The secret of Phuket’s popularity is that it offers something for everyone. You can pick your favorite from beautiful beaches, sea canoeing to exotic islands, shopping, ladyboy cabaret, Thai massage or an elephant safari in the jungle. Festivals in Phuket are very colorful where you can play water games on the Streets during the New Year on Apr 13th and release Sea Turtles in the beaches to help conservation. The warm tropical weather, rich cultural experience and friendly people also go a long way in making Phuket a genuine Pearl on the Andaman Sea.
Phuket is not very large and hence most beaches and shopping areas are a walk away from prominent hotels. Tuk tuks make sense for short distances within the city. Car rentals are easily available if you would like to drive around. Ferries are the best option to visit the various islands. Airport to city can be managed in the Airport Bus or Taxis. For an open air Bus experience you can try the SongTaews. They can be stopped anywhere as there are no desginated bus stops!
The period when one needs to avoid Phuket is Apr-May when it gets extremely hot and Sep-Oct when it is monsoon time. While Dec- Mar is the peak season, Jun-Aug is a good time to visit. Being off season, you would get great deals and the weather is fine most of the time.
For a rich cultural experience, I would suggest you visit Phuket during one of the festivals. The Phuket Vegetarian festival is celebrated from late September to mid-October over 9 days. It has a very interesting origin. A group of travelling Chinese Opera Group visited Phuket in early 19th century and fell ill with malaria. They abstained from non-vegetarian food, alcohol and sex for 9 days and 9 nights. They were cured and the tradition has continued till this day. It is fun to visit Chinese temples like the Jui Tui shrine during this period where ceremonies, street processions and several activities are held including running over burning coal! An amazing array of vegetarian food is available during this period.
Songkran Festival or the New Year is celebrated on April 13th. Be there to get drenched in water as every one in the street is carrying buckets of water or water pistols ready to drench you for good luck! Bang Tao, Nai Yang and Mai Khao Beach are the place to be around the Songkran festival as Sea Turtles are released into the beach. The idea is to conserve the dwindling population of egg laying Sea Turtles.
Phang Nga Bay is where you can find the picture postcard images of sheer limestone cliffs that jut vertically out of the green waters. The best way to experience this surreal world is to take a Boat and look around at a leisurely pace. The beaches are worth spending some time upon.
The most popular landmark at Phang Nga is Koh Ta-pu, better known as James Bond Island. It became famous after the movie “Man with the Golden Gun” was filmed here.
Aerial surveys done recently revealed the existence of Hong, or "rooms", that lie below the islands of Phang Nga. These Hongs are actually collapsed cave systems surrounded by towering limestone walls. The best way to explore these areas with untouched flora and fauna is on a canoe. Guides are available to take you to these Hongs between Phuket and Krabi. While December to March is the best time to visit these parts, the rainy season makes sense if you would like to see stalactites inside the caves!
Hong by Starlight is a trip organized by the famous John Gray. Gray, known as Ling Yai (Big Monkey) to his friends has won several eco-tourism awards for his Sea Kayaking tours around Phuket over the last decade. Take the Hong by Starlight tour to explore the hongs in star light. The tour is out of this world and definitely worth it.
Yanui Beach is relatively less known, but the best place for snorkeling. It is located below Promthep cape. You get to see some of the most colorful marine life of Thailand among the rocks and reefs.
The Simon Cabaret is one of the most popular entertainment shows in this part of the world. Thousands of people come every evening to watch this spectacular show featuring extravagant costumes, make-up and sets. The cast are the famous ladyboys who are transvestites. The show is available twice daily, at 19:45 and 21:30 hours.
For over 2000 years, the Massage has been part of Thai medicine. Derived from a mix of Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, Thai Massage aims to balance energy in the body. The Massage lasts 2 hours and during this period pressure will be applied to points along the body using the hands, thumbs, forearms, elbows, knees and feet.
How does tasting exotically flavored cashewnuts sound to you? Located in Thanon Kwang just south of Phuket town is Sri Bhurapa Orchid Company. They are a Cashewnut factory and worth paying a visit.
Not only do you get an idea of the processing but you are also tempted with cashew nuts coated in thick chocolate and flavored with butter, coconut, sesame, honey and sweet chili! It is a good idea to carry home some of the exotic verities on sale here.
Phuket is a shopolholic’s paradise. The Weekend Market, known as Tai Rot and Chao Fa Market, is along Chao Fa West Road just outside Phuket Town. A variety of second hand and new stuff is available here including souvenirs, clothes, toys, electronics, DVDs, shoes, bags, and jewelry and fashion items. It is open on Saturday & Sunday from 16:00 till 21:00 hrs.
If you want to shop like the Thai youth then head to The Indy market. Located on Dibuk road, items on display include flip flops, jeans, ladies bags, key rings, bracelets and pendants. You can get your name etched on a single rice grain. Sketches and caricatures are also possible as you can find several artist shops. The market has a very popular food street, specialties being fish maw soup, seafood BBQ, crispy gyoza, fried fish-paste balls and chicken BBQ. Live music and street shows provide a peppy environment to this shopping area.
A walk across Old Phuket town is another recommended activity. Old Phuket was built during the times of the boom in Tin. Located in the Thalang, Dibuk and Krabi roads, Old Phuket’s buildings reflect European influence in the Architcture. If Chinese herbal medicine and handicrafts appeals to you then head to any of the several shops on Thalang road. Dibuk Road has the famous On On Hotel which was featured in the Leonardo Caprio movie the Beach.
Jui Tui Shrine is an interesting place. Devotees use bamboo blocks to obtain advice from the shrine's oracle. Two blocks are tosses up in air and if they land on same side then the answer is No, while if they land on opposite sides then the answer to your query is a Yes!
Thavorn Hotel on Rassada Road has a Museum full of memorabilia and quaint items. The lobby and ground floor rooms display a collection of strongboxes, ancient typewriters, antique postboxes, old toys and photographs.
Bangla Road on Patong Beach is where all the night life action is. Patong is in fact where the Party is! All the bars are outdoors and the music is pulsating. The discos and restaurants are packed almost on all nights. Soi Crocodile is one of the most popular joints with ladyboys.
For a travelogue on Coral Fringed Islands near Phuket, ideal for kayaking, sailing, bird watching, snorkeling and trekking, read my travelogue Krabi.