Many of southern Thailand’s most popular destinations are within easy reach of Phuket and there are scores of companies that can provide information on touring the island and its neighbourhood. Day trips to the many offshore islands are very popular, offering snorkelling, diving, rock climbing and many other activities.
Koh Phi Phi is one of the most beautiful and well known of the Andaman Islands. Although the Tsunami of 2004 caused severe damage to the island’s infrastructure, Phi Phi has made a remarkable comeback and draws many visitors to its stunning white sand beaches.
If anything the island is in a better state since much of the unplanned, haphazard development was washed away and has yet to be replaced, though an impression of incoherent development remains. The limestone cliffs of Phi Phi are excellent for rock climbing and the diving is also held in high regard. Ferry boats to Koh Phi Phi leave from Phuket City’s Ratsada Harbour twice daily (journey time is one hour).
Information and tickets can be had at the dock or from any Phuket tour agency. Alternatively, there are all-in trips (snorkelling, lunch, and so on) available by speedboat, offering practical means of experiencing all the islands. A hydrofoil service is coming very soon, say the owners.
There are several other small islands right off the coast of Phuket. Koh Bon, Coral Island, the Raya (or Racha) Islands and Buddha Island (also known as Glass Island) are all great stops during a day’s touring. The beaches on these offshore islands are far less crowded than the tourist beaches on Phuket Island. There are small restaurants on most of these islands, offering refreshment, and some have bungalows for overnight stays. Taxi boat services to the offshore islands can be found all along Rawai beach and at Chalong pier at reasonable prices.
Game fishing lovers will be delighted to find a variety of day tours offering deep sea sport fishing. The waters off Phuket have long supported a thriving fishing industry and a catch of 25 fish or more is common on sport fishing trips. Phuket sits astride the sailfish migratory path and is also one of the top three places in the world to go for queenfish. Charters usually leave from Chalong Pier early in the morning. Booking is handled direct at the dock, or through a Phuket tour agency. To go upmarket, contact Wahoo in Chalong.
Those interested in an outdoor adventure might want to try their hand at sea kayaking in Phang Nga Bay. A day spent on the sea, paddling through mangrove thickets, tiny islets and tidal caves is certainly a memorable experience. There are daily guided tours run by Phuket Sea Canoe, one of the longest-running and most respected companies for touring Phuket offshore.
Tours include hotel pick up and drop off, kayaking instruction and lunch, and they are offered in several languages. Book at Sea Canoe, located off Yaowarat Road in Phuket Town, or through any tour agency. Another company, John Gray’s Sea Canoe, offers night tours by kayak, under brilliant starlit skies, with fireflies flitting past and the glow of phosphorescence in the water.
Koh Tapoo, in Phang Nga Bay, is also an excellent day tour from Phuket. This small island in the bay is better known in tourist circles as ‘James Bond Island’ because it was the location for scenes in the Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. The nail-shaped limestone pillar (Tapoo in Thai means ‘nail’) projects straight up out of the water right in front of the beach.
Phang Nga bay and the hinterland also offer elephant trekking, nature walks and river rafting adventures amid some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in the world. Tour companies all over Phuket offer packages which include some or all of these activities.
Watermark Charter is a luxury cruise experience that takes tourists on private tours all around the Andaman Coast. Visit beauty spots such as Phi Phi, Koh Hong and Phang Nga Bay in style upon your own millionaire’s yacht, but without the prohibitive price tag.
Touring Phuket by car is also fun. The island is large enough that you could spend an entire day cruising from one bay and resort area to another, stopping to take pictures, swim, have lunch or simply relax on the beach. Cars can be rented online here.