From delicious cuisine to super-friendly people and stunning natural landscapes, it’s easy to see why Thailand is one of the most-visited parts of Southeast Asia. Each year, the islands in the south of the country attract millions of folks in search of sun, sea, and a good time. With so many to choose from, it can be difficult to know which island to pick, but the largest of all is always worth a look in. So, if you’re wondering ‘is Phuket worth visiting’, look no further than this guide…
Phuket is Thailand’s biggest isle. It lies off the west coast in the Andaman Sea and is connected to the mainland by two bridges – sometimes it hardly feels like an island at all! It first became popular as a backpacking destination in the 1970s. Travelers originally flocked to Phuket for its rugged coastline and laid-back vibes. But things have changed. Today, Phuket is a well-established tourism hub, complete with luxury resorts and built-up towns, not to mention over three million visitors annually.
Here, we’ll narrow down the joys of the vast island in the Andaman to seven key pointers, with a look at the awesome beaches and the top-quality hotels that are on offer. We’ll also touch on Phuket’s hidden cultural gems and the world-class diving that awaits just off the shoreline. Let’s go…
It’s a beach lover’s paradise
As the largest island in Thailand, it should hardly come as a surprise that Phuket counts vast stretches of glorious coastline. From the bustling strands of the western shore to the rugged, remote sands in the north, the island’s diversity of beaches is really what puts Phuket on the map.
The beaches in Phuket are not just great sunbathing spots. Whether you’re interested in water sports, sun-lounger cocktails, or a relaxing beach massage, the most popular beaches are hubs of activity to boot. Take Patong. It’s by far the most famous of all. The longest beach on the island, it’s become popular with younger crowds and backpackers due to its vibrant party scene, with bars and restaurants playing loud music day and night up and down a strip.
However, if crowded party beaches aren’t your vibe, fear not: There are plenty of quieter, lesser-known spots on Phuket’s coastline. Freedom Beach, for instance, is only reachable by trekking through dense, green shrubbery, or by hired boat. With a 300-meter stretch of white sand and dreamy turquoise waters, it’s 100% worth the effort.
If venturing off the beaten track appeals to you, there’s plenty of unspoiled sections of shore. Laem Ka Beach, for example, has a remote, Robinson Crusoe vibe. Then there are the protected stretches of the Sirinat National Park. They roll out under the airport in the north of Phuket, offering long runs of pure golden powder carpeted in the odd sea vine.
Some of Thailand’s most beautiful hotels are in Phuket
Is Phuket worth visiting for the hotels alone? If all you want from your holiday is to laze in the lap of luxury, we’d say so. This island is home to some of Thailand’s most incredible resorts. While they may not appeal to the more adventure-oriented traveler, Phuket’s all-inclusive, five-star hotels make for the ultimate R&R experience. They come with frills like private beaches, degustation food, bottomless drinks, and infinity pools overlooking the Andaman Sea!
But there’s also something a little different thrown in with the luxury. You’ll find backpacker hostels with boho styles and their very own bars amid the buzz of Phuket Town. There are loads of codo-style aparthotels with shared gyms and swimming pools. And you can get family villas set in gated estates. Here are just a few of the top accommodation choices:
- Surin Phuket ($$$) – One of the most beautiful hotels on the island, this resort’s many cottages and suites are scattered throughout the luscious green jungle on the west coast of Phuket. Look for it on the secluded sands and clear waters of Pansea Beach.
- Avista Hideaway ($$$) – The perfect place for a couples retreat, this peaceful report has a private feel. Rooms and suites come equipped with their own personal pools and Jacuzzis, offering stunning views of the bays of southwestern Phuket.
- The Passion Nest ($$) – A lovely midrange choice for all sorts of travelers, set around a central pool in the southern part of Phuket, within easy reach of good beaches and the night markets of Phuket Town.
- Book a Bed Poshtel – SHA Plus ($-$$) – Experience one of the new-wave posh-tels, a chic accommodation for backpackers that has its own pool and even a slide down to reception.
