More Than Just a Boozy Beach Town
Much like Bali in Indonesia, Phuket has had the misfortune of becoming synonymous with hordes of drunk Australians reeking havoc on end of year footy trips or extended bachelor party weekends.
When I visited Phuket in January of 2013, I was coupled up and had no real desire to get drunk and go in search of happy endings. Instead, Nomadic American and I sought to see a side of Phuket that wasn’t soaked in cheap beer and over-priced cologne.
A trip to Phuket doesn’t need to involve getting drunk or avoiding drunk tourists. There’s plenty for couples, families, or responsible travellers to see in Thailand’s party paradise.
5 Things to do in Phuket (without getting drunk)
Nobody would hold it against you if you spent your days lounging around on the beach sipping cocktails and your evenings wandering the crowded streets of Phuket looking for delicious food and cheap massages, but there’s definitely more to see than just the bustling night life and the idyllic beaches.
Here are five things you can do in Phuket without the aid of a little sauce.
#5 – See a Show
They’re touristy as hell, but shows such as FantaSea and Simon Cabaret do offer a fun (if a little manufactured) insight into Thai culture or at least the way the Thai people have come to be seen by the hordes of tourists that descend on the country each year.
Thailand’s lady boy culture is famous around the world, and while it’s possible to find bars with live lady boy shows every night, the production values of Simon Cabaret are second to none. Extravagent costumes, gorgeous sets, and plenty of live performance are sure to entertain.
If a drag show isn’t for you, FantaSea is perhaps Phuket’s most famous tourist attraction after its white sandy beaches. If Simon Cabaret has impressive production values, than FantaSea is akin to a Hollywood blockbuster. Part live show, part theme park, and part restaurant – FantaSea is billed as a cultural theme park.
It’s the biggest show in town, boasting a 3,000 seat theatre, a 5,000 seat dining hall for the nightly Thai buffet, performing elephants, and the arbitrary shopping street. While I personally don’t hold with animal performances, there’s plenty to see at the park without that aspect.
#4 – Go Zorbing
Originating in New Zealand, zorbing is a family friendly ‘extreme sport’ in which you clamber into a giant inflatable ball and hurtle down a specially constructed hill track. Softly cushioned within the ball, it’s a tumbling, thrilling ride that is suitable for little kids and adults alike.
Located in Patong, Rollerball offers two tracks in what is billed as the longest zorb course in the world at just under 200 metres. You, a friend, and 40 litres of blissfully cool water are packed into the ball and then you’re sent flying down the hill. It’s a short but thoroughly enjoyable experience. Definitely one to try before you die.
#3 – Visit Wat Chalong
It’s easy to get distracted by Thailand’s beaches and jungles and forget that it’s a country with a long and fascinating history. Visiting the various temples (known locally as Wats) is a great way to gain a valuable insight into Thailand’s religious and political history.
Phuket’s Wat Chalong is a popular place with locals wishing to pray and tourists wishing to embrace the local culture. Said to contain a splinter of the Lord Buddha’s bone, the central pagoda is a particularly fascinating place both from a religious and an architectural standpoint.
#2 – Attend a Muay Thai Show (or learn it for yourself)
Thailand’s national sport is Muay Thai, a form of martial art that sits somewhere between boxing and kick-boxing. Combatants use their fists, feet, shins, and elbows to deliver brutal blows to their opponents, and it’s exhilarating viewing.
There are no shortage of fight nights being advertised around the city, but it might be best to ask your hotel where the best action can be found. If you can stomach a bit of bloodsport, these shows are not only entertaining as a sport – but also a great opportunity for people watching as locals come out to support their favourite fighters.
The more adventurous might want to try their own hand at the sport. There are multiple Muay Thai camps located in Phuket where you can take lessons in the martial art.
#1 – Go Island Hopping
Perhaps the best thing to do in Phuket is to get on a boat and leave it for a couple of hours. Phuket is ideally located to visit famous islands such as Koh Phi Phi or beautiful bays like Koh Phang Nga, and there are plenty of tour companies offering day tours out to the various islands that surround the peninsula.
Fancy a visit to James Bond Island from The Man with the Golden Gun? It’s a short jaunt from Phuket and a day tour can include seeing playful monkeys, canoeing through the (foul smelling) bat cave, and leaping off your boat to swim to an isolated beach.
Unfortunately for me, I did the above tour with a rather nasty case of food poisoning. If you’re not too squeamish, read about my day battling food poisoning in Thailand.
Trips out to Koh Phi Phi are no less interesting. My own tour featured a lady boy named Jennifer, a bucket of water, and a dance scene reminiscent to Flashdance that kept us entertained on the journey between islands.
Many tours offer options such as snorkelling and kayak hire, and include BBQ lunches to sate your appetite.
Want more Phuket ideas? Jan from The Crazy Traveler put together a list of 25 Things to do in Phuket that I think you’ll love.
Have you ever been to Phuket? How did you spend your time in Thailand’s beachside playground?