When it comes to Phuket, Aussies think we have a pretty good grasp of what the island offers. It’s all beautiful beaches, amazing nightlife, incredible diving and more shopping options than our return luggage allowance will allow, right? That’s not even half of it. Travel writer Chris Ashton reveals the Phuket we didn’t know… we didn’t know.
There are spiritual and historical sides to Phuket too, echoes of a not-so-distant past that can still be heard by those who listen, not to mention some stellar hidden beaches and towns too.
Ready to get off the beaten path in Phuket? Here are some great places to start.
If you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, consider renting a car or driver to explore the wider island. There are plenty of gems away from the tourist trail, like Surin and Rawai Beach, which are home to upmarket resorts but still have a relaxed and carefree vibe.
Phuket Town is another essential port of call, and not just because it’s the island’s capital. It’s seriously beautiful, with restored Sino-Portuguese shophouses and an impressive street art scene breathing new life into the old town. If you’re in town on a Sunday evening, be sure to check out the amazing Phuket Walking Street market along Thalong Road.
Though better known for beach bars and adventure sports, the spiritual side of Phuket is equally rewarding. The quickest way to discover it is by visiting one of the island’s beautiful Buddhist temples, many of which are rarely visited by other tourists.
The oldest Thai temple on the island, Wat Phra Nang Sang is believed to have been built over 500 years ago… and has been added to many times over the centuries. Nicknamed the ‘messy temple’, it’s a vast site filled with gold statues and brightly coloured murals.
The more modest Wat Suwan Khiri Khet, notable for its fusion of Chinese and Buddhist architecture, is also well worth a visit. A small market fills the temple grounds on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons, tempting you in with the fragrant smells of Thai cuisine.
If beaches are more your thing, you’re in luck. Patong may get all the attention, yet there are more than 30 other gorgeous beaches to be enjoyed. Layan and Banana Beach on the west coast, Ao Sane on the south… it all depends how adventurous you want to get.
Down on the south coast near Karon, getting to this first beach is half the fun. At the end of a dirt road and accessed via a 15-minute walk, Nui Beach is a hidden utopia. The crescent-moon shore is dotted with boulders and shaded by emerald palms, with a convenient bar where you can relax and enjoy the outlook.
Another beach often overlooked by first time visitors is Nai Yang, next to Sirinath National Park and close to Phuket Airport. This golden expanse is lined with low-key bars and restaurants, with plenty of shade to escape the heat. The area itself is less developed than some other parts of the island, giving it a more authentic island feel.
Really though, no matter if it’s your first time or you’re a regular to Phuket, there’s always something new to discover. Just off the tourist trail, the real Phuket is waiting for you.