Phuket is one of the biggest destinations for travelers in Thailand.
Backpacking Phuket, visiting here on a holiday, coming to learn Muay Thai, or sitting on the resorts – everyone travels to Phuket eventually for something!
The island is the biggest all of the country and contains a wide range of beaches and environments to see.
This is where you see all the good and bad of Thai tourism – from overdeveloped beaches and sex tourism, to tiny towns with no tourists and authentic Thailand.
But, while most visitors, stick to the overdeveloped south, if you stay away from Patong Beach, you can avoid most of the over-development and crowds. The north part of the island is one of my favorite places to visit in all of Thailand.
It is a paradise without the crowds, prices, or crazy drunk tourists!
Phuket draws a lot of tourists, and if you really want to enjoy the area, get out of the main spots.
This travel guide to Phuket will give you the best places to visit, tell you how to save money, how to get around, give you costs, and help you plan the best trip to this island!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Phuket
1. Chill on the beach
2. Visit the temples
3. Cruise Phang Nga Bay
4. Visit the gibbons
5. Make a trip to the Similian Islands
Other Things to See and Do in Phuket
1. Skip Patong
This is the main tourist section of Phuket, filled with crowded beaches, resorts, hawkers, stores, bars, and sadly, a lot of sex tourists. Unless you want to get drunk a lot, try to avoid this beach at all costs (although I do still recommend taking a cooking class near here!). There are much better beaches around, like Hat Karon, Surin, and Mai Khao Beach.
2. Learn to cook traditional Thai food
If you are looking to learn some Thai cooking tricks, take a class at Pum’s Thai Cooking School. There are several of these schools in Thailand, and the one in Phuket is on Patong Beach. You can take classes ranging from 30 minutes to 6+ hours. Why not get a souvenir you can take back with you, and bring back the knowledge of how to make some of your favorite dishes from Thailand! Classes start at 500 THB ($16 USD) for a 30-minute mini-class, but a full class (3+ hours) starts from 1500 THB ($47 USD).
3. Watch some Muay Thai fighting
To see something truly Thai, book yourself in to watch some Muay Thai. This is a form of combat that combines striking techniques using fists, elbows, knees, and shins, and is known as “the art of eight limbs.” It requires extreme mental and physical discipline to train to be a Muay Thai fighter. The Saphan Hin Stadium is the destination to see regular matches or go to Patong Beach where you can watch these disciplined fighters in action. You can usually find tickets starting around 1,300 THB ($40 USD).
4. Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Park
Take a trip to the Khao Phra Thaeo Conservation Development and Extension Center, a center focused on preserving the environment. The center contains a park which is home to a number of endangered animals, and also contains giant trees in the midst of dense a dense forest. Make sure to check out the Nam Tok Sai waterfall, which is located close to the park headquarters. There is also a floating restaurant located in the mangroves! Admission is 200 THB ($6.25 USD).
5. Stop at the Thalang National Museum
If you are eager to find out more about historical Phuket, then make a visit to the Thalang National Museum. The Museum holds an exhibition of ancient artifacts from Old Phuket and items used during the war with Burma. This is a great way to immerse yourself in the history of the island. It’s 30 THB ($0.95 USD) for entry.
6. Enjoy the viewpoints
Phuket has many viewpoints — there are 10 in total. Promthep tends to be the most popular, but another great spot is the Kata viewpoint. Nothing is better than watching a golden sunset from these points. Your camera will thank you!
7. Rent a bike
Renting either a bike or motorbike will give you more freedom to explore Phuket. Find your way to Laem Singh Beach, a more secluded and laid-back spot with some great snorkeling opportunities. Be careful — biking in Phuket can be a little dangerous. You can expect to pay about 200 THB ($6.25 USD) a day for a bike.
8. Explore Sirinat National Park
This national park was founded in the early ’80s and consists of three beach areas along the northwest coast of Phuket. It includes a couple of beaches, including Nai Yang, Sai Kaew, and Mai Khao, as well as the mangrove forest where the saltwater and freshwater mix. This is a good place for camping. During the spring, endangered Leatherback Turtles come here to lay their eggs. Park entrance costs 200 THB ($6.25 USD).
9. Check out the Phuket Mining Museum
Located in Kathu, this museum is one of the most interesting in my opinion. There are a couple of neat models and even a recreation of an opium den! Some of the models seem so real, it’s like you are living it. You will get a chance to see some of the mining methods used back when Phuket was a major tin mining center. Entry is 100 THB ($3.15 USD).
