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Far be it from us to tell you what to do in Phuket, but there are some gems that you really should not miss out on seeing, while on your visit here. And we don’t mean the kind sold at the jewellers…

Phuket’s great advantage is that there’s always something to do on and off the island, whether it’s raining or shining. From the sublime to the seemingly profane, the range of activities and places to visit is remarkable for a destination of this size. Here are our Top 10 ‘Must See’ choices, built on popular vote. If you only get through half of these destinations you’ll have had an unforgettable holiday. Go for it.

Phuket Simon Cabaret

It’s a spectacular display of colour, originality and fun. Phuket’s Simon Cabaret has become one of Southeast Asia’s outstanding entertainment attractions drawing a thousand enthused visitors from around the world each evening. A single show runs the entire range of musical theatre from cultures around the world.

Extravagant costumes, make-up and sets take the audience from Egypt to Latin America to China and back to Thailand in themed displays of classical dance and song.

Phuket Simon Cabaret: A Big Operation

Mixed in for good entertainment value, are professional soloists dressed like Tina Turner or Diana Ross. It’s some of the most flamboyant fun you’ll ever witness. The majority of the actors were born in male bodies but are living life as beautiful young women who express their talent through life as a cabaret performer.

Jarvey de la Paz is the talented resident choreographer who has trained and rehearsed with the 40 performers over the past seven years.

“For many of our actresses, they must take hormones which enable them to look more feminine.

They often come to us looking like men but after a number of years of training and hormones and medical procedures, they gradually transform into remarkably beautiful women,” Jarvey explains.

Simon Cabaret is a big operation with more than 100 backstage staff including show managers, costume and wardrobe departments and a control manager that ensures everything works according to a tight schedule as it should. “Our performers have a very demanding life. They must learn every role in every musical number as often a actress is sick or on vacation or taking a day off so each dancer must be ready to learn each other’s roles. No two days are ever the same,” continues Jarvey.

The Original

Simon Cabaret has been entertaining visitors to Phuket for two decades. And many of the current “stars” have been on stage since the beginning. There are three shows a night.

Only when King Bhumibol’s mother, the Queen Mother, passed away and the evening of the 2004 tsunami have the lights at Simon Cabaret been dark.

“Our performers are very committed to looking their best for the audience. This includes hours of preparation with make-up and costume fittings each evening.

Even though many of our actresses have been on stage now for many years, they still look fantastic as they exercise, train and use both cosmetic and surgical enhancements to make them look so good,” says Jarvey.

Training with Jarvey includes traditional ballet, jazz and contemporary dance. It takes extra work for these biological males to stretch and move like graceful young women.

“We have to be careful with training as our performers can not have muscles so we focus on stretching and building up endurance,” he continues, “as the costumes are usually enormous and heavy, our actresses need to balance on often very high heels which moving in difficult routines and all with a smile on their face.”

The Magic of Phuket

An overview of the audience shows guests from around the world. Each night at 18.00, 19.30 and 21.30 tour buses and minivans unload people from Taiwan to England all eager to see the magic that Simon Cabaret offers.

Expensive lighting and the best sound systems available enhance the visual magic of a royal court scene in historic China where expert beautiful singers offer melodies that have the audience clapping and waving their arms in appreciation. Other guests sit quietly stunned by the appearance of the most beautiful women that they know were born as males.

Phuket Simon Cabaret offers an evening of entertainment which will create a lasting memory of the magic of Phuket.

Wat Chalong and Phuket Temples

Wats – or Buddhist temples – are among the most important symbols of Thailand, partly because the majority of Thais are Buddhist and partly because they are so beautiful. In Phuket alone, there are 29 Buddhist temples spread around the island.

Wat Chalong has been extending a warm welcome to visitors for over a century. Locals come to pray and Westerners come to learn something about Buddhism. The temple is open from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon.

What to See at Wat Chalong

Poh Than Jao Wat is one of the more important Buddhist statues in Wat Chalong. It is located in the westerly old hall of the temple, with two statues of an elderly gentleman called Ta Khee-lek (grandpa Khee-lek), a famous local who won many lotteries after consulting the Poh Than Jao Wat statue. Another statue in this hall is called Nonsi.

