Things to Do in Phuket
This iconic set of islands used to be nothing more than a spot on the map in Ao Phang Nga National Park. But in 1974, when James Bond chose Khao Phing Kan as a hideout in The Man with the Golden Gun, this rarely visited limestone island became a popular destination frequented by travelers on Longtail Boat tours.
Along with the island's new fame came hoards of tourists and potential destruction of the island's natural beauty. So since 1998, it has been forbidden for boats to approach Ko Tapu, the 66 foot (20 m) limestone rock that lies just off the shore, in order to stop the erosion of the limestone and eventual collapse. Travelers love the lush vegetation, rocky cliffs and dark caves that make this pair of islands easy to spot. Most trips offer the opportunity to swim and explore the surrounding waters and hungry visitors can make the most of their excursion by eating lunch at the nearby floating Muslim village.
Koh Phi Phi is a group of islands, but most of them are just limestone spires. The only ones of any size are Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Ley. When you come to visit these heavenly islands, you'll be coming into the port on Koh Phi Phi Don.
After the infrastructure here was largely swept away by the 2004 tsunami, it was hoped that rebuilding could take place with more care for the environment and a swing upmarket. But the rush to get the tourist business back on track meant that the island - with all its rash of tourist businesses - remains much the same. Koh Phi Phi Ley has its share of over-touristing too - Maya Beach is where the film The Beach was shot, and it's regularly crowded and littered. Koh Phi Phi Ley is also famous for its bird's nests, which are used in soups.
Despite the islands' commercialization, they remain stunning little patches of paradise - all silken warm waters, limestone pillars and luminous underwater scenery.
The stunning Maya Bay became a major tourist attraction after the 2000 film, The Beach, was filmed here. It’s situated within Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands, off the coasts of both Krabi and Phuket on the mainland, and is distinguished by its beautiful white-sand beach sheltered by limestone cliffs on three sides.
There are in fact several beaches here, but most are small and some only exist at low tide. The main beach, where most boats drop passengers just offshore, is a 200-meter long strip of silky white sand. It’s surrounded by clear waters filled with colorful coral and an abundance of exotic fish, making it an absolute haven for snorkelers. Walking inland is also a treat, with a path that winds through lush greenery and reveals some simply spectacular scenery.
Phang Nga Bay is a classic Southeast Asian bay - bright jade water, limestone pinnacles and all. A large part of it has been protected as a national park.
Notable islands in Phang Nga Bay include the so-called James Bond Island (it's featured in The Man with the Golden Gun) and Koh Panyee, where you can visit a fishing community built out on stilts across the water. Bear in mind that this community is a Muslim one, so dress modestly.
You can take tours that will drop you at various beaches to swim and snorkel and take you to James Bond Island and Koh Panyee; you can also canoe.
Built on a patch of virgin rainforest high above Phuket City and visible from most vantage points, the serene - and very, very, big - Chalong Big Buddha will wow you even from a distance. Close up, it's quite overwhelming.
The giant statue was built by donations - visitors who donated were allowed to choose how their money would be spent. Also donated was the white marble that covers the sculpture, giving it a tranquil white glow.
There is another Buddha statue on the site, a smaller brass one - it stands a mere 12 meters (36 feet). The Big Buddha is 45 m (147 ft) and its lap is 25 m (82 ft) wide at the base. The smaller Buddha is dedicated to the Queen of Thailand, the larger to the King. Climb to the Buddha's feet to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and magnificent views.
While a lot of Phuket may be all neon and tanning lotion, there are some parts of town that give you a flavor of what once was. Stroll the streets of Old Phuket Town and you can go back to the days when it was dubbed 'Junk Ceylon' and made a fortune out of tin. The architecture from that time is based on other colonial forms in places like Malay and Singapore. 'Shophouses' are the signature construction, with their narrow fronts, long sides and internal courtyards. Latticed windows are another feature of the area. There are a few old villas scattered around, some of which are museums which are open to the public, some of which can be viewed from outside. Soi Romanee is of interest as the former red light district.
More than 40 islands dot the green-blue waters of Ao Phang Nga National Park near Phuket. Their distinct limestone cliffs, unique sea life and close proximity to one another have made this natural escape one of the most popular Longtail boat trips in all of Thailand.
Ko Kan—also known as James Bond Island—Ko Phanak and Ko Hong are some of the regular stops on these memorable excursions. Travelers can coast over the mostly calm waters and see the spot where James Bond his out in The Man with the Golden Gun, or explore the caves of Lod Yai and Lod Lek. In addition to dozens of distinct and beautiful islands, travelers will pass through mangrove forests, where it’s easy to spot kingfishers, blue winged leafbirds and some of Thailand’s other unique wildlife.
