1. Phuket FantaSea show
It’s wacky but fun and very professionally done. Ariel trapeze artists, elephants on stage and pyrotechnics combine in a Las Vegas-style show. You’ll see nothing else like it anywhere on the planet. Combining Thai traditional myths with humor, fantasy and a loose plotline that keeps getting more and more amusing, FantaSea’s extravaganza is a highly entertaining and riveting show that deserves to be top of our Top Ten Must See and Do in Phuket list.
2. Simon Cabaret
Simon Cabaret – probably the biggest “transvestite” cabaret show to be found locally. This show features a spectacular musical floor show performed by the world famous “ladyboys” of Simon Cabaret. See for yourself – guys, can you tell the difference? And ladies – wouldn’t you just die for a figure like that? Fabulous costumes, glitzy and fun.
3. Viewpoints in Phuket
There are many viewpoints looking out over east and west Phuket affording sunrise as well as sunset views. Ok, so everyone goes to Promthep but it doesn’t make it any less spectacular. There, you’ll get fabulous views over the ocean stretching as far as Phi Phi Island on a good day. Check out Phuket’s other viewpoints such as the ‘Three Beaches’ hilltop venue on the road between Nai Harn and Kata or sip a cocktail at the After Beach Bar (also on the same road) while the golden ball slips into the western horizon.
4. Old Phuket Town
Sino-Portuguese splendors and funky shops in the most unlikely places will surprise and delight you in the heart of Phuket’s sleepy provincial capital. Phuket town offers much more than you think with some excellent restaurants and local sights. The unique blend of colonial and Chinese architecture along with a tangible quaintness makes for a fascinating and unforgettable afternoon spent sauntering around Phuket’s Old Town. Expect the unexpected and don’t forget your camera.
5. Patong’s Bangla Road at Night
There are few things in this world to prepare you for an after-dark stroll down Patong’s Bangla Road. However, a sense of humor and an open mind are prerequisites if you’re looking to have some fun. In fact, there’s only one undeniable and obvious fact about Bangla – it’s nothing like home. With its ladyboys, exotic girls, enchanted westerners (mostly male) and enough extraverts to fill a Disney cast of thousands, shopping or sipping on a beer at Bangla Road at night is a definite ‘Dear Diary’ moment.
6. Wat Chalong & Phuket Temples
Wat Chalong is one of Phuket’s most important temples and visited by thousands each year. It’s beautifully decorated with infinite reflections from hundreds of tiny glass pieces and several pagodas. On special holidays Wat Chalong hosts ‘country fairs’ with a real local flavor where you can buy just about anything and snack on Thai food to your heart’s content. Wat Chalong has an interesting history and is Phuket Island’s spiritual centre. You haven’t seen Phuket if you’ve never visited this fascinating temple.
7. Phuket Waterfalls
Phuket’s waterfalls are not the biggest in the country but they are interesting gathering places for those seeking a cool place for a dip or a picnic. There are two major falls, Ton Sai and Bang Pae and they are both located in Khao Praew Thaew National Park 22 kilometers north of Phuket Town. Best visited in the monsoon season from May to October, the surrounding jungle is great for trekking through and there’s also the worthy Gibbon Rehabilitation Project right by.
8. Thai Boxing (Muay Thai)
Rapidly gaining popularity all over the world, Muay Thai is an electrifying spectacle to watch. Visit Saphan Hin Stadium in Phuket City to see regular matches with well-trained martial arts experts. Or try Patong Beach, where you can also see the skill and dexterity of these super-fit fighters. Tradition and courtesy are at the heart of this dangerous contact sport and a good Muay Thai participant is ultra-disciplined in spirit as well as body. Join the spectators and feel the rush. to see regular matches with well-trained martial arts experts.
9. Chalong Big Buddha
Visible from most of the south of Phuket, the Big Buddha is a recent arrival to the island. The image stands on the top of the Nakkerd Hills and looks down over Chalong, Kata and Rawai. It cost 30 million baht to construct and is 45 meters high. Next to it stands a smaller, golden image that is actually made of brass and there is a shrine near the site’s car park. The drive up to the Big Buddha takes you through the ‘real’ Thailand and the view from the top is enhanced if you take a map to identify the many, many sights.
