Phabulous Phuket

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If Phuket were a person, it’d be diagnosed as “happily schizophrenic.” There are so many sides to Phuket that there’s something to wow everyone. But that can make it a bit overwhelming to plan a trip, so I’m going to help you out by listing some custom dream-trip itineraries to suit a variety of tastes and personalities. Since Phuket is a quick one-hour hop from Penang, we go there all the time, and over the past few years we’ve discovered some incredible gems that I’ll share with you here. And if you suffer from “vacation-schizophrenia” (as I do), you can easily mix and match many of these options.

As for when to go, there’s really no bad time to visit Phuket, except for maybe September and May. Those two months often have torrential rainstorms and searing heat. Other than that, it’s typical fabulous tropical weather for the rest of the year. (Note: if you’re going there to scuba dive, the Similan Islands are usually closed from May 15-October 15 every year, so plan accordingly).

Here’s the overview, with details following below:

Outdoor Explorers and Fun-Fans
Kayak through Phang Nga Bay’s sea caves
Hop in a human hamster ball
Rock climb on Phuket’s iconic islands
Zipline through the jungle
Learn Muay Thai boxing

The Perpetually Pruny-Fingered Watermen/Woman and Beach Lovers
Dive the Similan Islands
Take a day trip to snorkel around Koh Phi Phi
Go kiteboarding

Animal Lovers
Stay at Elephant Hills and help rescued elephants
Volunteer at Soi Dog
Visit Gibbon Rehabilitation Project

Cheap-Lux Seekers and Shopaholics
Live like Oprah on Racha Island
Rub elbows with celebrities at Trisera Villas
Take a dip in your living room pool at Barray Villas
Shop the night market

Zen Master
Get a million cheap massages
Take a yoga retreat
Visit the Big Buddha
Enjoy the Floating Lantern Festival (Loi Krathong)

Party People
Bangla Road
Party with backpackers on Phi Phi Island
Full Moon beach party
Songkran water festival

Culture Vulture
Take a Thai cooking class
Visit the Phuket weekend market

So get ready to storm Phuket – prepare your unicorn.

Unicorn

Let’s dig into the details:

Outdoor Explorers and Fun-Fans
 Explore Sea Caves in Phang Nga Bay by Kayak
John Gray Sea Canoe runs a really fun and fascinating day trip in the beautiful island-studded Phang Nga Bay. They pick you up from your hotel and boat you out an hour or so into bay. Then you’ll hop on kayaks, paddle under some crazy-looking overhangs into glittering, stalactite-covered sea caves, and explore secluded lagoons. If you’re lucky, you’ll see monkeys, sea eagles, Brahminy kites, mudskippers and some monitor lizards. And at nightfall, you’ll make pretty candle-lit offerings, and paddle out to see bioluminescence – magical, tiny little plankton that glow purple when you splash the water. The Hong (sea cave) kayak day trip costs 3950 baht (around $116 USD).

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Rollerball Zorbing
Who hasn’t wanted to be in a giant, human-sized hamster ball and bounce down a hill? My friend Lisa and I did this during a rainy day and it was pretty damned fun. You’re guaranteed to laugh yourself silly. (Pro tip: Wear your bathing suit – they put some water in the ball to help you slide around)

Rock climb
With so many vertical limestone cliffs around southern Thailand, there are some truly fantastic and beautiful rock climbs to be done around Phuket. Nearby Krabi is home to Thailand’s most iconic climbs – indeed, Railay Beach is one of the best and most gorgeous places to climb in the world. There are hundreds of routes for a wide variety of skill levels – there are beginner 5a routes, all the way up to expert 8cs. It’s a full and intense day, and one you won’t ever forget. Gecko Thailand runs fantastic day trips there for 6,500 baht ($191 USD) for one person; for two people or more, it’s 5,500 baht ($161 USD) per person.

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An easier day climbing trip from Phuket is the gorgeous Koh Pan-yee in Phang Nga Bay. (1 person = 5,500 baht; $161 USD. 2 people = 4,500 baht per person; $132 USD)

Zipline Through the Jungle
Spend a half day pretending you’re a monkey and zip-line through the jungle canopy with Flying Hanuman. The zip lines are impressively long and the whole operation is super safe. It’s located about 45 minutes outside of Phuket town, and they’ll pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. You have your choice of three options for the length of your course and how many zip lines to experience, ranging in price from 2,300-3,400 baht ($67-100 USD).

Learn Muay Thai Boxing
If your idea of fun is beating the snot out of people, you’re going to love learning how to do traditional Thai boxing, known as Muay Thai. One of the best places to learn is at Tiger Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts in Chalong (southeastern Phuket). There are 2-hour beginner classes every day, and they also offer on-site accommodations for those who want to do multiday training sessions.