There are 29 Buddhist temples on the island of Phuket, but Wat Chalong is the most elaborate and important. It is dedicated to two abbots who used their medical skills and authority to assist during the Tin Miner's Rebellion of the 19th century.
The building is large and impressive, but the main interest of the temple for visitors is its history. There are numerous stories that have grown up about its abbots and their magical qualities. Statues of the abbots inside the monastery are covered in gold leaf. Thai tourists visit here in great numbers, often to make decisions or receive lucky numbers. You can do as they do, but be sure to make a donation, and dress modestly.
Patong Beach may not offer travelers a true taste of Southeast Asia, but the kinetic energy of this popular destination has made it a favorite among westerners looking to party. Like the rest of Phuket, Patong is home to white sandy beaches, clear blue water and plenty of sun, making it an ideal spot to catch some rays. But bustling neon streets lined with crowded open-air discos and dozens of bars serving strong island drinks have made this a destination for the younger set looking to party long into the night.
More Things to Do in Phuket
When people talk of Racha Island, they’re usually referring to Racha Yai, which sits, along with the smaller and uninhabited Racha Noi, around 25 kilometers off the coast of Phuket. Both islands are blessed with white sandy beaches lapped by crystal clear waters, making them popular with divers and snorkelers on day trips. However, Racha Yai is becoming an increasingly popular place to stay a while, offering a variety of accommodation options to choose from.
Racha Island’s main beach, Ao Tawan Tok (also known as Ao Bungalow), is a U-shaped bay consisting of white powdery sand and perfectly turquoise water, not unlike nearby Siam Bay, although the latter is home to a longer and much more peaceful strip of beach. Kon Kare Bay and Ter Bay on the other side of the island offer similarly tantalizing beaches, plus ample opportunities for diving, snorkeling, and fishing trips.
Some travelers lament Splash Jungle Water Park’s lack of greenery and tropical gardens, suggesting that “Concrete Jungle” might be a more accurate description. Still, jaw dropping rides like Boomerango and the Suberbowl, plus a six-level wave pool attract hundreds of visitors to this coastal Phuket destination every week.
Themed rides give a nod to the ancient Mayans, lush landscapes of Turkey, old-world architecture of Northern Europe and the culture and colors of Africa. This continental vibe means it’s more than just the rides that prove thrilling. Splash Jungle Water Park has something for the less adventurous set too, with quiet play pools for kids, soothing hydrotherapy springs and a lazy river perfect for floating the day away.
Along with the smaller but more developed Koh Yao Noi, Koh Yao Yai sits in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, with Phuket to the west and Krabi in the east. A beach-lover's paradise, Yao Yai is one of only a few of Thailand’s southern islands that remains a quiet, unspoiled refuge away from the crowds. Meaning ‘Big Long Island,' Ko Yao Yai is 18 miles (30 km) from top to bottom. It’s populated by thick mangroves, coconut groves, rubber plantations and picturesque villages, all of which are fringed by pristine white-sand beaches. The island has thus far managed to avoid any major tourism development, though it features a smattering of resorts and guesthouses. Fishing and farming remain the primary source of income for residents. A visit to Koh Yao Yai means to slow down and enjoy the lush landscapes, making it ideal for couples on a romantic break, families seeking a quiet beach holiday or those simply looking for peace away from the crowds of Phuket.
Most people hit the beach to catch some serious sun, but the palm tree lined shores that offer plenty of shade along Kata Beach still manage to draw active families, young travelers and eager surfers from around the globe. The calm turquoise waters of Kata Center and Kata South are lined with boutique hotels and quaint souvenir shops. Enjoy a picnic on the beach, then wander to the Buddhist Temple on Patak Road or take an easy hike to the spectacular viewpoint between Kata and Rawai for incredible views of this beautiful beach.
Run by volunteers and financed by donations, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center in Phuket rescues gibbons (a type of ape) that have been held in captivity, then rehabilitates them before safely reintroducing them to the wild. Gibbon poaching is a serious problem, with poachers stripping the jungle of these beautiful creatures and then parading them around bars and other tourist areas. At the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center, gibbons are retaught how to live in the jungle. They are socialized with other gibbons and introduced to what should be their natural food. The center is not a petting zoo, so there is no touching of the animals, but visitors can watch them from a viewing platform.
Insider's Tip: You can help the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center’s mission by avoiding bars that house them around Thailand and ignoring the gibbon handlers that ask for money in exchange for photographs. By paying for these photos, tourists are contributing to the suffering of these animals.
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