A Quick Guide - The Best of Phuket
Phuket is one of Thailand’s legendary islands and known around the world as the ‘Pearl of the Andaman’. It was one of the first places in Thailand to open to Western tourists and is the grand old dame of Thai tourism. As you would expect therefore it is home to some fantastic beaches, some fabulous hotels and has great infrastructure which allows visitors to make the most of their tropical stay with numerous local activities around the island and in the surrounding waters. Pretty much everything you could want in a beach holiday is on offer in Phuket and there is accommodation to suit every budget. Our quick guide will give you a snapshot of the island and offer a few suggestions as to where you might like to stay and what you might like to do. As a quick guide it is not meant to be exhaustive so if you have any questions about Phuket, that are not answered here, or need further information, please get in touch with our team of experts.
On 1st July, Phuket officially opened to fully vaccinated travellers without the need to quarantine. Visitors wishing to enjoy the newly created ‘Phuket Sandbox’ must stay at least 14 nights on the island before they are allowed to visit other parts of the country. However, it is perfectly possible to book stays of less than 14 days in Phuket, and then return home. In terms of getting to Thailand, it is worth noting that Thai Airways have just put on a direct flight to Phuket from London so there is no need to transit in Bangkok on the way out.
Thailand is currently on the UK’s ‘Amber List’, but we are hopeful this will change in the coming months. Furthermore, Thailand’s prime minister has publicly announced that his goal is to completely re-open the country to tourism by mid-October, so if the re-opening of Phuket is a success we can expect Thailand to be fully open in time for the forthcoming winter season.
The best time to visit Phuket
Phuket’s high season runs from late December through to early April. At this time you can expect pleasant warm temperatures which gradually rise as one moves from cooler December through to the heat of April. At this time there is little rain, or humidity, so it is a great time to hit the beach and undertake outdoor activities. Outside of high season, the shoulder seasons are also a good time to visit Phuket. These are late April through to mid-May - which is a largely dry period (except for the odd storm in May) but a time when temperatures are hot, and again from late October through to early December – when the rainy season has largely finished, and the countryside looks lush and verdant. It is now much less humid, and the temperatures are relatively cool.
Phuket’s green (or rainy!) season starts between mid-May and mid-June bringing frequent rain and lasts until October. For those who do not mind mixed weather whilst on holiday this can be a good time to be in Phuket as prices are cheap and it is still perfectly possible to have a great time.
Phuket’s best beaches
The island of Phuket has a dizzying array of beaches to choose from. But do not fear, as we are here to help you decide which area would be best for your particular holiday, whether you are looking for a romantic honeymoon, action-packed family adventure, or a bit of quiet time to get away from it all. Here are some of our top picks:
Bangtao Beach - One of the longest, yet most deserted, beaches on Phuket Island, Bangtao is a calm place to relax. The sea is generally flat here during high season (December to April) and there are just a few small beach bars and restaurants scattered along its 6km length. There are also several well-equipped beachfront resorts along the beach making Bangtao a great choice for families.
Best for: Getting away from it all.
Where to stay: The Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket has a fine beachfront location and lots of facilities. The Two-Bedroom Pool Villas there are spacious and perfect for a family.
Surin Beach - Surin Beach can be found in an enclosed bay on the west coast of Phuket Island, about 30 minutes’ drive south of the airport. It boasts incredibly clear water and soft white sand and is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. It is perhaps no surprise that a selection of great luxury resorts and villas can be found in the Surin Beach area and the scattering of classy restaurants contribute to the epicurean vibe here. A great place for discerning couples, families, or honeymooners.
Best for: Luxury and honeymoons.
Where to stay: Luxury options on Phuket include the exclusive Amanpuri, the long-established Surin Phuket and the stylish Twin Palms Phuket. Or for families or groups of friends travelling together, Blue Siam Villas offer a selection of sumptuous 3 to 11 bedroom private villas on the southern tip of Surin Beach.
Kata Noi Beach - At just 700m long, Kata Noi Beach is relatively small but remains quieter and less crowded than the likes of Patong, Karon or its big sister, Kata Beach, which is just a few hundred metres to the north. There is a café and a few other stalls on Kata Noi Beach and, despite its tranquillity, it is possible to arrange a good selection of water sports here, including banana boating trips for the kids.
Best for: Families.
Where to stay: The Kathathani is a good value family friendly resort on Kata Noi Beach with a wide range of facilities including extensive swimming pools, tennis courts and a kids club.
Nai Harn Beach - One of the most beautiful beaches in southern Phuket, Nai Harn Beach is home to a selection of high-quality hotels and restaurants but has thankfully avoided over-commercialisation and still retains a peaceful charm. The secluded white-sand bay is sheltered by jungle-covered mountains on either side and is the perfect spot to take in local life at a relaxed pace. Head to the peaceful freshwater lagoon for a morning hike or swim and to visit the small temple there or walk up to the Windmill Viewpoint for exceptional views.
