I think Phuket tends to get a bad rap, especially against comparable places in Southeast Asia. Recently, someone in a Facebook group asked the question “Phuket or Bali?” Now, I’ve never been to Bali, but I don’t think they should be allowed to fight in the same ring. Phuket is not my favourite place ever, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tonnes of great things to do in Phuket should you find yourself there.
I spent three days in Phuket based in Kata Beach. Tourists tend to be based on the west coast of Phuket island (roughly the size of Singapore, if you were wondering). So, all the tourists are huddled together in one big tourist pie. This makes for a blinkered experience, but not necessarily a bad one.
If you’re heading to Phuket (a popular choice for travellers visiting Thailand) then you will need at least three days in Phuket and here are all the top things to do in Phuket around Patong, Karon, Kata and beyond!
Please note: This Phuket itinerary does not include Phuket Town, and you can visit my guide to one day in Phuket Town here. However, if you do visit Phuket you simply cannot miss Phuket Town. It should be the top must-see on your list of things to do in Phuket!
Things to do in Phuket, Thailand: 3 Day Guide
Getting to Phuket (Karon Beach) from Phuket International Airport
Most tourists in Phuket stay in Patong, followed by Karon Beach then the quieter Kata Beach. I stayed in Kata Beach, but knowing what I know now I would have stayed in Karon Beach. Not as hectic as the backpacker-heavy Patong, but more things to do than the small and quiet Kata Beach.
If you are arriving into Phuket at Phuket International Airport, the best way to travel to Karon Beach is via taxi. Upon booking your hotel, you should be able to request a taxi and they will either take the payment from you at booking or let you know the exact amount to give to the driver on the day. I paid 650THB (£15.66) for a taxi from Phuket International Airport to Phuket Town on the day. However, the taxi ride from Kata Beach to Phuket International Airport, the taxi cost about 1,200THB (£29.19) for a very similar journey time.
Either way, you should have no problems booking a taxi to your hotel. Hotels in Phuket are on it when it comes to arranging transport for their guests and will have no trouble with any request.
Getting around Phuket
Hiring a taxi/driver is the safest (and most expensive) way to get around Phuket. There is probably a bus system but, like Bangkok, it’s quite confusing for first-time visitors and tourists never use them.
I didn’t need to use a taxi often, and I’m very pleased with this! Whereas taking a taxi in Bangkok is a reasonably cheap way to travel, taxis in Phuket are expensive as hell (for Thailand). For example, at my hotel, they had a set price list for common taxi journeys. From Kata Beach to the Big Buddha in Karon, a single journey was 600THB (£14.58). And a return journey (where your driver waits approximately one hour) was 1000THB (£24.30). And the journey is an hour round trip. But you don’t have much choice in Phuket, they’re all expensive.
Of course, the other choice of transport in Phuket is hiring a moped or Vespa, whatever you want to call them. I value my limbs and I am fully aware I am a terrible driver so this was not an option for me. But it’s by far the cheaper alternative to taxis.
In Kata Beach, I saw moped/Vespa hire at a price of 170THB (£4.13) for 24 hours. That is no joke. It is way cheaper to hire mopeds which must be why so many travellers and backpackers do so.
However, don’t think of Phuket as a really quiet, peaceful island. The traffic in Phuket might not be Bangkok-crazy, but it is still crazy.
Please note: For fear of sounding like your mum, please be careful if you’re hiring a moped/Vespa. Under no circumstances should you hire a motorbike unless you have the proper license for one back home. And DEFINITELY, don’t hire a moped/Vespa without at least a normal driver’s license back home. And you must always wear a helmet. It’s Thai law and I saw people get fined on the spot waiting at traffic lights a couple of times for not wearing one.
Also, you NEED special travel insurance that covers riding a moped/Vespa as extra. It’s unlikely to be automatically included. I used World Nomads and was able to add moped/Vespa cover because I have a driving license in the UK (even though I didn’t end up riding one, I was glad to have it included).
