The name Phuket is synonymous with the west-coast district of Patong – a famous area dotted with bars, beach parties and banks of flashing neon lights. While it may be over the top, it has a lot to offer. From relaxing on Freedom Beach to shopping at Jungceylon and exploring the nightlife scene, here’s our pick of the best things to see and do in town.
You can visit Patong and many other destinations including Khao Sok Lake, Ao Nang and Hong Island, as part of Culture Trip’s exclusive 10-day Southern Thailand adventure – led by our Local Insider to help you truly discover Thailand, its people and its culture.
For an air-conditioned haven, visit Jungceylon, filled with glossy shops, fast-food venues and restaurants. Thai fashion brands sit alongside international names such as Rip Curl and Samsonite. In the food court, decent Chinese, Japanese and Thai restaurants include Le Siam and Fuji, alongside the likes of KFC, Burger King and Häagen-Dazs. The top-floor entertainment complex has a bowling alley, a kids’ play area and a cinema showing international movies in English with Thai subtitles.
You don’t need to go to Bangkok to see Muay Thai. Thai boxing matches take place at Bangla Boxing Stadium – right behind the Jungceylon mall – every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. For the best views, book a higher seat near the back; ringside pews are below the ropes, making it difficult to see the action. Fights begin at 9pm with junior bouts (featuring fighters as young as 12), while the highest-rank senior bouts take place close to midnight.
Phuket has some of the best waves in Thailand – with a monsoonal swell producing respectable surf between May and October. Surf House Patong Beach offers classes year-round – thanks to its in-house surf machine, which measures about 20m (66ft) across and delivers between 240 and 480 rides per hour. If you’re not into the sport, there’s still reason to come, as it has tasty fast food, cheap drinks and a party atmosphere.
A quiet beach near people-packed Patong? Yes, it exists. Freedom Beach is framed by rocky, rainforest-covered hills, making it reachable only by boat. As a result, it’s often empty – at least at the beginning of the day before long-tail launches chug in with big tour groups. The best way to have its soft white sand and turquoise sea all to yourself is to hire a boat at the southern end of Patong Beach, near the big bridge at Amari Phuket, and leave right after breakfast.
In Patong, you don’t have to book a luxury hotel to pamper yourself in a plush spa. Aqua is open for day visits, and there’s a long menu of first-class treatments – from standard oil and body massages to body wraps and Thai Ayurvedic sessions (during which your therapist stretches your legs, shoulders and back to great effect). Pavilions sit over mirroring ponds dotted with lotus flowers and lilies, and the air is filled with the sound of tinkling water and trilling birds.
For most visitors, the main pull of Patong is contained in three words: Bangla Walking Street. It’s jam-packed with beer joints, go-go bars and nightclubs. If you want to shake things up and get on down long into the night, Bangla is the top spot on the island of Phuket. Sink a few jars in Tiger Disco, or throw shapes to the sounds the DJs are spinning in the thrumming Illuzion nightclub. Whatever your bag, you’ll find it on Bangla Walking Street. Factor in a lie-in the next morning.
Transgender talents go into overdrive at the unrivalled Phuket Simon Cabaret Show, where glamorous performers wow audiences nightly with dazzling song-and-dance routines and colourful outfits. Unlike some local alternatives, this event is so above board that you can safely bring your young ones to watch it. Performers are also happy to pose for pictures with you after the event, so you’ll head off with a lifelong memento from a unique evening.
Alex Robinson contributed additional reporting to this article.
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