Phuket is now a sophisticated tourist destination with so much to see and enjoy on just about any budget. Despite its reputation as a tropical paradise or the infamous Patong nightlife, there is a lot more to enjoy in Phuket these days. The popular Patong Beach is just a tiny proportion of the island’s landmass (about 80% the size of Singapore) and there has been a huge growth of accommodation and destinations outside Patong as the island has developed.
Some believe Phuket has lost its charm as it’s become so popular and developed. The Thaiger believes that all the charm remains, plus a whole lot more. On any day you can enjoy one of the best beach scenes in the world, a trip to other tropical islands, zipping through the tree-tops of a tropical rainforest, visit a world-class show, sample some ‘exotic’ night-life (Thai-style), eat one of the great cuisines of the world or shop, shop, shop at the many markets, duty-free emporiums and western-style shopping centres.
But you can still find a beach where you will not see anyone for the whole day, find a beach-side restaurant where the Thai food is just a few dollars, or visit a temple where the daily routines are little changed for centuries.
We’ve avoided some of the more obvious attractions, including the hundreds of temples you can visit whilst in Phuket, and tried to look at Phuket tourism in the 21st century.
1. Eco Tourism
It’s a buzz word that encompasses the new-age of sustainable, environmental tourism. Phuket has a surging list of eco-style tourist attractions, sustainable resorts, organic cooking classes or eco-responsible interfaces with elephants and the many islands around Phuket.
Whilst Phuket is best-known for its beaches, there is an entire hinterland of unspoiled hilly terrain, widespread tropical rainforest, mangroves and sustainable marine activities. Just jump onto the ‘Google machine’ to search for the latest offerings by responsible tour companies who have Phuket’s long-term welfare as their main priority.
The Thaiger broadly supports their efforts to counter-balance a lot of the island’s better-known excesses with new, sustainable and quality tourist experiences.
We’d recommend Flying Hanuman for an excellent and reliable zipline experience in Kathu, Phuket.
2. Old Phuket Town
There was a time, say 20 years ago, where the Old Town was a run-down quarter of old Sino Portuguese shop houses. You could rent them cheaply and they were difficult to sell. Fast forward a few decades and the Old Town of Phuket, in the middle of Phuket Town, has been revitalised with cute cafés, funky galleries and a local assortment of shops and boutique hotels.
The local municipality has put all the power lines underground and repaved the footpaths. You can spend hours walking around enjoying the architecture and popping in for a drink or meal at the never-ending list of bars and restaurants that keep opening up.
We’ve also included Old Phuket Town on our list of the prettiest towns in Asia.
The Thaiger highly recommends the Sunday Night ‘Lard Yai’ market in Thalang Road which usually starts around 4pm until around 9pm.
PHOTO: Vivi Bungalows Resort
3. Islands and beaches
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island. It’s also the launching place for hundreds of day trips to the islands around the island. There are trips through Phang Nga Bay, to Similan Islands (not during monsoon season), to Koh Phi Phi, Koh Racha, Koh Naka, Coral Island…. the list goes on and on and there is more variety in tours and itineraries than we could possibly mention here.
On Phuket itself there are also excellent beaches where you can relax, get some rays or go for a sunset walk. All the main west coast beaches look out to the west so enjoy a spectacular sunset every night, and it’s free.
At some times of the year it is too dangerous to swim and most beaches have lifeguards putting out red flags on the days the beaches are closed for swimming. Some of the most popular beaches include Patong, Karon, Kata, Kamala, Nai Harn and Bang Tao. But there are lots of others, all with their own local charm and landscape. You will be able to buy a drink at any of them – there’s always a vendor nearby – and some of the beaches rent out sun lounges and umbrellas, usually 100 baht for as long as you want to stay there.
It’s now illegal to smoke on most of Phuket’s beaches.
Here’s The Thaiger’s Top 10 best beaches in Phuket.
PHOTO: Patong Beach – The Thaiger
4. A big, bright, colourful show
Phuket has plenty of set-price international shows for the family. They are all unique, amazing and world-class offering a fun night after a day shopping, visiting an island or at the beach.
