Our Ultimate Guide to Phuket
February 18, 2015
Serenity-minded hoteliers and urbane entrepreneurs are helping Thailand's tropical playground usher in a cultural renaissance. Resident Simon N. Ostheimer takes the pulse of the island and its neighbors. Photographed by Pornsak Na Nakorn.
Published on Feb 18, 2015
Lay of the Land
This historical district's century-old Chinese shop houses and tin-baron mansions house a variety of cafés, creative restaurants, cool bars and hip hotels.
Phuket's Old Town district.
Phuket's party central needs little introduction, but beyond the dubious delights of Bangla Road, you'll discover an emerging culinary scene and good tourist shopping.
This waterfront is the main launching point for boats to the offshore islands. Grab a drink at one of the laidback bars that line the roads by the pier.
Earmarked as the island's CBD, this area is booming with huge developments that will add more malls and attractions.
Of the half-dozen beach towns that line the sun-soaked west coast, Surin is the chicest, with boutique resorts, beach clubs and some of the island's top-rated eateries.
Phuket's many taxis and tuk-tuks are exorbitantly priced. Instead, rent a car or motorbike.
From tropical to trendy, here are seven of the island's hottest retreats.
THE NAKA PHUKET
The 94 pool villas in this striking west coast resort sit on a hill overlooking a private beach. Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag embraced the topography by designing cantilevered buildings that seem to hang in the air. 1/18, 1/20 Moo 6, Kamala, Kathu; +66 76 337 999; thenakaphuket.com.
HYATT REGENCY PHUKET RESORT
Located at the start of "Millionaire's Mile," home to some of the island's most expensive resorts and residences, the Hyatt offers luxurious lodgings, including 12 expansive Regency suites. 16/12 Moo 6, Kamala, Kathu; +66 76 231 234; phuket.regency.hyatt.com.
The pool at Hyatt Regency Phuket Resort.
This one-of-a-kind property is the brainchild of philanthropist Mark Weingard. Each of the 10 suites are the creation of different designers from across the globe. All guests have a driver, butler, chef and masseuse at their beck and call. 40/14 Moo 6, Baan Natai, Phang Nga; +66 76 451 456; iniala.com.
POINT YAMU BY COMO
The first top-flight resort set up in the island's rural northeast is sleek and modern with star Italian designer Paola Navone's interiors partly inspired by the waters of the Andaman Sea. 225 Moo 7, Paklok, Thalang; +66 76 360 100; comohotels.com/pointyamu.
It's all mod at Point Yamu by COMO.
LE CORAL HIDEAWAY BEYOND PHUKET
Picturesque Natai Beach is rapidly becoming the go-to destination for those in the know. This small, smart resort is offerings, featuring well-appointed rooms with beach-house touches like distressed wood furnishings. 9/9 Moo 8, Na Toey, Thai Muang; +66 76 679 888; coralhideaway.com.
ANANTARA PHUKET LAYAN RESORT & SPA
The soft beach, shallow tide pool and offshore rock formations set a scene so serene you'll have no idea you're a stone's throw from the lively Laguna complex. 168 Moo 6, Layan Beach Soi 4, Cherngtalay, Thalang; +66 76 317 200; phuket-layan.anantara.com.
Sala Layan Restaurant at Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa.
U ZENMAYA PHUKET
This Old Town-inspired property is the über-personalized Thailand-based U Hotels & Resorts. 6/181 Moo 6, Kamala, Kathu; +66 76 336 888; uzenmayaphuket.com.
Three stylish stops for beach buys.
This Phuket success story founded by a former film executive in the U.S., Bobby Duchowny, sells 100-percent handmade, natural spa products and teas in his scent-filled shop—and to top hotels around the world. 10/2 Moo 1, Srisoonthorn Rd., Cherngtalay, Thalang; lemongrasshouse.com.
Handmade spa products at the fragrant Lemongrass House.
