Phuket, Land of Blue
Phuket is legendary for a reason. More than the sum of its immaculate beaches, stunning geography and mind-blowing food, this island in the Andaman Sea really is a slice of paradise.
Somewhere, Beyond the Sea
Phuket being the paragon of islands, you can’t miss out on the life aquatic. Take a day trip by speedboat around the Phi Phi Islands, a group of limestone islets made famous a host of movies including 2000’s “The Beach.” They’re impossibly beautiful, with pale blue water that seems to glow under towering cliff faces.
There are many tours on offer (from around THB1,600 ($350)) taking you among a series of stunning locales: from the flawless white sand of Bamboo Island, to snorkeling in oceans teeming with life; from the simian-strewn Monkey Beach, to the encircled Pileh Lagoon, where cliffs tower over turquoise waters.
Shades of Gray
John Gray’s Sea Canoe tours should be on every Phuket traveler’s bucket list. The “Hong by Starlight” day trip takes you to Phang Nga Bay via double decker boat. Switching to a kayak paddled by a personal guide, you’ll explore the lagoons, sea caves and donut-shaped islands, known as hongs, dotted along the coast.
Paddling out into pristine sunny bays, views rival the famed James Bond Island near Koh Phi Phi—just without the crowds. You’ll see mangrove-lined basins full of crustaceans and mudskippers, and pitch-black caves inhabited by bats (and thick with the stench of guano). One cave leads to a further verdant clearing where long-tailed macaques watch curiously from the branches above.
As the sun sets, you’ll learn to make a traditional Thai krathong flower offering to present to the sea as a gesture of thanks, following a delicious dinner cooked fresh on board. A sweep of the water in the night-dark lagoon activates sparkling bioluminescent plankton like tiny underwater fireworks, a magical ending to the day.
Hong By Starlight Day Trip group tours THB3,950 ($880) per person from johngray-seacanoe.com
Saturday Night’s Special
Take the time to visit a night market, the best way to stuff your face with the finest food Phuket has to offer. The biggest is the weekend Naka Market (Sat-Sun, 4-9pm), which is rammed full of trinkets and phenomenal comestibles. If you’re around Bang Tao beach, then the Boat Avenue night market nearby is a great way to get a low-intensity dose of night shopping, complete with live music. Order a Chang beer, spread out an assortment of pad Thai, seafood omelets, satay and coconut, and toast the Phuket night.
Where to Stay
If you want to avoid the crowds and the madness, then you’ll want to avoid Patong town on the island’s southeast edge. It’s the most developed part of the island, and hence the most raucous. Instead, head to Bang Tao beach on the northeast coast. The Laguna complex is home to several resorts, but it’s also got something for the more budget-conscious traveler: Cassia Phuket (from THB3,750 ($830) per night through Oct 29, 64 Moo 4 Srisoonthorn Rd., Cherngtalay, Phuket, (+66) 76-356-999) bridges the gap between serviced apartment and hotel, and is geared towards the younger, more independent traveler. As you walk in, the huge open space offers a grocery store, bar and hangout areas, and feels more like a beach bar than a hotel lobby. The rooms are compact and well designed, with full kitchenettes. Many boast tall ceilings containing a loft space chill-out area should you just want to kick back with a breakfast delivered straight to your room.
Cassia’s proximity to Banyan Tree Phuket (33, 33/27 Moo 4, Srisoonthorn Rd., Cherngtalay, Phuket, (+66) 76-372-400) means that if you’re down for a bit of pampering, it couldn’t be simpler. This was the group’s first hotel, and literally wrote the book on the tropical “garden-style” spa. Get the signature Thai massage for an out-of-this-world experience.
Multiple airlines fly to Phuket daily. Flights start at around $2,000.