One of the temple’s halls features a gilt-covered statue of Luang Poh Cham and this busy hall also contains statues of Luang Poh Chuang and Luang Poh Gleum, all ex-abbots of the temple.

The Grand Pagoda dominating the temple contains a splinter of Lord Buddha’s bone and is officially named Phramahathatchedi-Jomthaibarameepragat. The pagoda is decorated with wall paintings depicting the Buddha’s life story and also features various Buddha images. Take your time in the pagoda; it is a breezy, cool location and one which is very popular with visitors to the temple.

There is also an air-conditioned ‘exhibition home’ of Luang Poh Cham which features lifelike human-sized wax models of Luang Poh Cham, Luang Poh Chuang, Luang Poh Gleum, and Luang Pu Thuad along with antique Thai furniture, and Benjarong (Thai porcelain designed in five colours), while the famous ‘magic’ walking-stick of Luang Poh Cham is kept at the current Abbot’s dwelling.

Do’s and Don’ts

Wats in general are sacred places for local people, so it is wise for the visitor to watch and emulate the way Thais behave inside temples. For example, you will see that people are careful not to stand over, or otherwise position themselves higher than any Buddha images except when pasting gold leaf to them – which in any case happens only in some wats, not in most.

Even through Thailand can sometimes be very warm, it is inappropriate to go into a wat – a place of worship – wearing clothes that reveal one’s shoulders, chest, belly or legs.

You will be asked to take your shoes off when entering some of the buildings, including the sermon hall and the chedi.

It’s best not to wear your most expensive shoes when visiting wats in case someone else mistaken walks away with them – literally! If that happens, and they are not your favorite shoes, then you won’t be too upset.

How to Get to Wat Chalong

Wat Chalong is about 8 km south of Phuket City. Travel along Chao Fah Nok Rd (Chao Fa West Rd) from the Central Festival mall, and you will see the temple on the left side of the road.

If you are coming from Chalong Circle, take the same road heading towards town, and you will see the temple on your right.

Phuket FantaSea Show

Phuket Fantasea 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 you’ll have a wonderful evening out here.

But the extravaganza doesn’t stop there as FantaSea also hosts one of the biggest buffets in Asia and is 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 extravagent, it’s impressive and great entertainment value for all.

With building designs that are occasionally wacky, over-the-top costumes, and elephants milling about, Phuket Fantasea has all the subtlety of a mouthful of Thai chillies. Phuket FantaSea bills itself as ‘The ultimate cultural theme park’, and it’s tough to come up with a better description. The evening peaks with a stage show, but that’s not the only excitement. There’s a village with an assortment of shopping choices – from T-shirts to beachwear to jewellery – as well as carnival games, elephant rides, and restaurants.

Everything is big, bright, ornate, and made to impress. Operations at Phuket Fantasea are slick. They’ll make sure you’re picked up, fed, entertained, and returned safely to your hotel – all without missing a beat. Transitions from Point A to Point B to Point C are seamless, and there’s always plenty of staff around to keep you heading in the right direction. The size of this well-oiled machine is astounding, and makes its flawless execution that much more impressive.

The Golden Kinnaree Buffet Restaurant’s cavernous hall seats 4,000 diners, and does so effortlessly. Two long buffet counters serve a mix of Thai and international food while a changing selection of special dishes get their own kiosks at the front of the room. Wrap up the meal with coffee and a plate of scrumptious bite-sized desserts.

The Golden Kinnaree’s golden exterior, with an intricate peaked Thai-style roof and several statues, is a favourite backdrop for an untold number of photos. But it’s not the only photo op. The Palace of the Elephants, a theatre made to look like a majestic, centuries-old palace (think Angkor Wat) is even more impressive. The luxury boutique is clad in shimmering mirrors and brilliant whites.