We’ll split them up into ‘lady boy’ shows and ‘cultural shows’.
There are three main lady boy shows – Simon Star (Phuket Town), Simon Cabaret (Patong) and Aphrodite (Samkong). They are all excellent, quite family friendly (although you might get a few interesting questions from the kids), and spectacular. Most of them do multiple shows every night of the year. Be warned, if you want a photo at the end of the show, with one of the performers, you’ll be asked to pay for the pleasure.
For the cultural shows, the best known are Siam Niramit (Samkong) and Phuket Fantasea (Kamala). Both are huge and involve three elements – a theme park, a buffet dinner and the main show. You can purchase ‘dinner and show’ or choose just to see the show. They are both highly recommended and will be a favourite with kids. Siam Niramit has a bit more of a ‘cultural’ bent to it whilst Phuket Fantasy has a little more fantasy. But they’re both very enjoyable.
There are also two new shows coming to the island, Andamanda in Kathu and Magic Carnival in Kamala. Both are set for a 2020 opening.
PHOTO: Simon Cabaret
5. Take a Thai cooking class
Phuket has its own unique southern flavours that contribute to the rich Thai cuisine. There are so many different locations around the island that offer cooking classes, there are many to select from and certainly worth your time during your visit. Most of the bigger hotels have a Thai cooking class in house.
To start with, you’ll notice that a lot of the local Thai food in Thailand is quite different to the Thai food you have in your home country, which is usually ‘toned down’ to suit the local pallete, very probably a lot less spicy.
Almost certainly it will lack the ‘zing’ and the colour of authentic Thai food. Classes will teach you about shopping for ingredients, the many flavours and spices that are added and the skills to whip up a fresh, authentic Thai meal when you return home. Many places offer morning, afternoon or whole day packages and you always get to eat what you have cooked. Highly recommended.
6. Bangla Road
The name says it all. Bangla Road in Patong is everything you’ve been told and probably a lot more. Whilst not strictly a ‘family destination’ a walk down the middle of the street with family will probably be OK and avoid the many attractions which are operating more discreetly off the main street. But be ready for crowds of people, plenty of noise and hundreds of ‘touts’ enticing you to enter the many ‘shows’ available. The shows are not for the family!
Whilst an ordinary looking road during the day, it gets closed and comes to life every evening of the year. And usually until the wee early hours. There is a general curfew of 2am but that is mostly ‘flexible’.
The street is full of bars and clubs so you seamlessly move from one bar to the next. The street entertainers and buskers provide entertainment (you’re welcome to tip them for their performances) and touts trying to get you into their ping pong shows or tailor shops. The bar girls and restaurant owners compete for your business so it keeps prices down with plenty of competition. If you do go to a ‘show’, the drinks will likely be hideously expensive and tipping may be required before you leave.
Without going into detail here, you’ll find some more salacious details and plenty of YouTube videos if you want a preview.
Note: If you do get chatting to a bar girl, or bar boy, and love is in the air, be prepared to pay for the pleasure and remember that it’s a financial transaction, not romance. You should also be extremely careful to protect yourself from STDs.
7. Wash an elephant or take a soi dog for a walk
Want to ride an elephant in Phuket? There are many places on the island you can take a bumpy ride atop these magnificent beasts through the local rainforest. The Thaiger, whilst acknowledging that these rides are legal in Thailand, urges foreigners not to visit these establishments and suggests you enjoy one of the many ‘elephant-friendly’ sanctuaries instead.
The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and The Lake Phuket Elephant Nursery will provide education about not taking elephant rides in Phuket. There are others – find them on Google. In all cases, you’ll meet the elephants, learn all about their history in Thailand and support ethical elephant tourism. Some of these sanctuaries allow you to interface with the beasts, feed them and walk them. Other sanctuaries are completely hands-off where you can get close and personal but not actually touch the elephants.
