JAMES BOND ISLAND
Explore one of the most famous islands in Thailand by speedboat from Phuket. Khao Phing Kan—more commonly known as “James Bond Island”—is the filming location for the 1974 film, The Man with the Golden Gun. This area is also a popular destination for sailing as well as kayaking. Most of the organised tours to James Bond Island are combined with a visit to other popular islands and usually include a stop for a seafood lunch at the charming Koh Panyee, a nearby Muslim fishing village on stilts. Even though tour companies usually hand out plastic bags to protect your camera, it really is best to bring along a snap-shut waterproof camera bag. In addition, canoe around Hong Island, explore the Ice Cream and Diamond Caves, and wander around Naka Noi Island. You’ll see the best these islands have to offer with the help of a guide.
This is the island’s biggest show, with trapeze artists, a cast of hundreds, performing elephants and other animals and an exotic storyline that blends tradition with fantasy. But the extravaganza doesn’t stop there as FantaSea also hosts one of the biggest buffets in Asia all set in a theme park that offers carnival-like games, lots of shopping opportunities, a Palace of the Elephants, a Similan Adventure Centre and several other food outlets. It’s spectacular, it’s extravagant, it’s impressive and great entertainment value for all, certainly if you’re travelling with children.
Open: 5pm-11:30pm every day except Thursday. Show starts at 8:30pm.
There are several elaborate stage shows to choose from in Phuket, starting with Siam Niramit Phuket—similar to the show of the same name in Bangkok—which takes viewers on a colourful journey through Thailand’s history and culture, and features over 100 actors, 500+ costumes, and even a few elephants. For something more over-the-top, the Phuket Simon Cabaret is an extravagant ladyboy venue that combines music, comedy, and a lot of tight-fitting gowns. There are three performances daily, at 6pm, 7:30pm, and 9pm, Tickets are B1,000 each.
Although there are many places to scuba dive around Thailand, the waters in and around Phuket are home to some of the world’s top diving destinations. The island is ringed by a number of established dive sites, including several small islands to the south and east: Koh Hae, Koh Raya (Noi and Yai), Koh Yao (Noi and Yai), Hin Daeng, and Hin Muang (also known as ‘Shark Point’ as it is a habitat for harmless leopard sharks). Excursions further afield—to Phang Nga Bay islands to the east, and to the world-famous Surin and Similan Islands to the northwest—are also, for the most part, operated from Phuket. Of the dozens and dozens of dive companies operating out of Phuket, many also provide liveaboard trips to islands in the Mergui Archipelago off the southern coast of Myanmar.
There are three main elephant parks in Phuket, but Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is the pioneer of ethical elephant tourism here, and they go to great lengths to create as natural and peaceful an environment as possible for their jumbo residents. While you can watch and walk with these majestic creatures, interaction beyond that is kept to a strict minimum. There are informative morning and afternoon tours available, and you can volunteer at the sanctuary for up to six days. By contrast, at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary guests can touch, feed, and photograph the elephants, as well as give them a mud bath and then a rinse in the river. Somewhere in the ethical middle is The Elephant Retirement Park, which allows physical interaction with the elephants, including giving them a mud bath and a wash.
PHANG NGA BAY
The geographic region known as Phang Nga Bay lies between Phuket and southern Thailand’s mainland. Also known as Ao Phang Nga National Park, it’s characterised by limestone cliffs and karst rock formations that jut out of the water, as well as mangrove forests and small islands. A lot of cut-rate tours take wide-eyed visitors to Khao Phing Kan, which is more popularly known as Koh Tapu or “James Bond Island”, known for its stunning caves and lagoons, is much more interesting and organised kayak tours—like the ones offered by Simba Sea Trips—deliver a much more rewarding and enjoyable Phang Nga visitor experience.
In contrast with rampant development along coastal areas of the island, Phuket’s interior still offers many hectares of land devoted to the cultivation of rice, rubber, cashew, cacao, pineapple, and coconut, as well as Phuket’s last bit of island rainforest. The Khao Phra Thaew Royal Wildlife & Forest Reserve covers a mountain range towards the northern end of the island and protects a vast area of evergreen monsoon forest. Jungle hikes to Ton Sai and Bang Pae waterfalls are a popular activity in the reserve, and for just B2,000 per person, Paddle Phuket offers a six-hour jungle trek to these idyllic falls. The company, which specialises in stand-up paddleboard (SUP) excursions, also offers a host of other fascinating water-based island adventures as well.
Mining for tin, which began in the 18th century and drew to a close in the 1960s, is how the first fortunes were made in Phuket. If you want to “dig deeper” into the history of the island’s tin trade, the Phuket Mining Museum, which opened in August 2009, is the place to go. Located in Kathu, on the road between Loch Palm Golf Club and British International School—it’s an interesting diversion and features elaborate displays ranging from scale models of tin mines, to a recreated scene in an opium den. Looking at these very realistic, and often life-sized dioramas, makes one aware of many of the hardships the local citizenry once endured.
Open: Monday to Saturday, 8am-4pm. For info call: 088 766 0962
You are unlikely going to be alone here because the stop is popular with some of the bus tours of Phuket, but Karon Viewpoint is popular for a reason. From above, you will be able to see the three beaches north of the viewpoint. Couples go there to sit on the benches and observe the view. It’s a nice stopover if you are driving past and it gives you a bit of perspective on the island. After all, Phuket gets its name from the Malay word for hill (bukit) so there are a few places where you can enjoy the view from above. Explorers looking for convenience should hire a private (English-speaking) driver so that you can explore Phuket at your own pace.
Blue Elephant Phuket
There are hundreds of places to learn how to cook Thai food and perhaps even your hotel offers cookery classes, but for a true and authentic experience, the famous Blue Elephant Cooking School is a must. This is one of the best known restaurants in Phuket, set within an historic Sino-Portuguese style mansion in Old Phuket Town, and a real institution that specialises in Royal Thai cuisine. The chef is famous and the restaurant serves fabulous food in the beautiful settings of an old mansion house. Everything is great here: the food, the teacher, the setting, if you ever wanted to learn to make some of the easier Thai dishes back home, there is no better cooking class than this one.