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Phuket, still the wild child

Dodging ladies who aren’t, posing with iguanas, and clubbing with dinosaurs. Everything you want to know in this Phuket fun guide. Some sunny options for the intrepid as the island opens up and the parties commence.

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by Vijay Verghese

SEE ALSO Phuket Resort Review | Bangkok Hotels | Krabi resorts | Koh Samui | Chiang Mai | Thai spas | HK Yuen Long coffee, cafes | Hua Hin Guide | Palawan resorts | Pattaya | Mergui island guide | Sanya | Asia medical tourism | Child friendly resorts | Asian dives | Golf | Penang Street Art | El Nido fun guide and resorts review

Hotelier Beau Khemwanta Tang tackles a rock face at Railey Beach, Krabi

Outdoors enthusiast Beau Khemwanta Tangon tackles a rock face at Railey Beach, Krabi that serves up sweeping views across the azure coast/ photo: Beau Khemwanta Tangon

JUMP TO Transport | Beaches | Beach clubs | Nightlife, dining | Family fun, shopping, cruises | Spas | Golf

THE FIRST time I visited Phuket in 1982, I was taken to a tranquil bay lined by whispering casuarina tres and pure white sand arcing towards the shimmering sunset. A few kayaks and a small shack selling Coke and coconuts summed up all the discernible commerce. "This is the future of Phuket," my host, declared. And so it was. That was Patong Beach when it was simply a dream in a planner's mind, well before it muted into a mad muscle destination groaning to capacity with beer, bronzed bodies, bikinis, sloppy bellies, and sleazy girlie bars, all served or, rather, directed by the underground mafia and their outrageously-priced taxis, waterscooters, and sun umbrellas.

Phuket fun guide, packed Patong Beach

Patong Beach can get packed so pick a spot early/ photo: Vijay Verghese

The well recorded Boxing Day Tsunami on 26 December 2004 tragically flattened the place under a crush of sand and debris. Government officials once again mused that Patong - and Phuket in general - would now emerge as brilliantly planned, well-managed destinations to serve as a model for other tourism hotspots. The gentrification of Patong commenced in earnest.

That was 2004. By 2018 the 'new' Phuket had taken shape with Patong in the lead, and behold, it was a true mad muscle destination packed with girlie bars, discos, beer bellies, motorcycles... Taxis were reigned in somewhat following a military crackdown but old habits, it appears, die hard. Actually they didn't die at all.

Now, Phuket is stirring again. But stirring is an understatement. By late 2022, it had become a preferred destination for many travellers weary of Covid restrictions. Earlier, travellers needed to peruse the Safety Health Administration SHA Plus+ Certified hotels on the approved list for the Phuket sandbox reopening scheme from 1 July 2021. And then all restrictions were lifted in Thailand by mid-2022. More in our regularly updated Covid Travel Restart story looking at Asian destinations.

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Despite the maddening traffic and overdevelopment in much of the south - the north with its rubber plantations and lazily winding roads has thus far delayed the onslaught - Phuket has the makings of a true-blue picture-postcard destination. It has spectacular sunsets, a good range of food, generous lashings of brazen hussies, and 'ladies' with deep voices, firm handshakes and bobbing Adam’s apples who will convince you, after quite a few Singha beers, that they are all famous models of Swedish descent.

{Taxis have been reined in but old habits die hard. In April 2016 the military demolished the popular Surin Beach clubs but life jas returned to the coast

After a few Singha beers the world is a very nice place indeed. And yes, there are terrific beaches, turquoise seas, hideaway islands, fabulous arcing bays, giddy discos, and cut-price knock-offs of any designer label you care to mention. Indian tailors will leap from behind coconut trees to measure you on the trot and refuse to take no for an answer. It is a bewildering and strangely enticing potpourri. Khop khun krap. Or, simply, thanks.

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Haggling over taxis and tuk-tuks

Phuket fun guide, beach massage and hawkers

Beach hawkers and massage pitches are ubiquitous/ photo: Vijay Verghese

For transport, the simplest way to get around Phuket is to hire a Toyota Yaris mid-size (about Bt1,600 or so per day with insurance - petrol is cheap) or a motorbike, which is a riskier option on Thailand’s anything-goes roads. Both Avis (Phuket Airport tel: [66-89] 969-8674, www.avisthailand.com) and Budget (Phuket Airport tel: [66-76] 205-396, www.budget.co.th) have offices at various hotels and at the airport.

