Mention Phuket to people, and you’ll get two types of reactions. The seasoned traveler will roll their eyes while muttering, “Ugh, Phuket. It’s so touristy.”
Or, ask the standard tourist. Their face will light up as the stunning white-sand beaches, and azure waters fill up their mind. “Ugh, Phuket,” they say, “It is so dreamy. I want to visit.”
Yet, Phuket is much more than both of those things.
I have had the chance to live in Phuket for almost three years now, and it’s allowed me to explore the parts of Phuket and the surrounding areas that are often overlooked.
With this, I’ve compiled a list of places that you shouldn’t miss when you are looking for places to visit in Phuket. Some of these will not be in Phuket, but they are all a short drive away, and they are always worth the drive.
Hit the trails
Of course, I’m going to mention this first!
When I came to Phuket for the second time at the beginning of 2020, I had no idea of the great options for trails.
Over time, however, I explored my own routes, friends showed me ways, and I saw other trail runners’ paths. This compiled into a giant database in my head—and on my Strava routes.
On almost every part of the island, trails aren’t far away. And the diversity of the trails is what made me fall in love with them. Eventually, the trails became one of my favorite places to visit in Phuket.
In one part of the island, you’ll be immersed in a straight rainforest-y jungle. You will be hopping over small creeks and streams, ducking under vines that hang low, and feeling like you’re a modern-day Tarzan.
Travel to another area, and you’re running on a single track along one of the mountain ranges—or are they hills?—and Chalong Bay is extending out in front of you. Big Buddha sits to the right, looking out over Phuket with you.
It’s hard to beat.
I’ll have a better write-up about the trails in Phuket in the future. I’ll detail the trails more and give some recommendations on the routes I think are best in each area.
Phuket Town’s streets
Phuket Town is a beautiful town that gets overlooked by many tourists.
Stationed on the east side of the island, Phuket Town doesn’t offer the white-sand beaches that you find on the island’s western coast. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting, though.
As you walk, you’ll find interesting cafes to duck into and watch the traffic go by. There are small, family-owned shops that sell various souvenirs and clothes. And once the sun goes down, you have multiple options for bars and restaurants—all of them offering unique atmospheres.
And there’s also the Sunday Walking Market in the center of town. Whether you’re going to buy, or just to people-watch, the Sunday Market is a good way to spend an evening.
It may just be in my head. But Phuket Town has a particular energy about it that I haven’t found anywhere else on the island. It welcomes you, inviting you inside to take a seat and just enjoy time passing by.
Lastly, if you’re a history buff, Phuket Thai Hua Museum is one of the places to visit in Phuket. It’s just a short walk from Old Town, located on Krabi Street.
Chinese Hokkien built the mansion-style building in 1917. It was a Chinese language school—the first in Phuket. Initially, it was named ‘Phuket Huabun School,’ then ‘Ratjunhua School,’ and finally ‘Thai Hua School ‘— where it gets its name today.
It was converted to a museum in 1977.
The exhibition will focus on the relationship between Phuket and the Hokkien Chinese who traveled to Phuket. Hokkien Chinese immigrants largely influenced Phuket’s development during the 19th and 20th centuries. You will find elements of Chinese heritage existing throughout Phuket Town.
Phuket Town is going to have many hidden gems lining its street. You can spend hours strolling to find them.
And it’d be a perfect way to spend a day.
Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok is going to be the farthest destination away from Phuket on this list. But, in my opinion, it’s worth the drive.
It’s not a hard drive, by any means. Two and a half hours to the north, and easy to find even if you didn’t have directions available simply by following the road signs.
Khao Sok contains the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, along with those iconic limestone mountains that shoot up out of the emerald waters of Cheow Lan Lake. It’s a vast national park offering plenty to do if you enjoy the outdoors.
If you enjoy hiking, there are a few options to do on your own. These will take you through bamboo forests, past a river that runs toward the headquarters, and you may get to see some wildlife.
However, most of the trails will require a guide if you want to explore them. The chances of getting lost are high, as well as the chance of a run-in with a dangerous animal. So it’s best to get a guide.
Not into hiking? Then take a boat ride on Cheow Lan Lake. We arranged our boat ride in advance through our accommodation, but you can arrive at the pier itself and book a trip.
This will give you the chance to explore the caves surrounding the lake, as well as the floating houses and rafts you see lining the shores.
We had some extra time, so we could swim and take a kayak around the area for about 45 minutes.
The water is an emerald green color that you can only appreciate once you’ve seen it yourself. Our guide told me that minerals that flow down into the water mix and create the color.
My girlfriend and I enjoyed Khao Sok so much, we visited it twice. The trips being within a couple of months of each other. And I wouldn’t hesitate to go back for a third trip.
Interestingly, a man we met at a store one night told us that Thai people didn’t go to Khao Sok often in the past. It had been a place where unscrupulous characters came and did various illicit acts.
However, that was long ago, and the government has done a much better job of taking care of the area. And, now, Thai people feel much more comfortable about visiting.
If you’re looking to visit Khao Sok and wondered about accommodation, I recommend Our Jungle House. The vibes of the place are great, and the staff is responsive and helpful. I stayed here for both visits.
Visit Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi
Everyone knows about Koh Phi Phi. DiCaprio ruined the island for all of us.
But, a short boat ride away from Phuket sits Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi. Both are beautiful islands in their own right.
These islands are great if you’re looking to slow the pace down, as life on these islands moves about as fast as molasses. And dammit, that’s what I love about them!
No rush to get anywhere or be anywhere, simply enjoying the island life.
The naming of these islands is entirely unoriginal. Koh Yao Yai translates to ‘big, long island.’ While Koh Yao Noi translates to ‘small, long island.’ So, as you may have guessed, Koh Yao Yai will be the larger of the two.
When I visited these islands, I didn’t do much, to be honest. There isn’t much to do, and that’s the point.
I relaxed on beaches, rented a motorbike and cruised around the island, and enjoyed delicious food. If I wasn’t doing those, I was probably just lying somewhere.
I’ll repeat, life is slow on these islands. So, you should have the same mindset when visiting. This isn’t going to be the place you want to go if you’re looking to rave, hear bumping music, and play beer pong. It’s not that kind of vibe.
Samet Nangshe & Phang Nga
I’ve seen this place become more well-known since I visited in 2017. It’s appeared on Instagram more, and I’ve seen more people talking about it on the internet.
While a few of these aren’t in Phuket, they’re all close enough that I’m including them. Samet Nangshe and Phang Nga are top places to visit in Phuket…even if they’re outside of Phuket.
It’s worthy of the conversation, though.
Whether you’re just visiting on a day trip or you’re planning on staying overnight in a tent, the landscape is stunning.
I would recommend heading to Phang Nga early, then you can spend the day exploring around the area.
There are also many temples in Phang Nga. Looking at Google Maps, there are eight within driving distance of Ao Phang Nga Bay.
If you’re into the cultural side of things, then this will be perfect for you.
In the evening, you can head to a place like Samet Nangshe Boutique—which has become a lot more luxury-based since I stayed there—and stay the night.
Make sure to wake up early. The views as the sun rises over the limestone mountains are worth it.
Phuket is a top tourist destination for a reason. There are tons of places to visit in Phuket. If you’re tired of Patong, hitting Bangla road. Or visiting Wat Chalong and Big Buddha isn’t really doing it for you. These places may be for you.
Overall, though, I would always advise a trip to Phuket. Friendly locals, beautiful scenery, and delicious food will always make for a great trip. You can always find things to suit what you’re looking for—even if it’s off the beaten track.