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Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket

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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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Cookly

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Holidify

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: The Lake Phuket Elephant Nursery

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

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.

Top 10 must-see things to do in Phuket | News by The Thaiger

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Can Phuket survive? Interview with Bill Barnett | VIDEO

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Interview with Bill Barnett from c9Hotelworks. Phuket has now been hit with a 3rd major crisis, each one more profound than the long-term effects from the 2004 tsunami. Now the island has new restrictions imposed on arrivals on the southern island, imposed by the Phuket Provincial Authority.

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Transport

Phuket taxis and tuk tuks under the microscope again after passenger ripped off

The Thaiger

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Phuket taxis and tuk tuks under the microscope again after passenger ripped off | The Thaiger

Local Phuket transport and provincial officials are AGAIN trying to tackle the island’s notorious taxi and tuk tuk ‘mafias’, after another passenger complained of being ripped off. The island has a long history of extortionate transport costs for local taxis and tuk tuks, giving Phuket a poor and infamous reputation for over-priced transport and rude drivers.

Efforts to attract travellers back to the island, after 9 months of almost zero international tourism, hit another speed bump this week after a domestic traveller posted a complaint on social media, claiming she was ripped off by a taxi driver who charged her 200 baht per kilometre. Her complaint mirrors thousands of complaints received by local transport authorities and a long list of similar stories on TripAdvisor and social media over the years.

On average travellers in Phuket can expect to pay 3-5 times the fares charged by similar services in Bangkok. Even the online services like Grab have been forced to match their prices to the local, highly inflated rates around Phuket.

Posting on social media on December 7 the traveller wondered if the rate she was bring charged was normal.

“Is it the normal rate. I thought I was in a taxi in a foreign country.”

Her post kicked the provincial governor into gear and forced transport officials to respond. She was travelling with 2 others and 3 items of luggage, according to her post.

Phuket’s governor Narong Woonciew says that he’s had ordered local authorities to contact the disgruntled passenger to check the details in her social media post as well as provincial transport authorities to check and make sure local taxis follow the official rate.

Phuket’s long history and issues with the local tuk tuk and taxi mafia have been a thorn in the side of provincial and tourism officials who have been powerless to counter the cabal of local families who control the system and threaten any new players, including state-sponsored buses, from providing any sort of competition. The Thai government and police have also stepped in and been similarly driven out of town, impotent against the gangs and ‘big money’.

Local business people and tourism operators believe the comments from the governor and provincial transport officials, and their promised ‘investigation’ are just paying lip-service to the passenger’s woes and, as usual, little will change.

The problems start when travellers step off their planes and are confronted with little choice other than the private taxis and meters that rarely work, despite the law stating that all registered taxis must use a meter. Many of these taxi meters are also doctored and have been turbo-charged to tick over must faster than the legal kilometre rate.

Another high profile case was in July 2019, when 2 Australian tourists filed complaints at Karon police station when a passenger van driver charged them 3,000 baht to take them from Phuket airport to a hotel less than 50 kilometres away.

The official rate sets the taxi fare at 50 baht for the first 2 kilometres, 12 baht for the 2nd to the 15th kilometre and 10 baht for the 15th kilometre and beyond, according to the Bangkok Post.

Meanwhile, Phuket’s governor invited domestic airlines to increase the number of flights to Phuket. There are currently 60-70 flights per day, down from 300 flights before services were grounded at the start of April. Even so, there are still spare seats on the local flights, according to Thaiger staff who travel regularly between their offices in Bangkok and Phuket.

Phuket’s international Airport terminal remains closed at this time.

A few other posts from TripAdvisor (there are also plenty of good experiences listed on the site too). We advise doing your homework before jumping into a taxi or tuk tuk in Phuket.

• “Don’t be fooled by the desk at the exit from the airport! They are coordinating the prices and taking too much money!
Go to the main entrance of the airport and pick up a formal taxi on your own! Will save you a lot!”

• “To say this was the worst services I have ever expirance is to put it lightly. They charge a flat rate for all destinations, and as we were heading to Kata Beach, we thought that was fair. Absolute disaster.

The cab didn’t want to take us as we were a long distance, and tried to bundle us in to a joint cab, even though we had paid 1000 tbh, for a private car. After 20 mins my wife went to the ‘controller’ in the cabbie hut and he closed the window on her!!!

After an hour, and several attempts to get into cabs and get our money back, we went and got the airport police to help us, and the cab company quickly gave us a refund. We got in a meter cab within in minutes and it ended up being cheaper.”

• “Tuk Tuk drivers charge tourists more than they charge locals, this is disgusting. One of the most boring things in Patong is being harassed by Tuk Tuk drivers every second they are in your face saying Tuk Tuk Taxi, I have no idea where they think they are going to take you, they seem to think everyone wants a Tuk Tuk all the time. If you want to go to Phuket town take the bus its only 30 Baht.”

• “My friends and I agreed on a price with the driver. Then halfway to our hotel he pulls over and asks for more money. We said no so he kept going. Then he pulled about 2 or 3km still to our hotel and tells us to get out. We argued with him and then gave him the money as he was so rude and wouldn’t take us the rest of the way. We had to pay for another tuk tuk to take us the rest of the way. A few days later we thought we would give them another chance and he dropped us in the middle of nowhere. HORRIBLE EXPERIENCES!!!!”

Thailand’s taxi and tuk tuk scams and annoyances

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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