The ubiquitous red-van tuk-tuks are the conventional mode of transport and will charge from Bt100-Bt500 depending on the distance. Taxis from say Surin Beach (mid Phuket) charge Bt500 for the 15-minute ride to Patong and Bt700 for the 30-minute ride to Phuket Town or the Airport. Remember to set a price before you set off in any mode of transport, and don’t forget to haggle. From the airport to Patong may cost Bt900-Bt1,000 and up.

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Always a beach within reach

Shaped like a tear drop (or pearl) and connected to the Thai mainland by the Sarasin Bridge at the very northern tip of the island, Phuket's best (and most popular) beaches reside along the mid section of its "wild west" at whose epicentre lie the bright neon lights, shops, bars, hawkers and the scrambling massage ladies of Patong Beach.

The scenic west coast offers unlimited sundowner options and almost every spur and rise between the coves features a lookout point for sunsets. What beaches to pick? Each has its particular flavour and relatively good sand that compares favourably with Philippines powder in Palawan or Boracay. Far up north Mai Khao Beach is a broad uninterrupted swathe of shimmering sand followed by the rustic Nai Yang Beach. The quiet and well shaded Nai Thon Beach just below and close by the Andaman White Beach Resort - which boasts a mouthwatering private strip of white sand for honeymoon cavorts - is starting to sprout a few smaller hotels (expect room prices of around Bt800-Bt1,200) but its pace remains leisurely despite the arrival of Russian trippers. Find steak cafes and excellent local Thai food where a couple might eat for Bt300.

Best Phuket beaches, Karon

Karon Beach is desolate but catches good rays/ photo: Vijay Verghese

Layan is quiet and sheltered. Halfway down the west coast, Bang Tao Beach (hosting the Laguna family playground south of Layan) again offers a vast straight stretch of sand sloping sharply into the sea. Next down, Pansea Beach (host to Amanpuri and The Surin Phuket) is particularly virginal and perhaps one of the best Phuket beaches, while Surin Beach, once a pristine playground, it suffered some beach vendor and massage stall inroads making it slightly the worse for wear. The hugely popular beach clubs were shunted off the beach and eventually disappeared when the military brought in the bulldozers on 20 April 2016. All the clubs have been demolished. Just south of Surin, you'll pass a wonderful hidden beach that requires a steep slip-and-slide downhill.

Next up, the bigger Kamala Beach, which saw substantial tsunami damage, has made a remarkable recovery and displays no blemishes as it creates its own version of a 'mini Patong'. This is a long arcing beach, rougher at the southern edge with pebbles and receding tides beaching fishing boats. Beachfront clubs here too face the demolition crews.

Then come the rock-strewn bays of Kalim (not much swimming here) followed by Patong. Thirty years ago Patong was just a quiet backwater with no beach road. Today, if you doze off on the beach, you will likely wake up with dreadlocks and an army of tough ladies pounding your back before you can say “Oh Krap”. Patong has burst into prominence – and dogged notoriety – like teenage acne. This is where beetroot-faced travellers assemble to strut their cellulite wobble and parasailing skills. If you prefer women with bodies like ripening corn, you’ll have to head to Club Med armed with a good French phrasebook.

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Guide to top Phuket beaches, Nai Harn

Nai Harn far south is isolated and quieter/ photo: Vijay Verghese

South of Patong is one of cosiest hideaways in our book - the picture-postcard Freedom Beach near Le Meridien (about 20 minutes by boat from Patong). The beach is not accessible by car. It earned some notoriety in the early days as a nudist beach and attracted saucer-eyed tourists who passed by on local cruises, cameras primed. Then comes Karon, another long and rather barren - but sun-drenched - beach, sans vegetation. It is popular with Europeans. The road runs arrow straight past this stretch of sizzling sand with a row of small shops and cheap cafes lining it.

