With its plethora of beautiful bays and beaches, and alluring turquoise waters; backed up by a heady nightlife and modern amenities, Phuket is Thailand's most popular tourist destination (outside of Bangkok). It is located in the Andaman Sea, just a short hour's plane ride south of the capital.
Also known as 'The Pearl of the South', Phuket Island also has plenty to offer the holiday maker: exquisite beaches and islands, turquoise-blue waters, warmth and sunshine, top-quality resorts and hotels, Thai and international cuisine, coral reefs, scuba diving, water sports, ornate temples and of course lively nightlife.
Phuket is Thailand's largest island at 21 km wide and 48 km long. Driving from one end to the other takes around 1½ hours. Although some areas of the island have become quite built up, other parts of the island remain quiet and unspoilt and it is still a beautiful place. For great scuba diving it remains the best place to be in Thailand.
As you'd expect from a resort destination of such international appeal, there's a full range of diver-friendly accommodation in Phuket. Take your pick from dozens of options, from basic guesthouses to 5 star international beach resorts at hotelscombined.com, our affiliated hotel reservation specialists. Whatever your budget you are bound to find what you are looking for.
Whichever option you choose, stays of 1 to 2 weeks are ideal. Packages normally include diving, breakfast, lunch and boat-hotel transfers.
It's also possible to visit these sites on a liveaboard diving safari, if you prefer.
Phuket's has a tropical climate which means it is warm all year long and there is plenty of sunshine. The tourist high season runs from November to April. Peak season is December and January, which are the busiest months. Accommodation can be more expensive at this time and the dive sites can be crowded, particularly the Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock.
The northeast monsoon prevails from November into March/April bringing great beach weather with blue skies and light breezes. The island averages 26 sunny days a month at this time.
We recommend you visit anytime but from late January to April is the prime time, even as a non-diver, as there a fewer tourists and you can find better value accommodation. The sea is at its calmest and the dive sites have fewer visitors.
From May to October the southwest monsoon brings rain and winds to southern Thailand's west coast. The rain is intermittent with just the odd shower although there can be rainy days. Phuket still averages 20 sunny days per month in the rainy season.
The seas can be choppy at times during this season and diving trip boat rides from Phuket can be rough. The waves are great for surfing and a growing number of surfers and water sports enthusiasts are attracted to the Andaman coast at this time of year. However swimmers should take care especially if there are rip tides present.
The hottest weather on the island occurs between April and May when the temperatures average in the early 30°C's with the odd rain shower cooling things down slightly. It is also hot from September through October but the frequent rainfall provides a drop in temperature.
Review our dive site descriptions for details of the Phuket diving season conditions.
The airport is located in the north of the island, about 40 km from Patong Beach. The journey takes around 45 minutes in a taxi. We can arrange transfer for you at a cost of approximately US$ 20 each way.
Alternatively there are daily bus and train services between Bangkok and Phuket. This is a more affordable way of travelling but takes time at around 12 hours.
Consider taking out insurance to cover diving and travel activities, including trip cancellation. See our insurance programme for a competitive price:
There is plenty to keep you occupied on Phuket Island so if you are looking for a little more action than lazing on the beach or by the pool, check out the activities below.
Whizz around the bay on a jet ski for an adrenaline rush and a great view back to the beach with its lush green hilly backdrop. Paraglide high above the beach taking in the view as you are towed by a speedboat. Snorkel on one of the west coasts pretty coral reefs and observe the colourful local marine life.
Take a boat ride to Krabi or Phang Nga Bay. Here you can paddle a sea canoe through the hidden caves in the hollow island pillars of limestone, known as hongs. These caves were used as hideouts and refuges by the notorious South China Sea's pirates.
Shop-til-you-drop from the busy shops and stalls selling souvenirs and convincing copies of designer-goods.
For sports lovers there is golf and 10 pin bowling. You could even try your hand at rifle shooting at one of the shooting ranges.
You can take a boat out sailing or big game fishing. Or how about river rafting or trekking? And for those seeking the ultimate adrenaline rush, how about bungee jumping or go karting?
Phuket has something for everyone to do and there is lots of sightseeing too that won't cost you much; all you need is a map and transport.
If you head south of Patong to the hills overlooking Kata Noi beach stop at the viewpoint for breathtaking views of Kata and Karon beaches. Continue further south again to Promthep Cape which provides more gorgeous views and is arguably the best place on the island to watch the spectacular tropical sunsetfrom.
You could then head up to the Big Buddha - one of Phuket's most popular tourist sights. The stunning marble-clad statue is 50m high, set on top of a hill and visible form many of the island's areas. The views from up there are breathtaking and take in almost the entire island. From here head along the Phuket road and stop off at Wat Chalong, Phuket's most famous and beautifully ornate Buddhist temple. Here you'll marvel at the best of Thai culture with its amazingly colourful architecture.
Head north from Phuket town towards the airport and then turn right at the Heroines Monument for the gibbon sanctuary and Bang Pae waterfall. Drive back along the west coast through Bang Tao, Surin and Kamala where most of the Phuket Muslim population live in small communities.
Patong Beach was just a small island village up until relatively recently. Today it is a bustling holiday resort and Phuket's most famous beach destination. It is situated 15 km west of Phuket Town and is spread out over 3 km. One of its biggest attractions is its oval-shaped bay and white sandy beach fringed by lush tropical hills.
