The island of Phuket is surprisingly large, about 50 km long by 20 km wide. It’s so huge that you rarely get the sense that you’re surrounded by water. Phuket is an international magnet for beach lovers and divers who submerge themselves in the Andaman Sea and blue lagoons by day and revel in the salmon sunsets by night. The island’s sin city of Patong is the biggest town and busiest beach with undoubtedly the liveliest (and sleaziest) nightlife in Phuket.
Best time to visit…
The best time to visit Phuket is December through March, during the cool NE monsoon season when it isn’t to humid and a cool breeze lingers in the air. Phuket is blessed with warm weather all year round but April to May and September to October are the hottest. September to October is monsoon season.
You can get to Phuket by bus, car, train and air! Flying from Bangkok into Phuket International is by far the most convenient with a mere one hour flight time. Several domestic airlines such as Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Phuket Air and Thai Air Asia offer daily direct flights. An intercity or public bus is the cheapest way to get to Phuket but the trip will take 12-14 hours. Taking a train is also rather cheap but there are no direct trains to Phuket. You would need to take the train to Surat Thani then take a bus to Phuket. Driving is also an alternative option that includes being able to stop at several beautiful places along the way but the trip is still a good 12 hours.
Once you land at the Phuket Airport, the cheapest way to Phuket Town is to take the Airport Bus Phuket for a price of 85฿. The bus leaves every hour from 6:30 am to 8:45 pm. As you exit the arrivals hall, turn left and walk 20 meters to the end of the building and look for the vibrant orange bus. You can also take a metered taxi but be aware that there is a flat charge of 100 Baht which is a legitimate fee. State your destination and you will be issued a receipt and assigned a driver so it’s difficult to be overcharged. A taxi to Karon Beach is approximately 450 Baht and 500 Baht to Patong Beach.
Where to stay…
Due to the size of Phuket, you have numerous lodging options in a variety of locations and beaches depending on your personal preferences! Patong Beach is the main center of shopping and nightlife in Phuket, and where the majority of the hotels are located along with the traffic and party noise. Bangla Road in inner Patong is the heart of Patong’s nightlife and is central to the main shopping areas and also leads right down to the islan’s main beach. The vast majority of hotels are located in outer Patong, just short taxi ride to Patong city center and located near the beach. Kata and Karon Beaches are approximately a 30 minute drive from Patong and quieter than Patong with much nicer beaches. They each also have their own areas with shopping, restaurants and bars. Bang Tao Bay is an hour drive north of Phuket and hosts mainly secluded luxury hotels, notably the Laguna resorts that are built on a 1,000 acre area surrounding a network of small lakes and include the prestigious Banyan Tree and Sheraton Grande. Kamala Beach is one of the larger towns on Phuket and while the town itself is not particularly impressive, it’s located near a beautiful beach and near several other nice ones. Located approximately a 25 minute drive north of Patong, Kamala has a few quiet bars and some quality beach resorts with wonderful ocean views. Rawai Beach is a nice little tourist village near the southern tip of Phuket. While Rawai Beach is not suitable for swimming, the superb Nai Ham Beach is just a 10 minute trip over the hill with its small shops, bars and restaurants. Rawai is the main departure point for island trips by the traditional long-tail boats.
A Weekend In…Phuket, Thailand
Start your trip by visiting Old Phuket Town which dates back to the 19th century. Far from the beaches, the traditional Phuket and its unique culinary and historical story boasts several hip shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. The area is also filled with Chinese temples, crumbling mansions, cultural museums and a nunnery. Venture out with Phuket Heritage Trails which specializes in walking tours of the Old Town, one of the best ways to see the area. Tours cost approximately 1,800 to 2,100 baht ($60-$70) per person and include hotel pick-up and drop-off, all museum entry fees and meal expenses.
Old Phuket Town tour
Thalang Road, Phuket Town, Phuket Thailand
+66 851 589 788
Make a reservation at Kruvit Raft and eat the catch of the day on a raft floating in the middle of the island. The raft is a floating mini-pier made of weathered wooden planks with tables that sit beneath quaint thatch roofs. The menu changes according to the fresh seafood that they catch each day but consistent favorites include barbecued lobster, steamed tiger grouper and steamed yellow curry blue crab. There are nets that hold the live fish and you can choose what you want and they will prepare it with perfection. While this is not a 5-star restaurant, it’s an experience not to be missed with the most spectacular and unique atmosphere. The 2 minute free long-tail boat ride will take you right to the restaurant.
