A large island with a vibrant past, Phuket is among the world’s finest beach destinations. Renowned for its tropical beaches, warm waters and array of activities that range from taking exhilarating boat trips to the many nearby islands, including the famous Koh Phi Phi, enjoying serene cruises around the mystical Phang Nga Bay or simply soaking up the sun from under a nodding palm tree.
A destination full of attractions – no matter your area of interest, there are some too often overlooked, particularly by first time visitors. Be it the secluded viewpoints, sacred temples or veteran traders. If you’re a traveller who likes to escape the crowds and see things a little differently – even in such a famed destination as Phuket – then these will introduce you to Phuket Reimagined.
Samet Nangshe Viewpoint, Phang Nga
From Samet Nangshe Viewpoint located on a hilltop just a 30-minute drive from Phuket, the views are over the limestone islets of Phang Nga Bay and across 1.6 km of mangroves. Phang-Nga Bay in southern Ao Phang-Nga National Park is distinguished by its tall rock-like islets. One of these, Khao Phing Kan, is known for a 20m-tall rock called Ko Tapu, or James Bond Island, which was featured in the film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun.’ The sun rises between the limestone karsts at about 6am, depending on the time of year, with the spectacle often preceded by the rare sight of the milky way, given the remote setting away from light pollution.
Big Buddha Phuket, Wat Khao Rang
A striking 45 metres tall white marble Buddha statue visible from most of the south of Phuket, the Big Buddha sits atop the Nakkerd Hills and overlooks Chalong, Kata and Rawai beaches. Next to it stands Wat Khao Rang’s golden Buddha image, the island’s original Big Buddha which has seomewhat vanished into obscurity over the years, and should be visited. The drive up to the Big Buddha takes you through lush forest with the impressive views from the top across many recognisable sights.
Shrine of the Serene Light, Phuket Old Town
The Shrine of the Serene Light is one of Phuket’s oldest Chinese shrines. Effectively hidden in plain sight having been built in a little courtyard next to The Memory at On On Hotel on Phang Nga Road in Phuket Old Town. Formerly only accessible through a hard to locate alley, the entrance has been widened and made significantly grander, with the shrine now one of the most popular in Phuket. Founded in 1891 by the Hokkien Chinese descendants of the Tan Luan Jae family, the Shrine of the Serene Light is also known as Sang Tham Shrine. The shrine displays its heritage in distinctive architectural design, a terracotta-tiled roof and its single-story construction.
Baan Chinpracha, Phuket Old Town
Baan Chinpracha is a typical Sino-colonial mansion built in 1903 during the Phuket tin mining era that saw the establishment of the Chinese tin barons in Phuket Town. Located off Krabi Road in the historical district that was developed during this time of economic growth in Phuket. The owner of Baan Chinpracha is the grandson of one of these tin barons who has opened parts of the house to visitors interested in seeing how a wealthy Phuket family lived many decades ago. A typical Sino-colonial mansion with Italian floor tiles, shuttered windows and antique furniture, anybody interested in history and architecture should not miss this heritage building.
Koh Panyee, Phang Nga
A photogenic Muslim fishing village on stilts, Koh Panyee is about 20 minutes by long-tail boat from Surakul Pier in Phang Nga. A popular place to visit on day trips and often combined with nearby James Bond Island, residents are known to invite tourists to lunch, to wander around the village and to gain insight into life on the water. Overnight stays are possible and do reveal the true identity of the village.
Bordering the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary offers a new home for elephants who have suffered from working long hours in the logging and tourism industry. As the first ethical elephant tourism experience in Phuket, they rescue sick, injured and old elephants, welcoming them into a natural and peaceful environment. While you can watch and walk with the majestic creatures and learn about the individuals who live there, interaction beyond that is kept to a strict minimum. There are morning and afternoon tours available and you can volunteer at the sanctuary. https://www.phuketelephantsanctuary.org/en/
Restaurants and the Weekend Market, Old Phuket Town
Phuket was the first Asian city to be given the City of Gastronomy title by UNESCO and there are many authentic restaurants and food stalls in Phuket Old Town to try. For an exceptional meal, visit Tu Kab Khao Restaurant Phuket opposite The Memory at On On Hotel on Phang Nga Road – or the Weekend Market where traders gather with the best of their fair. Old Phuket Town can easily be enjoyed on foot and as you explore be sure to look out for the street art and murals that add further character to the area.
The Buddha Cave, Phang Nga
Wat Tham Suwan Khuha or the Buddha Cave in Phang Nga town, is one of the best places for explorers to visit in Phuket. Comprising of a network of tunnels and caves, they house a large reclining Buddha that is hardly visited by tourists. You don’t need a boat to get there but can rather drive to the town in the northern part of Phuket and visit the cave independently. The cave is surrounded by walking trails and waterfalls and you’d do well to make a day of it.
Banyan Tree Spa, Phuket
Never miss an opportunity to indulge in some true Thai Wellness. Considered one of the best spas in Phuket, the romantic Banyan Tree Spa Phuket offers a treatments menu with signature offerings alongside the renowned traditional Thai massages. As an in-house spa of an international hotel brand, they can also offer traditional Indian, Indonesian and Chinese treatments. It’s advisable to extend your visit with a meal or cocktail after your treatment.
In collaboration with Dawn Jorgensen