Another American, this designer displays his easy-breezy, wildly chromatic, handwoven, hand-embroidered cottons and silks at his eponymous shops across the island. Get decked out head-to-toe with his locally inspired clothes, shoes and accessories. Flagship shop at Surin Gallery, Moo 3, Cherngtalay, Thalang; paulropp.com.
RE KÁ TA
If you're looking to make waves fashion-wise during your visit to the beach, visit the smart boutique inside this beach club on Kata Beach, where you can pick up Vilebrequin swimming trunks, Heidi Klein's espadrilles and barely there swimwear by Princesse Tam Tam. 182-184 Koktanode Rd., Kata, Muang; rekataphuket.com.
Tropical fashion at Re Ká Ta.
There's more to do than tan on these sunny shores.
LARD YAI SUNDAY WALKING STREET
This assembly of locally made handicrafts, traditional southern Thai snacks and cultural performances was launched in September, 2013. An excellent way to spend a Sunday evening, it also serves to highlight the historic charms of the revitalized Old Town. Thalang Rd., Old Town; every Sunday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Lard Yai Sunday Walking Street.
SOI DOG FOUNDATION
Since it was founded in 2003 to tackle Phuket's stray pup epidemic, this remarkable charity has sterilized more than 60,000 dogs and cats. Learn more about their worthy work and meet some friendly animals on a facility tour. 167/9 Moo 4, Soi Mai Khao 10, Mai Khao, Thalang; +66 81 788 4222; soidog.org.
The island's so-called low season (May through October) is the best time of year for surfers to visit, with a beach break at Kata rated the best in the country. But for days when the swell is flat there's this artificial wave for non-stop body-surfing. 4 Pakbang Alley, Karon, Muang; +66 81 979 7737; surfhousephuket.com.
PATONG BOXING STADIUM
Organized by famous former muay Thai champion Num Noi Singpatong, the Saturday Fight Nights feature the best combatants to come out of his Patong gym—including Frenchman Damien Alamos, the top-ranked foreigner in the sport. 2/59 Sainamyen Rd., Patong, Kathu; +66 76 345 578; patongboxingstadium.com.
Patong Boxing Stadium.
Phuket was once known for tin mines, a hugely lucrative, if destructive, industry that led to the emergence of the island's mining barons, who built grand mansions in their own honor. One of the best preserved is this century-old Sino-Colonial home in the Old Town. 98 Krabi Rd.; +66 76 211 167; daily 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
THE KIDS CLUB
Sure, most top resorts boast children's centers, but for a change of scene, this offsite romper room has a ball pit, playgrounds, painting, clowns, cartoons and superheroes—all the fun needed to wear out the wee ones. 2/F Promenade Mall Patong, 70/1 Bangla Rd., Patong; +66 76 341 310; thekidsclubphuket.com.
Where to dine in Phuket now.
This groundbreaking restaurant is headed by Michelin three-starred chef Eneko Atxa, who has combined his Basque heritage with Asian ingredients to come up with dishes such as suckling pig with pumpkin noodles and dashi. 40/14 Moo 6, Baan Natai, Phang Nga; +66 93 779 2312; aziamendi.com.
Expect Basque flavors with Asian ingredients at Aziamendi.
Playing a big part in Old Town's emergence as a dining destination, this Gallic-inflected spot has a wood-paneled, mirror-lined interior and a modern-French, comfort-food menu—featuring, for example, whole rack of lamb—created by its Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. 31 Dibuk Rd., Old Town, Muang; +66 76 355 914; mirrormirrorphuket.com.
Mirror Mirror blends clever décor and French comfort food.
GALLERY CAFE BY PINKY
Long a mainstay of expats in search of a sandwich, salad and smoothie, Pinky's—as locals know it—moved into swanky Old Town digs, where the food and drinks are as good as ever. 19 Yaowarat Rd., Old Town, Muang; +66 83 103 7000; gallerycafe-phuket.com.
Though yet to garner the fame of its sister restaurant—Nahm, at the Metropolitan by COMO in Bangkok—this koi-tiled, Phuket's dining scene deserves some recognition. Under the expert eye of chefs Daniel Moran and Thirawut Na-udom, it serves up classy twists on southern Thai street food, such as an unbeatable steamed whole fish topped with catfish floss. 225 Moo 7, Paklok, Thalang; +66 76 360 100; comohotels.com/pointyamu.
