With age, I’ve become more skeptical of the beach vacation. They were a mainstay of my childhood spring breaks: the perfect opportunity to flee from brutal Minnesota winters. My parents used to joke that the only they’d only see my face during meal times. Otherwise, I’d be face-down in the water hunting for seashells, often amassing ridiculous quantities by the end of the week. I was easily entertained. Now, the proposition of spending more than a couple of hours baking on the sand or pickling myself in the ocean has me heading for the hills. I’m not an adrenaline junkie who’s unable to relax on vacation, but I like to give myself a few more options to spend my time other than laying on the beach…or laying on the beach.
That is, until I heard about Phuket. The largest of the Thai islands, Phuket gives the typical beach vacation a complete makeover. The option to spend time relaxing on beautiful beaches is padded with a lively night life, a very insta-worthy town center, several iconic religious sites, and (because it’s me) some seriously delicious food. This is a destination I’d pack a swimsuit for. Here’s my dream day on Phuket.
Visit the Jui Tui Shrine
Located near the center of Phuket Town, the Jui Tui Shrine is one of the most popular spiritual destinations on the island. This Chinese temple houses statues of several important gods, including Tean Hu Huan Soy, god of performers and dancers, where devotees pray for improved physical health. Besides the peaceful atmosphere such religious centers work to uphold, an obvious attraction is the stunning traditional architecture of the building itself (all despite relocation after a fire many years ago, and several renovations to the main building). The striking red roof is impossible to miss. Open to the public starting at 8 a.m., the Jui Tui Shrine seems like the perfect place for a little early morning photo shoot and a bit of serenity before a long day of exploration.
Explore Phuket’s Old Town
While Phuket is mostly famous for its beaches and night life, it’s historic Old Town is at the top of my sightseeing list. Unlike the party scene of Potang, Old Town is laid back, quieter, and a notably more authentic experience of Phuket. The colorful colonial-style mansions and townhouses that line the streets play host to small boutiques and restaurants. The best way I think to really get to know this district? Wander, take pictures, and maybe even get a little lost. (This trick works on “old city centers” anywhere I’ve found. You always end up stumbling across something you weren’t expecting!) However, I’ll be sure not to miss Phuket Walking Street. This street market is the place to try traditional Southern Thai cuisine, and shop for handicrafts. As I’ve said before, I like checking souvenirs off my list early.
Dine at One Chun
Situated in Old Town, One Chun is the more budget-friendly sister restaurant of Raya, which is located in the same building. The entire complex is family owned and operated. Natives of Phuket and visiting Thais often crowd out the dining room, which can only mean that it does traditional fare the right way. The draw here is Southern Thai cuisine, especially the coconut milk crab curry, often served with a side of fresh rice noodles. Spread across five dining rooms, the decor is throughly vintage, both thanks to the age of the building, and the collection of artifacts amassed by the restaurant’s manager. Like the neighborhood it calls home, One Chun is a true dose of authentic Phuket.
Soak Up Some Sun on Kata Noi Beach
A trip to Phuket would ultimately be incomplete without some time spent on one of the island’s many beaches. The cheapest way to get from Phuket Town across the island is by public bus. Detailed information on routes and time tables can be found here. Situated on the southwestern coast, Kata Noi beach is on the smaller side, but with little current and few waves, it’s perfect for swimming. Rocky outcroppings that bookend the bay also made for great snorkeling, but soft sand and clear waters dominate the experience. While low season (May to October) attracts surfers to the area, the atmosphere is usually calm. It’s a solid choice for families with young children, or visitors (like me) who value a little peace and quiet. The hills behind Kata Noi are also home to some of the best sunset views on Phuket. I plan on grabbing a table at any one of the “sunset bars” and soaking in the view.
Snap Photos at the Karon View Point
Before heading back to Phuket Town for dinner, my last stop on the western side of the island would be the Karon View Point. Located just south of Kata Noi beach, this scenic outlook is one of the most-visited on Phuket. While the climb is technically possible on foot, the steep elevation and traffic can make it challenging, especially with younger kids. Although more expensive, a safer alternative would be to grab a taxi. However you make the ascent, the photo-ops are more than worth it. The viewpoint looks directly out over the Andaman Sea, but the classic snapshot is of the eight kilometer vista of the western shore’s three beaches (Kata Noi, Kata Yai, and Karon). I plan on heading up in the late afternoon; late enough to catch some of that end of the day golden light, but early enough to have some time to enjoy the sunset with a refreshing drink farther down the hill.
Snack and Shop at the Phuket Weekend Night Market
After watching the sunset above Kata Noi beach, I’d head back to Phuket Town for the Weekend Night Market. Open Saturdays and Sundays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., it’s a quintessential flea market with a chaotic array of goods for sale. If you’re patient, you might be able to find a decent souvenir amidst the pirated DVDs and cheap t-shirts, such as religious carvings or handicrafts. However, even if you don’t buy anything, the visit alone is worth it. In my experience, markets can tell a lot about the essence of a place. To the right of the main entrance is the attraction I’m most interested in: the food. It’s a chance to try a variety of classic Thai dishes without the formality (or prices) of a restaurant. Snack as you walk, or grab a table, an ice-cold beer, and settle in for some people watching.