Still farther south is Kata Beach where some mangrove and fringe vegetation starts offering a few possibilities for shade. More private and a tad cleaner is the smaller Kata Noi Beach fronting the Kata Thani hotel. This is another elderly and belly-friendly strip. The southern (and eastern) coastline is rocky and less welcoming to swimmers though there are intimate sandy coves here and there, most notable Nai Harn Beach set along a deadend street frequented by motorcyclists, below the former Royal Phuket Yacht Club.

{After drunken shenanigans involving parties with baby elephants serving champagne and being ridden by sozzled souls, the beach club retired, unapologetically...

Sunsets are big business at Promthep Cape in the far south, which has turned into a tourist-trap-cum-parking-lot at peak times. Far better to turn off just before the "sunset view point" towards the cluster of tall, white wind-power fans churning slowly in the breeze.

Get there by 6pm, sit down and enjoy the view. As you round the coast you'll pass Rawai Beach, which is a scenic low-end tourist and fishing boat mecca with poor sand, and from there on the large public beaches peter out as you head back up the rocky east coast.

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Beach clubs - Catch them if you can

Dream Beach replaced Nikki after elephant shenanigans

Dream Hotel took over Nikki Beach Club, Layan and this soon ran aground too/ photo: hotel

On the quiet gentrified Surin Beach, bopping beach clubs, like the hugely popular Catch from Twinpalms, were rolled back several long metres from the sand, along with other clubs and restaurants, to the hill slope adjoining the strip beach road. Thyen they got shut. The road remains a rustic bog but it still attracts more motorcycles and the odd Ford pickup vans that leave deep rutted tracks in the monsoon.

The massage girls and hair-braiders arrived, changing the Surin complexion entirely until, finally, on 20 April 2016, by government diktat ' beach-encroaching' Surin beach clubs - from Catch and Bimi, to Zazada and the local restaurants - were all demolished. What plans the government has for this pleasant bit of real estate - once a mini golf course - remain a mystery. This Surin strip once boasted some of the hottest Phuket beach clubs, with saxophone players, bongo rhythms, beach volleyball and cold stiff drinks. The pace has slowed.

The good news is Catch Beach Club (www.catchbeachclub.com) is back, with its signature stretched white canopies, cabanas, great cocktails and dining and violet lights, not at Surin this time but close by to Twinpalms' Palm Seaside on Bang Tao and a chill-out lounge - Lazy Coconut. There's a Catch Junior too with special food for kids and activities. And at the new Kamala beach Twinpalms MontAzure resort is beachside dining at Shimmer.

The Kamala beach clubs fronting the sands were slated for demolition in May 2016 and thus the clean-up continues up and down the coast with some head-scratching exceptions. Twinpalms is moving its stylish beach vibe to Kamala where its Mont Azure Residences are coming up. Watch out for its HQ, a new bar and lounge concept. Hotels have had to reach deep to come up with ideas like Indigo Pearl's Shore Thing - a manmade 'beach' on a raised platform set back from the main Nai Yang sandy strip with sun chairs and oceanfront buffets.

Catch Beach Club is back with parties, on Bang Tao

Catch Beach Club, hip and happening, reborn on Bang Tao/ photo: hotel

Other Phuket beach hotels trying to hold on to sunlover guests offer foldaway mattresses in rooms that can be transported to the beach and stowed away in the evening. One hotel was asked to remove its swings from trees close to the sand and these have now been placed all around the resort.

A short distance north is the Bang Tao setting of Bliss Beach Club (www.blissbeachclub.com/) with timbered boardwalk, large comfy seating and a good mix of cocktails and wine fronting grassy lawns and the sand. Right next to Bliss is a friendly ramshackle collection of bamboo huts that attract biker families. You might pop in here too for a cheaper stab at the beach. Also in the general area is party pioneer, the hip and stylish Xana Beach Club with Attica (www.xanabeachclub.com) at the Angsana Laguna Phuket. It serves up a 35m pool on a raised deck with nice views and a taut tarpaulin canopy, red sun umbrellas, great drinks and private cabanas for up to 10 persons. Xana is sharp, well run and serves up all the polish - and price - of a good five-star hotel.