There is a minefield of ethical and cultural issues surrounding the riding of Thai elephants which we won’t get into here. But people’s varied views should be respected on the subject. Read up online and learn more about the topic HERE.
Read a report from one of our guest writers about his experience with the elephants.
On that note, there are also other animal shows around the island, all legal, but we’d urge you to consider if you really should visit them. They include tiger shows, crocodile and reptile shows, dolphin shows and bird shows. An opinion piece from The Thaiger on the issue HERE.
Meanwhile, Soi dogs (soi = street) are ubiquitous in Thailand although you’ll probably see less of them roaming around over the past ten years due to the work of several very special NGOs who have improved the life of Thai soi dogs, and soi cats.
The Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket is well worth visiting and is set up for a short visit or even regular visits where you can participate in the daily life of caring for the hundreds of dogs being accommodated on site
Soi Dog sterilises around 12,000 animals a year making Phuket’s streets and roads safer for everyone. The project is simple – capture, neuter, rehabilitate and then hopefully, re-home. In some cases the animals are not suitable for a new ‘forever’ home and stay at the Foundation’s Mai Khao facility. Other dogs end up travelling to far flung new homes around the world – having a soi dog as a pet has become quite trendy. Soi dogs are usually very hardy, become wonderful pets and have probably had a difficult start to life.
If you volunteer your time to look after the animals or just go on a guided tour around the grounds of Soi Dog, it is sure to be a lot more rewarding than most attractions on the island.
PHOTO: Soi Dog Foundation
8. Watch the Monkeys at Monkey Hill
Also known as Toh Sae Hill, Monkey Hill is the highest hill in the local capital of Phuket Town, aka. Phuket City. There are about 400 macaque monkeys living on the hill in community groups all over the hill. The monkeys rarely attack humans, extremely rarely, but you should keep an eye on your belongings – they can be very cheeky and a loose iPhone or bag may end being taken into the forest never to be seen again.
There is also a monkey community on Koh Sirae, just east of Phuket Town which has a viewing point and is suitable for tourists. Also on top of Khao Rang there is a community of macaques chasing themselves, and some of the local soi dogs, around.
In all cases, please don’t feed the monkeys, they are very capable scavengers and municipal officials keep an eye on the monkeys’ welfare. In recent years thousands of the monkeys have been sterilised and re-homed, some to an island off the east coast of the island where they are provided water and food. The move has cut down some of the over-population of the macaques but there are still plenty to be seen.
The bottom of Monkey Hill houses a shrine that is popular with Thai people, a lot of whom come here to ask for lucky lottery numbers, the shrine is in honour of three different holy spirits, Toh Sae Dang, Toh Sae Dam and Toh Sae Kaow.
9. Amazing views
There are so many places to enjoy spectacular views around Phuket it would be impossible to list them all, but we’ll list the ones we think are worthwhile.
The Big Buddha is an enormous Buddha statue (45 metres tall) on top one the highest points in Phuket over-looking Chalong, on one side, and Kata/Karon on the other. Apart from being a meaningful spiritual encounter, there are also astonishing views either side of the top of the hill. There are plenty of places for ‘that’ photo and you can also learn a lot about the history of the statue and Buddhism generally.
Plenty of people head down to Cape Promthep to see the sunset. It’s at the southern-most point of the island but has become very popular with tour groups and tourist buses in recent times. Here’s the thing, the sunset you see at Cape Promthep is exactly the same as the sunset anywhere along the west-coast, and you’ll probably get a seat and enjoy a quiet drink instead of jostling for a good view at the Cape. Having said that, it’s still a lovely place to visit, plenty to see and enjoy but you’ve been warned about the traffic around sunset, it can be hideous.
The Kata Viewpoint is popular because, well, it’s just a great view. Probably the most photographed view of Phuket along Kata Noi, Kata, Karon and beyond. You can park there and walk around. There’s been a family of touts camped up there for decades with eagles who ask 100 baht+ for a photo with the birds. We recommend you avoid encouraging this activity, the view is good enough, and it’s free.