The Perpetually Pruny-Fingered Watermen/Woman and Beach Lovers
If your soul is soothed by island hopping from one palm-lined paradise to another, or if you have gills, the islands around Phuket offer tons of fabulous options to float your boat. Note that the water surrounding the main parts of Phuket town itself isn’t clear or blue – you’ll have to go out to some of the nearby islands to get that full-on fantasy island feel. Here are some fun things to do and great places to stay for water babies and beach lovers:

Dive the Similan Islands
About 1.5 hours boat ride off the coast of Phuket are the 9 spectacular islands of the Similans, which feature some of the best diving in the world. The dives are very easy since the water is super calm and relatively current-free, and there’s an array of small stuff (from nudis and adorable frogfish) to see, as well as big stuff (like the sperm whale my husband saw while diving there in February). They’re uninhabited islands, and since the Khao Lak dock is a 1.5 hour drive from Patong, it’s hard to do it as a day trip. The best way to experience the Similans and get in the most number of dives is by doing a liveaboard, and there are a wide variety of options, from dirt cheap to posh. Our favorite liveaboard dive operator is Khao Lak Explorer, which offers a full range of boat and dive options. They’re very reliable, their equipment is great, they’re very affordable, they offer full turnkey service, and our dives with them were fantastic.

Note: The Similan Islands are usually off-limits from May 15-October 15 every year. 

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Snorkeling day trips around Koh Phi Phi
If you’re staying in Phuket, I recommend hopping aboard an Offspray Leisure speed boat to snorkel at several dive sites around Koh Phi Phi. You’ll get to see spectacularly steep, iconic karst islands that have shot up from the ocean floor, secluded little coves with emerald water, beautiful beaches, and maybe even a turtle or two. It’s a really fun and memorable day trip. Day trips run about 3800 baht ($110 USD).

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Stay on Phi Phi
If you’re staying on Koh Phi Phi, you can always hop on a longtail boat and get a private tour to these snorkeling/swimming spots and spend more time there. Note though that Koh Phi Phi is rather thronged with backpackers, so if you’re looking for a tattoo, cheap shots and late-night parties, that’s the place to be. If that’s not your jam, you can stay on the other side of the island, away from the partiers, at the Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort. It’s pretty affordable and not particularly fancy, and it’s a good option if you want a quiet place to stay on Phi Phi – and bonus: they have a private speed boat to get to/from their resort from Phuket, which is a lot faster than the ferry, and not filled with hungover hippies regretting the shitty Chang Beer tattoos they got while drunk.

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Kiteboarding
As a seasoned kiteboarder, I’d say the kiting in Phuket is…well, just okay. Not someplace I’d travel to just for kiting (unless you’re desperate for wind) since it’s usually big-kite weather there and the wind isn’t guaranteed. But it’s a great place to learn since the conditions are gentle, the beaches are huge and the water is warm and shallow. If you’re traveling from May to October, the kiting happen in Nai Yang, which has a massively long beach and lots of great accommodations and restaurants – it’s in the north, very close to the airport, and is a very chilled out part of Phuket. From November to March, your best chance of finding wind is in Chalong Bay at Rawai Beach, which is in the southeast part of Phuket. It’s a pretty sleepy part of Phuket, so I’d recommend staying in Phuket town, which is only about 30 minutes away, around Patong, Karon, Kata or Kamala.

Animal Lovers
Elephant Hills
Uh, anyone want to volunteer to feed and bathe rescued elephants in the jungle? YES PLEASE! Elephant Hills is a special place with special elephants. Plus, their luxury tent accommodations are lovely and peaceful. They’re located about 1.5 hours from the Phuket airport, and their most popular option is a 3-day, 2-night safari, in which you’ll stay at the main camp for one night, and spend a night on a luxury house-boat tent on a quiet lake surrounded by the rainforest. And did I mention…elephants! Eeeee!

elephant hills

Volunteer at (or just visit) Soi Dog Foundation
This incredible, high-impact organization does truly lifesaving work to help the homeless, neglected and abused dogs and cats of Asia, they work to end the terrible dog meat trade throughout Southeast Asia, and they help with animal welfare emergencies. They do truly awesome work and your soul will smile by spending some time volunteering or visiting Soi Dog Foundation. Guided tours take place every day at 9:30, 11, 1:30 and 2:30.

Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
Endangered gibbons are the smallest and cutest apes on earth, and you get to see them and the wonderful rescue and conservation work going on at Gibbon Rehabilitation Project. You can easily spend a half day at this beautiful place in the jungle, watching the gibbons play in the trees.

