Phuket, Thailand – More Than Just Beaches

Phuket is a popular tourist spot in Thailand. Although the island is mostly known for its white sand beaches and lively nightlife, there’s a lot more to see in Phuket province. We found beautiful colonial buildings in Old Town and a gorgeous marine park with a fascinating landscape.

Phuket Town

Old Town is a wonderful historical district in Phuket Town. At the end of the 19th century Phuket was an important centre for tin mining. Settlers came from China, Malaysia, India, and Portugal and the buidings reflect this diversity. Streets are lined with colourful Sino-colonial mansions and homes similar to those found in George Town and Melakka in Malaysia. Many have been restored and now function as shops, restaurants and hotels. It’s a great area to wander around and admire the architecture.

Our hotel in Old Town was in a gorgeous restored colonial building. It felt as if we were staying in a piece of history.

At night the street lights bring out different aspects of the architecture and adds to the area’s charm. On Sunday evenings, Thalang Road becomes Walking Street Market. It’s a typical lively Thai market selling everything from food to clothes to household goods.

Phang Nga Bay

Ao Phang Nga National Park is not far from Phuket Island. It’s a gorgeous marine park filled with large and small karst pillars that seem to rise straight up from the sea. We took a day cruise from Phuket as it’s an easy way to explore this fascinating place.

The boat slowly cruised between the pinnacles allowing us to soak in the view. It was magical.

The boat stopped a few time allowing us to kayak around the karst formations. We paddled into a bat cave and then through a hole in the rock that led to a ‘secret’ lagoon. Since there were quite a few other kayakers in the lagoon, it wasn’t much of a secret.

The highlight of the trip was seeing James Bond Island which was made famous in the movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’. The most recognizable feature is a picturesque karst pinnacle in a shallow bay surrounded by emerald green water. The island also has and a small cave that was used in the movie.

The easiest way to get to this area is to take day cruise from Phuket. For most of the day it was a typical tour with a lot of people moving from site to site. On the return trip however, the atmosphere of the cruise changed. All of a sudden dance music started blaring and three ‘lady boys’ came up the stairs. Dressed in sequin dresses, make-up and colourful wigs they started dancing and flirting with the male passengers!! These guys were so funny and looked like they were having a lot fun themselves! It was something you would only see in Thailand.

Patong Beach

Undoubtedly the most popular beach on Phuket Island is Patong.  It is a large sandy beach with gentle waves coming up to shore. But it is very busy and the surrounding town is known for its parties, so we were happy to go for just one day.

This beach is where much of the news footage from the 2004 Tsunami was taken. Today you wouldn’t know the tsunanmi had happened except for the ‘Tsunami Escape Route’ signs posted in most low-lying places. There are also a few Tsunami Refuge Towers, but they’re in such disrepair they don’t look very safe.

While lounging on the beach we watched a few parasailers soaring high in the sky. It looked like fun so we decided to try it. Having never done it we weren’t sure what to expect. One at a time, we donned harnesses and were attached to the rope. After running a few steps, the parasail quickly filled with air and pulled us up. We sailed high above the water, enjoying the view all around. It was really thrilling!

Back on the beach a man came up to us asking for a tip. When Richard asked why, he replied ‘I told you to run!’

Getting to Phuket

Phuket has an international airport located on the north end of the island. If you’re already in the area catch one of the frequent ferries between Phuket and Phi Phi or Krabi. Since Phuket Island is connecte to the mainland by a bridge, there are many bus operators offering trips to many destinations in Thailand.

Where to stay

The best place to stay depends on what type of vacation you are looking for. Patong Beach is very popular and is a busy place with many restaurants, hotels and bars. Scattered throughout the island are many remote resorts with secluded beaches and quiet atmospheres. Old Town is a great option because it has great restauants and hotels and is far away from the craziness of the beaches.

Coming Next – Travel Guide for Thailand

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To read more of our stories from around the world visit Destinations.