There’s no shortage of ways to pass the time before the show starts. Jump aboard an elephant for a trip around the Songbird Luminarie. Head to Similan Adventure Center, a sea-themed arcade full of games the kids are sure to love. Watch the bartender spin, flip, and toss bottles while dancing a techno-jig at the open-air bar. Shop for that perfect memento; there’s a store (or stall) for every taste and budget. Or visit the photo studio and dress the family in traditional Thai costumes for a unique keepsake.

Phuket Fantasea Main Event

The theatre opens at 20:30 and guests start filing through security. Cameras aren’t allowed inside, and they take it very seriously; everything short of pen and paper that can create an image – must be checked in. Two minutes later you’re in a large hall full of costumed staff, baby elephants, and young tigers, all of which will pose for a photograph with you – for a fee.

The show kicks off in grand style at 21:00. The stage is huge, but the performance space is even bigger. Aisles, ceiling, audience – every part of the theatre is used. While the eye is treated to modern effects like smoke, explosions, lasers, rain, soaring people, the brain gets insights into Thai culture in the form of traditional dances from different regions of the country, shadow puppets, and a fascinating wardrobe. It’s not tough to believe elephants can become accomplished actors, but this show also employs goats, roosters, water buffalo, and doves in supporting roles.

The story isn’t easy to follow, and it doesn’t matter. Loud and funny moments interrupted by quiet, beautiful interludes do a great job conveying the emotion. The end result is a display that’s as dazzling as the sights outside the theatre. Young children, old children, and adult children all enjoy the show.

Tickets cost 1,800 baht per person for just the show or 2,200 baht per adult and 2,000 baht per child (aged 4-12) for the show and a buffet dinner. All tickets include access to the park and its numerous other attractions, though some of them (such as the elephant rides) have an additional cost.

Phi Phi Islands

Phi Phi Island is Thailand’s island-superstar. It’s been in the movies. It’s the topic of conversation for travelers all over Thailand. For some, it’s the only reason to touchdown in Phuket. Even with all the hype, it doesn’t disappoint. Phi Phi’s beauty is a large chunk of the allure. The islands, when approached by boat, rise from the sea like a fortress. Sheer cliffs tower overhead, then give way to beach-fronted jungle. It’s love at first sight.

The second part of the why-we-love-this-place story is attitude: few places on the planet are this laid-back. Of the two islands located near Phuket and Krabi, one is completely free of human inhabitants (Phi Phi Leh), and the other is without roads (Phi Phi Don). There’s no schedule, no hustle-and-bustle, no reason to be in a hurry.

Phang Nga Bay

A distinctive feature of Phang Nga Bay are the sheer limestone karsts that jut vertically out of the emerald-green water. James Bond Island and Koh Panyee are just two of the more famous spots in this bay. By far the best means of enjoying the spectacular scenery, with only brief encounters with the tourist crowds at James Bond and Koh Panyee, is to take one of the boat trips from the northern end of Phuket.

A leisurely day trip cruising through the dramatic limestone islands, occasionally stopping to enjoy quiet beaches, is far more rewarding than the standard bus-boat tour.

James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay

James Bond Island is a famous landmark in Phang Nga Bay. It first found its way onto the international tourist map through its starring role in the James Bond movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’. A distinctive feature of this famous bay is the number of sheer limestone cliffs that vertically jut out of the emerald-green water.

The bizarre, why-doesn’t-it-fall-over outline of James Bond Island or Koh Tapu (meaning Nail Island in Thai), lies next to the equally well known Koh Ping Ghan (sometime spell ‘Ping Gan’ or ‘Ping Gun’). The entire area surrounding this island is indeed spectacular, but it can get crowded with tourist boats in high season.

James Bond Island Highlights

Phang Nga Bay covers an area of 400sqkm and is home to some 100 islands, many of which could feature in The Guinness Book of Records either for their beauty or for their freakish shapes. James Bond Island, with its signature rocky pinnacle, has been a major attraction ever since it featured in the 1974 Bond movie. Luckily it is under national park protection and as a result no boats of any kind are allowed to go too close to the island because of its precarious position – big on the upper part and relatively slim at the bottom. The two best ways to view James Bond Island are from boats or from the small beach on Koh Ping Ghan.

