A beginner’s guide to Phuket
Many readers coming to Phuket for the first time send daily questions: This is my first time in Phuket; what should I see and do? Of course, since everyone is different, there are many answers, but with years of experience answering the same anxious questions, we came up with a list of answers. These may not be our (or your) favourites, but the places people love to see and the things people do most on a discovery trip.
So here are a few things you can experience on your first trip to Phuket. We list the most popular items in each section with a link to more information + a link to even more answers in each group. We hope this page helps you make the best of your holiday in Phuket! Remember, this is ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Phuket’, so you might roll your eyes if you have been to Phuket before but remember: you too came once for the first time 😉
One of the most frequent questions is, “Can you recommend which beach I should pick to stay on”? Once again, everyone has different tastes, and we know some will prefer remote and isolated beaches. However, most travellers like a beautiful beach with easy access to restaurants, shops and a bit of nightlife. Here are the four most popular beaches in Phuket based on their popularity. (To see all 36 beaches of Phuket, click here)
1. Patong Beach
Patong is popular with the younger crowd
Yes, Patong is well known, and not everyone like it. The success and popularity of Patong Beach mostly come from its wide beach, an infinite list of facilities, plus the legendary worry-free wild nightlife. It has everything, and as a chain reaction, it attracts more people. Patong offers a lot to those who like the busy resort town atmosphere and a bit of everything. You won’t find the greatest Thai food, but you will find hundreds of restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops. Patong is popular with the younger crowd because of the party atmosphere at night and easy access to everything anytime.
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2. Kata Beach
Kata beach is a great family destination
Kata Beach is the second most popular beach in Phuket after Patong and just before Karon Beach. It enjoys a superb large white beach with an incredibly blue sea, a beautiful island standing in the middle of the bay that makes excellent sunset photos. With less crowd than Patong and a good and growing choice of dining venues, shopping, nightlife and hotels, Kata beach is a great family destination.
3. Karon Beach
Karon Beach is the second longest beach in Phuket, with a vast stretch of white sand along an immense bay. Karon is also a small town with a decent choice of dining, shopping and nightlife, yet it never seems to draw crowds of tourists (which might be a good thing).
4. Kamala Beach
Kamala is popular with families and those who prefer a toned down holiday
Kamala Beach has a beautiful beach and managed to keep a small village vibe. It’s not crowded, the beach is vast and nice, and there is even a nice little street to stroll at the end of the day with many little bars, shops and restaurants. The north end of Kamala now has two great beach clubs for you to enjoy: Cafe Del Mar and HQ Beach Club (they are far enough if the party is not your thing). Kamala is popular with families and those who like a toned-down holiday.
Phuket has so many beaches it’s hard to say what beaches are worth travelling to and spending the day on. Based on visitors ‘Best Beach in Phuket‘ votes, four beaches are to consider. (Laem Singh was an old-time favourite, but it was closed to the public in May 2017)
Freedom Beach is one of the prettiest beaches on Phuket Island, with incredibly soft white sand and striking clear blue waters. It is just a few minutes from Patong Beach, the most populated beach in Phuket, and yet, it is surprisingly peaceful and quiet; so what is Freedom Beach’s secret?
Nai Harn is a superb spotless beach in the south of Phuket, tucked between grassy hills and tiny islands and popular among expats and locals. More laid back than west coast touristy spots, it has all the food, hotels and shops you need for a great day and still holds on pretty well to its original feel. The protected bay offers great anchorage for sailing boats and luxury yachts.
3. Surin Beach
Surin Beach was very popular for its large choice of restaurants and trendy beach clubs. All the venues are gone, but Surin is blessed with a large beach of beautiful sand and an amazing clear blue sea. Since it has been mostly returning to its natural state, it is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island.
4. Ya Nui Beach
Ya Nui beach is tiny but has the charms of a small bay tucked in a cove between the Windmill Viewpoint and the famous Promthep Cape in the very south of Phuket Island. Because of this tiny cove appearance, it seems to be an irresistible magnet for tourists. Surprisingly, it is rather busy, but no one seems to complain.