Best for: A sophisticated stay.
Where to stay: One of Phuket’s original luxury hotels, The Nai Harn has been fully refurbished and is now one of our favourite places to stay in Phuket. Every room here has a direct view of the perfect white sand beach. The Nai Harn effortlessly combines old world charm with a fresh upmarket vibe, and the dining experience draws guests from all over the island.
Panwa Beach - Cape Panwa is a peaceful haven away from the bustle and the crowds, nestled in a tranquil spot in southeast Phuket. Panwa actually consists of several connected bays, meaning that the area never feels crowded. There is a great selection of top-end resorts to choose from, perfect for those looking for a more secluded experience away from the busier beaches on west coast Phuket. The location at the southeast tip of Phuket also make this is a good base from which to explore the historic sights of Phuket Old Town.
Best for: Peace & quiet.
Where to stay: Our pick of the hotels here is the Cape Panwa Hotel. Set on a tranquil stretch of private beach and surrounded by lush green gardens, there is enough to keep everyone entertained here with the two enticing outdoor swimming pools, watersport centre, Cape Spa, and wide selection of restaurants.
Phuket’s best romantic hideaways
Phuket’s tropical paradise provides some of the region’s most romantic hideaways which include top notch resorts, smart private villas, and boutique hotels in unusual settings. There are great many properties dotted around the island that have wonderful honeymoon potential, or excellent scope for a romantic break, but for the purposes of our quick guide we have chosen just three of our favourites.
Amanpuri – Surrounded by coconut palms and overlooking the Andaman Sea, Aman’s first ever resort sits on its own private peninsula beside Surin Beach, and offers guests an alluring mix of tropical romance, modern day sophistication and ancient Eastern promise.
Trisara – The Trisara is delightfully positioned in the tropical hills of northwestern Phuket overlooking a secluded cove. Well known for experiences that celebrate spiritual and physical well-being, and luxurious private villas that look straight out to sea, it provides the perfect spot for romance – making it a favourite with honeymooners.
Keemala – An all-pool villa property set in a romantic rainforest setting, the Keemala offers a unique place to stay on Phuket. The range of guest experiences which include spa treatments, holistic programmes, gastronomic delights, local activities coupled with a range of magical villas, and cottages, all combine to offer an enchanting holiday.
Phuket’s best luxury hotels
With its excellent beaches, stunning waters and dramatic landscapes, Phuket was always destined to be a dream holiday destination. As a result the island has attracted more than its fair share of luxury hotels and below we have listed a few that have become perennial favourites with Bamboo’s clients.
Banyan Tree – A private paradise, the Banyan Tree on Phuket offers luxurious all-pool villas nestled around a lagoon and surrounded by lush greenery. A perfect spot for visitors seeking a luxurious resort in Phuket but also a golf getaway, or a base from which to explore this beautiful island and its heritage, culture, and stunning beaches.
The Surin - Nestled amongst towering coconut palms and rolling hills on the west coast of Phuket, The Surin is a luxury resort that boasts an idyllic beachfront location. With its wide range of personal amenities, first class service and top-notch facilities, The Surin offers one of the island’s best beach stays.
Nai Harn - Phuket’s first luxury resort, and the island’s only member of Leading Hotels of the World, the Nai Harn offers private sanctuaries that come with cutting-edge technology, designer amenities and comfortable furnishings. The facilities are excellent and a friendly team of hosts offer a unique welcome helping you to escape the bustle of daily life in wonderful surroundings.
Best excursions in Phuket
There is more to Phuket than its fantastic beaches. If you are looking for alternatives to topping up your tan, here are four recommended non-beach experiences in Phuket:
Historic Phuket - Walk amid the historic buildings of the Old Town to enjoy a taste of Phuket’s more traditional side. See the well-preserved colonial heritage architecture and sample some authentic local food at the small street food stalls in the company of a local guide.
Phuket’s countryside by bike - Phuket’s north-eastern corner is renowned for its stunning scenery and small traditional Thai villages. The quiet country roads criss-crossing through palm, pineapple and rubber tree plantations are ripe for exploration by bike. This bucolic escape, and the opportunity to visit the island’s Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, offers the best way to get a deeper insight into rural life on Phuket Island.
Phuket’s culinary culture - Discover the island’s history through its food. This night tour of Phuket Old Town introduces enthusiastic foodies to a variety of local specialities including Thai curried fish custard, O-Tao and fried insects for the more adventurous.
Visit Khao Sok National Park - Khao Sok National Park features rainforest, waterfalls, limestone cliffs and the picture-perfect Cheow Lan Lake. Just a 2-hour drive from Phuket the wonderful combination of stunning geography and diverse flora and fauna make the National Park a special place to visit for the nature lover and the active individual or family.