Koh Ping Ghan is another sample of how the Mother Nature works her magic. Basically it’s a very high leaning rock that has some small caves inside. It’s pretty amazing and fun to check them all out. On its crowded eastern beach, there are stalls and stands selling knickknack souvenirs, mostly made from shells and woods.

Good to Know about James Bond Island

This area is a popular destination for sailing as well as kayaking. Most of the organized 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.

If you want to have more freedom, you can rent a long-tail boat from Surakul Pier in Phang Nga for less than 2,000 baht for a good three to four hours. The boat can carry up to ten people.

Koh Panyee

Visiting Koh Panyee – The sky is clear and the breeze is warm. It is a perfect day to go on a boat trip. We are on Phang Nga Bay and heading for the famous Koh Panyee. Koh Panyee is about 20 minutes by long-tail boat from Surakul pier in Phang Nga province.

Many people flying into Phuket will have looked down on this village seemingly floating in the magical bay and wondered what it is like to live in the place. Phuket.com went out to Panyee to take a look and discovered the true meaning of the phrase, ‘a simple life’.

The Villagers

There are 1,485 people from 315 families who live permanently on Koh Panyee, the youngest being a baby boy born just a month before our visit. All of them are the descendants, directly or indirectly, of Toh Baboo and his family and friends, who were the first people to settle on Koh Panyee some 200 years ago.

Toh Baboo and two other families left their homeland in Indonesia by boat, looking for a new place to live. The three families made a vow to each other that if one of them found a place where there were lots of fish and where everyone could live, that they would signal the others by raising a flag on a mountain as high as possible, so that the others could see it and join them.

Toh Baboo discovered the island with its abundance of fish and, true to his promise, raised a flag atop its soaring cliff, That is how the island got its name, Koh Panyee – the Island of the Flag.

What to See in Koh Panyee?

Koh Panyee is a small island. Most of it is huge, almost vertical, limestone cliffs. The hundreds of huts, shacks, restaurants and houses where the villagers live are built on stilts over the surrounding shallow sea. No one seems quite sure how many wooden and concrete piles hold up this extraordinary community, but it is certainly a fascinating and unique feat of informal engineering.

At first, fishing was the sole industry for this Muslim community but nowadays it is No 2. These days, half the locals service the tourism industry and 40% are still fisherman.

The village has its own school, a mosque, a health center, lots of small souvenir shops and a handful of large restaurants, all facing the sea, where tourists can enjoy a fresh seafood lunch. The latest development on Koh Panyee is the construction of bungalows that offer overnight accommodation for as little as 300 baht.

A Colorful Life

On landing one is immediately struck by how very friendly these village folk are. I find myself with three young guides almost as soon as I step ashore. They show me proudly around their home during my three-hour visit. I also learn a bit about their colorful life on Panyee.

“We are very lucky that we born not long ago,” 11-year-old Farrain tells me. “The old people say that life was tough without electricity, fresh water from the mainland and new technology.” School is out for summer, so the kids have plenty of time to wander around, play computer games (yes, the island has Internet access), help their parents mind the shop or play soccer.

I asked them what they do in the rainy season. Doesn’t it get boring not being able to play outside? “Who says that?” retorts eight-year-old Anwar. “We always play football in the rain. It is normal to get wet around here.” Of course it is. Silly me.

School Holiday

The 13 teachers at the school work hard to educate their 200 pupils, and have launched a number of projects to keep them busy, to make money for the school and to increase environmental awareness. One such activity is a recycling programme whereby bottles and cans are collected and sold to the benefit of the school while also keeping the village cleaner.

The teachers are also educating their students in growing vegetables using hydroponics. My third guide, 10-year-old Romadon, invites me to help him sell edible morning glory fresh from the school’s hydroponic farm. The popular vegateble sells quickly – most adults open their wallets right away to support the school. And besides, the vegetables are inexpensive – just 40 baht a kilo.

