Phuket, an island just off the coast of southwest Thailand, is all about pristine beaches, amazing snorkeling, and kicking back with a local Singha beer or two. Measuring about 210 square miles, this is the largest island in Thailand. Beyond the beach, there are elephant camps where you can ride or feed the animals and the striking Wat Chalong monastery, with its gleaming golden spires and Buddhas.
What We Love
Eating: Don't miss the chance to have lunch in port. The casual restaurants lining the beach towns offer classic Thai cuisine such as pad Thai (a stir-fried noodle dish), tangy papaya salad, and spiced green curry chicken.
Independent Touring: Hire an open-air tuk tuk or a taxi for the day and see the island at your own pace. There are great views at Phromthep Cape at Phuket’s southern tip, and at the quiet Nai Harn Beach.
Best Known For
Beaches: The dreamy resort island of Phuket is filled with hotels and time-shares, and lots and lots of beaches. The most popular strands include Kata, Patong, and Karon. Chairs are available to rent on most, and it's common to see locals strolling the shoreline selling sarongs, souvenirs, and drinks. Many beaches are within walking distance to the breezy, casual restaurants.
Snorkeling: There are few places in the world that have such a diverse kaleidoscope of vibrant sea life so easily spotted in crystalline waters. Guided excursions can be arranged at a variety of dive centers throughout the island.
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Who It's Best For
Families: Thanks to the long stretches of beach, the abundance of water activities, and the opportunities to interact with Asian elephants, children will cherish their day on Phuket.
Insta-Addicts: This region of Thailand with its surrounding islands is so photogenic, it's been featured in many a film — “James Bond,” we're looking at you. From the open-air food markets and casual eateries to the high-end resorts and endless beaches, there are countless photo ops around nearly every corner.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It's a High Traffic Area: It's not uncommon for Jet Skis, speedboats, and parasailing tours to hug the shore just a little too close to all the bathers and sunners.
Heidi Sarna is a Singapore-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.