White sandy beaches? Check. Impossibly blue seas? Check. Just an hour away from one of the most iconic islands in the world? Check. Welcome to Phuket. Also known as the Pearl of the Andaman, Thailand’s largest island is bursting with jaw-dropping beaches, intricate temples and bustling bars. Wherever your final destination is in Thailand, it’s the perfect place to spend a few days. Here’s my pick of the best things to do there:
Explore the Old Town
The main street of Old Phuket Town is Thalang Road and the Sino-Portuguese architecture is breathtaking. Peruse the eclectic mix of unique shops, including the oldest herb shop in Phuket, where jars are filled with home remedies for every ailment you can think of. I stopped to watch the skilled owner carefully mixing ingredients, and the locals were more than happy to tell me about the history of the shop, which opened in 1917. From here, you can wander past shop windows offering colourful clothes and handmade jewellery to a café called Since 1892, where you’ll find some of the tastiest coffee in Phuket.
See the Big Buddha
Nothing says Phuket like the Big Buddha. Sitting atop Nakkerd Hills, this is one of the most revered landmarks on the island and offers mesmerising views. Head up on a clear day and you’ll be able to see as far as Phi Phi. Wander all the way around the Buddha’s base, spotting Kata, Karon and Chalong Bay as you go. You can even walk inside the 45-metre tall marble statue to the meditation hall, where you will often find monks sitting and chanting.
Visit Wat Chalong
Wats – or Buddhist temples – are among the most important symbols of Thailand and you will find plenty to explore in Phuket. I visited Wat Chalong on my first day here and spent several hours amidst the beautiful buildings, stopping to look at the wall and ceiling paintings, which depict the life of Buddha. Wat Chalong Chedi, the temple’s tallest structure, is also built across three floors, so you can climb to the top terrace for a bird’s-eye view of the temple grounds.
Relax on Kata Noi Beach
Situated on the southwest of the island, this cosy little bay is the ideal place to relax. Stroll along the soft sands, swim or snorkel, or simply chill out with your favourite book. If you’re seeking a more active pace, hike up to Kata Viewpoint. From here, you can enjoy one of the best panoramas of the island, while sipping your favourite cocktail as the sun sets.
Dine at Acqua Restaurant
From Kata, it’s an easy drive to Acqua Restaurant, widely renowned as being among the best in Thailand. Situated in Kalim Beach, you can take your pick from exquisite Italian dishes, oysters flown in from France, and more than 450 wines which fill the glass-fronted cellar. My favourite dish was grilled Wagyu beef tenderloin, served with asparagus gratin and black truffle sauce – delicious.
Island hop to Phi Phi
OK, I admit it – this one is a bit of a cheat, but Phuket is the gateway to Phi Phi and you simply can’t leave without experiencing Thailand’s most renowned island. Hop aboard a speedboat and steam towards the island made famous by Hollywood blockbuster The Beach, where you’ll find sweeping sands, crystal waters and longtail boats gently bobbing up and down on the shore. We enjoyed lunch here, before hiking up to the Phi Phi Viewpoint and relaxing in a hammock. I experienced this slice of paradise on a day trip, but I’d recommend staying on the island for at least a night, so that you get a chance to take in the golden-hued sunrise.
Learn to cook Thai cuisine
Thai food is among my favourite cuisines in the world, and I simply couldn’t return home without attempting to pick up some cookery skills to impress my friends with. Luckily, in Phuket, there are plenty of places where you can do just that. I took part in the Pat’s Thai Cooking Lesson Experience during my stay, which I would thoroughly recommend. We spent the morning at Pat’s Home Thai Cooking School, where we learnt how to make four traditional Thai dishes using the freshest ingredients, as well as a delicious dessert. Then came the best part – sitting down to savour what we had created. The Tom yum goong was especially tasty, and I’m pleased to say it went down a treat when I recreated it back home.
Indulge in a spa treatment
When it comes to picking where to enjoy that all-important Thai massage, you are truly spoilt for choice. I was lucky enough to be staying at The Vijitt in Phuket, which features the luxurious V Spa. I was welcomed inside by the friendly therapists and led to an outdoor pavilion, where soothing music gently played. Surrounded by beautiful gardens filled with flowers, I felt myself totally relax during the Aloe Vera Body Wrap. My only thought was how much I didn’t want to fly home the next day.