Just like kids anywhere in the world, my three guides have dreams of what they are going to be when they grow up. Farrain wants to be a tour guide, Anwar wants to be a soccer star and Romadon plans to be a doctor. But whatever they do in the future, they certainly seem very happy with their life on the Island of the Flag.

How to Get to Koh Panyee?

You can rent a long-tail boat from Surakul pier for around 1,700 baht for three hours. The boat can carry up to ten people – so if you fill it up that’s just 170 baht a head.

Alternatively, there are many good tours to Panyee which include pick-up from your hotel.

What to Wear?

This is a Muslim community so women should not wear short skirts or shorts. T-shirts and jeans are acceptable but anything that exposes too much flesh risks a cold shoulder from the locals.

Did You Know?

a) Electricity costs more than six times as much on Koh Panyee as it does in Phuket City.

b) There is only one policeman on the island, who has very little to do. Good news indeed for everyone.

Samet Nangshe Viewpoint

Samet Nangshe Viewpoint has very quickly gone from being practically unheard of to one of the most popular panoramas in Phang Nga. Located on a hilltop just a 30-minute drive from Phuket, it provides stunning views over the limestone islets of Phang Nga Bay and, being far enough away from civilisation to avoid light pollution, the Milky Way is even visible at certain times.

The view is a breathtaking 180-degree panorama facing due east, making it particularly striking at sunrise. You look out at a chain of islands stretching out of sight to both the left and right in the waters of Phang Nga Bay, across about 1.6km of mangroves. The sun rises between the limestone karsts at about 05:30 to 06:00, depending on the time of year. This is often preceded by the awe-inspiring sight of the centre of our own galaxy, clearly visible overhead, though this also depends on the season.

The viewpoint and its amazing photographic potential were discovered by Thai professional photographer Theerasak Saksritawee, whose images from the hilltop outlook spread quickly among first locals and then expatriates. It is still relatively undiscovered by overseas tourists due to its location, a 25km drive from Phuket’s Sarasin Bridge along twisting country roads. However, it is easily popular enough that you can expect to share the small summit with at least 50 other people, particularly if you go for the sunrise.

Your photos from Samet Nangshe Viewpoint really need to be earned as getting there is a bit of a challenge. Aside from the drive, you then need to pay 50 baht per person (30 baht for Thais) at the little shack where the simple car park meets the start of the hill. The ascent is quite a long and steep one, with benches at intervals along the way for you to stop for a break. It could take as much as 15 or 20 very tiring minutes to make it to the top, but it is very much worth the effort.

While the hill itself is covered in rainforest, the top is home to a small campsite, with tents costing 130 baht each (or 400 baht, if you want to include a simple Thai breakfast). This is a particularly convenient option if you want to get Milky Way photos, but don’t expect to get much sleep as the hilltop will already be getting busy by about 04:00. Aside from a vendors selling drinks and snacks in the car park (only during the day), there are not many additional facilities at the viewpoint.

Cruising Phang Nga Bay

Phang Nga Bay is a great place for boating. The interesting limestone cliffs create a picturesque backdrop and there are many safe places to anchor.

The fact that it’s protected from both the Northeast and the Southwest monsoon seasons means that its waters remain calm year-round, which adds to the appeal of its scenic wonders and abundant wildlife.

Limestone Cliffs of Phang Nga Bay

Limestone is calcium carbonate, which is generally white. Over millions of years, the skeletons from a constant rain of marine organisms, plus the chemical precipitation of yet more calcium carbonate build thick layers of sediment. Eventually, the heat and pressure of their own weight turn these strata, hundreds of metres thick, to stone.

A variety of geological forces have then fractured the limestone beds and pushed up the 40 steep-sided islands that provide the exotic scenery for which this shallow bay is noted. Mineral oxides from various sources paint the vari-coloured streaks that characterise the cliffs of Phang Nga Bay.

Hongs of Phang Nga

And there are lost worlds awaiting discovery. It wasn’t many years ago that aerial surveys first revealed the Hong, or ‘rooms’, that lie inside some of Phang Nga’s islands.