Heading out of the manicured Laguna enclave is one of the more ambitious sun worshipper set-ups at Layan Beach. The former Nikki Beach Phuket (62/11 Moo 6 Cherngtalay, Talang), that opened with a bang late 2013 with its sultry guest relations ladies, all-white Santorini décor, large blue free-form pool, pounding music, and large rattan sofas, closed shutters mid-2015 to be replaced by Dream Beach Club run by the Dream Phuket Hotel & Spa that both immediately ran into trouble as well and shuttered-down supposedly due to Covid.

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Phuket nightlife and dining guide

Phuket nightlife and dining, Palm Seafood

Palm Seaside brings real class and flavour to south Bang Tao/ photo: hotel

Opened mid-2015 looking north onto Bang Tao from the far south is the Twinpalms lounge and bar Palm Seaside (www.palmseaside.com/). It is, as its name suggests, a place for stylish seafood, lolling under breezy palms.

This is no sand-in-the-face dive, but an upmarket hideaway with tasteful decor and cosy romantic snuggeries for couples or foursomes and more. White sun umbrellas are stretched taut over the cream sink-in sofas on the timber patio facing the stone barrier fronting the curve of the sea. Step back to a modest black tile alfresco pool with sunken seating areas set in neat squares with cushions for dainty derrieres. Also at the main Twinpalms resort a two minute spin from here at Surin, is Oriental Spoon whose Sunday brunch is often the one to beat.

Mega restaurants along Patong Beach Road churn out acceptable Thai and international fare while those in sois (streets) further inland turn up the lights, volume and prices to snare beer-dazed visitors unaware that their green curry chicken should have less water and more spice. Just about every cuisine, including bland English stodge (pub grub at The Green Man, tel: 281-445, www.facebook.com/The.Green.Man.Phuket) is available along with Muslim "halal" and kosher. You'll be surprised at the number of Indian, Pakistani, Italian, German and Swiss restaurants all over the place.

At the corner of the beach road (more properly Thaweewong Road) and throbbing nightlife strip of Soi Bangla is the ever-popular Savoey Seafood (tel: 341-171, 6.30am to midnight, www.savoeyseafood.com) with obligatory cultural shows, dances and hordes of flummoxed tourists including snap-happy Japanese. Pick your frozen seafood lined up on ice by the yard.

Good Phuket dining choices, Boathouse Wine and Grill

Boathouse Wine and Grill is a classy beachside offering/ photo: hotel

Elsewhere, quieter and more interesting dining choices might include Mom Tri's Kitchen (which has a well stocked cellar and romantic views over the Andaman Sea, tel: 333-568/9, villaroyalephuket.com), the excellent Boathouse Wine and Grill (tel: 330-015/6/7, www.boathousephuket.com) that has made a sparkling comeback, and Krajok See in the heart of Phuket town for home-style Thai cooking in a Chinese shophouse where the dancing continues late with the odd sprinkling of celebrities.

The Two Chefs chain (www.twochefs-phuket.com) has three locations in Kata and Karon, and offers Western fusion cuisine. For fresh seafood try Mali Restaurant (tel: 284-404 ext 6, maliseafood.com/), which has branches both in Kata and Karon. The menu covers both Western and Thai. The star attractions are daily catches from the Andaman Sea. In Phuket town, try the popular La Gaetana (66-76] 250-523, www.facebook.com) a small family-run Italian nosherie with finger-licking-good food. If you're in the vicinity, this is a must but be warned that driving around Phuket town and most of the south is only for the intrepid.

On the east coast, Laem Hin restaurant lets you net your own fish before the meal gets cooked. And worth noting too are old stalwarts like Kaneang I and II at Chalong Bay for good value Thai seafood. If you enjoy noodles, try asking for the special Phuket yellow egg noodle called "mee luang" or 'mee sappam'. It is a spaghetti-thick soft yellow noodle and utterly delicious. In Phuket town, Tung-ka Café atop Rang Hill is a pleasant spot with nice views and decent ice-coffee. It is a popular spot for sunset views. Also check out Anna’s Phuket Bar & Restaurant /www.facebook.com/Annas) for more upmarket international cuisine, or for some Thai food head to Siam Indigo. Don't get overly adventurous with the menu or you may be disappointed.

