Once you’ve had your fill of Patong Beach and day spas, there is still lots to explore in and around Phuket. Not only does Thailand’s largest, wealthiest and most visited island exhibit a unique mélange of Dutch and Malay cultural influences, it is also the hop-off point to a range of destinations that make for memorable excursions. Here are four delightful day trips to a variety of nearby hidden gems that are bound to become the talking point of your next holiday to Phuket.
Visit James Bond island on an inflatable kayak tour of Ao Phang-Nga Bay
There are remarkable geographical sights nestled throughout the Andaman sea caves and lagoons of Ao Phang-Nga Bay, courtesy of the formation of ancient limestone formations. These consist of semi-submerged in-land tidal caves, known as ‘hongs,’ and the limestone tower karsts that give Koh Phing Kan (‘leaning islands’) and Koh Tapu (‘nail island’) their memorable shape. The latter two karsts, known as James Bond Island, became wildly popular after being featured in 007’s The Man With the Golden Gun in the 1970s.
While Ao Phang-Nga National Park is easily accessible by longtail boat, one of the most fun ways to visit is via an inflatable kayak tour paddled by local guides. It is the only way to explore the hongs beneath Koh Panak island, including Bat Cave, Ice Cream Cave, and Mangrove Cave, as their low ceilings make them inaccessible by longtail boat. The guides will also take you to Koh Hong (‘Room Island), where you can enjoy two remarkable lagoons surrounded by stalactite and stalagmite formations by canoe. The day ends with a visit to Lawa Beach or Naka Beach, followed by a refreshing dip in the ocean. Tours typically depart from Ao Por Pier.
Bask on the brilliant white sands of the Phi Phi Islands
The stunning Phi Phi Islands are a popular and easily accessible day trip from Phuket; situated just 40 km southeast of the island. After a 45-60 minute journey by speedboat, visitors will reach the dazzling limestone karst formations of the Phi Phi region. One of the highlights of this trip will be found in picturesque Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Ley – familiar to film fans after having been featured in The Beach back in 2000. Boats will drop visitors off at the crowded but beautiful Maya Bay to enjoy sweeping panoramic views. For those who prefer going off the beaten path to take pictures, follow the trail around the island (about a 15 minute walk each way) to a lovely ‘hidden’ photography spot and viewpoint opposite Maya Bay.
Two more highlights are Viking Cave, covered in fragile bamboo scaffolding that locals use to gather the nests of swift birds that populate the cave, and Monkey Beach, where macaques laze and play in the sand without paying attention to visiting tourists. To avoid being attacked by a flock of greedy macaques, don’t feed the monkeys! Other stops may include Loh Samah Bay, Pileh Cove, Laem Thong beach and lunch on Phi Phi Don – each area seemingly more beautiful than the next. Water lovers are bound to enjoy lots of snorkeling and swimming throughout the tour.
Head to the resuscitated resort town of Khao Lak
Take a drive 80 km north of Phuket across the bridge to the mainland to visit Khao Lak, a laid-back mountain town nestled against the ocean. Back in 2004, the area was one of the most heavily hit in Thailand by the tsunami and lost some of its beautiful offshore coral formations as a result. Due to the damage, it became the focus of rehabilitation efforts by volunteers, NGOs and sustainable businesses for many years. However, the resort town has been rebuilt and revived as a popular holiday destination. It’s a great place to enjoy endearing street-side cafés, lounge beneath coconut palms and casuarinas or try activities such as elephant trekking, bamboo rafting and waterfall climbing. History buffs can visit a tsunami memorial and view a police boat that was washed ashore during the natural disaster. Diving fans can check out the eco-friendly ethical dive initiative, Wicked Diving, which originated during tsunami relief efforts.
Explore Khao Sok National Park and its stunning artificial lake
For those who don’t mind a long day trip, drive even further mainland and visit one of the world’s oldest evergreen rainforests at Khao Sok National Park, located about 150 km from Phuket. Home to a wildly diverse collection of forest life including spectacled langurs, wild gibbons and marbled cats, the 738-sq-km national park houses over 300 species of birds, including the rare endangered hornbills of Thailand. If you’re into eco-tourism, it’s the perfect place to take a tour of the local wildlife, go caving, canoeing or kayaking on the Sok River, or head off jungle trekking. You can also visit spectacular Cheow Lan Lake in the north of the park, which was formed in 1982 by the flooding and damming of an immense area of rainforest. Floating bungalows and luxury tents can be booked for those who wish to stay beyond the day.
Khao Sok is also accessible via local buses, which run from Phuket during daylight hours. It’s recommended to visit during the dry season (December-April) as this area is one of the rainiest in the country. To get to Cheow Lan Lake, book your bus or van from Khao Lak ahead of time to ensure availability.
Finally, if you don’t want to wander too far from Phuket, Coral Island and Racha Islands are located just 6 km and 12 km away respectively and are ideal destinations for a bit of light snorkeling, swimming or diving. Alternatively, sunbathe in the deck chairs or feed the fish before taking a short walk through the jungle. Tours depart from Chalong Pier or Rawai, and the journey takes forty five minutes to an hour.