These fabulous microcosms, hidden realms rich in unspoiled flora and fauna, are collapsed cave systems open to the sky and surrounded by towering limestone walls. Try sea-kayaking, where you paddle sturdy plastic boats through caves into the mysterious hearts of islands such as Koh Panak and Koh Hong. (Read more about Sea canoeing in Phang Nga Bay)

Other Islands in Phang Nga Bay

Most of the islands are uninhabited. Many of them have spectacular caves which you can only reach by an inflatable kayak.

Koh Hong is one of the most popular of these islands. Khao Khien near Koh Panyee is worth sailing past to see the ancient paintings of boats and animals on the rock walls.

One of the few inhabited islands, Koh Maak, sits near the top of the bay and is home to a small community of fisherfolk who maintain a traditional way of life – it’s not part of any tour itinerary and it is recommended to bring your own food and supplies if visiting since there are no facilities for tourists. There are also no places to stay here.

Old Phuket Town

Unlike many Thai provincial capitals, Phuket Town fairly shines with personality and nowhere more so than its Old Town. In this historically rich part of town you will find shrines, temples (Buddhist and Chinese), ornate and beautifully preserved ‘shophouses’, quaint cafés, tiny printing shops, impromptu private and public museums and even a mini ex-red light district.

Phuket Old Town was built on riches reaped from Phuket’s tin boom of last century, when the metal was an extremely valuable commodity. In this quarter of the town you will see grandiose Sino-colonial mansions, once occupied by Phuket’s tin barons of 100 years’ ago. Phuket Old Town is compact enough to stroll around in. The best time to do this is early in the morning or after the day has lost its heat. There are enough restaurants and cafés to provide you with refreshments so don’t bother taking a picnic along!

Thai Boxing (Muay Thai)

One of the most popular spectator sports in Thailand, and now gaining world renown, is the martial art of Muay Thai. Exciting enough on TV – the furious punches, crushing elbow strikes, lethal kicks and artful feints are even more riveting when seen live.

Witness the passion and drama of Thailand’s national sport amidst crowds of onlookers whose cheers blend with the strains of high-pitched Javanese clarinets, drums and finger cymbals that accompany the fights from beginning to end. For tourists in the Patong Beach area, nightly displays of Thai Boxing are carried out in specially built stadiums on Soi Sai Namyen.

If you don’t mind the violence, a Thai boxing match is worth attending for the pure spectacle and the wild musical accompaniment, the ceremonial beginning of each match, and the frenzied betting around the stadium.

History of Muay Thai

The origins of this martial art and sport are claimed to stretch back to the wars with the Burmese during the 15th century. Thailand’s first famous boxer was one, ‘Nai Khanom Tom’ who was said to have single-handedly defeated nine Burmese fighters in a wager for freedom. A Thai king, Phra Chao Seua (The Tiger King) is said to have been an incognito participant in many boxing matches in the early part of his reign.

The sport has changed a lot from the days when boxers would wrap their fists in thick horsehide trimmed with cotton soaked in glue and broken glass for maximum impact with minimum knuckle damage. Many changes initiated to make the sport safer have reduced the incidence of death and injury. But Thai boxing is still a violent contact sport and considered by many as the ultimate in unarmed combat. Demonstrations of Muay Thai are held in many of the tourist areas but they are mostly for show.

Muay Thai Traditions and Ceremonies

The training of a Thai boxer and particularly the relationship between the boxer and teacher is highly ritualized. As the boxers enter the ring, they perform a special pre-fight dance known as the ‘ram muay’. During the dance, the fighters wear a headband given by their trainer.

It is a sacred talisman earned after many years of dedication to the art. The dance starts with ‘wai khru’ — each boxer kneeling and bowing three times, a show of respect to his teacher. With the ceremonies complete, the fight begins.

The Fight

Each fight consists of five rounds of three minutes each. Accompanying the fight is music stimulated by action in the ring, rising and falling as the boxers battle it out. All surfaces of the body are considered fair targets, and any part of the body except the head may be used to strike an opponent.

