Surrounded by the azure blue waters of the Andaman Sea, Phuket is the largest island in Thailand, and one of the country’s most popular tourist spots, renowned for its resorts, beautiful beaches and gorgeous diving and snorkelling spots. My first visit was back in 2015, and it was one of my most enjoyable trips – the island has something catered to everyone, whether you like partying, beaches, culture or food.
Four years later, I’m back for work – tasked with writing an article on what you can do in Phuket when you only have 12 hours. I’ve re-purposed it a little for this blog, so I hope you’ll find this guide useful when planning your own trip.
8 AM – Breakfast
Throw a rock anywhere in Thailand, and you’ll probably hit a 7-Eleven. They’re found at almost every street corner, and they take their ‘convenience store’ label very seriously. Thailand’s 7-Elevens are foodie heaven, with a MASSIVE selection of snacks, beverages, cakes, hot meals and whatever else you can think of. I can think of nothing better to start the day off than with a bowl of Mama instant noodles, a bottle of Betagen (their version of Yakult) and a CP Shrimp and Fish burger. If you’re pressed for time, you can eat at the store itself, where the workers will even heat up your burgers/whatever hot meals you need for you. Talk about service!
9 AM – Karon Viewpoint
Known locally as the Hill of Three Beaches, Karon Viewpoint is one of the must-visit spots on any tourist itinerary. From a small area atop a hill, visitors will be able to see three of Phuket’s main beaches on the west side, namely Kata Noi, Kata Yai and Karon, which form a fork-like shape when viewed from a distance. Of course, you’ll be getting panoramic views of the sea and lush green hills as well. Entrance: FREE
9.30 AM – Windmill Viewpoint
A short drive away is Windmill Viewpoint, so called because of a giant windmill that powers electricity around the island. This viewpoint is not as popular as the other, but no less breathtaking, which makes it ideal for photos (if you wanna capture a shot without crowds). There’s a gazebo here if you need to shelter from the hot tropical sun. Entrance: Free.
10 AM – Promthep Cape
Welcome to the southernmost tip of Phuket. Promthep Cape is particularly popular for its sunset views, but visiting during the day offers a different experience. There’s a lighthouse-cum-museum that you can explore, a shrine surrounded by elephant figurines, a restaurant serving seafood and Thai dishes, and a large old Bodhi tree within its grounds.
Hundreds of elephant statues and figurines both large and small, surrounding a four-faced Buddha shrine. Apparently the locals leave their own figurines here for good luck. Entrance: FREE.
11 AM – Big Buddha
Moving on to one of Phuket’s main attractions, the Big Buddha on Nakkerd Hill is one of the island’s most iconic fixtures. Towering 45 metres high atop a hill overlooking the entire island, the statue is made from Burmese white marble, which glitters as the sun reflects off its smooth surface. When I last visited four years ago, the place was still pretty quiet – but now there are hordes of tourists, so there goes the tranquility. It’s still worth visiting; just don’t expect to meditate in solitude here. There have been a couple of additions, such as a wide marble staircase flanked by nagas, and two stone Buddhas at the back of the main statue, which remind me of the temple of Abu Simbel in Egypt.
N in the corner for size comparison, lol.
12.30PM – Lunch at Mor Mu Dong
Before the trip, I scoured the Internet for local places to eat at, and one of the suggestions that popped up was Mor Mu Dong. Apparently the place has a Michelin Bib, and even had celebrity food host Andrew Zimmern visiting it once. It still isn’t super well known among tourists, so come for an authentic experience. What makes Mor Mu Dong unique is the setting, as it sits next to a mangrove swamp, and you basically dine in these little huts by the water. They also have tables in larger elevated huts with super quirky ceilings – they seem to have stitched blankets/bed covers together to keep out the heat. I think the resto warrants a separate review on its own, but definitely try the stuffed fried mackerel if you can take spicy food! Prices are also very affordable.
2PM – Cashewnut Factory
Cashew nuts are grown in Phuket and the southern provinces of Thailand, and they make for great souvenirs to take home (if you’re from a Western country, they’re much cheaper here too). Phuket’s largest cashew nut factory is the curiously named Sri Bhupara Orchid Co Ltd. Owned by a Thai Chinese family, the business started off as an orchid farm, hence the name. You get a sticker when you enter and there’s a corner with staff skilfully removing the shells (they’re poisonous). It’s a lot of work, which is why cashew nuts are pricey. Aside from the original cashews, there are also loads of flavours such as wasabi, chocolate coated, lightly salted, honey glazed, tomyum, BBQ (my personal fave!) and more. Do all your shopping in one go as they also carry other products, most notably local snacks. PS: Prices are fixed, so no haggling.
3PM – Phuket Old Town
The best place for a dose of culture and heritage is at Phuket’s Old Town, which comprises several streets and alleyways. Like Penang and Ipoh in Malaysia, Phuket prospered because of tin mining in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. which drew Chinese immigrants to the area. As such, Chinese names are common for businesses here, and the Sino-Portuguese architecture featuring bright, vividly decorated facades are prominently featured in its buildings. In recent years, the old town has become a hodgepodge of old businesses, hipster cafes and artisan coffee places, with plenty of stalls selling everything from jewellery to cheap clothing.
5PM – Karon Beach
You can’t go to Phuket and not experience at least ONE of its famed beaches. Patong is the beach for partygoers, but if you prefer a quieter, more family-oriented beach, Karon Beach is a much better alternative. White sands and crystal clear waters await! Because there aren’t many boats here, it’s much cleaner and safer as well. Entrance: FREE.
7 PM – Karon Temple Night Market
Plan your visit to fall on either a Tuesday or Friday, because that’s when the Karon Temple Night Market takes place. Located within the temple grounds, the market features stalls selling cheap goods such as T-shirts, souvenirs and snacks. Of course, being the foodies that we are, we made a beeline for the food stalls, which sell everything from grilled pork skewers to halal food by Muslim traders, padthai fresh from the wok, and bugs. Tried some and it was surprisingly not as gross as I thought it would be – quite tasty, even! Entrance: FREE.
8 PM – Drinks and Live Music
If you’ve had your fill of snacks and food at the market, then adjourn for drinks along Beach Road in Karon, which is lined with pubs, bars and eateries. We spent the night enjoying the sea breeze and live music at MINT by Movenpick (where we stayed – review up soon!), which serves cocktails and good wood fired pizza. Alternatively, head on to Karon Bazaar down the road for seafood fresh out of the tank and grilled over a charcoal fire.
- Public transport in Phuket is not very convenient, so I suggest engaging a local driver for the day (average price 250 – 280 baht for 8 hours). Alternatively, if you know how to ride a scooter, most hostels/resorts offer scooter rental services for much cheaper. Tuktuks can also be quite pricey for short distances (average about 200 baht from Patong to Karon, which is just a few minutes away from each other).
- Weather in Phuket is cool and dry from November to February, which is high season. Hot season is from March to May (during our visit temperatures hovered above 30 degrees and can get very humid. N and I are both from tropical countries and even we had a hard time being out in the sun for too long), while rainy season is from May to October. PS: If you’re visiting the waterfalls, rainy season is ideal because they dry up in the hot season.
- Currency is Thai baht. Money changers are available throughout the island.
- Be mindful when visiting temples and sacred sites. Most temples will loan you sarongs at the entrance to cover up before entering if you’re wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts, but your own scarf will come in handy.