10. Stroll the Phuket Weekend Market
Known also as the Naka market, this market is located right outside of Phuket Town. It is a crazy assortment of local and secondhand goods, interesting objects, and a huge variety of food. The market is broken up into two sections- the covered section (everything from jeans to pirated DVDs), and the open market (food, food, food!)
11. Snorkel the waters
Phuket has over 33 beaches, all of them pretty incredible. While not all of them are great for snorkeling, some of the best are Laem Singh Beach, Ao Sane, Ya Nui, and Surin. You might want to bring your own gear, as renting can get a bit pricy. It is possible to buy some cheap gear in Phuket if you look hard enough.
12. Visit the Soi Dog Foundation
Soi Dog Foundation is a charity that helps the stray dogs and cats you see on the streets of Phuket. You can tour the facilities and meet and play with the animals. Longer volunteer opportunities are also offered, and donations are always welcome.
13. Explore some waterfalls
Some of the biggest and best waterfalls are in Phuket. The top three on island are Bang Pae, Ton Sai, and Kathu. They are all at the end of some scenic nature walks too, so double bonus. Don’t miss out! Kathu is free, entry to Khao Phra Thaeo National Park for Bang Pae and Ton Sai is 400 THB ($13 USD).
Phuket Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Hostels are one of the best ways to save money on Phuket. Most hostels have dorms with 4-8 beds to sleep in. The cheapest bed in a dorm starts from about 130 THB ($5 USD) for a 10-person room, but you can find the same price for even smaller dorms. Most of the 6-bed dorms are in in the 250-300 THB ($8-9 USD) range.
Places outside of the main Patong area (like Kata Beach) usually cost around the same. Breakfast usually isn’t included in the cheaper places. Private rooms for two people with ensuite bathrooms start at 510 THB ($16 USD), although these rooms often come with a fan instead of air-con. Aside from saving money on this touristy island, you’ll also get to meet other travelers with all of the common spaces offered at the hostels on the island.
Budget hotel prices – A night in a centrally-located two-star hotel for one person starts around 350 THB ($11 USD) for a room with air-conditioning and free WiFi — cheaper than many hostels. About half of this selection includes free breakfast. Phuket surprisingly has some of the least expensive 5-star hotels in Thailand, often as low as 2,200 THB ($60 USD) per night! The Memory at On On Hotel is a great choice (and it was featured in the movie The Beach)! Prices remain fairly consistent across the island, even away from busy Patong.
On Airbnb, you can find a large number of shared rooms in apartments for around 383 THB ($12 USD), but oftentimes they’re actually hotel properties. There’s also a selection of entire apartments/homes starting from about 703 THB ($22 USD) per night for two people, while a jungle hut near Kata Beach or Karon starts from 480 THB ($15 USD) per night. I’d definitely look into staying in an Airbnb here since there are so many quality ones available!
Average cost of food – Compared to the rest of Thailand, food is a bit more expensive here. Lunch at a local Thai restaurant will cost around 150 THB ($4.70 USD). Western meals will cost around 330 THB ($10 USD), even for a basic margherita pizza. Dinner with drinks can typically cost around 270 THB ($8.45 USD) or more, but it can be more expensive if you’re right on Patong Beach. If you are having a fish meal or getting wine, expect to pay around 675 THB ($21 USD). In the major tourist area, you’ll probably pay 25% more.
You can grab a beer for about 60 THB ($1.90 USD), but on Bangla Road they’re 100 THB ($3.15 USD) or higher. A week of groceries with the basic staples should cost you around 1,040 THB ($33 USD). If you eat at the street stalls, the food is not only cheap, but it’s also utterly delicious! Remember that buying beers from 7-Eleven vs in bars and restaurants will save you lots of money.
Backpacking Phuket Suggested Budgets
On a very strict backpacker budget, you will spend about 1,117 THB ($35 USD) per day. This will afford you a bed in a hostel dorm, one local lunch per day (but cooking your meals the rest of the time), and a few beers from the 7-Eleven. You can also enjoy plenty of budget or free activities (like temples or beaches), one attraction per day like visiting one of the wildlife reserves, and taking public transportation wherever you go. If you want to party in Patong, you’ll spend a lot more.
On a mid-range budget of about 2,748 THB ($86 USD), you can stay in a budget two-star hotel, or a private room in an Airbnb. You can eat out for dinner each day (and enjoy some drinks!), but also cook at least half of your meals at your accommodations. You’ll be able to take public transportation everywhere but also spring for a Grab every once in a while. You can also enjoy more exciting activities like a guided boat tour or a ticket to see a Muay Thai fight.
