Phuket is the biggest island in Thailand, with 32 smaller islands dotted off its coast. The islands surrounding Phuket are a photographer’s dream and you might even recognise some from movies such as Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and The Beach (2000), starring Leonardo DiCaprio. With so many fascinating islands to explore, the best way to navigate Phuket and the surrounding area is, of course, by boat. Here we reveal the best day trips to do by boat, whether you’re sailing your own vessel or chartering.
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Koh Phi Phi
This is probably the most famous of all boat excursions from Phuket. Situated about 45 to 60 minutes away by speedboat from the Royal Phuket Marina, Koh Phi Phi comprises six picturesque islands, including the (in)famous Maya Bay. Better known as the filming location of The Beach, Maya Bay was closed in 2018 to allow its ecosystem to heal from the effects of over-tourism. Not to worry, you can still admire the island’s dramatic limestone karst formations from a distance. Other islands worth visiting include Koh Phi Phi Don, where you can check out the crab-eating macaques at Monkey Beach, as well as Phi Phi Le, which offers an abundance of snorkelling opportunities.
Koh Yao Yai
If you’d like to steer clear of the tourist droves, head to Koh Yao Yai instead. This sleepy island, located 30 minutes away from Phuket by ferry, is still relatively undeveloped so you’ll get treated to uninterrupted stretches of secluded coastline. Once there, rent a scooter to explore the quiet villages and rubber plantations or hop into a kayak to paddle through the thick mangrove forests. Before your trip back to Phuket, enjoy a hearty seafood dinner at one of the local family-run restaurants.
Because most people flock to the dazzling Phang Nga Bay to see the famous James Bond Beach, with its towering limestone cliffs that jut vertically out of the emerald-green sea, they may overlook this small floating village that is home to less than 2,000 people. Located just 20 minutes from Phuket by longtail boat, this self-contained village has a school, a mosque and even a floating football pitch strung together with scraps of wood and old fishing rafts. Despite the nondescript appearance of their training ground, the local side Panyee Football Club is one of the most successful teams in southern Thailand.
Koh Surin National Park
This national park is located about one to one-and-a-half hours from Phuket by speedboat and is popular with snorkelers and divers because of its waters that are rich with biodiversity. However, in recent years, visitors have been increasingly curious about the indigenous Moken people who live along the jungle-fringed beach of Ao Bon Yai. While the Moken were traditionally nomadic – travelling between the islands of Myanmar and Thailand and surviving on whatever they could harvest along the way – tighter government regulations have impeded the freedom of their movement. Nonetheless, the community remains close-knit and welcomes visitors who respect their way of life.
Home to nine islands with pristine coral sand beaches surrounded by crystal-clear water, this national park is a paradise on earth for snorkelers and divers. From barracuda and turtles to white and black-tipped reef sharks, and if you’re lucky, whale sharks – the water is teeming with marine life. Many underwater explorers opt for liveaboards that take you to the different dive sites over several days. Of course, you can also do a day trip – it takes about 90 minutes by speedboat from Phuket to the national park.
If you don’t want to venture too far from the mainland, this island just southeast of Phuket (about 10-20 minutes by boat) is perfect for a day trip. Here, you’ll find two scenic beaches – Long Beach, which is where most of the tour boats land, and Banana Beach, a rugged stretch of coastline hidden behind thick jungle. Young children will love feeding the many tropical fish that congregate here while the older ones can choose from parasailing, banana boating and kayaking.
Another popular day trip is this trio of islands that are just 15 minutes by speedboat from Phuket. Koh Khai Nai and Koh Khai Nok are more popular with tourists because of their sandy white beaches lined with beach chairs and umbrellas that you can rent for the day. There are also tiny beach shacks where you can get an assortment of soft drinks, fresh coconut juice or beer. For something a little quieter, the third islet, Koh Khai Nui, has no facilities but the secluded beach is the perfect place to let your cares wash away.
If you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion or perhaps just want a bit more exclusivity, consider booking a private Lobster Yacht that takes you to less-visited spots such as Maiton, a private island that is home to honey-hued beaches and swaying palm trees, and Promthep Cape, which is known for the most spectacular sunsets in Phuket. Maritime buffs will also appreciate the gold-topped lighthouse on Promthep, which houses many interesting nautical artefacts.
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