10. Phuket Festivals: Vegetarian Festival – Gay Festival
Whether they’re held to honor a religious belief or just for fun, the festivals of Phuket are exciting, sometimes bizarre spectacles – and they’re certainly never bland. The Vegetarian Festival draws people from all over the world. It’s colorful, it’s deafening and sometimes fascinatingly gruesome. Vegetables gruesome? Come and see for yourself… Phuket’s Gay Festival falls at the same time as Thailand’s Songkran Water Festival and both are fun-filled, full-on parties that celebrate life’s exuberance in a most decidedly Thai way.
But why not look at the other beaches of Phuket, for there are so many, and so many different atmospheres; from active and quite crowded places like Patong, to completely isolated and lonely stretches where you won’t find another person
If you are just thinking about coming to Phuket for a holiday, we strongly recommend that you choose your beach before your holiday. Our guide here can help you. But even after that choice is made and you have arrived in Phuket, we still suggest you leave your own beach, at least for a day, and drive to some of the many other beaches on different parts of the island. You will discover a great deal of difference.
Phuket Island is big, (about 50 kilometers from top to bottom) which means it can easily cloister many different regions, each with its own human density, an its own atmosphere. Check through our beach-by-beach rundown of the island’s many tropical stretches of sand and water:
Foreigners are welcomed into Buddhist Monasteries, or Wats
But please remember these are places of worship, reverence and meditation, and cultural sensitivity is required
Visitors, both Thai and foreign, are usually welcome inside Buddhist monasteries, and a visit there can be most informative and interesting. There are scores of monasteries on Phuket, and virtually every Buddhist community here has a wat as its traditional cultural center. So it is acceptable to walk into the grounds of any monastery on the island during daylight hours. Most close their doors at night.
Since these are quiet sanctuaries where monks are supposed to live with the minimum of material possessions and where they are challenged with the task of overcoming physical desires, it is expected that women – representing the physical desire perhaps most difficult to overcome – should act and dress modestly. A Thai woman would normally not come into the presence of monks dressed in sexy or revealing attire. Women, therefore should avoid visiting the monasteries in beach clothes or short pants. Monks are also forbidden to have physical contact with any woman, or to receive an object directly from one hand of a woman. To give something to a monk a woman must first place the object on a table, or mat, and leave the monk to pick it up. Or give it to a man who can hand it to the monk.
When entering any building within a monastery shoes must be removed. They can be worn throughout the grounds – unlike in Burma, where shoes must be taken off when entering any monastery grounds.
The typical Thai temple is composed of several parts, including the ‘temple’ itself, called ubosot, in which the most important Buddha image is usually housed. Identifying this building is easy: look for short, carved stone pillars buried in the ground around it, one at each corner, with others in the middle of each side. The ubosot is usually closed, except on Buddhist holidays (one every 14 days) and perhaps in the evenings or early mornings when monks may come to chant prayers. When the monks are doing this laymen may enter the back of the temple hall quietly, sit down and absorb the holy atmosphere.
Other buildings in the typical wat include a cheddi, or stupa, the soaring golden spire that represents the Buddhist strive for infinity, or the ultimate. A second temple-like building is often present, and is recognised by the lack of the holy pillars that surround and sanctifying an ubosot. This my also contain Budddha images, and will be used for more everyday Buddhist functions. A sala, or meeting hall, is often present, and is often distinguished by a lack of walls. This will be used for public gatherings, and monks may eat their meals here and receive offerings from laymen. The guthi are the monks’ simple accommodation, and may be built as small Thai-style homes, often surrounding a raised eating platform.
In former generations Buddhist monasteries were the site of learning, and had the only schools in the country. Today the government builds independent schools, though still today many monasteries contain schools within their grounds. The monastery at Rawai is a good example of this, and here each morning hundreds of students parade under the coconut palms in the monastery grounds.
