Phuket is not just a party town with many all-night bars, nor is it just a honeymoon destination. It’s a wonderful traveller’s hot spot where you can be as busy and active or as laid back and chilled as you like. Though it’s gained quite a reputation for being a ‘let it all hang out’ party paradise, there are plenty of things you can do in Phuket that are for all travellers. Try the diverse cuisine or go and meet the locals. Experience sea kayaking in secret caves at twilight. Of course, no trip to Thailand would be complete without some relaxation or some kind of indulgent spa treatment. Whatever your speed, there’s something that will interest you.
Chow down on the Phuket street food
You think Thai food is good in Australia? Then you haven’t tried genuine Phuket street food! Not only is it completely authentic because, well, you’re in Thailand, but it’s also ridiculously cheap, tasty, satisfying and fresh.
You might be used to the trendy food trucks that cart around the latest gourmet offerings, but in Phuket, you’re going to get real, honest food that’s made from basic ingredients, and entirely from scratch. Go to a market and you’ll be spoilt for choice, with tantalising aromas wafting through the air. You’ll also see vendors at the beach, in shopping precincts and at popular tourist attractions.
Thai cuisine is influenced by China, Malaysia and India and features delectable spices along with fresh, crispy vegetables. Examples include noodle and rice dishes, delicious savoury pancakes and there is always laksa: a full-flavoured soup laden with vegetables, meats or tofu. Kanom jeen (soft, thin noodles made out of fermented rice and topped with an array of different curries along with fresh, steamed or pickled vegies) is a typical breakfast food in Phuket and so is not usually available at night markets. Another nod to borrowed cultures comes in the form of hokkien noodles, satays and fried, battered chicken. Grab some moo ping (marinated grilled pork served on skewers) or the spicy, sour salad known as som tam which is based on shredded green papaya and flavoured with lime, fish sauce, chilli and palm sugar.
Travellers return frequently to Thailand because, apart from the beaches, markets and natural beauty, they need to satisfy their long-term cravings for the street food!
Take a cooking class with a beach view
The complexities of Thai cuisine are revealed in cooking classes, like at the Boathouse Oceanfront Cooking Class where participants learn about herbs, try their hand at vegetable carving and create a luscious soup. You’ll also discover how to make a proper Thai Massaman curry then apply all possible flair to stir frying some local seafood. At the end, you get to devour the dishes and you’ll receive a certificate of completion.
Immerse yourself in the local culture
Spend a day exploring Phuket’s natural, historical and cultural heritage where you’ll learn about the cuisine, the lifestyle, local customs and the unusual architecture. Phuket Heritage Trails introduces tourists to the locals and also shows them around the centre of Phuket Town for a fascinating and educational day trip. It’s a leisurely walk, suitable for all ages and includes two meals (brunch and lunch), food tastings throughout, a professional tour leader and visits to the Shrine of the Serene Light, Thai Amulet Market and Old Town Café, among others.
Get around Phuket on your own steam
Rent a bicycle, scooter or car (with the proper licences) and you’ll have the wheels to take you (mostly) wherever you want to go. It can actually be a cheaper option than taxis or tuk tuks but you should be at least somewhat familiar with the area before you go traipsing off on your own. Plus, the roads are unlike those in many other countries because of the huge disregard for traffic rules. Accidents are frequent so beware. Aside from the lower expense, when you rent a vehicle, you only have to haggle once, instead of every time you open a cab door or climb aboard a tuk tuk.
It’s possible to rent a bicycle in Phuket but given how easy it is to get around on foot, the possibility of an accident and the fact that the bike could easily be stolen, it’s not recommended. You could hire a budget scooter from around 200 baht per day and explore a bit of the surrounding areas outside of the central city where the traffic is much easier to navigate. Or, rent a four-door car and enjoy the air conditioning and independence. You could explore Rang Hill and Kata Viewpoint for astonishing views or one of the numerous temples and shrines.
Security notes: Under no circumstances should you ever leave your passport with any business, including vehicle rental suppliers. Be prepared with copies of your passport for just such an eventuality. Also be aware that if you are a foreigner and have an accident, the fault will almost always be deemed to be yours. When renting or riding on a scooter, motorcycle or car overseas you must ensure you have the correct licence for both Australia, and the country you are in, even if the country does not require a licence for the vehicle. This applies even if you are the passenger.
Go sea kayaking at sundown with an expert
The Hong by Starlight tour is run by a seasoned pro, John Gray, who devised the tour for people who want to get away from crowds for the day. A hong is a sea cave and you will make your way gently and comfortably through the serene caves in a two-person kayak that is paddled by a guide. The tour begins around 12 noon when you board the escort boat, enjoying a light Thai lunch and receiving a briefing. You’ll explore one or two hongs then move to a second island where you’ll kayak through two more hongs. At sunset, you’ll be treated to a fabulous Thai seafood buffet dinner including local, net-caught fish as you bask in the colourful ambience. After dark, you’ll start the journey back, marvelling at the beauty of the seascape, the marine wildlife and the wonder of nature. You may even get to see fireflies during the Loi Krathong ceremony where you will float your own self-made flower ‘krathong’ on the water.
Luxurious Thai spa treatments and massages
Westerners adore Phuket for its affordable access to spa treatments and massages. Lavishly appointed and offering the latest facials, body wraps, aromatherapy and scrubs, Phuket’s day spas will spoil you so much, you’ll never want to go home. Treat yourself to a lovely bamboo massage at De Surin Health Spa, where a warmed hollow bamboo cane is used on the body to apply a deeper, firmer sensation. You could indulge in a 3-hour package that includes an aromatherapy hot oil and Thai herbal facial and foot treatment.
Alternatively, if you’re more interested in the ‘cheap and cheerful’ variety of Thai massage, then a wander along the main streets will soon see you ensconced in a chair or on a table with a therapist attending to your aching muscles.
Spring for some quality accommodation
Prices for accommodation in Phuket vary but you can stay in some gorgeous five-star hotels at a reasonable price, complete with private beach, tennis courts, full service spa, in-room dining and on-site restaurants and bars.
You don’t go on holidays every day so when in Phuket, treat yourself! Make a list of the kinds of things you want to do when you’re there and enjoy researching them before you go. Daydreaming is all part of the experience. But doing them is way better!