If you want to travel Phuket in luxury, you can expect to pay around 5,430 THB ($170 USD) per day. This will get you a nice room in a five-star hotel or resort (yes, really!), three meals a day (including western meals, or local meals with drinks), two taxi or Grab drives a day, and more guided activities, like a cooking class in Patong.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Phuket Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Although Phuket is more expensive than many other islands in Thailand, there are still plenty of ways to save money. However, there are some ways you save money in Phuket:
- Eat street food – Speaking of street food, don’t be afraid to eat it. It’s safe – even safer than most restaurants. If it weren’t, the Thai wouldn’t be packing the stalls each day. You’ll find the best of Thailand’s food on the street, and it will cost you a fraction of what you pay at a restaurant.
- Buy beer at the 7-Eleven – Buy your beers from the supermarket as they are much cheaper here than anywhere else. Most bars don’t have corkage fees, so you can also bring spirits and just buy ice and mixers.
- Ride in a songtaew or rent a bike – These are converted pickup trucks are shared taxis that cost a lot less than a tuk-tuk or a taxi. If you are looking to get around on your own, renting a bike is also a great option, and can usually be done for about 200 THB($6.25 USD) per day.
- Come during low season – Prices drastically drop during low season! You can usually negotiate hostel/hotel fees during this time.
- Couchsurf – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see.
- Bargain hard – When shopping at the markets, whip out your negotiation skills. The rule of thumb is the more you buy, the cheaper the prices will be. So shop in packs for the best deals.
- Use a water bottle with a purifier – It isn’t safe to drink the tap water in Phuket, and although buying bottled water is cheap, it does add up — pick up a LifeStraw (it’s good for the environment too!)
Where To Stay in Phuket
The backpacker scene is busy in Phuket, so you’ll find plenty of quality hostels here. These are some of my favorite places to stay in Phuket:
How to Get Around Phuket
Local Bus – Small buses connect Phuket’s Old Town with the main beach resorts around the island, like Patong and Karon. They’re slow because of the number of stops to make, but they’re cheap and reliable. Shared minibuses are also common. You’ll pay 100-200 THB ($3.15-6.25 USD) to get across the island, but it can be an exercise in patience.
Songthaews – Songthaews are covered trucks that have been converted into multi-passenger vehicles (the truck’s box is usually converted with two wooden benches for seating). There are no set stops like the local bus — you’ll just have to flag one down that is headed in your direction. There will usually be a sign on the dashboard to let you know where the final stop is. Negotiate your fare ahead of time. A ride in a songthaew usually starts around 25-50 THB ($0.80-1.60 USD).
A songthaew from Patong Beach to the airport costs 1,000 THB ($31 USD), and to other beaches (like Kamala, Kata, or Surin) it costs around 500 THB ($16 USD).
Motorbike Taxi – A motorbike taxi will cost on average 60 THB ($2 USD) per short journey around town. If you’re going a longer distance, we don’t advise taking a motorbike taxi. It’s not the safest option!
Tuk-Tuk – The tuk-tuks in Phuket look more like songthaews than the tuk-tuks in other parts of Thailand. These can be more expensive even than metered taxis because the drivers work together and they know not to undercut each other. Since there is no public transportation between the beaches, and because other transportation tends to stop early in the evening, tuk-tuk drivers know that they can charge higher prices. A 2-mile (3-kilometer) ride in a tuk-tuk can cost about 335 THB ($10 USD). Shorter distances average about 100 THB ($3.15 USD).
Taxi – Metered taxis are expensive, but sometimes they’re cheaper than tuk-tuks. Their fares start at 50 THB ($1.60 USD) per two kilometers. Non-metered taxis typically charge flat rates and are not really necessary for long distances. An hour-long journey from the airport to Patong is a minimum of 500 THB ($16 USD).
Car Rental – Cars can be rented for 1,000 THB ($31 USD) a day. I only suggest doing this if you’re with a family or a group who wants to split the cost.
Ride-Sharing – The Grab app is like the Uber of Thailand — prices are cheaper than taxis, and you’re driven by a local in his/her vehicle. You can pay via the app or in cash, and you’ll get a price estimate for your journey before you even get in the car. Having said that, on Phuket the prices are sometimes not much different than taxis. You can get from Patong to Karon for less than 200 THB ($6.25 USD), while Kata to karon is about 120 THB ($3.75 USD).
When to Go to Phuket
Like the other islands in this part of Thailand, peak season in Phuket is from November to April. If you travel during May through October, you’ll avoid the busiest season and save quite a bit of money, although it may be rainy. However, November to April offers cooler temperatures and nicer weather, with constant sunshine and clear skies.