Phuket bars with a view, Baba Next at Sri Panwa

Baba Nest at Sri Panwa resort in the south/ photo: hotel

Needless to mention, the views and menus are always enjoyable at the cliff-edge Baan Rim Pa (Kalim Beach Road near Patong, tel: 340-789, www.baanrimpa.com). This is a popular spot for sundowners or lavish white-tablecloth dining laced with liberal doses of Singha Beer or a genteel European red or white. Good nosh, convivial atmosphere and jazz. Bookings are normally advised, especially if you wish to catch a stress-free sunset. Lie back to tinkling ivories, sample Royal Thai cuisine and browse Baan Rim Pa’s worthy Thai Cookbook that, fortunately, is also available online. Or try their contemporary Italian at Da Maurizio.

Another excellent sundowner viewpoint, albeit, a farther drive down south, is the rooftop Baba Nest (babaphuket.com) at the swish Sri Panwa villa resort. A plain timber deck with floppy cream cushions ringed by water looks out over just about everything. Breezy, informal yet chic, and thoroughly entertaining without too much noise or unnecessary razzmatazz. Set a little lower down is the elegant and minimalist Baba Pool Club set in water.

{Pick up some excellent Thai cooking tips at the Blue Elephant Phuket located at the 100-year-old Sino-Portuguese Governor Mansion...

You can also pick up some excellent Thai cooking tips of your own at the Blue Elephant Phuket located at the 100-year-old Sino-Portuguese 'Phra Pitak Chinpracha' Governor Mansion, (tel: 354-355, www.blueelephant.com). Lessons usually run mornings from 9.30am-12 noon, and afternoons from 1.30-4pm. Coyote (www.facebook.com/Coyote) on the Patong Beach Road serves up feisty Tex-Mex and margaritas with a live band in attendance.

Our Phuket fun guide now meanders into the dim but none-too-discreet world of after dusk nightlife. Soi Bangla is the neon hub of Phuket, and even if you don't get to see it you will certainly hear it if you are within shouting range. Several open-air bars line the little sois branching off the road where hammered Scandinavian tourists hammer nails into sawed-off tree trunks demonstrating poignantly why men will remain proud Hunters while the women grab the home, the TV, the kids, and the life insurance.

Phuket's notorious Simon Cabaret show

Simon Cabaret, transvestite show with Broadway hits/ photo: cabaret

This short east-west street towards the north end of Patong links Beach Road with inner parallel streets and is lined by pubs, girlie bars and flouncing deep-voiced ladyboys badgering tourists for drinks and presenting commercial photo opportunities. The traditional Thai greeting of "Sawasdee" is replaced here by urgent cries of "Cola" and “You handsome butterfly". Several large sunburnt and beer-bellied butterflies are snared in this manner.

On past further photo opportunities with baby crocodiles and giant bored-seeming iguana lizards, past the earth-shaking Tiger discotheque and entertainment complex, and on to a bar once called the Hard Rock. Forceful complaints from the owners of that copyright prompted a modest though no less evocative adjustment to Rock Hard. Then the bars lost their appetite for fun and dissipated somewhat. The genuine McCoy arrived eventually and you’ll find the distinctive Hard Rock Café (www.hardrock.com) guitars and neon farther down Patong south (not on the Beach Road) amidst the stately white up-lit contemporary columns of the Swissotel Phuket Resort Patong (which took over from the dusitD2 on 1 June 2016). Also get ready to have your eyes pop at their lively Hooters bar and restaurant.

The timeless Simon Cabaret (tel: 342-011/2-5, www.phuket-simoncabaret.com) is in south Patong (not on the beach) on the link road to Karon with imitation Broadway shows performed by plumed and sequined transvestites (or katoeys as these demure lady boys are termed in Thailand). There are a couple of shows each day following which the “actresses” throng the car park insisting on expensive photo ops.

If you're still in the mood, pop by Patong's Banana disco (drawing a gay crowd), Hollywood disco, Seduction disco or the Lime bar. Most Patong hot spots get buzzing late, well after 11pm.

Phuket nightlife and cool bars, VU at Dream

VU rooftop pool bar at Dream Phuket / photo: hotel

Patong is also home to reassuring landmarks like Starbucks, McDonald’s, Haagen-Dazs, assorted Japanese restaurants, and seafood by the kilometre.

