Phuket has lots more to offer than glorious beaches and clean seas. There are also the fascinating mangrove forests of the east coast and the inland jungles, nature areas and waterfalls. If you’re looking for more traditional sightseeing options, such as museums and other attractions, there are also many of these in Phuket.
The island’s biggest attraction, however, is probably its wonderful beaches, each with a different character. Hiring a motorbike or jeep and exploring them by yourself, as well as the less developed areas on the east side of the island, is a wonderful way to get to know Phuket. The roads are good, albeit a bit busy and hilly, but drive warily – not everyone is sensible on the road.
Museums in Phuket
The Phuket Sea Shell Museum (12/2 Moo2, Viset Rd., Rawai. Open: 08:00-19:30 (Daily). Admission Fee (Adults/Children): 200/100 Baht. Tel: (076) 613 666) in Rawai offers a world class display of sea shells from around the world – its owners have well-deserved international reputations for their research work. There are over 2,000 species, including giant clams, ancient fossils and rare golden pearls.
If you are interested in the history of Phuket and you’re on your way from the airport to the beaches, Thalang National Museum (Srisoonthron Rd., Open: 08:30-16:00 (Daily). Admission fee: 30 Baht. Tel: (076) 311 426) is certainly worth a look. You can discover the history behind the nearby Heroines Monument, learn more abut Sea Gypsy culture, and see some interesting ancient artefacts. It’s a small museum but is quite interesting.
Recently opened, although quiet and not widely promoted, is the Phuket Mining Museum (Open: 09:00-16:00. Admission fee (Adult/Children): 100/50 Baht) on the back roads between Phuket Town and Kathu. It lends an interesting insight into Phuket’s pre-tourist history, when tin mining was king. Some fascinating dioramas here.
There is also a quirky collection of artifacts in the Thavorn Hotel on Rassada Road, while a museum of Thai-Chinese culture in the old Thai Hua school building on Krabi Road gives insight into this powerful sector of Thai society.
Phuket Theme Parks and Shows
Phuket FantaSea is a major, themed attraction on the island and is well worth seeing. A good buffet dinner is served in a large banquet hall before the show, or you can buy a ticket for the show only. A cast of 50 elephants, along with performers in elaborate costumes, acrobats, pyrotechnics, and stunning sets, will be sure to keep you awake.
Before and after the performance, you’ll find fun theme park games as well as some souvenir shopping. It’s a bit steep but the show is a must-see if you have kids with you. (99 Moo 3, Kamala Beach. Open: 17.30-23.30. Admission Fee (Adults/Children): 2,200/2,000 Baht (Show+Buffet Dinner). Tel: (076) 385 000, Email).
Simon Cabaret is worth it for a couple hours’ amusement for those fascinated by Thailand’s katoeys (ladyboys). A Vegas-type, all-male cabaret show with elaborate costumes and lip-synching, Simon Cabaret is especially popular with big Asia tour groups. Performances are suitable for children also. (8 Sirirach Rd., Patong Beach. Show Times: 18:00, 19:45 and 21:30. VIP Seat (Adults/Children): 800/600 Baht; Regular Seat (Adults/Children): 700/500 Baht. Mobile: (087) 888 6888, Email).
Animals in Phuket
Phuket Zoo is a private facility housing an assortment of animals on the east side of Phket, near Chalong. There’s a small restaurant and plenty of shade, so you can make a day of it if you also take in all the shows. The crocodile show, elephant show and monkey show repeat several times a day. (23/2 Moo 3, Soi Palai, Chaofah Rd. Open: 08:30-18:00 (Daily). Monkey Shows: 09:00, 12:00, 14:30 and 16:45. Crocodile Shows: 09:45, 12:45, 15:15 and 17:30. Elephant Shows: 10:30, 13:30 and 16:00. Tel: (076) 374 424, Email).
Those that want to help out some animals can visit the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (104/3 Moo 3, Paklock, Talang. Tel: (076) 260 492, Email) at Bang Pae Waterfall in the northeast of Phuket. This is where all the gibbons end up (when they are no longer cute babies) for you to have your photo taken with.
Temples and Historic Areas of Phuket
Phuket has around 50 temples and monasteries, yet the only one really worth visiting is Wat Chalong. It is associated with highly revered monks, Luang Pho Chaem and Luang Pho Chuang, both of whom are famous for work in herbal medicine. They were best known for mediating a peace agreement in the Ang Yee tin miners’ rebellion of 1876 and treating injured people on both sides of the conflict.
The large stupa in the centre of the temple houses a piece of bone from the Buddha, donated by a temple in Sri Lanka, and also has beautiful views across the neighbouring countryside. It’s unconventially shaped relative to other pagodas typically seen in Thailand and is one of the few you can enter and climb up to a second level balcony.
In the centre of Phuket Town, around Thalang Road, is the old Chinese quarter, which in recent years has seen a revival and a certain amount of gentrification. Particularly attractive is Soi Romanee, a narrow street off Thalang Road. Many of the 100-year-old houses have received a new lease of life, with restoration and a bright coat of paint, and now house cafés, bars and craft shops. There are also regular, free jazz performances in the street. Ask around to find out when the next one is.
In addition to the shop houses here, there are large Ang Mo Lau mansions; the main one being at the junction of Krabi Road and Satun Road. This large, beautiful house has recently been thoroughly renovated and is now a high-end Thai restaurant.
There is also a quirky collection of artefacts in the Thavorn Hotel on Rassada Road, plus the museum of Thai-Chinese culture in the old Thai Hua school building on Krabi Road is worth a look.
Safaris and Nature Parks in Phuket
One of the largest eco-tour companies on the island is Island Safari Tour (38/60 Moo 5, Chalong. Tel: (076) 255 021-2, Email), which has been open since 1993. They have locations in Phuket, Phang Nga and on Koh Samui and tours include rafting, trekking and elephant rides. .
Phuket Orchid Farm is located 2.5kms from the centre of Phuket Town. In additional to cultural and animal shows, the spectacular Orchid Garden covers over 8,000 square meters and includes many varieties of orchid unique to the region. (67/1 Soi Suksan 1, Viset Rd., Chalong. Open: 09:00-17:30 (Daily). Entry Ticket (Adult/Children): 400/200 Baht. Tel: (076) 280 266. Email).
Phuket Viewpoints and Landscapes
Most visitors to Phuket head to the southern tip of the island at some point during their stay to witness the sunset from Phromthep Cape, but it does get crowded. Also in the south, above Kata Beach, is a well known viewpoint with a gorgeous vista of Kata, Karon and Patong beaches. Another popular stop is Khao Rang (Rang Hill) in Phuket Town. Halfway up the hill is a temple with a huge golden Buddha statue and good views.
The most spectacular views are from the Big Buddha – officially the Phraputtamingmongkol – between Chalong and Kata, from where you can see Phuket Town to the north, Chalong Bay to the east, and Kata to the west. On closer inspection this giant Buddha and its immediate surrounds are unfinshed – being an ongoing project likely to take years as donations trickle in. The views from the top aren’t particularly good and the whole attraction, frankly, is better viewed from the bottom of the hill.