Phuket has a reputation for being Thailand’s most debauched island. And for a good reason. Bangla Road in Patong has girls swinging from poles in little bikinis. And men selling tickets to ping pong shows (if you’re unfamiliar, google it, I’m not touching that topic with a 10-foot stripper pole). However, there is far more to see and do than hang out on its most libidinous street. There are a lot of unusual things to do in Phuket.
What people don’t realize is that its wicked reputation all stems down to one road that is about 4 blocks long. It’s easy to miss. And if you did, you would never know the salaciousness that lives there. There is so much more on this island.
Some places on the island are more touristy than others. I’ve done the legwork to find the most unusual things to do in Phuket, away from the crowds.
Penang is only a 1-hour flight away from Phuket so whenever we are in the mood for a little getaway, we hop over. In the US, a one hour flight from Chicago would land me in Detroit. Here it’s a bit different.
The best part about Phuket is that since it is Thailand’s largest island, we can have any kind of vacation we desire.
- Want total relaxation = ✓
- Want party and nightlife = ✓
- Want culture and history = ✓
- Want an entire beach holiday = ✓
- Want adventure = ✓
- Want spas and luxury = ✓
- Want to learn to surf = ✓
- Want to shop = ✓
You seriously can have any kind of vacation you want in Phuket. It all depends on you.
So needless to say, we’ve been to Phuket countless times and each time it is totally different.
I’m a huge fan of vegging out on the beach for a few days, but my other (and mostly better) half, gets antsy. So, we always have to find a happy medium between beaching it, adventure, and exploration.
Here are the most unusual things you can do in Phuket. Except for the first two which can be done in many places, I have put the rest of the list in directional order from north to south, so you’ll be able to group things together.
1. Get a traditional bamboo tattoo-probably THE most unusual thing to do in Phuket
Sheila Dee (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Historically Thai Sak Yant tattoos are done by monks. They don’t use modern-day tattooing guns; they use pieces of bamboo with a needle attached. They create your design without communicating to you, so it’s pattern and meaning to you are unknown until he is finished.
While you can still get that done in some temples throughout Thailand, there are other options if you have a design in mind or want to speak English with your tattoo artist.
Unless it is done by a monk, it isn’t considered a Sak Yant, it is just a bamboo tattoo.
In Phuket, there are various places to get it done, some with monks, some at tattoo shops. But no matter where you choose, be sure it has good reviews, it’s clean, hygienic, and they don’t use the same pot of ink for other people.
Read more about the fascinating process, the spirituality behind it, and how to find the right place to get one, here.
2. Go spearfishing & catch your lunch
It’s no secret that the water around Thailand is perfect for diving and snorkeling. It is usually clear blue and teeming with wildlife. Learning to spearfish is just one of many underwater activities and one of the more unusual things to do in Phuket. You can take a course, take a day trip, or camp out overnight while feasting on whatever you’ve caught that day.
North Divers has courses for scuba, skin diving, free diving, and spearfishing. I personally haven’t used North Diving, so be sure to do your research when choosing any spearfishing outfit.
3. Visit a Buddhist temple inside a cave
Most people opt to go to traditional temples and the Big Buddha. While those might be fun, there isn’t anything unique about them. Since this is a list of the unusual things to do in Phuket, I’ve chosen Wat Suwan Khuha instead.
The caves are carved into a limestone karst-which is millions of years old. There are a few different caves to explore, but the largest one has a 15-meter golden, reclining Buddha within its walls. There are religions relics and artifacts scattered around the caves which have been left behind by devotees.
Along with a large colony of bats, you’ll see a golden stupa that contains the remnants of a clan of political leaders from over 160 years ago.
Most of the time, you’ll find a quiet monk meditating amongst a few guard cats.
To visit this cave temple, you’ll need to drive over the Sarasin Bridge to the mainland. It is only about an hour from the airport. If you rent a car, don’t park too close to the front of the cave. The local troop of monkeys will happily make trinkets out of your car’s mirrors, windshield wipers, and antennae.
4. Take a selfie while a plane is landing.
Near the northern tip of the island is Mai Khao Beach; a long stretch of fine golden sand lined with a few high-end hotels. It is also adjacent to the hectic international airport. About every 10 minutes, massive planes land directly overhead, and you’ll have the perfect opportunity to see the pilot close up. The water is crystal clear so you can just lounge around and enjoy the beach or stand up and time it so that it looks like the plane is about to land on your shoulders. But be warned, the planes roaring engines can kick up sand and blow away anything that isn’t weighed down. So, hold on to your sunnies and sarong; otherwise, you’ll be chasing them all over the beach.
5. Get a massage in a floating bird’s nest
The Coqoon Spa at The Slate Hotel is one of the most luxurious spas on the island. They built a human-sized bird’s nest that is suspended in mid-air and in the middle of a secret garden. Get a massage while listening to the serene birdsong from the forest around you. There is only one Nest so you must book in advance.