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  • A great write-up!!! As soon as I saw the title, I thought “Hmm, what will they say?” as Phuket did not inspire me 😉 However, your commentary and photos hit the mark wonderfully! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  • Great post on a beautiful area. Love the Old Town and the Phang Nga Bay. My boss of the day was in the Phuket area when the tsunami hit. He had originally booked a hotel right on the beach, but when he went to check in, he thought it was not up to his standards, so moved to one a mile and a half inland. He remembers seeing water, etc. floating past the hotel at the level of the 2nd floor balcony and was traumatized for a long time after. Guess it is a good thing to be picky as it likely saved his life. Glad things are back to normal in the area. Thanks for sharing and enjoy your Monday. Allan

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    • That would have been very scary, and he’s very lucky he’s picky! Things were back to normal when we were there, but the Tsunami infastructure could stand some improvements… just in case. Thanks for reading Allan, Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Old town reminds me of some of the neighborhoods in Singapore. Phuket is a fairly big island. The next time I go (who knows when that will be), I’m going to rent a car to see some more of it. John

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    • Oh yes, like parts of Singapore too. There’s a lot more on the island than most people think. We weren’t even sure we’d go thinking it was just about partying, but we were pleasantly surprised. Thanks for reading John! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • That’s so cool you saw the area that was filmed in The Man with the Golden Gun. Before you mentioned it, I thought it looked strangely familiar

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  • Glad to see the town end of Phuket – loved the colors and street market. Ao Phang Nga looks so much like Halong Bay, off the northern Vietnam coast. Photos look so inviting.

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  • How beautiful are the colourful buildings in Old Town (and even more so during the evening). That day cruise looked like a lot of fun – I was happy to see the James Bond island. And yes, my husband (been an electrician way back in his younger years) definitely agrees that Patong can do with a few good electricians 😄.
    Lovely post with beautiful photo’s!

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  • From delicious cuisine to super-friendly people and stunning natural landscapes, it’s easy to see why Thailand is one of the most-visited quarters of Southeast Asia. I know that Phuket may have become famous as one of Thailand’s leading tourist destinations, but I am glad to see that the island offers much more than resorts and parties. I didn’t know that Phuket Towns Historical district is scattered with such beautifully preserved shophouses! Thanks for sharing, Maggie and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    • We were also very surprised how lovely Phuket Town is with the beautiful architecture. We were so glad we chose to stay there in an old colonial house rather than a beach town. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Beautiful images Maggie, so interesting. It’s lovely to see all that wonderful architecture, and the most lovely of all is the natural architecture of the rock formations.

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    • It makes me miss traveling too! The first time we saw the wiring was in Nepal. Richard, the electrical engineer, would stare at each clump of wires in disbelief. No wonder there were daily black outs!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Phuket’s Old Town is something I only recently learned about. All these years, I have this image of this part of Thailand as just a town with nice beaches. That’s it. Those old shophouses do remind me of the ones I saw in Singapore, Malacca and Penang. It’s good to know that many are still standing despite Phuket’s popularity (which is usually a reason for real estate developers to raze old buildings and replace them with shopping malls and high rise hotels).

    Liked by 2 people

  • Once again, thanks for showing the lesser known aspects of a popular location. I had to chuckle at the electrical wiring… can you imagine having to be the one sho has to locate a broken wire in all of that?

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  • Phang Nga Bay looks breathtakingly beautiful. Taking a boat cruise definitely sounds like the best way to see all the interesting rock formations and pillars up close. The bat cave looks amazing.

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    • Phang Nga is magical. Even though we were in a pretty large tour boat it was one of the best things we did in Thailand. Kayaking through a bat cave was awesome!! Maggie

      Liked by 2 people

  • I remember my boat tour through the karst islands and the thrill of seeing the James Bond island. Thanks for showing me different sides of Phuket that I either don’t remember or didn’t see. I must admit that I’m surprised at how lovely Old Town looks. Do you know whether restoration efforts are fairly recent? That photo of Richard with the Lady Boy is a scream! Parasailing looks exhilarating but I think I’m too much of a chicken (I’d be worried about the landing!)

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    • We almost did go to Phuket but then heard about Old Town. It’s not large but very cute. The sailing trip party was hilarious! Some men did NOT like the flirtation of the lady boys but it was so funny. I’ll try to read you hike tonight. We’re in Nova Scotia and have mixed camping/hotels so only have internet every couple of days.

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