Patong attracts visitors from all over the World creating a very cosmopolitan atmosphere. As one of the most developed beach destinations in South East Asia, the town area behind the beach is solidly built up with many hotels and services such as shops, restaurants, banks and tour agencies.
Accommodation ranges from luxurious international hotels to simple guesthouses and apartments. Patong is also the main centre for Phuket nightlife with many bars, clubs, live music venues and go-go bars. The busiest and most popular area centres on Soi Bangla which is closed to traffic at night.
The beach is the focal point during the day. As a public beach the whole strip is open to visitors with no closed areas for any of the resorts. Beach chairs and umbrellas can be hired form local vendors for a small fee. There are other services available on the beach such as Thai massage, beverages, snacks, ice creams and hair braiding. There is also a wide-range of water sports available including jet skiing and parasailing perfect for those adrenaline junkies!
At the south end of the beach it is possible to hire a private long tail boat to visit neighbouring beaches such as Freedom beach or just simply to enjoy the tropical island scenery.
Karon Beach is located just 10 minutes drive south of Patong but has a very different atmosphere. This exquisite stretch of pure white sand is 4 km long and rarely crowded, even during the busy tourist season, making it a more suitable destination for a quieter vacation.
There are some top-quality hotels and resorts located here all within walking distance from the beach and with superb views over the bay. Karon also boasts a wide-range of restaurants to suit all budgets.
From November to April the sea is flat calm and very safe but from May to October there can be strong undertows and huge waves so look out for warning flags and take care. The big waves attract surfers at this time of year and at the southern end of the beach you'll find the most surf activity and surfboards for rent.
Kata Beach and Kata Noi are both quiet beaches located south of Karon. The beautiful beach and pristine water along with plenty of good accommodation and amenities are the attraction here.
Off the north end of the beach is a small island called Koh Puu, which has an interesting coral reef that offers plenty of marine life sightings.
Other quality beaches are Nai Harn and Yanui further south of Kata and Kamala, Surin and Laem Sing to the north of Patong. These beaches are all great destinations particularly if you don't want the bustle of Phuket's main tourist town.
Patong Beach offers a wide variety of restaurants all within a small area so you are bound to find something to suit your taste without having to search far. There are some great places to eat, just decide what you fancy and you will find it. From local food to international cuisine including Italian, French, German, Indian, Scandinavian, Russian, Middle Eastern, Japanese and Korean.
All Phuket's nightlife is centred in Patong. One of the most popular and busiest areas is Soi Bangla where there are over 200 bars, pubs and go-go bars alone. There are also scores of native and very friendly 'bar girls' in attendance. If it's your first visit you may wonder why there are so many attractive ladies working in the drinking establishments but they are not actually bar staff, they offer more than just drinks ...
After a day's diving, sightseeing or relaxing on the beach, many people enjoy visiting in these lively places to meet others and party on into the night. Connect 4, backgammon or Jenga are popular games played in these bars as well as banging a nail into a log with a hammer. This can be quite funny as it's not as easy as it looks but the bar girls are brilliant at it. The larger bars provide pool tables, dart boards and table football. Patong has several night clubs too, as well as popular live music establishments.
Families and couples might prefer dining out and having a drink on one of the quieter beaches, although there are quieter places in Patong to be found too, away from Bangla Road.
There exists an amazing variety and selection of shopping opportunities on Phuket, especially in Patong. You can buy pretty much anything you can get in Bangkok and more. From shoes and clothes, souvenirs, art, perfume, mobile phones, computer software and designer label products and their copies.
Soi's Permpong II and III in Patong Beach are good examples of tiny streets resembling bazaars lined with a range of stalls selling a variety of goods. Thai handicrafts from all over Thailand can be found in Patong.
There are various tailor shops that can create for you that perfect-fitting suit, shirt or dress, often in just 24 hours and at very affordable prices. Thai silk has become world famous with its various different weaving and dyeing styles depending on the region and ethnic culture. You can buy readymade quality silk goods or have a tailor make your own outfit.
Phuket found wealth with its tin mines and it's possible to buy locally produced items of pewter. The island is also a source of pearls which you can find at rock-bottom prices.
Artistic goods such as wood carvings, Buddha statues and images, pottery, porcelain, paintings and other decorative items are plentiful in Patong. You can also buy authentic antiques, a large choice of superior, indoor and outdoor bronze ware, statues and teakwood furniture here, as well as on the airport road north of Phuket town and on the road to Patong.
Silver, gold and jade items, coloured gems and diamonds and very finely finished jewellery products come from a highly sophisticated The Thai gem and jewellery industry is very sophisticated and quality is high. You can buy silver, gold, precious gems and diamonds and most reputable shops will give you a certificate of authenticity and value with your purchase.
Public transport does exist in Phuket in the form of small public open-air buses but they are a little thin on the ground, only run from the beach resorts to Phuket Town and don't follow any set timetable. Tuk-tuks, the Thai mini taxi, is the most common way to get around Phuket. Tuk-tuks operate in all the beach and touristy areas. In the main areas such as Patong, set prices have now been established for certain distances and should be advertised, however away from the busiest areas you may need to negotiate.
If you want to do lots of sightseeing, a more economical and flexible way to get around is to hire a motor scooter, car or jeep but not all have adequate insurance. Bicycles and mountain bikes can be rented in Patong and Phuket Town.