Kruvit Raft (Phuket Town)
Moo 6 Front of Maphro Island, Ko Kaeo, Phuket Town, Phuket 83000, Thailand
The best way to explore and see the island is renting a scooter. Phuket has numerous breathtaking viewpoints. Some of the best include Phromthep Cape, Big Buddha, Rang Hill and the Karon (Kata) viewpoint pictured below. Located between Nai Harn and Kata Noi beaches, the Karon viewpoint is one of the most frequented viewpoints in Phuket. From here, you can see Kata Noi, Kata Yai and Karon beaches.
Continuing on the road to the Big Buddha, you’ll pass Raiwaibeach. Once you hit the water, there is a little motorcycle street that veers right that is lined with local restaurants that serve you fresh seafood and Thai food right on the beach. Take a break with a nice cold Singha!
Continue on to see the Big Buddha, one of the island’s most important and revered landmarks. The 45-meter statue is easily seen from far away, sitting on top of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata. Easily reachable by a six-kilometer road leading from Phuket’s main artery, the site offers the best sweeping 360-degree views of Phuket Town, Kata, Karon beaches, Chalong Bay and more.
Get the best pho in town at Pho House By Mama Phung. The food here is one of the best authentic Vietnamese meals with exquisite spicy beef pho and famous pork chops. Try all of the “Pho House Dishes”!
Pho House By Mama Phung (Patong)
Phrabarami Road, Patong, Kathu, Phuket 83150, Thailand
+66 81 285 9626
When the sun sets, Paton’s Bangla Road closes to vehicles and comes to life with 400 meters of neon lights, loud music, cheap beer and girls. While for the most part, Bangla Road is fairly sleazy, there are a few quality nightclubs like Seduction Beach Club & Disco that keep the party going until the early morning. The three-level Seduction Beach Club & Disco brings in top international DJs like Paul Oakenfold. The first level beach bar plays R&B and hip-hop music while the top floor is the actual nightclub where the DJ spins. For the VIPs, there’s an exclusive members only open air lounge called BLOW.
Seduction Beach Club & Disco (Patong)
70/1 Soi Bangla, Ratt U-Thit 200 Pee Road Patong Beach, Patong, Kathu, Phuket 83150, Thailand
When we were in Patong, it was the new year celebration which involved all night water fights throughout the entire city. Everyone is fair game and I lost track of the buckets of water dumped on me. Game on!
Take a day trip to Phang Nga Bay and its James Bond Island, a definite must while in Phuket. The best way to enjoy Phang Nga Bay’s spectacular scenery of sheer limestone karats that jut out vertically of the emerald-green water is to take one of the boat trips from the northern end of Phuket. Phang Nga Bay covers an area of 400 sqkm and is home to some 100 beautiful and unique islands. James Bond Island has been a major attraction ever since it was featured in the 1974 Bond movie. The two best ways to view the island are from boats or from the small beach on Koh Ping Ghan, a very high leaning rock with several small caves inside. On its crowded eastern beach are small stands selling souvenirs made from shells and wood.
The area is also a popular destination for sailing and kayaking. Most of the organized tours of James Bond Island are combined with a visit to other popular islands and usually include a stop for a seafood lunch at the charming nearby Muslim fishing village on stilts, Koh Panyee. Bring a snap-shut waterproof camera bag!
Baan Rim Pa literally means “house next to the cliff” and sits on the rocky headlands north of Patong Bay. Dine with extraordinary views over the entire bay as you listen to the waves crash at this open-air two-story teak dining institution that has been open for more than 20 years. The restaurant is right next door to the famous Joe’s Downstairs and Da Maurizio Bar Ristorante as well.
Baan Rim Pa (Kathu District)
Kathu District, Phuket, Thailand
+66 76 340 789
The Phuket Weekend Market (think Bangkok’s Jatujak market but on a smaller scale) is open Saturday and Sunday from 9 am until late at night. Located along Chao Fa West Road just outside of Phuket Town and not far from Central Festival, the market has a covered section (secondhand items and clothes) and an open section (toys, accessories, electronics, etc.). You’ll find food, clothing, jewelry, home décor, antiques, secondhand goods, plants and even pets. Sample all of the tasty food to the right of the main entrance!
Phuket Town Weekend Night Market
Wai-Rat-Hong-Yuk Road, Kamala, Phuket Town, Phuket, Thailand
Ka Jok See is one of the busiest restaurants/bars in town with its setting in a gorgeous old shophouse with beamed ceilings, aged photos on the wall and quirky Thai artwork. At night the restaurant turns into quite the hot spot!
