6 diverse and unmissable activities on fascinating Phuket

Think of Phuket and no doubt you think of beautiful beaches and, perhaps, the lively nightlife of Patong.  But Phuket has so much more to offer than just lazy days with the sand between your toes.  It’s a fascinating island and the perfect place to mix up your holiday with a combination of incredible luxury and glimpses of day to day life for the ever-friendly locals.  Embrace the diversity and combine 5 star pampering with local colour and culture for a truly memorable vacation.

Stay in the ultimate pool villa

Phuket has an abundance of luxury resorts, many offering private pool villas.  But none come close to matching the jaw-dropping extravagance of The Residences at Anantara Layan in the unspoiled Sirinath National Park.   The villas cling to a forested hillside and are designed so the first thing you see when you walk through the front door is the infinity pool, beckoning you to enter and explore further.  Wander out to the expansive pool area and the view of the resort below, peeking through the trees, and the unfeasibly blue Andaman Sea beyond, will take your breath away.

The huge villas are three to seven bedrooms in size and are perfect for a family or friends’ getaway.  They come with full kitchens, private spa rooms and, for some, their own gym.   If you are seeking complete rest and relaxation, you need never leave the villa as your discreet on-site, private butler will arrange anything you need to be delivered to you, from a spa treatment to a cocktail or a multi course meal with wine pairings.

If you want to make the most of the resort’s facilities, Anantara Layan encourages you to get out on the water by providing complimentary watersports.  There are also muay Thai lessons, a cooking school and a daily schedule of activities such as yoga, stretching or beach football. To explore the surrounding islands, simply put down your poolside cocktail for a moment and summon your butler who will be happy to arrange an outing on Major Affair, the resort’s 90 foot Sunseeker yacht.

Visit a local village market

There’s no better place to see Phuket daily life than at a local market.  Villagers come every day to stock up on vegetables, meat, spices and shop for clothes.   And also, of course, to socialise and catch up on the local gossip.  Although few stallholders will speak English, that’s part of the fun.  Their bright smiles will encourage you to try out a few words of Thai and they’ll be unfailing patient with hand signals if your Thai pronunciation still needs a little work.

Try out some exotic fruits and arm yourself with tasty snacks to take back to your resort but don’t forget to try food from the ubiquitous food stalls as well.

Have an ethical interaction with elephants

It was great news for animal-loving Phuket visitors when an ethical elephant park finally opened on the island.  Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is run in partnership with Chiang Mai’s highly regarded Elephant Nature Park, the Save Elephant Foundation and a local animal lover who donated the land.

Visitors learn about the horrors the park’s elephants faced when working in the elephant tourism industry, before getting the chance to meet the rescued elephants themselves.  Happily for the elephants, the first item on the visitors’ agenda is feeding time.  You will get to hand the pachyderms their favourite fruits and marvel at the dexterity of their eager trunks before walking with them through the forest, staying at a respectful distance, to observe their natural behaviours and interactions with each other.

It’s fascinating to get into insight into the personalities of the elephants.  There’s 50-something Gaew Ta who is blind and prefers to the company of her mahout to the other elephants as she gets to know her way around her new home.   Her opposite would be Kannika who is exuberant, communicative and curious about visitors.  Her trumpeting is often heard throughout the day and she loves to splash in the lagoon.

Visitors to Phuket Elephant Sanctuary are guaranteed an incredible experience safe in the knowledge they are helping, not harming, the magnificent animals they have come to see.

Stroll Old Town’s walking street market

In the heart of Phuket’s Old Town lies a charming, narrow street of brightly coloured Sino Portuguese architecture, Thalang Road.  Normally busy with traffic, the road closes late on Sunday afternoons and transforms to ‘Lard Yai’ meaning ‘big market’ in the Southern Thai dialect.  By 5pm the centre of the street is lined with market stalls selling hand crafted souvenirs, clothes and unique artworks and, of course, street food.

As darkness falls the pretty coloured lights appear and illuminate the multi coloured shop houses which host an array of boutiques, bars, restaurants and small backpacker guest houses.  While a growing number of tourists are now discovering this Lard Yai it’s still mainly frequented by locals, making for a more authentic experience than some of the larger markets on the island.