At the end of it all, you might need a safe haven like the stalwart and familiar Molly Malones (www.mollymalonesphuket.com/) Irish pub where beer flows late into the night. Hearty pub grub too. Meanwhile, dedicated nightowls with itchy feet might head to Phuket town and check out dance clubs like Timber Hut (www.facebook.com/pages/Timber-Hut), Jammin music club, and the ever-popular Kor Tor Mor (www.facebook.com/Kor.Tor.Mor) pub and restaurant, a Thai-style nightclub.

For something newer and more intimate and breezy, albeit not on the beach but within striking distance of Laguna and Surin, pop up to the VU rooftop pool bar at the Dream Phuket Hotel & Spa, Layan, for a different experience.

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Family fun - shopping, elephants, cruises

In Patong, spot scores of competing G Armani tailors. Get yourself a suit in a day, Armani style. You don’t need to speak Italian. These gents are Indian. Phuket shopping options in Patong are mostly of the trinket and gew-gaw variety. Grab a t-shirt or the latest DVD.

Set away from the beach along a busy road, the JungCeylon (www.jungceylon.com) complex is sleepily mod, lowrise and aimed at the hip crowd. Look for stores like Pandora jewellery, and AnneBra.

Near Phuket town you’ll come across the self-styled “world’s largest jewellery showroom”, Gems Gallery Phuket (tel: 255-001, www.gems-gallery.com). Open from 9am-6pm, expect over three acres of space filled with every kind of sparkle imaginable. The company organizes informative tours of this vast establishment and, if you're with your girlfriend or wife, chances are your wallet will emerge considerably lighter at the end of it.

Phuket fun for kids, Dino Park

Dino Park: Mini golf for kids/ photo: Vijay Verghese

Up north along the west coastr in Bang Tao at the serene Laguna Phuket, Canal Village (dev.lagunaphuket.com) offers a hassle-free and pleasant, if somewhat bland, shopping experience 10am-8pm with fashion and accessory outlets including Thai signature Jim Thompson silk shops (www.jimthompson.com) and factory outlets.

There is a currency exchange kiosk in the grounds. Find sports goods, a minimart, and beauty salon. At the very edge facing the lagoon is the friendly Albatross Cafe & Pub, that always does the trick as a pit stop for a quick nibble or a leisurely beer.

Farther north at Mai Khao, neighbouring the Anantara and JW Marriott and well beyond the airport is the relatively younger Turtle Village (www.facebook.com/pages/Turtle-Village-Mai-Khao-Phuket/) with some upscale shops along with touristy knick-knacks. It is unlikely you will be visiting here unless you are staying in the north. But it is a good pop-in for a bite and a cruise.

For a large Phuket shopping mall experience, there’s always the Central Festival Phuket (www.centralfestivalphuket.com) near Phuket Town. It even offers free shuttles to and from several Patong hotels. Think stores like H&M, ALDO shoes and Swarovski, and designer brands and outlets like ZARA, Guess, Mango, Dorothy Pertkins, Levi's denim and jeans, Nautica, and bright cheap shoes from Crocs.

Family friendly adventure guide to Phuket, John Gray's sea canoes

John Gray's Sea Canoes/ photo: John Gray's Sea Canoes

Heading south along the west Phuket coast, splendid family-friendly entertainment is available in the form of the ever-popular Dino Park (next to and run by the Marina Phuket Resort, tel: 330-625, www.dinopark.com). Here, close to Karon Beach, full-scale tyrannosaurs and triceratops roar as volcanoes heave and smoke erupts within a very convincing Jurassic Park mini-golf theme park. Dino Park is open from 10am till midnight. They also have a Flintsone-style eatery that does good Thai nosh and more. Swing out.

If you wish to get wet and stay cool, the Centara Grand West Sands Resort & Villas has a huge water park with giant slides and more to keep everyone wet, less wild, tired, and placated.

Daytime Phuket excursions range from the vigorous to the ridiculous. The former includes John Gray's Sea Canoe (tel: [66-76] 254-505/6/7, www.johngray-seacanoe.com), who will paddle you out for a kayak exploration of the azure coast. Explore full-day Similan Islands or Koh Phi Phi tours, browse elephant safaris, leisurely white-water rafting in Phang Nga and snorkelling trips to outlying coral reefs.

{Phuket excursions range from the vigorous to the ridiculous. The former includes breezy sea canoe rides. Or visit an 'upside down' house...