Ka Jok See (Phuket Town)
26 Th Takua Pa, Takua Pa Thailand
+66 (0) 7621 7903
Your #1 priority while in Phuket is to take a 90 minute ferry or 45 minute speedboat to Phi Phi Island, Thailand’s island superstar. Phi Phi’s beauty with its beach-fronted jungle and sheer cliffs towering overhead is unbeatable. Phi Phi Le is completely free of human inhabitants while Phi Phi Don is without roads and packed with a busy nightlife scene. I recommended spending a few nights in Phi Phi if you have the time.
The ferry is the most popular method of reaching the islands. There are two ferries each day to/from Phuket town and Krabi town. The boats usually depart 8:30-10:00 am and 1:30-2:30 pm although times may vary. The ferry terminal is approximately a one-hour drive from Phuket Airport. Private speedboat transfer is the next most popular way of getting to Phi Phi. Obviously speedboats are more expensive than a ferry but if you have a larger group it may be worth the additional expense. In addition, departure and drop-off points are much more flexible and will save you time. Most of the year the ride is flat but avoid taking a speedboat in September and October as it can get rather bumpy.
There are also many tours you can take for $50 USD per person that will take you first to Maya Bay, the famous pristine beach from the movie “The Beach”, glimpses of Loh Samah Bay, Viking Cave, Pileh Cove, Monkey Beach, then to Phi Phi and Koh Nok with snorkeling in between.
Snorkeling on the islands is like being in a fantasy planet. The crystal clear water gives you full range to view exotic species of fish and one of the world’s most abundant coral reef systems. Unbelievable!
The last stop on your tour, Koh Nok, is a breathtaking island tucked away in Phang Nga Bay approximately 30 minutes from the east coast of Phuket with crystal clear blue water, white sand and no electricity. You’ll still be able to find souvenirs, bars serving ice cold cocktails in coconuts and vendors grilling fresh seafood that you pick yourself! There are twelve types of exotic fish here that aren’t afraid of humans so bring your snorkels to see them up close.
Panda’s Tips for Phuket:
- Dealing with the local tuk-tuk and taxi drivers may be challenging. The TAT publishes a list of taxi fares that the drivers completely disregard. Drivers in Kata, Patong and Karon are particularly ruthless and often ask triple this rate.
- Karon Café in Karon Beach serves the best steaks on the island!
- Wats, or temples, are sacred places for local people. Be careful not to stand over or position yourself higher than any Buddha image or wear clothes that reveal your shoulders, chest, belly or legs. You may be asked to take your shoes off when entering some of the buildings.
- The Phuket Weekend Market starts around 4:00 pm and closes after 9:00 pm. Get there early to avoid the crowds and you most likely can’t find a parking spot after 4:30 pm.
- Thailand issues 30-day tourist visas to U.S. citizens on arrival at Bangkok International Airport free of charge.
- The THB700 (approximately $24) Thailand International Airport tax is included in the cost of international airfare so there is no need to pay cash at the airport.
- Tipping of service personnel like tour guides and drivers in Southeast Asia is customary although there is no set standard for an appropriate amount. Drivers can be tipped $1-2 per person and guides anywhere from $3-5 to $10-15 per person for a full day tour, the larger the group the smaller the amount per person.
Krabi is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination with miles and miles of spectacular coastline, towering limestone cliffs, lush interiors and beautiful white sand beaches on the Andaman Sea. It still remains relatively untouched and retains its lovely charm. Krabi province includes over 200 small islands with top destinations being Hat Noppharat Thara, Ao Nang, Koh Lanta, Ko Phi Phi and Railay. We’ll concentrate our focus on Railay but a visit to Phi Phi is a must!
Best time to visit…
The ideal time to visit Krabi is November to May. You’ll find sunshine all day but because Krabi is sheltered by mountains it gets cool and breezy at night. August and September tend to be the rainy months!
Krabi is located on the south-west coast of Thailand, approximately 800km from Bangkok and 170km from Phuket. You can reach Krabi by plane, bus, car or boat! Krabi Airport is small and convenient and you can currently fly into Krabi from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Many larger hotels offer transfers from the airport for a fee or there are efficient, regulated taxis available. The standard prepaid fare to hotels in Krabi town are 350 baht per car; 600 baht to Ao Nang; and 900 baht to Klong Muang/Tubkaek. There is also an airport bus service serving destinations in Ao Nang and Krabi town only for 90-150 baht per person. Buses leave 5 times daily or when there are enough passengers to fill them. Railay is only accessible via a short long-tail boat, you can hire one at the Ao Nang pier!
