Phuket is one of Thailand's busiest islands, so it's easy to presume that every stone has been turned here – but you'd be wrong. Here's where to go in Phuket to escape the tourist bubble
The beaches along Phuket's west coast – Patong, Kata, Karon – are filled with travellers throughout the year, suffocatingly so. While few beaches remain entirely untouched, there are some quieter options available. Hat Nai Han on the south coast is a small, peaceful spot, with a handful of restaurants set back from the shore. Locals come here in the early evening to enjoy one of the best sunset views Phuket has to offer.
Slightly to the west of Nai Han, a quick drive through The Royal Phuket Yacht Club and out the other side, is Ao Sane, a very small rocky beach visited by only a handful of people a day. There are a few bungalows and one restaurant, and this is a prime spot for snorkelling. Facilities are minimal here, so you may want to pick up a snorkel or chairs in the busier areas before arriving.
To the far north of Phuket are Hat Nai Yang and Hat Mai Khao, two long stretches of beach often only visited by locals. Situated immediately next to Sirinat National Park, these beaches offer a space to lounge around in the sun and enjoy some of Phuket's greener areas. What's special about Mai Khao is its proximity to the airport – come here if you have an interest in planes as they fly directly over (and alarmingly close to) the beach as the runway is just metres from the coastline. Head further north up the shore for a more peaceful visit.
Art in Phuket Town
Many travellers visit Phuket Town to experience the museums and Sino-Portuguese architecture, but here you'll also find dozens of art galleries, showcasing Thai works and international artists. One of the more unusual is Wua Art Gallery & Studio, run by the mysteriously-named 'Mr Zen' and spread across two locations roughly opposite each other on Pang-nga Road. Home to some of Phuket's most interesting modern art, Wua makes you feel like you've stumbled into a trendy gallery in London or Berlin.
Phuket town (Photo: Emma Higgins)
Bo(ok)hemian (61 Thalang Road) is another hip hangout in Phuket Town – a café with an entire wall of shelves stacked with books and magazines, some in English. An ideal spot for an iced coffee or juice, and pop-up art exhibitions are held from time to time.
Phuket has a number of hills from which you can look out over the island and ocean – alternatives to the always-crowded Laem Phromthep lookout point. The southwest area of Phuket is the best for sunsets, and Sabai Corneris a bar and restaurant perfectly located for catching it. Enjoy a drink and some food while you take in the views across the ocean and along the coast.
A couple of places in Phuket Town offer inland views over the green hills. Tung Ka Cafe (on top of Khao Rang, just northeast of Phuket Town) is set among jungle-like foliage – sitting on the deck here is like being in a treehouse. Stop by for a meal and to gaze out over the more urban parts of Phuket. Transport is recommended – the hill is a little too steep for a climb.
Nearby Khao To Sae, just north of Phuket Provincial Hall, is one of the highest hills in Phuket Town offering more views across the island and out to the coast. The hike to the top takes around an hour – stop at Green Forest Restaurant on the way up if you need a quick drink break. Locally known as Monkey Hill, hundreds of macaques (a common breed of monkey) roam free here, which makes an entertaining sight. They're not aggressive as they're quite used to humans (you'll notice many locals jogging up here) but watch your belongings as they can be crafty and light-fingered.
Phuket isn't all club nights and dance parties – the island boasts a number of live music bars that showcase local talent. Live music nights and opening times can be sporadic (like everything else in Thailand), but the following spots are usually safe bets.
Rockin' Angels Blues Bar (55 Yaowarat Road, Phuket Town) has resident musicians that play smooth jams and invite customers to join them on stage. This is a lively, friendly spot, usually filled with an equal mix of locals and expats. Live music plays from 9pm to midnight.
Just up the road is Timber Hut (118/1 Yaowarat Road), a good place to keep the party going after drinks at Rockin' Angels first. You won't find many travellers here as most retreat to Patong to party, but this is where Phuket locals party. Live music starts around 10pm, with bands playing rock and pop, and a DJ plays dance and hip-hop between sets.
Café Opera (Soi Malisa, Kata Beach) is one of Kata's most elegant bars, serving up excellent Thai and western food plus dangerously good mojitos for 99 baht (£2). Live music nights are put on whenever the owners please, but usually once a week, at least. The tunes are relaxed and musicians very talented – ideal entertainment over dinner and drinks.
Top tip – hire a scooter
Taxis and tuk-tuks are plentiful in Phuket's busier parts of town, but scarce elsewhere – not to mention extortionately expensive. You will need transport to reach many of these places, and will cause yourself a lot of stress not only haggling but finding a taxi or tuk tuk in the hills or around town at night.
Scooter hire is between 250-400 baht (£5-8) per day, when a single taxi ride will cost you more than that for one trip alone. You must wear a helmet, and take it slowly – driving in Phuket is daunting, so care and caution are paramount.