Phuket is one of the southern provinces and Thailand’s largest island with 32 smaller islands off its coast. The island is mostly mountainous and the most popular (and overcrowded) tourist area is Patong Beach. Getting to Phuket is fairly easy. You can fly into Phuket airport. Some hotels and guesthouses can pick you up from the airport. You can take a shuttle bus or a metered taxi as well. In this guide to Phuket, you’ll find some insight into our lodging, things to do, restaurant recommendations and volunteer opportunities!
With plans to travel for an entire year, we are always looking to find accommodations that are around ~$20 USD/night. We chose to stay at the Nika Guesthouse in the Patong Beach area, which was great (clean room, amazing owners/hosts, good breakfast)! It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from the main road in Patong Beach, but not as crowded and noisy. Depending on where you’re located, taxis and tuk-tuks will be the easiest ways to get around, but since we’re on a backpackers budget, we mostly explored by foot in Phuket!
First things first, What NOT to do in Phuket – anything to do with animals like the Tiger Kingdom, any of elephant treks/riding, or Phuket FantaSea. These are all awful tourist traps, overpriced and exploiting animals and supporting animal abuse. Please find other activities that do not include these!
Now that’s out of the way, here are some things you should check out in Phuket:
1. Patong Beach – This won’t be the pristine beach or gorgeous blue ocean water you think about when you think of Thailand, but it’s still decent. Some reviews complain about dirty water and garbage, we personally didn’t go in or experienced a ton of trash. You will definitely practice saying “No, thanks!” to all the vendors but you will have to get used to that in all the touristy spots in Thailand. There is also a nice paved walkway area behind the beach. You can pay 100THB/$3USD for a lounge chair and umbrella or bring a towel and sit under the palm trees for free! Sunsets were also really beautiful here. If you’re looking for beautiful beaches in Phuket, check out Surin, Kata, Karin and Kamala beaches – they are gorgeous and definitely worth checking out!
2. Bangla Walking Street – There is where you can find a long stretch of bars and street vendors. It is an absolute sh*t show at night. Undoubtedly, you will see vendors for all of the crazy things you hear about (ping pong shows, ladyboys, etc.). For people partying, this is where it happens but make sure you don’t fall for any scams!
3. Half Day Sightseeing Tour – We are not big on guided tours but based on costs, this was our best option. Our half day tour consisted of seeing Big Buddha, Wat Chalong, Kata and Karon Viewpoints, a honeybee farm and a cashew nut factory. Unfortunately, Big Buddha was under construction so we weren’t able to get the awesome photos we were hoping for. The temple had some great views as well, but the viewpoints we visited were pretty damn gorgeous. As a reminder, if you are going to see any temples, make sure you properly dress and bring something to cover your shoulders/knees.
4. Phuket Old Town – You can find colorful colonial buildings, shops and restaurants and a Thai night market. We only drove past this area on our way to the pier but we’ve heard great things and you should check it out if you can.
If you’re traveling anywhere in Southeast Asia, TripAdvisor is without a doubt the best place to check out the reviews. Dan’s TripAdvisor page has a robust amount of reviews and pictures of our meals in all of the places we’ve visited. Here are the places we checked out and our two cents:
The Coffee Club – You’ll definitely find a ton of these all around Thailand. They do have very good breakfast options, but its overpriced from a travel budget perspective, especially when there are so many other cheap options available.
Yam Thai Restaurant – Great Thai dinner option and for the price you would expect ($2 entrees).
i-Kroon Cafe – GREAT lunch spot right near our guesthouse. Very good food for the prices you would expect.
Maelarn – Decent Thai dinner, but not our favorite – only worthy of a Tiger beer picture.
If you’re looking to volunteer with animals and are comfortable with cats and dogs, and will be in the Phuket area, absolutely check out the Soi Dog Foundation. You can become a shelter volunteer with Soi Dog Foundation. The primary role of a volunteer in Phuket is to socialize and walk the dogs, as well as help socialize the cats and puppies. Learn more about how you can be a shelter volunteer on Soi Dog’s website.