Southern style curry at Nahmyaa.
NIKKI BEACH PHUKET
The branch of this glam global beach club chain sashayed up to the northern end of unspoiled Layan Beach. Join the well-dressed crowd sipping champagne and knocking back oysters as the day fades to dusk. The raucous Sunday brunch is mustbook-ahead. 62/11 Moo 6, Cherngtalay, Thalang; +66 76 681 161; nikkibeach.com/phuket.
360° BAR & GRILL
Wine and dine your date atop The Pavilions, an adults-only resort whose bar offers romantic views of the Andaman, creative tapas, and a range of "love potions" such as the Hex Appeal, an elixir of kaffir lime leaves and vodka. 31/1 Moo 6, Cherngtalay, Thalang; +66 76 317 600; thepavilionsresorts.com/phuket-home.
Three insiders share their go-to places on the island.
Co-owner of Stand Up Projects
Phuket has many stunning beaches. My favorites are Naiharn, tucked in a cove with incredible surroundings, and Bangtao, where long and peaceful waves make it ideal for learning to surf at Skyla's Surf & SUP Club (surf-sup.asia). I like to eat at Sunset (100 Cherngtalay Baadon Rd.), for delicious Thai served in a warm, simple setting. I'm also a huge fan of Flavor (facebook.com/flavorphuket) in Phuket Town—its fresh ingredients are magically put together. For drinks, my favorite hangout is Ploenchit (facebook.com/ploenchit.phuket), with its winning combo of retro kitsch and rustic vibe.
ALICE NA TAKUATUN
TV host of Phuket News TV
My favorite spot to eat in Phuket is Bang Mud (+66 81 273 2367) floating restaurant, for its deep fried soft-shell crab and clams with lemongrass. Adrift between the mainland and Coconut Island, it is a 10-minute boat ride from Laem Hin pier to the ocean-top eatery. If you're dining, the longtail taxi is free; visit around 4 p.m. so you can enjoy the sunset ride back to Phuket. For bars, my top choice would be Sanaeha (facebook.com/sanaehaphukettown). When I'm not working, I often visit Ao Yon Beach near my home down Cape Panwa. All I need is a beach mat, a book and good company: it's my own slice of paradise.
Co-owner of Chalong Bay Rum
I love the 15-course Sunday brunch of fresh delicacies prepared by the chefs at Breeze (breezecapeyamu.com). I appreciate the caring service, the family atmosphere and the beautiful views of Phang Nga Bay. My favorite bar is Wonderland (wonderlandphuket.com), where they serve amazing cocktails in a magical setting that conveys of the unexpected nature of Alice's journey. During the day, I like to wander the streets of blooming Old Town, where there always are new places to discover, such as Mr. Zen's Wua Art Gallery (wua-artgallery.com). This historic area is authentic, diverse and original.
Trips Out of Town
While it may seem odd flying onto an island resort only to board a boat to yet another, the dozens of small isles dotted around Phuket are sure to beckon from the horizon. Just a 15-minute speedboat ride (or slightly longer by longtail) from Phuket, pay a visit to Koh Bon, where Brit Dawn Farrell (bonislandphuket.wordpress.com) serves up fresh seafood right on the beach, or to the mostly undeveloped Coral Island—also known as Koh Hae—which features pristine reefs for snorkeling and sandy beaches for sunning. To avoid the crowds, skip Long Beach and head to Banana Beach instead. Mainly rural Koh Yao Yai, where the locals still harvest rubber and coconuts, is off the east coast. Due to the infrequent ferries, it's worth staying overnight, perhaps somewhere such as the Koh Yao Yai Village resort (kohyaoyaivillage.com). To really get away from it all, check into the Tenta Nakara on Koh Naka Yai, where you can glamp it up at a resort that encourages skinny-dipping! Nothing like getting back to nature.