Accommodation in Phuket (Karon Beach)
As I said, I stayed in Kata Beach at the Chanalai Garden Resort. It was legit a really nice hotel with great breakfasts, despite it being an absolute maze. The balcony overlooking Kata Beach was so freakin’ gorgeous and the staff were a dream. The staff everywhere in Thailand are a dream!
But like I said, if I were to go back, I would stay in Karon Beach. I’ve done some research, and the Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa looks amazing!
And if I ever returned to Phuket solo, I’d more than likely stay in a hostel. I always book my hostels through Hostelworld.
Top tip: When you check into your hotel, don’t forget to pick up a business card from the front desk. This is so you don’t have to remember the exact address of your hotel and it will be written in both English and Thai. Just gives your taxi driver, who may not speak good English, more to go on.
Day 1: Buddhist Temples & Patong Beach
Breakfast: If you’ve read my Bangkok itinerary or my Koh Phi Phi itinerary, then I’ll sound like a broken record here. Because I’m suggesting you should pay for breakfast to be included in your hotel. Unlike places in European like Amsterdam, breakfast isn’t a huge deal in Thailand (I don’t think). Normally, Thais eat similar food for every meal of the day. If you get a breakfast buffet included in your room price, you can not only expect American-style breakfast but probably also Asian choices too.
- Wat Chalong – Take a taxi from your hotel to the Chalong Temples, the most popular temples in Phuket. The journey will be about 20-minutes. Remember to check the dress code and wear modest clothing in Thai temples, and wear shoes you can remove easily. The temples are open from 7:00-17:00 and the entrance fee is a donation only. Ask your taxi driver to wait so they can drive you to the next attraction.
- Big Buddha – If you’ve been looking out of your window, you no doubt have spotted the Big Buddha in Karon by now because it can be seen from all over the island! This is definitely one of the top things to do in Phuket. Still not quite finished, the Big Buddha and surrounding complex is a really calming, spiritual place to visit. Plus, there are great views of Phuket! The Big Buddha is open from 7:00-19:30. It is also free to enter, but there are plenty of ways to donate. And you still need to dress modestly.
Lunch – Hakan’s Bar and Restaurant, Karon Beach
Ask your taxi driver to drop you off at Hakan’s Bar and Restaurant, as it might be quite a trek from your hotel depending on where you’re staying.
Hakan’s is a popular restaurant very near Karon beach serving a mix of European and fresh Thai food. It’s a great place to go for a late lunch especially if you’re travelling with picky eaters (*cough* me…).
- Patong Beach – You will probably be well into the afternoon by now. So, hail a taxi from Karon Beach and travel about 15-minutes to Patong Beach. Patong has an infamous reputation as a party destination for young, white westerners but it’s still one of the top things to do in Phuket. When you arrive in Patong, have a wander around, but don’t forget to pay approximately 300THB (£7.30) for a half an hour massage on Patong beach or maybe get the dead skin on your feet eaten by a bowl of fish. Lovely!
Dinner – Climax on Bangla, Patong
Despite the iffy name, Climax on Bangla is a hit with travellers seeking fresh Thai cuisine that isn’t too far away from the main, busy street in Patong, Bangla Road.
You could also book yourself in for a cooking class at Climax on Bangla as well as heading here for dinner.
- Bangla Road, Patong – Bangla Road in Patong is legendary in the same way Khaosan Road is in Bangkok. It’s loud, brash, and the place to be if you’re a westerner who’s under 25. You might not want to spend too much time on this road and want to search for quieter bars. But it’s one of the most touristy things to do in Phuket and something you can tick off your list!
- Simon Cabaret, Patong – If you want to experience a lavish ladyboy show whilst in Thailand (a more westerner-friendly version of the kind of show you might see in Soi Cowboy, Bangkok) then book tickets to the Simon Cabaret in Patong. It’s like Thailand’s version of the Moulin Rouge show in Paris. They run three shows daily (at 18:00, 19:30 and 21:00) and tickets cost 1000THB (£24.52). I would book in advance as the shows regularly sell out.
