One of Phuket’s major draws lies in its location on the west coast of Southern Thailand, a quick sail from countless uninhabited islands and deserted white sand beaches. The region’s famed limestone tower karsts provide an otherworldly backdrop as you dart from island to island, stopping at isolated coves to snorkel alongside tropical fish or to kayak into caves. Yes, it’s a tourist cliché, but James Bond Island was the backdrop for Man With the Golden Gun for a reason and it’s well worth a visit outside of peak tourist hours. For diving, Koh Racha, south of Phuket is a great spot, with large sailfish and even whales spotted in these waters. Divers with time to spare may also travel up to the Similan islands, a national park 60 nautical miles northwest from Phuket, where manta rays, turtles, puffer fish and rich coral reefs await.
The local food must be one of the biggest draws of this destination – and on Phuket, there are loads of places to find delicious pad thais, papaya salads and spicy satays, from steamy authentic street stalls to elegant five-star hotel restaurants. For exceptional Thai cuisine, many point to Blue Elephant in Phuket Town where local dishes are served up in a Sino-Portuguese mansion. The venue also has its own cookery school, where students are guided through the local markets to learn about the best local Thai ingredients. For more of an international flavor, Mom Tri’s Kitchen, part of the swanky Mon Tri Villa Royal hotel above Kata Noi beach, is a restaurant with a devastatingly good view. Dishes are made with ingredients sourced from the hotel’s very own farm and there’s an extensive wine list to boot. For something completely different, head to Ka Jok See in Phuket Town for a wild night out. The Thai food is decent, but it’s when they clear the tables away for some cabaret and dancing that this place really shines. If you’re after something more polished, rooftop cocktails at Baba Nest at Sri Panwa hotel are hard to beat – just make sure you don’t fall into the wraparound infinity pool which surrounds the bar.
Those wanting to burn off all those Thai curries will be pleased to hear there is some excellent hiking on Phuket. Khao Phra Taew National Park, a lush virgin rainforest up in the north is a good place to start. Take a walk up the Tonsai waterfall or get a guide and take the eight kilometre trek across the forest, where you might be lucky enough to have monkeys, wild boar and barking deer for company. The limestone cliffs around Krabi, meanwhile, offer up the perfect natural backdrop for rockclimbing or rope-climbing. Back on terra firma, those wanting to sate a golfing obsessions will be relieved to learn about Phuket’s impressive selection of golf courses. The Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Mission Hills Golf Club Resort is a favourite, with ocean views from almost every hole. If rest and relaxation is top of your list, there are endless options for a traditional Thai massage. Whilst there are very good (and cheap) makeshift options on the more popular beaches, some of the five-star interpretations are tempting, including the Six Senses resort on Yao Noi and the spa at the newly opened Rosewood on Emerald Bay.