As always in a Thai market, there is a wondrous collection of food available (though very little for vegetarians) from spicy local favourites to burgers, ice creams, rotis and pungent freshly cut durian.  Dotted along the 400m length of the market are musical performers signing Thai pop tunes or Western hits to small, seated audiences of appreciative locals and tourists munching on tasty snacks.

Take a Muay Thai lesson

Thais are crazy about muay Thai or Thai boxing; if you find yourself on an unexpectedly deserted street or quiet market and there’s a good chance that a major muay Thai match on TV has locals glued to their screens at home or in bars.

Though its exact origins are hazy, the national sport dates back hundreds of years to when what is now Thailand regularly engaged in battles with neighbouring Burma.  Seeing a muay Thai fight is a must-do experience for many visitors.  Interminably noisy affairs with much ceremony and ritual before each bout, watching a fight is bound to leave you wondering just how difficult it might be to actually fight.  That’s where a muay Thai lesson comes in.

One of the best muay Thai trainers on Phuket is Arsis, an ex professional fighter with 160 pro bouts to his name, who trains at Anantara Mai Khao resort.  Arsis is patient and able to tailor lessons to any fitness or skill level.  If you’ve trained in muay Thai before he can provide a challenging sparring session and, if you’ve never previously set foot in the ring, he is endlessly patient while instructing you on the basic moves of the ‘Art of 8 Limbs’.  Lessons with Arsis are a workout while also being great fun.  And you get to keep a shiny pair of Anantara muay Thai shorts too!

Treat your loved one to a romantic dinner

A must for romantics, ‘Dining on the Rocks’ at Kata Rocks resorts is a unique experience not available anywhere else on the island.  Non-guests are welcome to dine at the resort and a private, candle-lit dinner on the huge rocks that line the frontage is the most romantic way to do so.

Call in advance and you will arrive to find a beautiful laid table in a secluded area with the gentle waves of the Andaman Sea lapping near your feet.

Menu options include fine Western cuisine using high quality ingredients or a tour of Thailand’s most appealing regional cuisines.  The resort has an impressive wine cellar with many high quality wines available by the glass, allowing you to pair the most appropriate wine to each course of the meal.

Dining on the Rocks is a memorable dining experience for special occasions or for just spoiling yourself for no particular reason at all.

Candice Bain is Founder at Desert to Jungle.

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Comments (7)

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  1. Great post. I love Phuket. Such a beautiful, relaxing island – I like the ethical interaction you talk about with the elephants – always good to educate tourists about ethical responsibilities towards animals when traveling!

  2. Patricia says:

    Gosh Candy, how you describe the villa makes me want to jump in a plane and head out there right way. I don’t think I’d need to venture uit of the villa with that pool and view. Though going to the elefant sanctuary sounds great. Got to give a visit to Phuket serious consideration.

  3. Candice says:

    Thanks Raymond and Patricia for your comments. Phuket is indeed beautiful with much more to offer than simply it’s great beaches.

    I’m so pleased there’s now an genuinely ethical opportunity to interact with elephants on the island.

  4. Ginny says:

    That sounds like my perfect holiday (with the exception of the Thai boxing)! I love the mix of luxury with venturing into the markets and feeding the elephants. And finally dining on the rocks. How wonderful.

  5. Mike says:

    This is exactly my kind of cultural experience, mixed with the luxury I know that my wife would enjoy. It seems I need not do any more research for our next holiday….

  6. Nickie O'Hara says:

    Phuket looks like a wonderful destination. I really enjoy a holiday that embraces local culture and heritage whilst pairing it with comfort and luxury. The Residences at Anantara Layan would be perfect for us as we often go on an extended family holiday with several generations. Finding larger villas and organising things for everyone can sometimes be hard to arrange, but I imagine a private butler would help a lot with that.

  7. Katie says:

    Oddly I’ve never thought of the nightlife in Patong, but I also never realised that there were luxurious villas in Phuket either. It’s fantastic when villas look out at the sea, what could be better?! As soon as I arrive I would rush to the village market straight away, I bet it’s such a great sight – I love finding exotic fruits

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