All Articles 6 incredible places to visit near Phuket

6 incredible places to visit near Phuket

How to spend a day away from the island's bustling Phuket Town.

Elaine Lee
By Elaine Lee16 Apr 2024 4 minutes read
A floating eco-resort at Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park
Image: Tripadvisor/santi980

Aptly nicknamed the “Pearl of the Andaman Sea,” Phuket is Thailand’s largest and most visited island and an absolute haven for beach lovers. During my first visit, I became enamored with all manner of sea exploration and water sports—everything from snorkeling and diving to fishing. Within days, I felt less and less like a “farang” (foreigner) and more like a traveler who had found a new home away from home. It had a lot to do with the world-renowned hospitality of the Thai people. I was smitten and ended up staying for a month.

On my second visit, I broadened my horizons with inland getaways, exploring the region’s remarkable jungles, waterfalls, and animal adventures. Once again, I turned my trip into a month-long stay.

No matter your age, budget, or interests, there are many ways to sample and savor the region’s remarkable cuisine, culture, landscapes, beaches, and massages beyond Phuket itself. Below are six of my favorite regional day trips.

Relax on a beach fit for a movie set

A white-sand beach at Maya Bay
Maya Bay
Image: Tripadvisor/Sylviya

The two-hour ferry ride to Koh Phi Phi Island’s Maya Bay is one of Phuket’s most popular day trips, thanks to its time in the Hollywood spotlight in 2001’s The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In fact, the stunning bay became so famous that the Thai government closed it for four years in an effort to rehabilitate the region’s ecosystem after overtourism nearly destroyed it. Although Maya Bay is now open, it can still get crowded so I’d recommend joining a day tour to nearby Bamboo Island for a more low-key beach day.

Tip: If you’re spending the day in the Koh Phi Phi Islands and want some time off the beach, tackle the steep stairs up to three iconic viewpoints for breathtaking photo ops over the jungle.

Take a walk with Phuket’s elephants

An elephant at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
Image: Tripadvisor/Teresa Z

While you’re only about 25 minutes from Phuket town, you could spend practically the whole day at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary on the border of the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park. As it’s an ethical sanctuary, you won’t be able to touch, swim with, or ride the rescued gentle giants during your visit, but you will get to observe them playing in and exploring their natural environment during morning and afternoon sessions. It’s an incredibly magical experience.

Tip: If you’re short on time and don’t want to spend your entire day here, the sanctuary has an elevated 1,640-foot-long canopy walkway to watch the rescued elephants from above as they roam, forage, bathe and socialize freely below in the lush jungle. The walk takes less than two hours.

Explore a slice of scuba diving heaven

Aqua blue waters off the Similan Islands
Similan Islands
Image: Tripadvisor/Marina T

The 11 Similan Islands, about a 90-minute boat ride from Phuket, are covered by thick forests, dotted with huge boulders, and bordered by stunning white-sand beaches. Part of a marine national park with submarine peaks, canyons, caves, and passageways, they’re also a snorkeling and scuba diving paradise. The exceptionally clear waters here are home to more than 200 species of dazzling coral reefs, a profusion of reef fish, huge sea fans, barrel sponges, and plenty of shallow areas for snorkeling as well. Because the trip to the islands can take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on the boat, you may want to consider an overnight trip with a tour group like Sunrise Divers to maximize your dive time.

Channel your inner Attenborough

A boat on Cheow Lan Lake
Cheow Lan Lake
Image: Tripadvisor/tigerxmen

Khao Sok National Park boasts one of the most biodiverse regions on earth and is home to tigers, elephants, bears, reptiles, and more than 300 species of birds, just to name a few. There are also dense virgin jungles, tower-like limestone karst formations, and one of the oldest evergreen rainforests in the world. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to exploring the park—you can, of course, hike its trails, but we’d recommend seeing it by water. A raft or canoe tour on the Sok River or a raft ride through the emerald Cheow Lan Lake will put you at eye level with many of the park’s residents.

Tip: Since the national park is a three-hour drive from Phuket, you may want to book a floating bungalow on the lake to extend your stay.

Hop into a sea kayak in Phang Nga Bay

Kayaking in Phang Nga Bay
Kayaking in Phang Nga Bay
Image: Sightseer08738000737

Just an hour north of Phuket, Phang Nga Bay is home to 42 islands with intertidal forested wetlands, mangrove, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. There, you’ll find startling rock formations and sheer limestone cliffs jutting vertically out of the sea. It’s shallow and extremely sheltered, so exploring the labyrinth of caves, hidden lagoons, and caverns throughout the bay is easy by sea kayak or canoe. There are tons of tours to choose from, including a dreamy sunset option.

Tip: The bay is also home to Khao Phing Kan, a.k.a. “James Bond Island” which was a location for filming of the 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun and 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. If you want to see the movie magic up close, you can book a dedicated Khao Phing Kan tour, which includes lunch and national park entry fees.

Amp up the adrenaline

An ATV tour in Phuket
An ATV tour in the Phuket jungle
Image: Tripadvisor/Management

Consider a totally different land adventure: a thrilling ride through the jungles of Phuket by way of ATVs. On these tours, you’ll travel along rugged trails, past local villages, and through the island's rubber plantations. You’ll also make a stop at the famous Big Buddha statue for stunning panoramic views of the island. The photo ops are endless. (And if you want even more adventure, book the zipline-ATV combo tour that’ll have you careening through the jungle at ground level and among the treetops.)

Elaine Lee
Elaine Lee is the editor of "Go Girl: The Black Woman's Book of Travel and Adventure". This SF/Bay Area-based freelance journalist and attorney has visited 69 countries and completed two solo trips around the world. Her travel writings have appeared in numerous national magazines, webzines, and anthologies. She has shared her love of travel on numerous local and national radio, TV shows, and podcasts. Her website, ugogurl.com, is a leading portal for information on Black travel, Black travel writing, and Black travel media. “Go Girl 2” as sequel to her first book is scheduled to be released in March 2024.