Phuket is world famous for its charms—warm beaches, energetic nightlife, delicious Thai food, and historic temples—and while we’re big fans of all of those, there’s more to Thailand’s largest island. Here are our five favorite things to do in Phuket province when it’s time for a change.
King’s Cup Regatta
What started in 1987 as a way to celebrate the King of Thailand’s 60th birthday, the King’s Cup Regatta is now a massive one-week sailing event held every December. The small boats, catamarans, and windsurfers have been joined by up to 90 big boats and 2,000 sailors in a typical year, making the regatta one of the top places to see and be seen in Thailand every year. The coveted winner’s trophy might be the main focus for some, but the ritzy banquets and parties are just as important for most visitors, who flock to the island for the chance to rub shoulders with high-profile yacht owners. If a day out on the sea does tickle your fancy, the competing yacht crews are sometimes understaffed—so if you have some boating experience, you might find a crew more than happy to welcome you aboard. If not, you can still revel in the excitement of live local music, dancing, and firework shows.
Phuket Air Park
Ever dreamed of flying a plane? Your vacation to Phuket might be the perfect opportunity to learn. Phuket Air Park is a lush private 50-acre estate opened in 2009 in the east of Phuket, close to Ton Sai Waterfall. The Air Park has its own flying school led by 30-year veteran pilots, and after the necessary training will let you take your own flight out over its surrounding tropical vegetation and the Andaman Sea. If you already fly, you can rent an aircraft and take your own jaunt up over Phuket. If you’re just visiting for a short period of time and looking for exhilarating things to do in Phuket, take the Air Park’s helicopter tour and experience the province from above, one of the best ways to enjoy the lush scenery. For an added thrill (and clearer views), you can even ask your Captain to take the doors off!
The Thai New Year begins April 13, and every year that day marks the first of a three-day celebration signifying transformation or change. The celebration in Phuket may be the wettest and wildest party of them all. April is Thailand’s hottest month, and that’s a good thing because Songkran’s highlight is a massive water fight on the streets. Bring your water buckets and water guns and don’t wear your favorite t-shirt, because you will get wet. Everyone gets involved young and old, and don’t expect to be excluded just because you don’t seem to be participating. Kids and adults alike will line the streets or ride in the back of pickup trucks armed with water weapons—and even the cops are fair game. Getting drenched is not just fun, it also symbolizes cleansing to bring luck and prosperity in the new year.
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
The elephant tourism industry and all its controversies loom large in Thailand, but at least one attraction in Phuket is ensuring the practice can continue ethically. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is a retirement home for elephants that rescues mistreated elephants and allows them to live out their days in peace, free of abuse. If this all sounds magical, that’s because it is. The PES founders’ commitment to doing things right in an industry filled with wrong is what makes touring the sanctuary one of our favorite things to do in Thailand. Visitors don’t get to ride the elephants, and human interaction is kept to a minimum. Instead, the emphasis is on learning and observation. For anyone concerned about the ethical treatment of animals, or anyone that is just learning about the harmful practices present in the elephant tourism industry, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is a must.
A little hard to find, this panoramic viewpoint is located up above Patong Town, between Yanui Beach and Nai Harn Beach. Once you’ve spotted the tall, white windmills at the top of the hill, you’ve found it. Once you reach the top—roughly 20 minutes from Patong town—sit back and relax under a shaded sala and have a drink, or shop from a jewelry vendor if you spot one. The real reward here is the opportunity to watch the boats go by, see locals fly model airplanes, or look down on Koh Man Island. Beyond its stunning view, there’s nothing flashy about Windmill Viewpoint, but it makes our list because it’s a quieter alternative to nearby Promthep Cape—and the view is just as good. Whether you decide to spend the afternoon watching the boats go by, take in a sunset, or both, you won’t be disappointed.