Common blows include high kicks to the neck, elbow thrusts to the face and head, knee hooks to the ribs, and low crescent kicks to the calf. A contestant may even grasp an opponent’s head between his hands and pull it down to meet an upward knee thrust.

Punching is considered the weakest of all blows and kicking merely a way to ‘soften up’ one’s opponent; most matches end with a knee or elbow strike.

Phuket Big Buddha

Phuket’s Big Buddha is one of the island’s most important and revered landmarks on the island. The huge image sits on top of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata and, at 45 metres tall, it is easily seen from far away.

The lofty site offers the best 360-degree views of the island, with sweeping vistas of Phuket Town, Kata, Karon beaches, Chalong Bay and more.) Easily reachable via a six-kilometre road leading from Phuket’s main artery route, it is a must-visit island destination.

Big Buddha

Close up to the image itself, it is very peaceful and the only noises you will hear are the tinkling of small bells and the yellow Buddhist flags in the compound flapping in the wind, with soft background dharma music.

Known among Thais as the Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha in full, it is 25 meters across at the base. The whole body is constructed with reinforced concrete layered with beautiful Burmese white jade marble that shines in the sun, making it a natural symbol of hope. The views, and the actual image itself are breathtaking.

There is a smaller Buddha statue positioned nearby which is gold in colour, though actually made of brass.

Building Faith

Dear Desire,

Here we meet again. We were here together in 2005 and I hope to be back again some time. Until then, rest in peace.

For Desire, an incredible woman (1931-2008)

From your loving husband, Craig and family.

This touching message is typical of those written on the thousands of bricks and white marble slabs used to make up the image. On a good day, more than 1,000 people visit the site, many of whom donate money for maintenance and write messages on the purchased items for good luck and in memory of passed-away loved ones.

Funds for the massive structure come entirely from donations. “This project is huge and requires a lot of money,” comments Suporn Wanichkul, President of the Mingmongkol Faith 45 Foundation formed to build the image, “But so far we are managing just fine. I’m amazed at the amount of help we have received from everyone who knows about this project. It seems they all want to be a part of it.”

Donation Boxes

Near the base of the Big Buddha, there is a hall displaying the project’s history, some Buddhist teachings and countless donation boxes. For some visitors, the donation boxes, with their incessant requests for cash, can be a real eyesore and a bit of a disappointment to see in such a holy place.

But whether visitors like it or not, the whole project relies on public donations. As one of the most popular attractions in Phuket, with road signs pointing the way to it right across the island, it certainly gets plenty of them. This does also mean that it is one of the busiest attractions, with big crowds being quite common.

Practical Information

What to Wear

Avoid beachwear, short skirts and T-shirts with offensive texts or images. If you feel you have dressed a little too daringly for a religious site, you can always ask for a sarong to cover up with. It is free of charge from the site centre.

Did You Know

a) Nakkerd Sea View Restaurant is located near the Big Buddha and is a nice place to chill out after visiting the site. The food there is reasonable in terms of taste and price and the view, of course, is wonderful.

b) The road to Nakkerd Hills is in good condition, most parts are newly built but it has many curves and some steep climbs. Some young tourists enjoy hiking up, even though it usually takes them over an hour to reach the top.

Bangla Road in Patong Beach

Bangla Road really comes to life once the sun sets. The road is closed to vehicle traffic and becomes a 400 metre festival of neon lights, loud music and cheap beer. Jammed most nights of the year, it is quite a friendly and lively place to walk around as bars and clubs compete with each other for customers. If you’re looking for a fun night out in Phuket, Bangla Road should be your first (and, often, only) stop.

Almost all of the bars are outdoors or open-fronted, so the music from each one blends into a mess of mixed beats. Beer bars occupy most of the street’s length, with several go-go bars and a few pubs, restaurants, discos and shops rounding out the attractions, both on Soi Bangla and down its side streets. Street performances are also common most nights, which can make dodging around the tailor shop salesmen, leaflet distributors, street vendors and ping pong show touts more difficult, but it is all part of the fun.