Phuket beyond the beach

Phuket is renowned for its fabulous beaches and with so many beautiful stretches of sand to choose from, it’s easy to see the appeal of Thailand’s largest island. But there is so much more to see and do in Phuket. If you’re looking for ideas of what to see and do in Phuket away from the beach areas, check out our suggestions below.

Phuket Town
(Photos: Roy Cavanagh)

Explore Phuket Old Town

These days, Phuket is best known as a tourist destination, but that hasn’t always been the case. The island has a fascinating history related to maritime trade routes and tin mining. During the 1800s, Phuket’s tin mining industry thrived and attracted merchants from Europe and China. Today, many of the original buildings constructed by those traders can still be seen in the historic Phuket Old Town district.

Street art in Phuket Old Town (‘Baba Lady With Desserts’)
(Photo: Roy Cavanagh)

Phuket Old Town is similar to Georgetown in Penang, as it boasts charming old buildings, colourful street art, museums, quaint cafes, and a thriving food scene. Soi Romanee is perfect for admiring the architecture and pastel hues, while the Chinese gate on Phang Nga Road leads to the elegant Shrine of the Serene Light. On Sundays, Thalang Road transforms into a delightful Walking Street Market, which is worth experiencing if you’re in Phuket Town.

Walking Street Market, Phuket Old Town
(Photo: Roy Cavanagh)

Discover gastronomic delights

Phuket is home to a diverse food scene that reflects the island’s cultural heritage. Influences from southern Thailand, China, and Malaysia can be found in the local cuisine, which ranges from simple street food to fine dining. In 2015, Phuket Town was awarded the title of UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in recognition of the eclectic local food scene across the island, making Phuket a great destination for foodies.

Pla manao (steamed fish with lime) at Amanpuri, Phuket
(Photo: Amanpuri)

As a popular tourist destination, there are many restaurants and eateries on the island catering to overseas visitors. However, the quality of the food near the busiest beaches can be hit or miss, with some restaurants offering toned-down tourist versions of classic Thai dishes. Despite this, there are still plenty of outstanding authentic Thai food options to be found in Phuket. One of the best ways to discover where the locals eat is to ask the staff at your hotel for recommendations. Some of the recommended local dishes to try include roti and curry, moo hong (pork belly stew), and mee Hokkien (Hokkien-style noodles).

Phuket Town offers the biggest and best choice of local restaurants, including Kopitiam, Tu Kab Khao, and Mee Ton Poe (for mee Hokkien). For a special occasion, the Blue Elephant restaurant offers Royal Thai cuisine in a photogenic mansion house. Seafood lovers can head to Kan Eang Seafood 2 or Kan Eang at Pier, both of which have a good reputation, or try Laem Hin Seafood on the east coast for views over to Coconut Island.

Live like locals

Explore the local culture and lifestyle by visiting any of the community-based tourism initiatives on the island. This type of responsible tourism offers visitors an opportunity to be a part of local life and also benefits the local community. You can find Live Like Locals programs at various locations in Phuket, such as Ko Lone, Ban Tha Chat Chai, Phuket Old Town, Bang Tao and Cherngtalay.

Video from Live Like Locals, Phuket

Vanich Farm, located in the centre of Phuket City, is an enjoyable place to visit with your family. You can meet the resident buffaloes, cows, sheep, rabbits, and other animals while learning about the Thai farmers’ way of life. You can also plant rice, which is organically grown on the farm’s large plots of land. Vanich Farm offers a fun and educational experience that is quite different from the more popular tourist attractions in Phuket.

Visit an ethical animal sanctuary

Tourists visiting Phuket can experience ethical and responsible elephant encounters at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. The sanctuary is a safe haven for elephants that were previously used in the logging or trekking industry. Another commendable location that has been consistently doing good work with rescued animals is the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project. It is located near the Bang Pae waterfall in the eastern part of Phuket.

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
(Photo: Phuket Elephant Sanctuary Facebook page)

Learn Muay Thai

Discover more about Thailand’s national sport by visiting any of the Muay Thai gyms in Phuket. If you’ve never tried Thai boxing before, don’t worry. At places like Tiger Muay Thai, everyone is welcome, from beginners to intermediate and advanced levels. Whether you’re interested in learning more about Muay Thai, MMA or just want to exercise, gyms like Tiger Muay Thai are ideal for keeping fit during your stay in Phuket.

Tiger Muay Thai, Phuket
(Photo: Tiger Muay Thai Facebook page)

Play a round of golf

If you’re a golf enthusiast, Phuket has a variety of world-class golf courses to choose from. You can put your skills to the test at the Canyon Course or the award-winning Laguna Phuket Golf Club. Enjoy the scenic beauty of the ocean while playing at the Mission Hills golf course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, or book a round at the beautiful Red Mountain course with its stunning views.

Mission Hills Golf Course, Phuket
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Take to the hills

If you’re visiting Phuket and looking for some adventure, the hills and lush interior of the island offer some great hiking opportunities. You can explore some of the routes on your own, but it’s recommended to travel with a reputable local guide who knows the area and trails well.

Big Buddha, Phuket
(Photo: Shutterstock)

One popular hiking spot is the Big Buddha, which most people visit by car or minivan. However, you can also opt for a hike to the top, starting at sea level near Karon Beach. Another option is to hike through National Parks, where you can enjoy the scenic beauty of rainforests and waterfalls along the way.

Jump on a bicycle

If you’re looking for a unique way to explore Phuket, why not consider a cycling tour? With quiet trails that take you through rubber plantations and local villages, you can experience the island from a different perspective. The tours cater to all levels of experience, from beginner to advanced, and can range from a relaxing half-day trip to multi-day adventures that explore nearby islands like Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and see a side of Phuket that many visitors miss.

Cycling on Ko Yao Noi, near Phuket
(Photo: Roy Cavanagh)

Try the local brew

Thailand has been stepping up its game when it comes to craft beers. Phuket is home to the Full Moon Brewworks Microbrewery Restaurant where you can try out different craft beers like Chalawan Pale Ale and Andaman Dark Ale. You can also find craft beers for sale at various locations around Phuket. If you’re more of a spirits person, you might want to check out the Chalong Bay Rum Distillery for a tasting tour or a cocktail workshop.

Visit the viewpoints

There are several impressive viewpoints where you can admire the beauty of Phuket. Promthep Cape and the Big Buddha are two of the most famous spots, but they can also get quite crowded, especially during peak times. If you want to avoid the crowds, you can check out Windmill Hill near Nai Harn Beach or Khao Rang in Phuket Town. Another great option is to head to Baba Nest at Sri Panwa for some panoramic views from a rooftop bar. And if you have your own transportation, you can also visit the Samet Nangshe viewpoint just to the north of Phuket island in neighbouring Phang Nga province.

Promthep Cape, Phuket
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Go island hopping

Phuket is an ideal base for island hopping around the Andaman Sea. Hire a boat privately or join a tour for snorkelling or diving at nearby islands like Ko Bon, Ko Hae, Ko Khai, Ko Maphrao, and Ko Racha. For a more exclusive experience, join one of the highly recommended John Gray Sea Canoe trips to explore Phang Nga Bay away from the tourist crowds. Further out, the Similan Islands and the Surin Islands are great for serious divers and can be reached as part of a day trip. Phuket also serves as a transit point for onward travel to other islands in southern Thailand.

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