitors with everything from sarongs to henna and freshly cooked seafood, as well. Patong Beach is famous for its proximity to the notorious Bangla Road, so the area can be a bit crowded and not the most picturescue. Regardless, it is worth a visit and a photograph or two.
Address: Patong Beach, Patong, Kathu District, Phuket 83150
After spending the morning lounging on Patong, it is time to fuel up on a delicious lunch. Though all Thai cuisine is delicious, arguably the food is better down south. Just as the landscaping is different, the cuisine in Thailand is an incredibly unique lot. It is best known for its spicy curries and soups, made with a coconut milk base instead of yoghurt or broth. Many dishes down south utilize seafood as a main ingredient. Being that the country is one of the biggest exports of seafood, this may come as no surprise but is still delicious nonetheless. Southern dishes also draw upon ingredients hailing from Indonesia and Malaysia, and visitors should be sure to try some of Thailand’s most noteworthy southern dishes while visiting Phuket, including pa-naeng gung (shrimp and vegetables in penang curry), tom yum gung (spicy Thai shrimp soup), and yaam takhrai (lemongrass salad).
Afternoon: Head to Phuket Town and admire the cool architecture
Phuket Town is the capital of the Phuket province, and a visit to this quaint area will surely be the highlight of many visitors’ trips to the island. The city just recently started to get popular as tourists became more aware of its boutique and charming vibe, though it still remains quieter than many touristic parts of the island. The area was established at the end of the 19th century and resembles Georgetown in Malaysia, consisting of a unique blend of architecture found in the restored mansions scattered around the city. Many of the buildings here are Sino-Portuguese in style, and its Chinese heritage also shines through in the shrines and shops found scattered throughout the city. Some of the top spots to visit include Soi Rammanee (the most colorful street on the island), Saphan Hin park, the neighboring mangrove forest, and Thalang Road.
Evening: Go home
You will want to make your way back to your hotel before the sun goes down as we do not advise driving a moped or motorbike in the dark from Phuket Town. You can get a minibus back to the airport that will cost ฿200 (approximately $US6) but takes longer than grabbing a taxi as it makes many stops. Visitors can hire a private taxi for ฿700 (approximately $US21). There are also many transportation services, including buses, ferries, and boats found throughout the island at the ready to take visitors to neighboring provinces and islands should they want to continue to explore Southern Thailand.