It has a rich cultural heritage
Phuket may have become famous as one of Thailand’s leading tourist destinations, but the island offers much more than resorts and parties. There are lots of fascinating attractions in Phuket that offer insight into the island’s rich cultural and religious heritage. The Big Buddha is the most well-known of these attractions, and for good reason. This colossal statue is coated with white jade marble, which shines in the sun. At 45 metres tall Phuket Big Buddha makes for a spectacular sight. Its position atop Nakkerd Hill also offers stunning 360-degree views of Phuket Town, Kata, Karon and Chalong Bay.
Wat Chalong is another important historical landmark in Phuket. Locals have come to pray at this Buddhist temple for centuries, and it’s a must-visit for tourists interested in learning about Buddhism in Thailand. As with all religious sites in Thailand, be sure to cover up when visiting!
Phuket Old Town is another great destination for visitors looking to understand the island’s vibrant cultural heritage. Much of the architecture in this attractive part of Phuket follows the traditional Peranakan architectural style. Expect to see brightly-hued shopfronts and houses with intricately-decorated ceramic tiles. By night, twinkling lights create the perfect atmosphere for perusing the town’s lanes in search of Thai culinary delights. This part of Phuket is pretty as a picture, and makes for a great one too!
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Phuket, visit the Peranakan Phuket museum in Thalang. It makes for a great afternoon away from the sweltering island heat.
The shopping is fantastic
If you love to shop, it’s worth visiting Phuket. The island has many markets, artisan shops, and even high-end shopping centers to choose from. The night markets of Phuket City are a particular highlight. There are plenty of artisan goods to browse at Indy Night Market, Chillva Night Market and the Phuket Walking Street. Taking a stroll through these various night markets is a great way to spend an evening in Phuket City.
Alongside shopping for souvenirs, you’ll often come across live street performances and find many different street bars to sit in and soak up the bustling atmosphere. Phuket weekend market is located just outside of Phuket City near Nakka Temple. It’s a great place to find interesting souvenirs, delicious street food and local artisanal goods.
If you’re after a more high-end shopping experience, Jungceylon Shopping Mall is the place to go. This modern complex in Patong has over 200 shops, selling everything from jewelry and clothing to cosmetics and technology. It also has a vast array of restaurants, a cinema, and a 16-lane bowling alley for some post-shopping entertainment.
Phuket is a great spot for diving
There’s no better way to escape the tourist crowds of Phuket than to venture under the sea! If you love all things aquatic, it’s worth visiting Phuket for diving alone. Phuket is a short trip from many of Thailand’s most revered diving spots. Its healthy reefs are home to a great diversity of ocean life, from tuna and mackerel to bamboo sharks and manta rays.
One of the most remarkable nearby diving sites is the shipwreck of a Kingcruiser passenger ferry. The ferry sank in 1997 (thankfully, with no loss of life!). This eerie site now provides a shelter for thousands of different varieties of fish, including barracudas and trevally. Racha Noi is another popular option. Amid coral reefs and submerged boulders, divers there regularly report seeing jacks, tuna and manta grazers.
Phuket’s many dive centers also organize trips to the reefs of Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. If you’re not yet ready to take the full plunge, it’s also possible to go on snorkeling excursions. Much of the diving infrastructure is centered on the port town of Chalong on the eastern coast of the island, but it’s common to get pick-up and drop-off trips from the lobby of your hotel. The top time to go diving in Phuket is the peak season months when the sea is calmer – between October and March.
It’s a great base to explore surrounding islands
Once you’ve spent a few days (or weeks) soaking up the sights and sounds of the main island, you may want to see what lies beyond the shores of Phuket. Indeed, the many different islands that surround Phuket make it worth visiting.
One of the most popular places to visit is Khao Phing Kan, a pair of islands about 45km from Phuket. Tapu, the smaller needle-shaped island of the two is particularly famous. It’s become known as James Bond Island after it starred in The Man with the Golden Gun back in 1974. Surrounding the islands, limestone karsts rise spectacularly out of jade-hued waters, creating a mystical backdrop. Boat trips to visit this popular site leave every day from Phuket. Our tip to make the most of this tour? Go first thing in the morning, you’re likely to be the first people on the island.