Phang Nga Bay is, without a doubt, Phuket and Thailand’s most fascinating landscape, an ‘Out of this world’ scenery you must see with your own eyes if you crossed half the globe just to come here. The best way to explore it is in a silent kayak, slowly gliding among giant cliffs. We have been to Phang Nga a dozen times and are still always amazed. John Gray Sea Canoe may not be the cheapest company going around Phang Nga, but he is the one who discovered it decades ago and made it accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, good ideas are hard to find but easy to copy.
Phi Phi islands don’t need an introduction anymore, Leonardo DiCaprio took care of this in 2000 with the movie The Beach, and the place keeps getting bigger and busier. The island was wiped out during the 2004 tsunami, and despite what was said at the time, the construction just got bigger and maybe not better. However, the young crowd travelling to Phi Phi Islands seems to have a great time, so we decided to check it. No doubt it’s super crowded, especially at night, but yes, the islands are beautiful and an excellent place for a party!
Big Buddha Phuket, a 45-meter-tall white marble statue, is visible from anywhere in the southern part of Phuket. The views from up there are breathtaking. When reaching the top of the hill, you will find ample parking and a road leading to the temple where people donate money for the construction, buy amulets and where occasional ceremonies are held.
Phuket Town is not huge but still too vast to explore entirely on foot, so we will break it down into several areas of interest. Our first guide is about the historical streets of the old town, quite easy to explore even on a wet day. This walking guide should keep you busy for half a day or less, depending on which of the two options you’ll pick below.
Let’s make it clear before we start: there are many delicious Thai dishes to enjoy, and this page is for first-timers, so here are three dishes to try on your first trip. If you want to try more than these, click here.
1. Tom Yam
2. Pad Thai
1. Mor Mu Dong
Mor Mu Dong restaurant in Phuket – You want to eat off the beaten tracks? where only locals go for a great and relaxing lunch or dinner? Mor Mu Dong is a place every local knows, and you just have to count the cars in the parking to know that something special is cooking here. People travel a long way to come to Mor Mu Dong. It’s so local that even Andrew Zimmern from ‘Bizarre Food‘ had lunch here.
Kru Suwit Floating Phuket Restaurant (or Kruvit Raft) is one of the most original ways to enjoy dinner when you get tired of your ‘Same Same but Different’ Thai restaurant. Try this unusual but popular place known as ‘Kra Chang’ (‘fishing basket’), which is, in fact, a set of several floating restaurants built between Phuket Island’s east coast and Maphrao Island. It only takes five minutes free longtail boat ride to reach. Our favourite, called ‘Kru Suwit’, is an excellent place for a lazy lunch in a cool breeze while contemplating the water around, or perfect for dinner when you have visiting friends from overseas who think they saw it all.
3. Kan Eang 2
An excellent way to describe Kan Eang 2 is to compare it with its successful sister ‘Kan Eang@Pier‘. Kan Eang 2 has everything a good seafood restaurant should have and more. Fresh seafood is a given; both restaurants probably get it from the same place. Food and service are less sophisticated, the menu appears shorter, and crabs are a little smaller, but they serve everything you can expect from such a seafood venue, and the price is significantly lower!
The locals call the’ Lard Yai’ Walking Street Sunday Market, now the most popular attraction in Phuket Town. This weekend street market was an instant success that wasn’t long to catch up, denoting a need for something to happen in Thalang Road, the historical part of town.
Phuket Weekend Market or Naka Market is an immense night bazaar near Central Festival in Phuket Town. Occasionally it’s even called ‘Phuket Chatuchak’ by reference to the famous Weekend Market in Bangkok. Expect to find a lot of clothing, most displaying famous brands, but obviously, the cheap prices hint at their authenticity, Bags, watches, accessories and even perfumes. Most popular is the variety of local snacks and fruits you can try. Here is your chance to taste many fun things: fried, deep-fried, boiled, steamed, crushed, chilled, rolled, sliced and fermented.
