The biggest island in Thailand is stocked with adventure, cheap food, and – of course – panoramas that’ll make all your friends jealous. But it’s also home to the creature comforts that some of us (including yours truly) look for in a beach getaway. Here’s how to kick back without slumming it out completely.
Bangtao and Cherngtalay Markets
Craving for cheap local food? There's a daily night market, from 4pm to 9pm, that happens at three different locations during the week: Tesco Lotus (this is the biggest of the lot) on Mondays and Thursdays; Cherngtalay Police Station on Wednesdays and Sundays; and Bangtao Road on Tuesdays and Fridays.
At the markets, pick at a wide range of Thai snacks. You have the weird – fried crickets and grasshoppers – to the more familiar, like sausages, quail eggs, dried squid and banana fritters. And of course, there are all your usual souvenirs, bags, sandals and clothes.
Go sea kayaking around Thalu Island, where you get to weave around giant stalactites, caves and limestone cliffs. The inflatable kayaks can also venture into tidal lagoons or what the locals call 'hong', which are only accessible at certain tides when the vessels can enter through cave openings that are otherwise underwater.
The best part? An experienced guide does the paddling for you, so your hands are free to snap pictures of the dramatic scenery and calm, clear waters.
James Bond Island
Remember the 1974 Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, and the odd limestone cliffs jutting out of the beautiful waters? Yes, the flick was filmed in Phuket, at Koh Tapu (it means 'nail island' in Thai).
Koh Tapu is now commonly referred to as James Bond Island, and sees hundreds of tourists visiting it each day eager to take selfies at the iconic location. There are also shops around the island entrance where you can get bikinis, sarongs and various tchotchkes.
Koh Panyi Floating Village
This floating village is built on stilts over a small island, less than 400 metres long. It is touristy, though – busloads of them stop by for a seafood lunch by the waterfront. If anything, stay for the view. And a steaming bowl of tom yum, which is more fragrant than spicy.
After filling your belly, walk it off in the maze of shops hawking seashells, Thai iced tea, dried goods and clothes. But be warned: the village children have taken to touting overpriced souvenirs to tourists.
This large shopping complex opened just four years ago and houses boutique shops, cafés, restaurants, bars, a yoga studio, spa, and a huge Western-style supermarket. The Villa Market supermarket means you don’t have to go without your urban comforts – it's got food and drinks more suited to an NTUC Finest than a Thai supermarket. On Fridays, the parking area transforms into a night market, where visitors can find handcrafted souvenirs and sample local street food.
More adventurous folks can head to Jungle Xtrem Adventures Park to walk, climb, balance and jump from tree to tree via suspended bridges, walkways, nets and other fun challenges. Each person is provided a harness, a double lanyard, two carabineers, one sling and a pulley to keep you safe. If you're bringing the kids, they have to be above four to make like Tarzan.
Where to stay
Think of Phuket and luxurious villas with overbearingly polite staff come to mind. If you're looking for a beach holiday that's less stuffy but still charmingly pleasant, stay at the fuss-free Cassia Phuket serviced apartments, opened by Banyan Tree.
That's not to say it's shabby. The hotel has a chic pool that overlooks a lagoon, and since it's located within Banyan Tree's Laguna Phuket Resort Complex, you get access to the private Bang Tao beach – it's one of the longest in Phuket, so you'll have plenty of space.
The rooms all come with a kitchenette, and the 24-hour Market 23 café in the lobby stocks groceries so you can cook up a storm at affordable prices. Also located within Cassia Phuket is Chill Chill Spa, a small and affordable spa for guests too lazy to drag themselves into town for even cheaper options. The spa is new, sparkly and clean, with chirpy staff who give you a mean massage or do up your nails for the perfect summer holiday.
Moo 4 Tambon, Srisoonthom Rd. From $200 a night.