Buses for Krabi leave from Bangkok’s southern bus terminal on Boromratch Chonnani Road with a cost of 626-920 baht but the journey time is 10 hours. If you’re planning on driving to Krabi, the road network in Thailand is excellent and the highways are easy to follow. If you are traveling from Phuket, you can arrive at Ao Nang by a ferry operated by Ao Nang Travel or a faster speedboat operated by Green Planet. The ferry leaves from Rassada pier and the speedboat leaves from Bang Rong pier.
Where to stay…
Lodging options in Krabi range from simple beach bungalows to opulent five-star mega-resorts. You won’t be disappointed staying in Railay Beach, one of Thailand’s most sought after beach areas with no roads or cars, just longtail boats and footprints. Just south of Ao Nang Beach and accessible only by boat, Railay’s gorgeous white sand beaches, soaring limestone cliffs, viewpoints, caves and a lagoon hidden inside the cliffs will astound you. Railay is only accessible by boat due to the tall limestone cliffs casting it away from Krabi province mainland. Railay West has a beautiful beach with amazing sunsets while Railay East has the nightlife (both are within minutes walking distance of each other).
Railay Village Resort and Spa (Railay West)
145 M.2 Ao-nang , Muang Distric, Krabi 81000, Thailand
+66 (0) 75 819 401-3
A weekend in…Krabi, Thailand
Relax and have a sunset drink while watching the sun go down at Flame Tree Restaurant, the first restaurant situated on the walking street in Railay West. The sun sets in the west, making Railay West THE spot to watch the sunset. They also have mats they put out on the sand so you can lounge outside while watching the fiery sunsets. Don’t expect. stellar service so get your drink then go enjoy the atmosphere. It’s an amazing experience to share the same moment with all the people in the world who also happened to end up at this same place as you.
Flame Tree Restaurant (West Railay Beach)
West Beach, Railay Beach, Krabi Town, Thailand
Continue down the walking street until you reach Local Thai Food Restaurant, a bamboo and thatch restaurant located on the footpath leading to Diamond Cave between Railay West and Railay East and the best restaurant in all of Krabi in my opinion. It’s wonderfully simple with a relaxed and laid back atmosphere, fair prices and excellent cuisine. The menu consists of traditional Thai dishes and fresh seafood. The barbecue prawns and Penang curry are to die for. The Mangrove Restaurant next door received higher ratings but it does not live up to the hype…skip it!
Local Thai Food Restaurant (West Railay Beach)
625/2 Moo 2, Railay Beach, Krabi Town, Thailand
Check out Railay’s four incredible beaches situated between towering limestone cliffs (accessible only from the sea): Tonsai, Railay West, Railay East and Phra Nang. Railay West is one of the south of Thailand’s most impressive, atmospheric and beautiful beaches with casual beach restaurants and perfect soft sand. The beach faces west so it’s the perfect spot to sit and watch the remarkable sunset. A pathway straight across across the peninsula links Railay West with Railay East.
Railay East can appear slightly rough but is the center of nightlife in the area. It’s a narrow beach (one where you wouldn’t want to sunbathe in) and home to mangroves, fishing boats, birds and the most convenient place to catch a long-tail taxi boat to Krabi town. There are numerous restaurant bars like the Friendship Restaurant with padded seats and tables on the floor of wooden platforms so you can kick back and enjoy a beer or pad thai while you feel the ocean breeze on your bare feet. I’m a huge fan of the chicken skewers that you can get at the stands in Railay East. They go perfectly with a bag of delicious sticky rice and sweet chili sauce!
Phra Nang is the least developed of the four (except for the elaborate Rayavadee resort) and has silky soft white sand. Most people arrive at Phra Nang by boat and are amazed by the beautiful cove but you can also walk there at low tide. It’s about a 15-minute stroll from Railay. You can walk along the beach at Railay East along the base of the cliffs bordered by caves and stalactites to Phra Nang beach. Look out for the monkeys! Check out the Princess Cave or Tham Phra Nang Nok at the bottom of the limestone cliffs, dedicated to an ancient fertility goddess that contains a strange amount of large phallic symbols and offerings in the hope of increased potency and prosperity. Read my post on Phra Nang beach and the amazing boats that serve hot, fresh Thai food to you right on the sand here.
You can walk between all four beaches, even to Tonsai by walking through the jungle. Don’t believe the crooked boatmen who tell you it’s not possible to reach Tonsai on foot! Quieter than all the other beaches, Tonsai is the place to relax and unwind.