Alternatively, Phuket Adventure (www.phuketadventure.com/) can rustle up most kinds of expeditions and diving tours, or try the more upscale Phuket Adventures World (phuketadventures.world/) that organises island-hopping speedboat adventures between Phang Nga, Phi Phi Island, and Krabi.

Phuket fun guide, elephants at Siam Safari

Siam Safari elephants delight kids/ photo: Siam Safari

Movie buffs might try Andaman Leisure Phuket (www.andamanleisurephuket.com), which will whisk you to the much-photographed James Bond Island in Phang Nga. As the name suggests, James Bond Island was the film location for The Man with the Golden Gun, and just about every operator will attempt to dispatch you there at an even better price. Several operators offer diving in the Similans, which is a longer expedition, and other closer-to-home Phuket dives and underwater Scuba adventures.

The best people to talk with for off-road nature adventure are Siam Safari (tel: 280-116, 280-107, www.siamsafari.com). David Attenborough has used their services so you’ll be in good hands. An alternative Phuket cruise and game fishing option is to link up with Wahoo cruises (tel: [66-76] 281-510, or www.cruises-phuket.com) and do an island spin on quality powerboats.

Still in need of kid-friendly fun? Venture out to the Patong Go-Kart Speedway (tel: 321-949, www.gokartthailand.com) where the kids have been shoved aside by speed-crazed adults (well, not entirely), and the energetic can trek up to Ton Sai waterfall (off highway 402 at junction with 4030) or the Kathu falls (off 4020 not far from the go-hart track).

Nervous parents used to take their brood to Laguna Phuket for a safe elephant plod. Alas, the resident baby elephants who used to endlessly serve up thrilling photo and banana feeding opportunities have been let go after row at the former Nikki Beach Club (nothing to do with Laguna) over drunken revelry involving a hapless baby elephant. Following the social media furore, elephants were quietly removed from the programme.

Adrenaline rush, bungy jump near Kathu Falls

Bungy Jumping not far from Patong/ photo: Jungle Bungy

Check out Phuket International Horse Club (tel: [66-76] 324-199, www.phukethorseclub.com) for some family horse-riding options including a canter along the beach. Musclebound corporates can sign up for Laguna Phuket’s half or full-day team-building hernia-popping Quest (/dev.lagunaphuket.com/MICE/quest) programme involving a rope course, rock-climbing and several more activities for those eager for a raise.

Adrenaline junkies could head to Jungle Bungy Jump (tel: 321-351, www.phuketbungy.com) not far from Patong Beach, which features hair-raising and death-defying offerings like backwards bungy and catapult bungy from atop a 50m tower.

How about changing your perspective entirely? Not far from Siam Niramit is the utterly mad Baan Teelanka, an upside down house complete with an upside down tuk-tuk hanging from the ceiling. Here you can literally be "dancing on the ceiling" if not in the loos (unless you care not for the laws of gravity), and later you can lose yourself in a labyrinthine 1,000sq m garden maze with hedgerows trimmed just like in Britain. Baan Teelanka is open from 10am to 6pm at Bt340 per adult and Bt190 for kids. There is a separate, lower, fee for the Maze.

Those looking for shows and culture might enjoy the Siam Niramit Phuket (tel: 335-000, www.siamniramit.com) cultural heritage show, which colourfully presents Thai history, culture and religion in a staggering 1,740-seat theatre.

Top Thai spas in Phuket, Banyan Tree

Banyan Tree Spa, plush and friendly/ photo: hotel

Shows run at at night usually every day except Tuesdays, but gates open at 5.30pm to allow visitors to enjoy outdoor performances, elephant rides, and even a traditional Thai village with a floating market.

Offering a different sort of spectacle at quieter Kamala is the tad over-the-top but fairly slick Phuket Fantasea (tel: 385-111, www.phuket-fantasea.com), a sound-and-light extravaganza.

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Steamy spa escapes

Numerous Thai spas have sprung up in recent years, many attached to resorts. The pool-villa Banyan Tree resort is a dedicated and exceedingly plush facility with crisp friendly service. Of course the jewel in the crown here is Banyan Tree Spa that offers a smorgasbord of selection from full-day workouts to customised scrubs, massage, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy and treatments like the Royal Banyan herbal pouch massage. Feeling indulgent? Book into one of the Spa Villas.