Phuket is also a great place from which to explore the Koh Yao island: Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi. Midway between Phuket and Krabi, these twin islands have all the stunning natural scenery of Phuket, albeit with a quieter, more laid-back vibe. People come to the Koh Yao islands to seek refuge from the crowds of Phuket. They’re a great destination for people who love to immerse themselves in nature. Whether it’s kayaking through crystal waters, snorkeling, swimming or hiking, you’ll find the Koh Yao islands are a great spot to get active.
It’s got one of Thailand’s more happening party scenes
No article about reasons to visit Phuket would be complete without mentioning the island’s nightlife. If you’ve come to Thailand to let off some steam in the country’s well renowned party scene, it’s worth visiting Phuket. You’ll find a great diversity of types of nightlife, from small bars for a quiet beer, to go-go bars, and the fully fledged club experience.
Patong is a particular haven for party-goers. The party kicks off in the afternoon in the town’s beachside bars and restaurants, and carries on into the small hours of the morning. Bangla road, also known as Bangla Walking Street, is the so-called strip. It’s rammed with beer bars, live music bars, rooftop bars, night clubs and go-go-bars. Even if you don’t fancy braving the party, a stroll down Bangla road come evening is always set to delight and surprise, albeit in a very non-family friendly way!
When is the best time to go to Phuket?
The best time to visit Phuket is between November and April – these are the warmest and driest months that make up the island’s peak season. With highs of up to 93°F and 9 hours of sunlight, March and early April are particularly good times to visit for those in search of optimal beach weather.
The rainy season starts in May and runs through until October, with the south-west monsoon bringing wetter and more humid conditions. Some prefer to visit the island during this time due to the cooler conditions, fewer numbers of tourists and the cheaper cost of accommodation. If you do decide to visit Phuket during the low season, we’d recommend booking a hotel with a pool. The sea can become very rough during monsoon season, even when the sun is out, so it’s best to have a backup bathing option if the lifeguard is flying their red flag.
Is Phuket too touristy?
It can’t be denied that Phuket is one of Thailand’s top tourist hotspots. From Big Buddha, to Patong beach, Phuket comes with it’s fair share of destinations that are teeming with tourists. But this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to escape the crowds and experience authentic Thai culture in Phuket. You just need to know where to look.
For example, if you want to experience Phuket like one of the locals, be sure to check out Phuket town. Here, you’ll find plenty of authentic Thai cuisine, at a fraction of the price charged in more popular tourists zones. There are also plenty of non-touristy beaches in Phuket, particularly to the north of the island. Our favourite is Haad Sai Kaew beach, a long stretch of sand where you’ll find a handful of ramshackle bars and very few tourists.
Opting to head to the island during low season is another good way to steer clear of crowds. Weather still reaches around 86°F the months of May to October, but the risk of rain keeps large quantities of tourists away.
How much money do I need per day in Phuket?
Phuket is one of the most expensive parts of Thailand, but this doesn’t mean that your trip here has to break the bank. You can get by with spending around $97 per day in Phuket, which includes money for accommodation, food, drink and entertainment. However, this figure really depends on where you stay and what you decide to do.
While backpackers can get away with spending just $10 a day on basic accommodation, rooms in Phuket’s luxury resorts can reach up to $1,500 per night in peak season. Similarly, a chilled day on the beach could mean you spend nothing on entertainment all day, but a boat tour of James Bond island will set you back up to $50 per head.
To give you a true reflection of how much your trip to Phuket will cost, it’s a good idea to do your research ahead of time on the types of activities you’re interested in doing. If you’re on a budget, we recommend staying in hostels, eating street food, and taking advantage of Phuket’s many free attractions, such as its beautiful beaches and Phuket Big Buddha.
Wondering where else in Thailand is worth visiting? Be sure to check out our guides to why you should visit Koh Tao and Koh Samui.