The Buddhist site most often visited on Phuket is Wat Chalong, a sprawling temple in the middle of the island with lots of room for tours buses. But the island has numerous, equally interesting monasteries that can be visited freely. One of the most curious, with a strange history, or fable attached to it, is Wat Phra Thong (Golden Buddha Monastery) on the airport road on the north side of Talang town. To read about the fable attached to it, see Phuket Magazine’s story on The Legend of Wat Phra Thong.
The Geographic symbols of the South are the craggy limestone karsts that jut out of Phang-nga Bay. But the biggest one (almost 1, 000 meters tall) is in Surat Thani province’s Khao Sok National Park. Even more mesmerizing is the way that stalactites hang down like icicles from these limestone formations, and on one of the eco-sensitive canoe tours down here you paddle right under them.
Khao Sok, one of the South’s most legendary parks, is famous are its gorgeous rain forests populated by primates like pig-tail macaques, dusky languor, and white-hand gibbons. Wild pigs are also seen on a regular basic. From November to January, park-goers can marvel at the blossoming of the world’s biggest flower; the “Rafflesia Arnoldi” has a diameter of one meter and weights up to seven kilos.
Within the park’s perimeters, bird watchers will find their spirits soaring. For on almost every kayaking trip, you’ll spot several species of hornbills, such as Oriental-pied Hornbills, Black Hornbills, and Helmeted Hornbills.
Because the emphasis of these tours is on observing birds and beasts in their natural habitats, the kayaking in the park is considered a “soft adventure” perfect for both the young and the elderly, or the whole family. Tour operators like Paddle Asia are very conscious of the need to keep their tour groups small so as to minimize their impact on the environment, and to maximize the opportunity to spot as many creatures as possible.
To enhance your back-to-nature experience, the accommodation consists of a group of floating bungalows situated deep in the rain forest. These bungalows don’t have electricity, but the restaurant and toilets do.
At night, the most pleasurable pastime in all the national parks is admiring the star-encrusted sky and the tree-silhouetted jungle, while listening to the chatter of insects, and breathing in the moist, earthy smell of Mother Nature.
Phuket town is a small urban treasure full of surprises, many of which are not readily visible to the visitor simply passing through. To really appreciate many of the attractions here one has to spend time, hunt and often walk.
The rich cultural heritage evidenced in its architecture is perhaps the foremost of attractions here. But there are also fascinating markets, Chinese shrines and Buddhist temples and shopping opportunities both modern and traditional.
Phuket town was largely founded by Chinese who emigrated to the island to work in the tin mining business. Many began as penniless coolies but ended up as rich moguls. Thus, much of the interesting architecture of the town is Chinese in style and origin. Thai of both Buddhist and Muslim origin lived largely in rural villages, where the finest examples of their temples and mosques are found.
One excellent way to get an overview of Phuket town is to go to the top of Rang hill, one of the two very prominent hills on the northern edge of town. Rang is the one to the west, the one without the TV and communications towers.
At the very peak of Rang hill is one of the best Thai restaurants in the city, Tunka Ka Café, run by a true gourmet and lover of Thai cuisine, Khun Thira. This is a great place to enjoy the view of the town from – and a great place to eat in. Khun Thira makes sure every dish in his restaurant is just right. (if you want to see the love that goes into food here, try Thira’s Som Tum, hot papaya salad). Khun Thira is also one of the best-known characters in town, and your day is made if you chance to meet him. And since Tunka Ka is a favourite hang-out for the Thai staff of PHUKET Magazine, you might well find us there also – always with Som Tum on the table.
This description is given to several score houses set in grand gardens and built by Chinese moguls, often about 100 years ago at the height of the tin mining boom. The name reflects the influences of Chinese owners building in European style in Singapore and Malaysia, where the Portuguese had set the first standards for grand tropical mansions.. In fact, most of the Sino-Portuguese buildings in Phuket town were built by Italians, whom the wealthy Chinese employed. They also imported many of the materials, like tiles and fittings, from Italy.
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