Khao Rang, over-looking Phuket Town, is a popular place for locals to meet, has a few restaurants with amazing views, a free public viewpoint and usually a few monkeys to keep you on your toes.
We call it the Windmill lookout because it’s the easiest way to identify it. Overlooking Nai Harn and Ya Nui beaches, there is now good parking and a vendor selling drinks whilst you soak in a stunning view over the beaches below and the islands beyond. Drive to Nai Harn, then up the hill.
Samet Nangshe is about an hour off the island but WOW, it’s worth the trip, particularly if you can catch the sunrise there. Forget the sunrise at Angkhor Wat, THIS is one of the best views in the world. You can stay their overnight to catch the sunrise and the accommodation ranges from cute bungalows to very comfortable tents.
10. Markets and more markets
There are lots of great markets around Phuket, some more commercial, some more ‘touristy’ and some more local.
The most popular market is the weekend market in Naka Road which operates, surprise surprise, on the weekends, in the evening.
On Sunday nights is the more ‘local’ market in Thalang Road known as ‘Lard Yai’. It’s an excellent stroll down the street to watch local buskers and sample some excellent southern-style street food along the way.
There are few more ‘tourist’ oriented markets in Patong operating most days of the year, mostly tucked in behind Jungceylon. There’s also a really pleasant market on the lower floor at Jungceylon where you’ll find some great souvenirs, in air-conditioned comfort.
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“Phuket’s economy is shrinking” – University report
PHOTO: Rocket Bird Travel Company
“Phuket’s economy is shrinking.”
A report released by the local Prince of Songkla University reveals some disturbing trends for the once-booming tropical paradise. Chayanon Phucharoen, the university’s associate dean of research and graduate study says that Phuket’s economy is undergoing a transformation. He blames the strong Thai baht and says digital disruption is funnelling tourist services and income toward online platforms controlled by outsiders, instead of the income going into local pockets.
Strong competition by the many new hotels and accommodation-sharing apps is pushing down prices across the island. Most of the new hotel rooms and tour destinations over the past five years are outside of the traditional favourite, Patong.
“Other factors included beaches degraded by pollution and poor road safety.”
Chayanon cited a survey by the Bank of Thailand showing a drop in the number of Phuket tourism operators, despite rising arrivals. The last two decades have seen an average growth in tourism numbers but this year the numbers have cooled off with a growth of only 4% and a swing in tourist demographics and preferred areas of the island to visit.
One of the biggest losers is Patong where the popular party town has been slow to adapt to the changing tourist mix. The report says that tourists are now sick of being ripped off by tuk tuks, touts and scams.
“Phuket needs to to create new tourism experiences instead of relying on its reputation for ‘sea, sand and sun. The sector can be improved in many ways, such as offering new experiences like cultural activities.”
“This would not only increase tourist numbers but also better disperse tourists, and tourism revenue, throughout the island.”
SOURCE: Bangkok PostKeep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
Phuket’s economy is entering a period of recession – PSU report
Phuket’s Prince of Songkla University Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism has completed a lengthy report about the health of the island’s tourism, saying that tourism and Phuket’s economy are in poor condition. Part of the report says that, despite a 4% rise in visitor numbers in 2019, revenue from tourism is falling.
“The economy of Phuket is entering a period of recession.”
Chayanon Phucharoen, the associate dean of research and graduate study at the faculty reports that Phuket’s economy is undergoing a transformation.
In the past decade there has been an enormous surge of new developments and new accommodation options, most outside of Patong. But the demographics of the tourist influx isn’t matching the hotel or developers’ plans.
“Annual economic growth in the province has been at 6% for the last two decades, but recently we observed a hiccup.”
“The days of sea, sand and sun… beer, bars and babes, are over.”
Chayanon refers to a Bank of Thailand survey showing the number of tourism operators in Phuket province had fallen sharply, despite rising tourist arrivals.
Chayanon blames, amongst other things, the strong baht for putting a brake on tourism spending, adding that digital disruption had funnelled tourist services and income towards online platforms controlled by outsiders, and a move away from on-island tour operators and vendors.