For something smaller in scale, visit the Hideaway Day Spa in Laguna (tel: [66-76] 271-549, www.phuket-hideaway.com). Set in green environs, the spa's small salas (pavilions) look onto a small lagoon. Dip into skin repair, herbal aromatherapy, massage and steam saunas. There's a Hideaway Spa in Patong too.

Phuket spas guide, Spa Cenvaree

Spa Cenvaree at Centara Grand Beach Resort/ photo: hotel

The Aman Spa at Amanpuri, occupies its own private headland with secluded treatment pavilions and meditation salas. Nearby at Surin Beach the chic Twinpalms offers nine treatment rooms at the Sun Spa Esthederm. Check out sun treatments by Esthederm, varied massages and wraps.

Several hotels offer excellent spa facilities, and worth mentioning are the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa with its Mandara Spa that does everything from kids' wellness to body scrubs and wraps and romantic massage sessions for couples. Explore the sea-fronting Spa Cenvaree at the Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket. Try the three-hour Wanalee 'royal treatment' or the slightly longer 'honeymoon retreat' with body brushing, mocha mud wrap and vanilla shea butter massage.

Remember, just about every shack with two coconuts and a bottle of oil has a spa signboard up. Shop carefully but it is hard to go terribly wrong. Also see our more detailed Thailand spas guide.

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Golf is no handicap at all

No Phuket fun guide would be complete without a sprinkling of golf courses and club greens. You don’t need to hug a tree but you might try teeing off at the immaculatly upgraded 18-hole Laguna Phuket Golf Club (tel: [66-76] 270-991/2, www.lagunaphuketgolf.com) that returned with fresh verdure in early 2015 to delight Laguna's well-heeled patrons.

Phuket golf courses, Laguna

Laguna Golf, new greens/ photo: client

Or try your hole-in-one skills at the scenic Blue Canyon Country Club (tel: [66-76] 328-088, www.bluecanyonclub.com/golf/). Blue Canyon in the far north of the island offers two courses, the Canyon Course (with its signature Hole 13 dubbed 'Tiger Hole' after Tiger Woods, and the longest par-3 in Thailand at Hole 17), and the Lakes Course. Blue Canyon runs a Spa Lodge on site with 32 rooms.

Other choices include the 27-hole Phuket Country Club (tel: [66-76] 319-200/1/2/3/4, www.phuketcountryclub.com), which includes the 18-hole 'Old Course', and a 9-hole 'Championship' course. There are also 52 driving bays at this place so swing out big time. The caddie for an 18-hole game is Bt400. The Phuket Country Club is near Kathu Falls mid-island not far from Patong.

Also in the central island Kathu District are the Loch Palm Golf Club (tel: [66-76] 321-930, www.mbkgolf.com/lochpalm) and the Red Mountain Golf Club (www.mbkgolf.com/redmountain), both run by MBK Golf. Riverdale is another course managed by the MBK group so there's no dearth of putting and swinging opportunities here. This is former tin mining country and the golf - despite its water guzzling - has transformed the area into a scenic escape.

Located in the secluded and still eminently green northeast of the island, the Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa (tel: [66-76] 310-888, www.missionhillsphuket.com) is just ten to 15 minutes from the airport.

Golfing in Phuket, Thailand, Blue Canyon

Scenic Blue Canyon, Phuket has two courses/ photo: club

Mission Hills operates a hotel at the course with 72 rooms. This is a course with open ocean views, How much will all this dent the wallet?

Green fees for 18 holes at Mission Hills are Bt4,500 with a Bt400 caddy fee. The 'follower' fee for non-golfers is Bt1,200. Good thing this isn't Instagram. This is about par for the course around the island though the Blue Canyon's 18-hole Canyon Course is steeper with a Bt5,600 green fee.

The Laguna Phuket Golf rate for visitors on an 18-hole charge is Bt5,200 (hotel guests at Bt4,420). Check all courses for low season rates too.

Now all you need to save money for is transport. But heck, then there's that traffic! Ah well, you can't have your cake and eat it too, can you? Enjoy Phuket on a platter.

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