Please note: Phuket Fantasea is a theme park in Patong with elaborate shows including elephants and animal exhibits. You can think I’m preachy if you want, but please don’t watch any form of entertainment which includes a wild animal. They are not supposed to be tamed and do not exist for our enjoyment. Also, it’s highly likely they aren’t being treated very well backstage either. Please do not go to Fantasea!
Day 2: James Bond Island Tour/Phi Phi Islands Tour
Ironically, some of the top things to do in Phuket aren’t in Phuket at all! On your second day in Phuket, you should take a James Bond Island Tour or a Phi Phi Islands Tour. Both are popular tour options from Phuket. Buuuut… If I had to pick one over the other, I would go with the James Bond Island Tour. Read my experience and review of Andaman Leisure Phuket’s James Bond Island Tour, or my experience visiting both Phi Phi Islands.
Be aware, your tour will probably start quite early in the morning! But you will be picked up straight from your hotel and taken to the pier, so that’s good. And make sure you book a tour with lunch included.
Check out these tours:
Dinner – On The Rock Restaurant, Karon Beach
Fine dining at Thailand prices, On The Rock Restaurant, is one of the best places to eat in Karon on a more affordable budget.
The restaurant is right on Karon Beach so if you time it right, you could be enjoying a beautiful sunset over Karon Beach.
- Karon Beach – You’ll probably be exhausted after going out last night and a whole day tour today. However, if you are up for a few drinks, there are definitely some great bars in Karon. Dino Bar has some really cool decor and cocktails but if you fancy somewhere more laid back, you can head to Bamboo Bar and Kitchen just a short walk down the road.
Day 3: Karon Beach & Elephant Sanctuary
- Karon Beach – Spend the morning around Karon and explore Karon Beach. If you fancy a walk, you could wander up and down the beach, or just wander through the streets. Maybe pick up some fruit you’ve never tried before or smoothies as you go! If you’re a sun chaser or love swimming in the sea, definitely spend some time relaxing on the beach.
Lunch – EAT Bar & Grill Restaurant, Karon Beach
Maybe not the best place to grab lunch in Karon, but certainly an affordable place by your hotel (if you chose to stay at the Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa). And staying close to your hotel is important for the next activity!
There’s lots of choice at the EAT Bar & Grill Restaurant – mainly western food with a Thai touch.
- Phuket Elephant Sanctuary – Book online at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary before you get to Thailand as there are only a couple of Elephant Sanctuaries in Phuket. However, if you have more than two days in Phuket, spending time with elephants in an ethical way has got to be one of the best things to do in Phuket. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary offers morning and afternoon sessions (afternoon is 13:30-17:00) with hotel pick-up at 12:30 if you’re based in Karon. The half-day experiences cost 3,500THB (£85) which I know may be expensive for some. You don’t wash the elephants as you do in other sanctuaries, just observe closely and feed them. But whatever is best for the elephants!
Please note: Whatever you do, please don’t ride elephants. And don’t buy a ticket for any show or production that includes animals in any way. Be super vigilant of any activity in Thailand that includes animals because, in all likelihood, they will be hurting the animal in some way. There are far better and more ethical things to do in Phuket.
Dinner – At Kata Bar & Restaurant, Kata Beach
Since Karon Beach is right in the middle of Patong and Karon Beach, it would be great to explore all three of the neighbouring towns. After you get back from the Elephant Sanctuary, take a taxi to At Kata Bar & Restaurant in Kata Beach.
At Kata is a beachy style bar and I really, really liked this place. Affordable, gorgeous decor, and I really liked the food. The banana fritters were an absolute delight! What I wouldn’t give for another place of those.
- Kata Beach – Stick around in Kata Beach a little while before you take a taxi back to your hotel. Kata Beach might be smaller than Karon but there are still a few good bars knocking about. Head to The Tavern Sports Bar for a laidback vibe and a variety of cheap drinks and maybe play some pool if you fancy it.
And that’s all the top things to do in Phuket, Thailand in 3 days for first-time visitors! Have you visited Phuket in Thailand? Let me know in the comments below!