The Solo Traveller’s Guide to Phuket

When on a solo trip to Phuket, find a base like laid-back Kata and then take day excursions to meet fellow travellers
When on a solo trip to Phuket, find a base like laid-back Kata and then take day excursions to meet fellow travellers | © Ian Dagnall Commercial Collection / Alamy
Alex Robinson

With palm-shaded beaches, steamy jungles and reefs glinting with fish, Thailand’s biggest island is a beauty. And there’s heaps to do in Phuket. Come for spa-soothing barefoot luxury, walks in forests of wildlife, glittering temples and sunsets over the sea – seen from your private plunge pool, cocktail in hand.

What’s the vibe?

Phuket is great for solo travellers: safe and friendly with a huge choice of places to stay. It’s easy to meet people. Local operators run countless activities – from massage classes to traditional Thai cooking, and group excursions to temples, forests and islands. The island is dotted with bar-packed, tourist-friendly coastal villages: see laid-back Kata, resort-lively Karon and rowdier Patong. All have accommodation within a few minutes’ walk of the beach – and so are good options for women travelling alone. If you’re on a tight budget, there are plenty of hostels, most of which have female-only dorms.

A Phuket trip overview for solo travellers

Phuket is great as a flop-and-drop beach addendum to a longer Thai trip, or as a destination in its own right. Either way, choose a base and take group day trips – that way you’ll meet plenty of fellow Phuket solo travellers. Allow a week if you want to see the best of the island at your leisure. Take as long as you like if you want to use the island as a base to explore Thailand’s centre-south – joining a dive cruise, overnighting in one of the myriad national parks or on one of the smaller islands in the Andaman Sea.

Go beyond the beaches and see sights like the Mongkol Buddha in Kata

There are must-sees beyond the beach. Clamber up the steps to the 45m (148ft) shimmering-white Mongkol Buddha, which sits over Kata Beach. There are also stunning sun-over-the-sea views. Or wander around one of the many wildlife sanctuaries – say, the Khao Phra Thaeo rainforest in the north, to glimpse gibbons and swim under waterfalls. Expect snorkelling, cooking classes and light hikes as well. Phang Nga Bay National Park, immediately north of Phuket, is dotted with islands and cut with sea-caves – perfect for a kayak excursion or day-long boat trip.

Where to stay in Phuket

With hostels, boutiques and luxury spa resorts at every turn, Phuket solo travellers can rest easy. It’s more about finding the beach or village for you. Partygoers prefer Patong – it’s raucous and ribald, with strings of bars and clubs running back from the beach. Karon and Kata are quieter, yet there’s still plenty of nightlife action and rooms at all budgets. The northern beaches and capes, including the vast half-moon bay at Bangtao, are home to more secluded, upmarket spots; a string of luxury spa resorts have luxurious facilities to keep guests on the grounds. Lively Phuket town mixes in-the-know traveller boho and local Thai. There’s no beach, but there is an arty bar, café and music scene, great markets and street food.

For more places to stay, check out our guide to the best hotels in Phuket.

What to do in Phuket as a solo traveller

Seduced by the beachy-easy lifestyle and the amount of things to see and do nearby, some Phuket solo travellers stay so long they never leave. Whether you’re here for the holiday of a lifetime or a lifetime of holiday, be sure to enjoy these Phuket experiences.

Laem Had Beach is part of the idyllic landscape on Koh Yao Yai island

Visit Koh Yao Yai island

Unspoilt beaches, coral reefs vibrant with fish, rainforest-swathed mountains: tiny Koh Yao Yai is a Robinson Crusoe idyll. And it’s an easy boat ride from Phuket. Book a group trip and come for the day, or stay overnight and laze on Laem Had beach – a gorgeous, pearl-white tongue of sand in clear, turquoise sea.

Take a hike to Bangpae Waterfall in Khao Phra Thaeo National Park

Take a wild waterfall walk

Phuket has great day hikes. Walk the jungle trails of Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, hearing wildlife skitter, to Bangpae or Tong Sai waterfalls: these drop over cliffs fringed with lush foliage into deep, clear pools perfect for swimming.

Spend a day at a floating village like Bang Rong

Visit a floating village

The sea around Phuket is dotted with floating villages, where fishermen live much as they have done for centuries. On a group tour to Bang Rong, you’ll spend a day with them, learning how to cut coconuts, make batik and milk rubber, seeing the wildlife in the mangrove forests and enjoying a traditional meal with a local family.

You can enjoy the best of the Phuket region on Culture Trip’s adventure- and action-packed tour Life’s a Beach: the Best of Southern Thailand.

Eating and drinking in Phuket

Phuket is one of Thailand’s foodie capitals, whatever your budget. The villages are fragrant with street food markets, and, in autumn, Phuket Town hosts one of Asia’s biggest vegetarian food festivals.

Enjoy Thai specialties at the night market in Phuket

Get used to chilli peppers before you arrive. The island has great regional cooking, but it’s fiery. There’s gaeng sôm pla coconut fish curry (a speciality in the floating restaurants off Coconut Island in East Phuket). The night markets in Phuket town or the Malin Plaza whip up sizzling shrimp pad thais and serve sweet ah-pong pancakes and o-aew jellied bananas. And for over-the-water dining, you can’t beat the farm-to-table regional cooking at PRU or Shimmer, or their cocktails at sunset.

Getting around Phuket as a solo traveller

To really get off the beaten tarmac, you’ll need your own wheels. And on Phuket – where more remote roads become dirt tracks – two wheels are better than four. Motor-scooter hire shops are everywhere, and rental costs are less than the price of a budget meal. But to avoid surcharges – or threats of keeping your passport without paying a tasty sum – be sure to photograph any dents and scratches on the bike before you set off, sharing the picture with the agency.

Two wheels are a great way to get around

Stay safe, stay happy in Phuket

By Southeast Asian standards, Phuket is safe. But take the usual travel precautions. Look out for pickpockets in the markets. Drive defensively – Thailand has a high road accident rate – and use more sunblock than you think you’ll need, especially on bike rides and walks. Solo women travellers generally find the main beaches the best places to base themselves, as rooms lie close to the sand on well-lit streets.

Cultural need-to-knows

Phuket is relaxed. But as with anywhere in Thailand, be respectful of Buddhism and the Thai royal family. Dress modestly in temples (covering legs and upper arms), never point your feet at a Buddha statue or touch its head, and never speak ill of the king. Public nudity and toplessness are strictly prohibited.

Fancy joining a small group of like-minded adventurers to explore Phuket and beyond? Sign up for Culture Trip’s 10-day journey of discovery Life’s a Beach: the Best of Southern Thailand. You’ll get stuck into nightlife, sunset dinner cruising, kayaking through mangroves and more.

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