Phuket travel guide: Escape the tourist crowds and discover hidden gems


Escape the tourist crowds in Phuket with our handy travel guide

Featuring private islands, luxurious meals and Old Town gems

By Meenakshi Iyer  January 29th, 2020

With crystalline blue lagoons, lush tropical greenery and unending beaches, Phuket may be every traveller’s dream destination. Add in the flashy nightlife and the incredible local street food, it easily tops our bucket list. But there’s more to Phuket than stunning panoramas and idyllic beaches. Despite a devastating Tsunami in 2004, this island resort town quickly put itself back on its feet and has managed to create a thriving milieu of luxury, art and culture. So, if you have 48 hours to spend here, these are some of the must-visit places and experiences you need to tick off your list. 

Phuket Old Town (Soi Romanee):  Dotted with candy-coloured Sino-Portuguese-style shophouses, Phuket Old Town is the perfect backdrop for those Instagram-worthy holiday shots and there’s enough to do and see for the culture vulture in you. Soi Romanee, which roughly translates to ‘naughty with the ladies’ was once a red light district for the many Chinese labourers working at the tin mines. Today, it’s a hipster neighbourhood with many artisanal cafes and quaint restaurants. You can stop for a cold brew at Rush Coffee Roasters or walk into i46 Old Town, an 80-year-old Chinese shophouse. Marvel at the heirlooms painstakingly collected over centuries as you sip a cup of Chinese tea and bite into a piece of history as the owner, Roengkiat “Nong” Hongyok regales you with tales of his forefathers who came all the way from China and settled here.

Phuket Old Town

As you walk along, don’t forget to catch the vibrant murals by local and international artists. The most popular one is called Red Turtle Cake by Thai artist Alex Face, who fuses his signature character—Mardi with Ang Ku, a traditional sweet treat shaped like a turtle. If you intend to grab a meal in Phuket Old Town, why not chomp down on something you’ve cooked yourself. Many Chinese women offer cooking classes where you can perfect Hokkien and Thai dishes to impress guests back home.

Sino-Portuguese architecture as seen in Phuket Old Town

Laem Phromthep: Located close to Rawai Beach, this is easily one of the most photographed locations in Phuket. With spectacular views of the coastline and green rolling hills, watching the sun go down from the top is a sight to behold. Don’t be surprised if you spend an hour looking for the perfect spot to watch the sun go down; and be prepared to wrestle with Instagram bloggers jostling to nail that perfect shot.

Sunset from Laem Phromthep

Raya Restaurant: One of the most popular eateries in the city, Raya is housed in a Sino-Portuguese mansion that still features a lot of the original architecture like colourful tiled flooring and beautiful stained glass windows. Adding to this is the extensive menu featuring standout Thai dishes such as the crabmeat coconut curry, noodles with shrimp and peanut sauce and the popular omelette with deep-fried pork belly. Raya is where all the locals eat, so it cannot get more authentic than this. 

Tea and local snacks

Koh Khai and Koh Rang Yai: While many travel guides will point you towards the more popular Koh Phi Phi and Phang Nga Bay for some island-hopping adventure, we recommend you start your day at Koh Khai’s pristine white beaches. Enjoy activities like snorkelling and banana boat ride, then hop into your speedboat and jet off to Koh Rang Yai, an almost private island. Here, you can take long walks along the beach, set up chairs and enjoy a few beers; or if you’re like us jump into a hammock and grab a book to keep you company.

Red Turtle Cake by Thai artist Alex Face

Pru, Trisara: You can’t escape luxury when you’re in Phuket. And the best way to experience it is at the Michelin-starred Pru, where a modern gastronomic adventure awaits those with an experimental palate. Set in the luxury resort Trisara, Pru—which stands for ‘plant, raise, understand’—is run by chef Jim Ophorst. While it takes pride in its farm-to-table approach, but calling it just that would be a huge disservice to the incredible menu put together by Ophorst.

Desserts at Pru

His genius lies in dishes such as ‘carrots cooked in the soil they came from’ where a simple ingredient is treated with utmost care to bring out its amazing flavours. Other standout dishes include the Wagyu beef from Nakon Phanom and the black crab served with Phuket coffee. The six-course signature menu goes on like a magnificent theatrical performance with each dish demanding a standing ovation. And the end is even better when bonus mini desserts are carted in next to your table for you to pick from and enjoy.

Photographs: Meenakshi Iyer (Laem Phromthep, tea and snacks, Red Turtle Cake mural)