For an even more lavish experience, book the Coqoon Spa Suite which has the ultimate in pampering amenities: a private outdoor pool and shower, as well as a large daybed with a TV. The indoor treatment area has a private jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, and a Vichy Shower.
6. Go ice skating
Need to escape the heat? Ice skating on a tropical island is without a doubt one of the most unique things to do in Phuket. Head to the Ice Arena for a private lesson or class if it’s been a while, or you can just wing it and hope for the best (doctors in Thailand are super cheap). They even have figure skating and ice hockey classes if you’re an old pro.
The cost is ฿590/US$19 per hour for skating. Skate hire is included in the price; helmets and knee pads are available for free. Lessons start at ฿1000/US$32.50.
7. Buy a protection amulet made by a monk
Go to the Amulet Market in Phuket Town and buy an amulet. They are made from various metals, bone, and stone, and are for protection, good fortune, safety, success, or any sort of luck you can dream up.
Sometimes you’ll see small Buddha amulets in taxis or on scooters, those are for safe journeys. Many Thais wear them around their neck, it may be for luck, for love, for a better sex life, it all depends on the wearer and why they bought it.
There are no prices on them, you have to negotiate. The more expensive ones are made by the most famous monks. Some amulets go for as much as 1 million Baht (US$32,500) while others go for ฿20/US$0.65.
8. Dance on the tables with drag queens
Set inside a Sino-Portuguese shop-house, Ka Jok See serves large portions of family-style Thai food. Dinner seems pretty routine until the campy cabaret starts! But it’s not your average show, here you are part of it, no one is left sitting by the end of the night. Shirts come off, people don fluorescent wigs, and no wall-flowering is allowed.
There is no website and an empty Facebook page, so you really don’t know what you’re walking into, and I am not going to spoil it for you here. But believe me when I write, expect the unexpected, it’s unlike any other show you’ve seen. It is unmistakenly an unusual thing to do in Phuket, and a super fun night on the town.
You pay a flat fee for food and entertainment. It isn’t for the budget-minded at ฿3000/US$97.50 plus drinks. They are fully booked nightly so book ahead.
9. Go rum tasting
Chalong Bay is an award-winning distillery that makes small-batch handcrafted rums. To ensure sustainability, they have partnered with local sugarcane farmers who don’t use fertilizers and harvest by hand, preserving the pure essence of the cane. Take a tour of the distillery (฿450/US$14.60), and you’ll learn about their process while sipping a mojito. Afterward, you’ll taste all the other flavors they produce– lemongrass, Thai sweet basil, cinnamon, kaffir lime, and lime.
Or try your hand at a two-hour cocktail workshop. For ฿1700/US$55 you’ll get the distillery tour, and learn to make three craft cocktails. My two faves are the Spicyrinha and the Siam Twist.
10. Eat fried insects
If you deep fry anything with enough salt, lemongrass, and chili, it’ll be tasty. I promise. Outside of Wat Chalong, you can have your fill of all the flying, stinging, crawly things you’ve never thought to try. Taste grasshoppers, scorpions, ants, crickets and roaches, with a variety of sauces to heighten the experience.
The worms are the biggest challenge for me, anything squishy just puts me off.
If you can get past all the legs; crickets and ants are pretty tasty. Plus they are a great source of protein, the Thais have been eating them for centuries. Definitely, a unique thing to do in Phuket.
11. Catch your perfect wave in a bar
Yep, you read that right–you can learn to surf in the middle of a bar. At the Surf House the waves flow over a bouncy trampoline type surface so when you wipe out, and you will, it doesn’t hurt. However, it might hurt your ego since you’ll be the entertainment for the bar-goers. An hour of surfing starts at ฿900/US$29.25.
12. Become a mermaid or merman
Aloha Diving converted an old shipping container into a mermaid tank or Fun Tank. The walls are painted with underwater scenes of sharks and coral to add to your photo op. Throw on your newly adorned mermaid tail and jump in the tank. No experience is necessary, they always have a supervisor on hand to make sure you are comfortable in the tank. It’s not very deep, so it’s perfect for learning how to be a mermaid. Prices start at ฿890/US$29.
They have a few different package options if you feel like a couple of hours as a mermaid isn’t enough. Also, if you plan to ice skate as well as mermaid, they have package deals to lower the costs.
You can also go scuba diving/snorkeling with Aloha.
The Wrap Up
So besides the fantastic beaches, the fabulous Thai people, and the divine food; you now have 12 more reasons to visit the island. And you won’t be stuck doing what all the other tourists are doing. You’ll be too busy trying out the most unusual things to do in Phuket.
Want more info about Phuket? Stay tuned for next week’s post; a guide to Phuket. But if you can’t wait that long read the post I wrote for Nomad is Beautiful.