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Cheap-Lux Seekers and Shopaholics
The Racha Resort
If you’ve ever wanted to vacation like Oprah or Jackie Chan but without having to sell your spare kidney to do so, stay in a spectacular villa on Racha Island at the superb The Racha resort and you’ll feel like a jetsetting billionaire. And bonus: no need to sell any organs to afford it! For roughly the cost of a fancy dinner in a major western city, you’ll get to stay at this beautiful, serene resort located on a secluded azure bay. This place is pure magic – there are clouds of blue butterflies flittering around the trees, big monitor lizards lazily walking around the lawn, two beautiful swimming pools (and you can get a villa with a private pool too), private outdoor showers in your villa beneath the swaying palms, and the food is world-class. It’s a 40 minute boat ride from Chalong Pier, so it’s close to Phuket, but feels like a million miles away. We stayed there for 2 nights and 3 glorious days, but I wish we would have stayed for a couple more days – it’s heaven.

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Trisara Villas
On Phuket itself, the incredible Trisara Villas are where international celebrities stay, and it’s affordable enough for mere mortals, too. Just check out some photos on their site – this place will take your breath away.

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Barray Villas
Nestled within the Kata Beach neighborhood of Phuket are the opulent and spacious Barray Villas (in Sawasdee Village). Unlike the Trisara and The Racha, this isn’t located on the water, but each two-story villa has private pool access from the living rooms. That’s right – you can step in the pool in your living room, swim out and hop on your inflatable unicorn. Totally baller! For just $250 USD/night, it’s a damn good bargain.

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Night market
If you’re a shopaholic, you’ve got to stroll the alleys of the Patong night market, where you can get bikins for $6, cute sundresses and hippie pants for $4, silk scarves for $3 and more elephant themed souvenirs than you ever thought exisited.

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The Zen Master
Massages
In the popular tourist centers of Phuket, a one-hour massage costs 300 baht, or about $8 USD. At that price, you can get your muscles tenderized for half a day using just the loose change hidden in your sofa cushions. There are plenty of great massage places throughout town – just choose one with air conditioning.

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That’s my brave friend Caryn getting a traditional Thai massage (while I laugh my butt off at her groans of pain.)

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25 hour massage for 1300 baht? Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Yoga retreat
Last I checked, there were 61 yoga retreats on offer in Phuket. Not joking: 61. You can catch a quick yoga class just about anywhere, or do a multi-day retreat to get your gumby on.

Big Buddha
No zen tourist’s trip to Phuket is complete without a visit to the gigantic Buddah on sitting on the hill above Karon. The views are quite beautiful!

Floating Lantern Festival (Loi Krathong), at Patong
Every year, sometime in the first half of November, is the visually stunning Loi Krathong festival. Thai Buddhists make krathong, floating lanterns carrying candles, incense sticks and their wishes, which they launch into large bodies of water at night. It happens all over Patong and many large hotels have special ceremonies for it in their pools and in the ocean around the resorts. It’s quite a beautiful sight to see all these illuminated krathongs floating in the water.

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Party People
Bangla Road
If crazy nightlife is your thing, you can party all night on Bangla Street, take in a ping pong show (not what you think it is…unless you’re a perv, in which case it’s exactly what you think it is). Personally, I find the street utterly vile – there are underage girls dancing on stripper poles, people beckoning you in to see the “eel show” (I really don’t want to think of what that is), and creepy sex tourists everywhere. But it’s kind of like a train wreck – you can’t help but look, and then afterward, you really wish there were a way to unsee it.

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Phi Phi Island backpackers
If you’re under 30 and aren’t a disgusting sex tourist, the place to party is Phi Phi island. There are backpackers from around the world there, as well as lots of decent accommodations and fun places to explore in the daytime.

Paradise Beach Full Moon Party
You’ve probably heard of Thailand’s famous full moon beach parties, right? The place to hit it in Phuket is at Paradise Beach.

Songkran water fight
During Thai New Year (April 13), the Thais celebrate Songkran with a gigantic water fight. So grab your supersoaker and prepare to get wet!

Culture Vultures
Take a Thai Cooking Class
Food is an intrinsic part of Thai culture, and there’s no better way to experience their culture of food than by learning how to cook Thai dishes. Thai food is some of the tastiest cuisine on earth, and it’s surprisingly easier to cook than you think. There are tons of fantastic Thai cooking classes in Phuket, and they’re really fun too! One of the best places to take a class it at Phuket Thai Cookery – damn, the food you’ll cook is delicious!

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Visit the Phuket Weekend Market, aka Naka Market
Just outside of Phuket town is the Naka Market, which is where the locals shop for all kinds of secondhand stuff and eat delicious street food. It feels like there are a million stalls filled with anything on earth you can imagine – it’s a crazy experience!

Okay, that’s it for now! Please let me know if this story helps you with your trip planning – I really hope it does. Enjoy your Phuket trip, my friends!

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