The Local’s Guide to Phuket
Like an ocean tide, Phuket has seen highs and lows of international tourism. But today, it’s refined gastronomy. Breathtaking beaches and world class mix of accommodation and entertainment options have helped the province to reclaim its reputation as Thailand’s bustling paradise.
Swept by some of the planet’s bluest waters, cooled by lush rainforest and inspiring mountain ranges, Phuket comes close to paradise – physically at least.
But an influx of backpackers in the 70s saw this beautiful Thai island lose some of its shine, thanks to environmental degradation and a rise in crime. Over ensuing decades, the overwhelming presence of foreigners prompted many Thais to seek out alternative holiday destinations.
Not so today, however, as Phuket shakes off its seedy reputation and re-emerges as a sophisticated island destination favoured by Thais and foreigners alike. New luxury resorts, boutique hotels and world-class restaurants have helped Phuket redefine itself as one of the world’s most enticing holiday islands, ideal for couples, families or even the solo traveller.
Our local sources share their favourite places to eat, stay and play when visiting Phuket.
Phuket’s long and rich history as a major trading port for Arabs, Malays, Indians, Burmese and Chinese is evident in the local food. Must-try street foods include: kiean – deep fried sausage made from pork and taro, served with a sweet sauce; kanom jeen Phuket – thin, round, rice noodles served in a curry and topped with fresh vegetables, pickled mustard greens, finely sliced banana leaf and other condiments; and roti – an Indian style flat bread served as sweet or savoury, the best of which can be found at Thaew Nam Roti, an iconic street food vendor that has been serving for more than 70 years.
Try Blue Elephant, one of the world’s most renowned Thai restaurants, for a more refined introduction to local food. Specialising in Royal Thai cuisine originally created for the Royal Palace, the Blue Elephant brand can now be found in 12 countries around the world.
In Phuket, Blue Elephant is set in an exquisitely renovated, Sino-Portuguese mansion, a historical landmark since its construction over a century ago. If the vast menu seems a little overwhelming, our sources recommend the set menu, which includes options like red curry crab soufflé, duck breast with tamarind sauce, and laab salmon – a spicy, Thai-style salmon tartar packed full of fresh herbs.
If you’re looking for more familiar Thai food, try Raya Thai Cuisine. Frequented by Thai celebrities and politicians, this charming restaurant inhabits a traditional Phuket-style house and offers an array of local specialties such as moo hong – braised pork in a pepper and garlic sauce, as well as more recognisable dishes such as gai pad met mamuang – stir fried chicken with cashew nuts. A feast for a family of four, including entrees and drinks, costs about AUD$75 – bargain!
If your budget permits, THE place to stay in Phuket is Sri Panwa. Having hosted more international A-list celebrities than we have space to name (think Snoop Dogg, Rita Ora and Gordon Ramsay), this is the ultimate luxury experience. The view alone is worth the nightly price tag (prices start from around AUD$900 per night), but it’s the personal touches and attention to detail that deem Sri Panwa worthy of Lonely Planet’s title of ‘Best Resort Hotel’ in Thailand.
Rocking chairs at the dinner table, complimentary mini bars stocked with icy poles, and iPods pre-loaded with playlists in each villa, this is a resort unlike any other. The only downside is that with an infinity pool overlooking the dramatic coastline, a private beach club, numerous restaurants and bars, cooking school and day spa, venturing off resort grounds to explore Phuket will be very difficult.
For a little luxury without the same price tag (prices start from about AUD$225 a night), try the new Wyndham Sea Pearl Resort Phuket. Nestled amongst 16 acres of lush tropical hillside, the resort boasts a breathtaking 180-degree view of the Andaman Sea. The resort’s sleek, contemporary design complements the stunning surrounds, where every happy snap is worthy of a postcard.
The Sea Pearl is within easy reach of the area’s most popular destinations, including Patong Beach – Phuket’s iconic bustling beachfront. The resort boasts a state-of-the-art fitness centre with fully-equipped gym, yoga room, kids’ club, eight swimming pools, four restaurants and private yacht and helicopter charters.
If you prefer luxury with your feet firmly planted on the ground, the onsite five-star day spa is renowned as one of the best in the area, with eight treatment rooms equipped with their own bathroom and shower, wardrobe, sound system and iPod docking station.
Although technically a tourist attraction, our sources ensure us that Phuket FantaSea is as loved by locals as it is by visitors. A highly-entertaining crash course in Thai history and culture, Phuket FantaSea could best be described as Las Vegas show meets history museum. For the full experience, purchase tickets for dinner and the show. Gates open at 6pm, leaving plenty of time to indulge in the buffet dinner and explore the side show games and stalls before the main show begins at 9pm.
To escape the crowds, head to the less-populated beaches of Karon or Kata. Lounge chairs and umbrellas ensure a comfortable day at the beach, minus the hustle and bustle of Patong’s main beach.
While there are numerous day trips and tours available to nearby islands, many attract crowds of tourists. If you’re willing to travel a bit further, a day trip to the Similan Islands will be worth your while. Normally open to the public from October to May (dates may change from year to year), the Similan Islands offer spectacular snorkelling, scuba diving and sailing. On land you may spot crab-eating monkeys, dusky langurs, squirrels, bats, lizards and a great variety of birds.
Copyright: Kevin Hellon
Taew Nam Roti
Cnr Thalang & Thepkasattri Rd, Phuket Town, +66 76 210 061
Blue Elephant Phuket
Krabi Road 96, Phuket Town, +66 76 354 355
Raya Thai Cuisine
48 New Debuk Cross Rd, Phuket Town, +66 76 218 155
88 Moo 8, Sakdidej Rd, Vichit, Muang, Phuket, +66 76 371 000
Wyndham Sea Pearl Resort Phuket
12 / 1-9 Prabaramee Rd Kathu, Phuket, +66 76 303 500