Beyond Thailand’s Temples: Top 10 Things to Do in Phuket

Sure, Thailand is a wealth of intriguing culture and rich history. But after you’ve had your fill of the gorgeous temples, stately palaces, and Golden Buddha’s, head south.

Phuket, dubbed “the Pearl of the Andaman,” is the largest and most well-known of the islands in the Andaman Sea on Thailand’s southern peninsula. Hosting leafy jungles, white sand beaches fringed by swaying palms, breathtaking atolls, and limestone cliffs, this paradise offers myriad actives, or opportunities to just bask in luxury. The idyllic climate of this exotic paradise makes it a popular “bucket list” destination.

1. Sea Kayaking at Phangnga Bay

A full day adventure to this natural wonder is an unforgettable highlight of a visit to Phuket. Over 100 towering limestone “islands” jut precariously out of the jewel-green sea casting a surreal – almost otherworldly – vista. These craggy outcroppings provided the backdrop for the James Bond iconic film Man with the Golden Gun. You’ll want a local guide to steer your canoe through the mysterious waters laden with hongs, or sea caves,. Along the way you can stop to take a dip in the warm waters of a deserted lagoon, interact with wild monkeys at the edge of the formations, and weave in and out of the caves and chambers – some of which can only be entered at low tide, and even then you’ll have to lie flat in your kayak inching your through.

2. Sail to Ko Phi Phi

Navigating east across the Andaman Sea will take you to the Phi Phi islands. Don’t miss Maya Bay, the remote cove where the utopia seaside scenes in the Leonardo DeCaprio film The Beach was filmed. The shimmering turquoise water juxtaposed against the surrounding sentinel cliffs makes it one of the most stunning beaches in the world. Close by is the sister island, Phi Phi Don with a restaurant with a very nice buffet lunch.

3. Go elephant trekking

Climb high atop one of these gigantic creatures and trek through the jungles of Phuket’s interior. Be prepared to ford a river atop your ride. For a more thrilling ride, forego being carried on the “bench” strapped to the elephant’s back and instead sit directly on the neck where you can steer your animal.

4. Hike in the jungle

Morning is the best time, before the heat of the day reaches its climax, for a trek on foot through the Khao Phra Thaew National Park rainforest. You’ll pass exquisite flora, fauna and waterfalls. At the end of the trail, splash around in a natural swimming hole or leap from the rocks to refresh yourself for the return trip.

5. White-knuckle rafting

White river rafting to Chalong Bay will have your adrenaline pumping. Attempt to stay upright as you traverse the rapids which spray slippery water into your raft. You WILL get wet!

6. Vegetarian Festival

If you plan your trip in October, you’ll get to witness this bizarre ceremony associated with the Buddhist Lent. As an act of penance – or to otherwise prove themselves – young men refrain from eating meat for nine days and then parade through town exhibiting bloody, mutilated cheeks and faces pierced with skewers and spears. It’s an interesting cultural exhibit, though certainly not for the faint of heart.

7. Sample the raucous nightlife in Patong beach.

As evening falls and the neon lights begin to consume the district, Patong becomes wild and compelling, but definitely not family-friendly. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and the ubiquitous go-go bars and dance shows seek to reel in passersby. It can be a bit seedy, but always entertaining, even just to walk through.

8. Shopping for bargains

Behind boisterous Patong beach is the place to shop for just about anything – silk, batik, jewelry, and souvenirs. Bargaining is expected, but even if your haggling skills are not refined, everything is substantially less than in the West.

9. Ride in a tuk-tuk in Phuket Town.

These small, brightly-colored, three-wheeled vehicles with open sides are noisy but so much fun. The drivers dash in and out of city traffic, honking at any tourist regardless of whether or not they are in the way. It’s a great way to travel to restaurants, shopping, or between beaches.

10. Pamper yourself.

Plan to stay at least one night at the luxurious JW Marriott Resort and Spa on Mai Khao Beach, 30 minutes north of Phuket Town and the hustle and bustle of Patong. You’ll be blown away by the lavish, zen-like suites and the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows offering a panoramic view of the ocean beach just beyond delicately manicured Japanese gardens and your own private patio. Get a Thai massage on the beach, take a dip in the ornate pool, and enjoy the fine dining at several on-site restaurants. Try some authentic Pad Thai. This succulent, savory traditional Thai dish is nothing like the overly sweet version served in the U.S. so be sure to get your fill while you can!

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