Phuket is a paradise of idyllic beaches and luxury resorts. But aside from dreamy vistas and plush amenities, it’s an island packed with culture and adventure. Home to some of Southern Thailand’s most fascinating sites, from jungle treks to traditional Phuket flavors, it can be overwhelming how much there is to do, see and eat on this little island.
For anyone traveling to Phuket, whether it be a romantic honeymoon, vacation or getaway, this destination is the perfect dose of leisure and adventure. Here’s a well-rounded itinerary of sites around Phuket that you can’t miss!
Wat Suwan Kuha
The golden reclining Buddha is the most awe-inspiring statue in Wat Suwan Kuha — Photo courtesy of Kae Lani
Nestled in a limestone cave, just north of the island of Phuket in the Phang Nga Province, is the reclining Buddha. More commonly known as the ‘Monkey Cave’ because of the large group of monkeys who have made the area their home, Wat Suwan Kuha is a Buddhist temple that houses artifacts and statues important to the theology of Buddhism.
The most important of these statues is the gigantic golden Buddha that is reclining in the center of the cave. Buddha appears in several different positions, each of which represents a stage along Buddha’s path toward enlightenment. The reclining Buddha is the final stage which represents the illness Lord Buddha had toward the end of his life as he approached parinirvana, or “nirvana after death.”
The cave continues past the golden reclining Buddha to a set of stairs that goes deeper into the limestone mountain. If you’re adventurous enough to continue journeying into the cave, you may come across Buddhist monks who still sit in the cave to meditate.
Samed Nang She Viewpoint
There’s a lot to take in at Samed Nang She Viewpoint — Photo courtesy of Kae Lani
The spectacular views of Phuket never get old. Luckily, there are plenty of viewpoints from which to take in the stunning landscapes. Samed Nang She Viewpoint overlooks Phang Nga Bay, an area of Thailand made famous by James Bond Island where the Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed.
From here, you can see dozens of jungle-covered limestone islands jutting out of crystal blue waters. There’s no wrong time of day to stop by these viewpoints, but some of the most colorful skies can be enjoyed at dawn. The viewpoint faces east, giving visitors a chance to see an unforgettable sunrise.
Sa Nang Manora Forest Park
Find a moment of serenity in Sa Nang Manora Forest Park — Photo courtesy of Kae Lani
If you’re craving a bit of outdoor adventure and want to go for a hike in a tropical forest, you’ll want to spend some time exploring Sa Nang Manora Forest Park. It’s an easy hike on a well-marked trail that will lead you along a river with several swimming holes, perfect for a quick dip if you’ve worked up a sweat in the Thailand heat.
Along the trail, you’ll also find the Sa Nang Manora waterfall, which the park was named after. The park is free to visit and is a short enough adventure to combine with other sites around northern Phuket.
If you want a taste of authentic Phuket cuisine, Raya Restaurant is the place to get it. It’s one of the most famous restaurants in Phuket Town and quite possibly one of the most notable establishments in Phuket.
The restaurant is situated in a Sino-Portuguese mansion that still has many of its original architectural features including colorful tiled flooring and vibrantly stained glass. For very reasonable prices, guests can feast on classic Phuket dishes like coconut crab curry and Moo Hong (succulent pork belly with pepper and garlic).
The restaurant also specializes in fried shrimp with tamarind sauce, and they make a delicious omelet with deep fried pork belly.
From a distance, the Big Buddha looks like a white speck on the top of the Nakkerd Hills, but up close, this statue is massive — Photo courtesy of Kae Lani
On top of the Nakkerd Hills sits one of Phuket’s most notable landmarks: Big Buddha. Standing at 45 meters tall, it can be seen from most places on the island including Phuket Town, Karon Beach and as far away as the Cape Panwa.
If you venture up to the monument, you’ll get an incredible 360-degree view of Phuket. On a clear day you can see as far as Chalong Bay and beyond.
The Big Buddha is made from Burmese white jade marble which gives the statue a breathtaking and radiant glow when the sun strikes it just right. Dharma music plays while travelers and locals present the Big Buddha with offerings of flowers and incense.
Proceeds from souvenirs sold here go toward continuing the construction of the statues located within the compound. You can also purchase golden bodhi leaves and other items on which to write prayers or messages to leave at Big Buddha.
Chalong Bay Rum Distillery
To explore a more contemporary side of Phuket culture, head to Chalong Bay Rum Distillery. Made with 100% natural Thai sugarcane, this artisan rum is distilled with the centuries-old French technique of using copper stills. The result is a high-quality white rum that has already been internationally recognized in the short time the distillery has been open.
The Chalong Bay Rum Distillery goes beyond just a tasting and a tour. They host cocktail workshops where guests can learn how to make Mojitos, spicyrinhas and Pina Coladas while also getting a lesson on the history and culture of rum.
Wat Chaithararam is one of several ornate temples located at Wat Chalong — Photo courtesy of Kae Lani
What makes Phuket unique from the rest of Thailand is not just its beautiful locales, but the diverse cultures that have blended together to make it what it is today. Over the centuries, the island has seen many different communities come to its shores, predominantly Hindu traders who dealt with local rulers and Chinese migrants who settled here.
There are 29 Buddhist temples in Phuket, many of which are ornately adorned with a mix of Chinese dragons, statues of Buddha and even depictions of Hindu deities. Wat Chalong is the largest and most celebrated temple in Phuket because the tallest building within the temple grounds, the Pagoda, houses a bone fragment of the Lord Buddha.
Another reason why Wat Chalong is Phuket’s most important temple is because of its dedication to Luang Pho Chaem and Luang Pho Chuang, two monks who helped heal those who had been injured in the fight against the Chinese Coolie Rebellion in 1876.
Wat Khao Rang
The staircase leading to Wat Khao Rang — Photo courtesy of Kae Lani
Though it’s worth a visit, Wat Chalong can be very busy with tourists, locals and monks. If you’re looking for a more intimate encounter with a Buddhist temple, then go to Wat Khao Rang located in Phuket Town. Even though it’s located in Phuket’s capital city, it’s relatively quiet, except for on weekends when locals pay a visit.
It’s an exquisite temple covered in ornate paintings and traditional carvings, and it houses magnificent statues including Yommaraj (the Lord of Death) and a giant golden Buddha.
Koh Phi Phi Islands
If you’ve got time to take a day trip off the island, Phuket allows for easy access to Koh Phi Phi National Park in the nearby province of Krabi. Just 30 miles southeast of Phuket in the Andaman Sea are gorgeous beaches rich with opportunities to go sightseeing, snorkeling and island hopping.
There are plenty of tours that will take you to different islands in Ko Phi Phi such as Bamboo Island, Monkey Bay and the Tonsai Village. It’s a 90-minute boat ride from the port of Phuket or you can get there faster by taking a speed boat or floatplane.
Thalang Road Walking Street Market
Every Sunday night, Phuket Town’s busiest street shuts down traffic and transforms into a walking street market. Thalang Road is a great place to spend an evening perusing the many vendors who are selling souvenirs, art and street foods.
You can get a bite to eat and shop for unique handicrafts while enjoying the backdrop of colorful Sino-Portuguese buildings. Combining the vibrant sights, the smells of street food and the sounds of a bustling street market, you’re sure to have an immersive cultural experience.