The balmy, breezy island of Phuket has become the epitome of the Thai beach holiday destination. Attracting visitors from all over the world, the 576 km2 island is much more than the rowdy and rambunctious Bangla Road on Patong Beach that seems to feature loud on many travel sites.
The international airport on the island (code: HKT) is a convenient gateway to not only the island itself, but to the neighbouring attractions and resorts located on the coastal strip of Khao Lak to the north and the delightful islands like Ko Yao Yai and Phi Phi to the east.
Virtually the entire coastline of the island is dotted with resorts and hotels, all strategically located to take advantage of the beaches and sweeping seascapes, and is now a far cry from the sleepy, remote locale that so attracted the early travellers when it was ‘discovered’ by the first backpackers and hippies nearly fifty years ago.
Further romanticised by movies like Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘The Beach’ in 2000, filmed on Koh Phi Phi, the location gained an almost mythical status despite the tribulations endured by our cinematic heartthrob.
Apart from these misty-eyed daydreams, Phuket and surrounds offer plenty for the earnest traveller to experience. Here’s a checklist to consider for your forthcoming visit:
- Old Phuket Town – with its enchanting amalgam of Thai, Chinese and Portuguese architecture, the old center is a world away from the hustle of downtown. Enjoy the traditional shophouses, residences and preserved historic mansions.
- The beaches – mostly found on the less populated western shore, you’ll find Surin, Mai Khao, Nai Harn and Laem Singh a more relaxing experience than those closer to town.
- Phuket Thai Hua Museum – contains an interesting photography display and recognises Phuket’s Chinese heritage
- Phuket Aquarium – makes education fun with its many different displays of marine life, habitats as well as local environmental and conservation issues
- The Phuket Art Gallery – a Sino-Portuguese style building where modern and fascinating arts are displayed as well as a wide range of temporary exhibits
- Phuket Silom Cabaret – highly regarded Broadway-standard stage shows featuring skillful dancers, stunning costumes and great music and light system
Shopping Tip: Phuket Weekend Market
This thriving weekend market might remind you of Bangkok’s Chatuchak market – in miniature. It’s busiest in the late afternoon and, I hear you ask, “what can you buy there?” It’s easier to list what you can’t.
With so many ideal locations all around the coast and inland, the choice of accommodation can be perplexing. We’ve tested numerous properties and these are some of our picks.
The Bell Pool Villa Resort – Kamala Beach
These near-new villas are fully self-contained behind a high wall and gate with private (8x4m) infinity pool and cabana. Separate bedrooms, living area and kitchen means you can blissfully enjoy your own company (or that of loved ones) while you make your own meals or have them delivered from the kitchen. Perfect for couples, but expandable using the separate bedrooms, each villa can be configured to accommodate up to six persons, seven at a pinch.
Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa – Karon Beach
Set on a massive 75-acre plot, the 665-room Hilton is around 25 years old but has had numerous rooms upgraded as recently as 2011 in the Deluxe Plus category. Fine for families and groups, the resort comprises seven distinct buildings and includes The Spa, children’s club, tennis and squash courts (yes, remember them?), conference facilities, ballroom and a fitness centre.
The Sarojin – Khao Lak
The Sarojin is beautifully set on an 11-kilometre stretch of secluded white sand beach 55 minutes by private transfer north of Phuket International Airport. Surrounded by five spectacular national parks and the world-famous dive sites of the Similan and Surin Islands, this luxurious haven is designed in a contemporary Asian style. The award-winning, five-star resort’s 56 deluxe residences are camouflaged within four hectares of tropical grounds leading directly to the beachfront.
Amatara Wellness Resort – Cape Panwa
The idyllic Cape Panwa precinct to the south of downtown, is noted for several high-end resorts enjoying expansive views over the sea in a superb, breezy location overlooking the cruise port. Amatara Wellness Resort (formerly Regent Phuket Cape Panwa) bills itself as a ‘holistic wellness resort’ with 105 pavilions, suites and pool villas, all featuring scenic and expansive views of the Andaman Sea. Rooms start at a spacious 60sqm for pavilions, up to a generous 150sqm for pool villas. All are equipped with at-call butler service, extended sundeck areas and a private balcony. The signature spa has eight private treatment rooms, all overlooking the seascape, feature the signature Amatara Spa treatments.
Bangkok Airways flies regularly to Phuket from the Thai capital. Find the best flights here, and breathe out.
Images as supplied