If you are able to get a reservation, dine at The Grotto at the exclusive Rayavadee Resort, a stunning and unique restaurant set inside a spectacular limestone cave floored with fine-powdered sand and a magnificent opening to the beach. The Grotto features fine Thai and international cuisine, an extensive cocktail and wine list and an irresistible romantic setting. The price is quite lavish but the experience is unforgettable. You won’t be able to dine without a reservation.
The Grotto at Rayavadee Resort (Phra Nang)
Phra Nang Beach at Rayavadee Resort
214 Moo 2, Tumbon Ao-Nang, Amphur Muang, 81000 Krabi, Thailand
+66 66 75 620 740-3
For a night on the town, hit the Last Bar, named because it indeed used to be the last bar on the strip. The multi-level tiki bar with a terrace overlooking mangroves is not only the perfect place have breakfast, lunch or dinner but you can also experience Muay Thai demonstrations and fire dancing shows when the night falls. This is the place to be for full moon parties and their happy hour prices can’t be beat (cocktails for 100 baht)!
Last Bar (Railay Beach East)
Muang Krabi 81000, Railay Beach, Krabi Town 1125092509, Thailand
+87 468 9083
Krabi’s limestone cliffs are a rock climber’s paradise with plenty of climbing opportunities whether it be the challenge of an overhang or a vertical wall. Over 650 routes have developed since the late 1980’s that follow limestone crags, steep pocketed walls, overhangs and hanging stalactites. Some are accessible by boat while others can be reached via a jungle walk. Check out the climbing schools located at the end of Railay East!
If you’re not a rock climber but would still like a challenging hike, tackle the hike to the viewpoint and the hidden lagoon. You’ll find the start to the hike on the path from Railay East to Phra Nang beach across from a small shack with a few safety instructions. Look for a set of ropes hanging down a set of steep rocks on your left hand side. You’ll be using those ropes on the 20-minute or so strenuous climb to the viewpoint. Wear good shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty because you will be orange from sliding and climbing on the muddy rock. The view from the top is worth it with Railay West on your left, Railay East on your right and a remarkable grove of coconut trees in between.
If you’re feeling up for a challenge, continue the climb to the lagoon. The turn off for the lagoon is a sharp right just before the viewpoint and the climb consists of scaling four vertical walls. At parts you must use the ropes provided to get down. I was satisfied with just completing the hike to the viewpoint because several people that we met on their way down expressed that they had tried the hike to the lagoon but that the last leg of the climb was too steep so they turned around. The lagoon is tidal so try and make sure that it’s high tide when you go or else you might just find a small muddy pool. Once you reach the lagoon, you’ll find a pool surrounded by sheer cliffs and lush vegetation.
Alternatively, you could also hire a long-tail boat to take you island hopping to some of the 200 islands around the Krabi coastline. For example, you can cruise Phra Nang cave beach, Chicken Island, the Tup Islets and Poda Island in a day for approximately $50 USD for a private long-tail boat. The snorkeling and sunbathing on these beautiful islands with lovely white sand beaches can’t be beat.
Panda’s Tips for Krabi:
- If you’re arriving at Railay Beach, be aware that there is no pier at Railay so dress accordingly to walk ashore from the boat through shallow water.
- The tides are dramatic in Railay. You can walk from Railay West to Phra Nang at low tide and even to the picturesque limestone cliff that juts out from the beach without kayaking or swimming.
- Many of the hotels like the Sand Sea are muslim so will not serve alcohol. Even better, you can buy your favorite bottle and enjoy it with your dinner and amazing view.
- Try a traditional Thai pancake (roti). You’ll pass several stands making the with all sorts of flavors. The condensed milk is my favorite.
- Bargain with the street vendors when purchasing goods. Start your offer at half of their asking price.
The beautiful Phra Nang beach in Krabi is absolutely breathtaking. It’s the least developed of the four small beaches on Krabi (except for the elaborate Rayavadee resort which was selling for $600/night when I visited with tighter security than the White House) with its silky soft white sand against turquoise clear water and staggering limestone cliffs. Note: no filters used below!
The beach is so underdeveloped that your only source of food and drinks are from long-tail boats cooking mouthwatering authentic (and dirt cheap) Thai food right on the water. You can get an entire meal and Singha beer for $3 US dollars. Not too shabby at all.
Most people arrive at Phra Nang by boat but you can also walk there at low tide from Railay Beach along the base of the cliffs bordered by caves and stalactites…and monkeys! Hold onto those glasses and bananas.
Check out the Princess Cave or Tham Phra Nang Nok at the bottom of the limestone cliffs, dedicated to an ancient fertility goddess that contains a strange amount of large phallic symbols and offerings in the hope of increased potency and prosperity.
A national geographic-like photo in my eyes…