The study says that there is an urgent need for Phuket to create new tourism experiences instead of relying exclusively on its reputation for sea, sand and sun. And there was a move away from Patong as the main focus for the island’s future tourism.
But the report noted that it wasn’t only Phuket that was feeling the pinch of a stronger baht. Major tourist destinations such as Pattaya are also feeling the impact.
Amongst the bad news for Thailand’s main tourist hot-spots, Damrongkiat Pinitkarn, secretary of Entertainment and Tourism Industry Association of Pattaya, says the town’s bars have recorded a 40% drop in custom from tourist so far this high season.
That report, by Sophon Cable TV, says that, though the Chinese still account for the highest number of visitors, many are now opting to explore Vietnam where the local currency is weaker and tourists can get more value for their money.
“In the evening, more tourists are staying within the confines of their hotels instead of venturing out to party at clubs or discos. Chinese tourists are also checking in pool villas and having parties instead of going out.”
On a positive note, there has been a huge influx of Indian visitors to Pattaya, who are attracted by the city’s lively night life but the report notes that their numbers may not grow any larger, so bar owners need to deal with this tough situation and adapt.
SOURCE: Bangkok PostKeep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
Phuket tollway and tunnel project, linking Kathu and Patong, awaiting approval
PHOTOS: Phuket People’s Voice
Phuket’s first ever tolled highway, to be built linking Kathu to Patong route, is awaiting approval from the government’s committee on public-private partnership. This will be the first ever tolled highway in Thailand that also allows motorcycles.
The infamous, and much-discussed, Patong Tunnel, and accompanying link roads, has been a slow-burn story over the past two decades, popping up with a new twist each year. Each time there is another round of studies, negotiations, plans and maps released to the media… then nothing.
This latest proposal would mean that the new highway, and access to the Patong Hill tunnel, would be tolled. The route is also a variation from the proposal in the past.
The Director of Expressway Authority of Thailand, or EXAT, says he will visit Phuket to follow up with the progress on the Kathu-Patong highway, a 4 kilometre long highway with a budget of 14 billion baht. He will also meet and talk to locals about the process to expropriate lands for the project in order to make the least impact on them.
The project is now waiting for the approval from the government committee overseeing public/private partnership funding for the project.
After the PPP’s approval, the papers will be filed to cabinet for final budget approval. Meanwhile, the EXAT is issuing a royal decree zoning the land planned for expropriation in Patong and Kathu. They’ve already sent officials from the land office to discuss with the local authorities to use the public land and try to avoid private land as much as possible.
The local authorities are being largely positive as the highway will provide a lot of benefits to Phuket, taking a lot of traffic from side roads and linking two of the busiest areas in the island.
Some areas fall under national park zoning and officials are discussing with the forestry department about taking over a small portion of this land to avoid disturbing local communities along the proposed route. The route would take the traffic in a different direction than the current route across Patong Hill and along Phra Phuket Kaen Road, instead going through the mountain south of the current Patong Hill Road and through current forest areas to relink with the By-Pass Road.
Local land agreements will be made soon before filing to the Ministry of Transport, then to the cabinet.
Phuket People’s Voice reports that the current schedule is to start building the highway next year, to be ready in 2021. But proposed start dates have come and gone many times in the past.
The project’s starting point connects with Phra Metta Road in Patong, passes over Pisit Koranee Road, all the way to the mountain (Patong Hill) for 0.9 km, then there is a tunnel (the tunnel!!!!!) through the mountain for 1.85 kilometres followed by a highway for 1.23 kilometres, that finishes in Kathu connecting with highway route 4029.
There will be 6 lanes, 3 lanes on each side. The left lane will be constructed as social motorcycle lane. This is the initiative from local authorities to allow motorcyclists on the highway to solve traffic problem and reduce accidents on the current route 4029 which connects Phuket town, Kathu and Patong.
This highway is also expected to be an evacuation route in case of urgent evacuations.
The construction of a tunnel between Patong and Kathu has been a talking point for two decades.
Keep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
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