Jungceylon Phuket in Patong, the largest mega mall in Phuket, is almost a city within a city. With many souvenir shops, foot massages on the lower floor, many restaurants, and many attractions on the upper levels, it is a perfect hideaway for Patong tourists when it rains or when the heat becomes unbearable.
Phuket is famous the world around for its colourful nightlife. It has evolved to reach all kinds of travellers, and it’s nowhere as rowdy as in Pattaya or even Bangkok. Nightlife in Phuket is now for everyone, with great nightclubs hosting international DJs, fancy rooftop bars, more live bands than you need, and ladyboy shows that defy your imagination. And, of course, you might be tempted to have a look inside the notorious Go Go bars at least once. Go on; it’s easy-going, and couples are welcome.
1. Bangla Road
Soi Bangla, or Bangla Road, is the heart of all Phuket Nightlife, and the battle for night supremacy is raging between Soi Seadragon and the new Tiger complex. Over the years, the centre of interest has been moving up and down Bangla road depending on seasons and popularity, but the ever-changing face of Patong nightlife is worth a look. Of course, wherever you go in Bangla, friendly girls will call you with a big smile and encourage you to have a drink and play a few silly bar games; everyone is welcome.
Catch Beach Club is reborn and is as popular as ever! Catch Beach Club is more than just another beach club in Phuket: created by the famous Twinpalm Resort in Surin Beach; it was the first beach club craze that took the island like a fashion wave. In just a couple of years, there were beach clubs everywhere. Most of them were quite busy, but none ever came close to what the original Catch Beach Club was on Surin Beach.
Hugely popular for decades, the Phuket Fantasea live show involves a hundred dancers and performers together with a dozen adult elephants. This massive show is set on the ground of an immense theme park in Kamala Beach. After almost twenty years, the Phuket Fantasea show is still going strong, welcoming million visitors each year. Tourists from around the world come to admire a dazzling performance narrating the legend of Kamala, which in this story is a jungle with a mythical palace surrounded by elephants.
Here are four hotels people talk a lot about. Of course, they might not be to everyone’s taste or Budget, but there is a lot of buzz about these!
Top Luxury Hotels in Phuket
2. Kata Rocks
Kata Rocks is changing the face of luxury accommodation in Phuket: more than just a hotel stay, it’s an unforgettable holiday experience. The hotel is on a hill at the south end of the superb Kata Beach, and from up there, every Sky Villa offers fantastic views of the Andaman Sea. Kata Rocks is so beautifully designed; it’s a real photo playground, especially the famous umbrellas in the infinity pool.
3. The Shore
The Shore at Katathani is one of the most exclusive hotels on Phuket, probably one of our best experiences on the island. The hotel combines all the ingredients effortlessly for a perfect escape: a location right on a beach, villas with jaw-dropping views, genuinely caring staff, an excellent restaurant, a good spa and countless small details that make the difference between just a regular ‘hotel stay’ and a truly unforgettable holiday. The location is what impresses first, right on and above the secluded beach of Kata Noi, a superb white sandy bay that has remained unspoiled because it’s not on any main road.
Mid Range Hotels
4. Amari Phuket
Amari Phuket is a resort with a unique location on Patong Beach. The hotel is blessed with its own beach with a fantastic view of the entire bay, and most rooms face the sea! This 4-star resort is located just at the southern end of Patong, just past a large bridge, making it the perfect hotel if you want to enjoy the best of both worlds: to be close enough to the fun of Patong and still be able to enjoy the peace of the ocean in a green surrounding.
Katathani Phuket Beach Resort is a great yet affordable hotel located on Kata Noi, one of the most beautiful beaches in the south of Phuket. Built along a 450 meters sandy beach, this large but very well-designed hotel can afford to offer a surprisingly large amount of rooms with real sea views.
Centara Grand Beach Resort is a large hotel benefiting from a superb location right on the sand of the immense bay of Karon Beach. With such a unique situation, huge pools right on the beach and many outlets, including a beach club, Centara Grand Beach Resort is a trendy mid-range hotel.