November to February are the coolest months, with temperatures between 73-86°F (23-30°C). February is the driest month and is the best time of the year to be a beach bum.
The end of March to mid-May is the hottest time of year. It’s just before monsoon season hits, so humidity is high and temperatures soar into the high 90s°F (30s°C). If you can’t tolerate the heat, don’t come during this time.
Mid-May to October is Monsoon season in Phuket. Although it rains for awhile each day, the temperature averages about 84°F (28°C) per day. If you don’t mind a bit of rain, this is an excellent time to come.
How to Stay Safe in Phuket
Phuket is safe, especially for solo travelers. It’s one of the easiest places in Thailand to meet other solo travelers, so you’re never really on your own. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is the most common type of crime in Phuket. If you’re worried about scams, read this post on travel scams to avoid.
Patong is a party destination. Most people run into problems here when they’re drunk and stupid. Don’t overdo it, and always be mindful of your drink. Although uncommon, travelers have been known to fail victim to druggings so they can be mugged or molested. Do not do drugs or participate in the sex industry. Both can have severe consequences.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Phuket!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Phuket Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Phuket. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals!
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all bookers.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Thailand, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Phuket Gear and Packing Guide
In this section, I’ll give you my suggestion for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip to Phuket.
The Best Backpack for Phuket
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something smaller or different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for more tips and tricks on how to pick a backpack (as well as more pack suggestions)!
What to Pack for Phuket
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (a water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Phuket Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Beach, by Alex Garland
This story about backpackers and their search for off-the-beaten path “authentic” paradise is one many of us can relate to. Following Richard and his quest to “do something different” in Thailand, he heads off the beaten path in hopes of an authentic experience but finds that things aren’t always what they appear. The book is part adventure and part an exploration of why travelers always search for utopias and the consequences of that quest. It was turned into a movie featuring Leonardo DiCaprio back in the 90s. However, the book is a lot different (and much better). Focusing on the ideal of travel, I can’t recommend the book enough.
Sightseeing, by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
This collection of masterful stories from award-winning author Rattawut Lapcharoensap is an absolute must-read if you’re visiting Thailand. Each story has a different theme, whether it’s a tale of family bonds, young romance, generational conflict, or the cultural shifts occurring in modern Thailand. You’ll be hooked right from the first story about a beachside motel owner that falls in love with a young American tourist.
Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon
Anna Leonowens was a young Englishwomen who inevitably changed the course of Thai history. She was hired in the 1860’s by King Mongkut of Siam to help him communicate with foreign governments, and also to be the tutor to his children (and his favorite concubines). This book is about Leonowens’ experiences, including the tutoring of young prince Chulalongkorn, who was so impressed by Western ideals he went on to become one of the country’s most progressive kings. This book is beautifully written and gives some insight into untouched Thailand.
Mad About the Mekong, by John Keay
The author’s story retraces the voyage of Francis Garnier, a historic 19th-century French explorer who sailed up the Mekong River looking for the “back door” into China. Keay describes the modern world of the Mekong River from Vietnam up through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Burma, while recreating Garnier’s failed voyage which included two ships bearing naturalists, soldiers, artists, and geologists. It’s a fascinating read.
The Orchid House, by Lucinda Riley
Julia Forrester, a concert pianist, spent much of her childhood in her grandfather’s hothouse at the Wharton Estate in England where he tended to exotic orchids. After losing her child and husband, Julia heads back to the hothouse where she meets Kit Crawford, heir to the estate. When they discover an old diary, Julia sets out to find her grandmother and to uncover the truth about the love affair that almost destroyed the estate. This book jumps back and forth between the world of Wharton Park and Thailand during WWII, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you reading!
Bangkok 8, by John Burdett
Bangkok 8 is a thrilling detective novel based on the murder of a suave Marine sergeant under a bridge in Bangkok. There are just two witnesses: two cops, and within minutes one of them is murdered. His partner, Sonchai Jitpleecheep, sets out on a mission to find the killer. Sonchai is paired with a beautiful FBI agent (who inevitably wins his heart), and is soon launched into a sinister world of drugs, prostitution, and corruption. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Private Dancer, by Stephen Leather
Here’s a little insight into Bangkok’s wild go-go scene. Peter wanders into a go-go bar and meets the love of his life: Joy, a stunningly beautiful (and young) pole dancer. But Pete is soon launched into a life of drugs, sex, and deception as he discovers that his private dancer is not who she says she is. This book is a #1 bestseller in Thailand!
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Phuket Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more tips for your trip? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Thailand travel and continue planning your trip: