Located off the Andaman Coast south of Thailand, Phuket is the largest island in the country and home to beaches, rainforests, and so much more. Whether you want to explore nature, feed a monkey, play with an elephant, or get to know a little more about Buddhism, Phuket has a lot to offer. No matter what you choose to do when you visit, don't forget your camera. So much of what you experience in Phuket cannot be found anywhere else.
Phuket was once a world-famous tin-mining center and a meeting place for traders from around the world to exchange their wares. This activity influenced the architecture of the city, blending European and Chinese styles. The streets of Old Town Phuket are lined with colorful buildings, including a Central Market, shrines, galleries, sweetshops, and restaurants, as well as plenty of opportunities for photos.
Khao Phra Thaeo National Park is a great place for outdoor lovers. The main draw is the Bang Pae Waterfall, the largest waterfall in Phuket. If you visit during the wet season, the surrounding jungle is lush and green and the rock pools are full enough to take a dip. There are a museum and information center at the bottom of the falls, so it's a good idea to hire a guide if you're hoping to catch a glimpse of any wildlife.
One of the most popular spots in Phuket is Promthep Cape. Climb to the top of the hill to take in the view, which is spectacular at sunset. The lighthouse and museum of the cape feature a collection of maritime artifacts from the region and a terrace that overlooks the Phi Phi Islands, Koh Racha Noi, and Koh Racha Yai. Be sure to stop by the shops near the parking lot on your way home to pick up a cool souvenir.
Phang Nga Bay is home to the sheer limestone cliffs that rise from the emerald green water. This breathtaking view made the bay so famous it's been featured in a James Bond movie. Don't miss Koh Panyee, a small Muslim fishing village nearby. The whole town is built on stilts with the back of the town framed by a giant rock jutting out of the sea. There are plenty of small shops and delicious places to stop for a meal as well as one-of-a-kind photo ops.
The Green Elephant Sanctuary was designed to be as close to the elephants' natural habitat as possible and they've certainly succeeded. This is an exciting way to see Asian elephants without chains, tricks, or rides—just elephants playfully running around and loving life. You get a hands-on experience you won't forget, helping to feed and clean these elephants or joining them for a mudbath or a swim.
Big Buddha is one of the most popular and important landmarks in Phuket. The 147 feet-tall statue is made of reinforced concrete covered with white jade marble that sparkles in the sunlight. Since it sits at the top of Nakkerd Hills, a visit to Big Buddha also offers a 360-degree view of Phuket, the surrounding mountains, and the sea. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere here is calm and relaxing, with soft dharma music playing and small bells tinkling in the background.
Monkey Hill is exactly what it sounds like. Take a walk up Toh Sae Hill, the highest in Phuket Town, and soon you'll see them. The monkeys. Rumor has it there may be as many as 400 living here. Sometimes, the locals perform shows with them but on a normal day, they're just hanging out and begging for food. The inhabitants of Monkey Hill aren't as aggressive as some temple monkeys and they don't like the rain so skip the trip if the weather isn't agreeable. Otherwise, this is a fun place to visit and a great place for once-in-a-lifetime photos.
The Similan Islands are one of the most beautiful places in Phuket. They're not as dramatic as some of the other islands in the region, but the low-lying rock formations and thick forests have their own charm. Scattered among these large rock formations are white sandy beaches. Head into the water to find spectacular coral formations, particularly on the west sides of the islands where the current prevents the sand from accumulating. This is an ideal place for diving and frequently named one of the best in the world.
Locals have prayed at Wat Chalong for centuries and many claim that the temple provides miracles. Founded in the 19th century, the temple is home to statues and tributes to several revered monks who fought against the Chinese rebellion. The colorful structure and other buildings on the grounds are decorated with paintings illustrating the life of Buddha. For the best view from Wat Chalong, climb to the top floor terrace to get a look at the entire area.
If you're looking for something extravagant, you'll find it at FantaSea's Fantasy of a Kingdom show. This performance is formed by a cast of more than 150, including trapeze artists, puppets, traditional dancers, and more. The show uses every inch of the theater, including the ceiling and aisle, and features just about everything you can imagine: rain, lasers, explosions, smoke, and an impressive wardrobe. This is a show that you won't want to miss.