Phuket’s best aquatic experiences
The enticing waters surrounding Phuket Island are full of life and ripe for exploration. A wide variety of water activities and day trips can be arranged during a stay on the island. Here are three of our favourite aquatic experiences:
Snorkelling and diving - There are some excellent snorkelling spots off many of Phuket’s beaches, especially Nai Harn and Kata Noi beaches. There are also fantastic snorkelling and diving opportunities off nearby islands, such as Koh Phi Phi, Koh Racha, and the Similan Islands - a day trip 84km northwest of Phuket.
Cruise & kayak Phang Nga Bay: The limestone cliffs and caves of Phang Nga Bay were made famous by the 1997 Bond film ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. The best way to explore this picturesque area is on a cruise from Ao Po Pier. Adventurous souls will be given the opportunity to further explore some of the area’s sea caves by canoe or kayak.
Rok Islands by speedboat: Travel by speedboat to Koh Rok Nok and Koh Rok Nai, two of Thailand’s most unspoilt islands. Enjoy lunch on the beach and spend your time sunbathing or snorkelling amongst the pristine corals and varied marine life in the surrounding waters.
Phuket’s best family activities
Phuket is a fantastic family destination. As well as great resorts and incredible beaches, there is no shortage of amazing activities and experiences for the whole family to get stuck into. Here are just a few of our favourites:
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary - Phuket’s leading ethical elephant sanctuary gives retired and rescued elephants a chance at a new life where they can just be elephants. Visit the sanctuary to learn about the important work they are doing and meet some of the elephants for yourselves. You and your family will have the chance to get up close and help feed the gentle giants, and then plenty of time to observe them as they roam, bathe, play, and socialise, all completely freely.
Flying Hanuman - Take to the trees on an exciting zipline adventure with Flying Hanuman. Hidden in the jungle near the Kathu Waterfall, Flying Hanuman has 28 ziplines connected by treetop platforms, with the longest zipline stretching 400m. Built in harmony with the forest with minimal impact on the environment, Flying Hanuman offers an unforgettable eco-adventure for all the family. The minimum age to participate is 4 years old, and there are different programs to suit everyone.
Waterparks - There is plenty of water-based fun to be had in Phuket away from the beaches. Splash Jungle Water Park is the largest water park in Phuket and has water slides and rides to suit every age and level of thrill seeking. Kids and teenagers will love the ‘Surf House’ at Kata Beach, where they can have great fun learning to surf on the state-of-the-art surf machine. For younger children Rawai Park has an array of outdoor playgrounds and child-friendly water slides and games.
Best islands to stay on near Phuket
The main beaches and tourist centres on Phuket can get busy and crowded in peak season, so if you want to truly get away from it all we would suggest heading out to one of the offshore islands in Phang Nha Bay and the Andaman Sea that offer a quieter and more tranquil holiday experience. Here is our pick of the islands near Phuket with comfortable hotels.
Koh Racha - Lying about 20km south of Phuket are the two islands that make up Koh Racha, renowned for their white sandy beaches and clear waters. Koh Racha is an ideal destination for those looking for snorkelling and diving from your beach doorstep. The boat journey from the south of Phuket takes just 30-40 minutes and offer an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of the main island. At night-time, the island is quiet with only a handful of bars and restaurants, and the lack of bright lights make Koh Racha a great place for stargazing. Our recommended hotel on the island is The Racha, which is featured on our 'Escape to Phuket' tour.
Koh Yao Noi & Yai - Set in the bucolic waters of Phang Nga Bay, roughly halfway between Phuket and Krabi, the two peaceful islands of Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai offer a good choice of accommodation in a natural setting. Traditionally, the more popular of the two islands is the Koh Yao Noi where you will find a choice of luxurious hideaways such as the Six Senses and Koyao Island Resort. However there is a growing number of places to stay on the larger and more rustic island of Koh Yao Yai, such as the Glow Elixir, and we now consider this island a bit of a hidden gem!
Koh Phi Phi - Firmly put on the map by the nineties film ‘The Beach’, Koh Phi Phi took a battering in the tsunami of 2004 and then suffered from acute over-tourism which led to the iconic Maya Bay being completely closed off to allow the natural habitat to regenerate. This ‘eco-closure’ resulted in a huge drop in visitor numbers to these picture postcard islands allowing the coral reefs to return to a pristine condition. All places to stay are on the larger of the two islands, Phi Phi Don, and our pick of the bunch is the delightful Zeeavola Resort located on a secluded northern tip which offers great snorkelling off the beach.
Koh Lanta - Koh Lanta is slightly further from Phuket, but the two islands are served by a regular ferry service taking around 2 hours. The island is around a third of the size of Phuket, but decades behind it in terms of development. Many of the white sandy beaches remain blissfully quiet and undisturbed by mainstream tourism, and there is a good choice of hotels to suit all budgets. Our favourite is the achingly stylish and adult-only Layana Resort, or for families the Pimalai Resort is a great choice.