A weekend in Phuket is all about soaking up some sunshine for most people. For us it’s all about savouring Phuket’s unique cuisine and culture, punctuated by a bit of pool time. Here’s how to have a weekend in Phuket of sea and food, with the focus on eating.
It’s surprising how much you can eat and do on a weekend in Phuket if you work up an appetite by walking Phuket’s Old Town. While the historic centre might be compact, there are fascinating museums, incense-filled temples and an abundance of splendid Sino-Portuguese architecture to gawk at, built from the wealth of Phuket’s tin-mining boom – from grand colonial mansions belonging to mining barons to the candy-coloured shophouses of merchants and traders.
As usual, this is our very personal itinerary for a weekend in Phuket. These are the things we like to do. No big Buddha statues or James Bond Island here, sorry. Our weekend in Phuket itinerary is how we think readers of Grantourismo who like to travel ‘slow, local and experiential’ can make the most of your two days on the Southern Thailand island.
A Weekend in Phuket – An Itinerary
For us, Phuket Old Town is where it’s at, but we appreciate that most of you will want to base yourselves at the beach. If money is no object, check into Iniala Beach House (above) just over the Phuket Bridge, for a weekend of food, architecture and art. Significant artists designed the property and there’s an art gallery on site. While we were disappointed to see Eneko Atxa’s Aziamendi close last year, Esenzi, the seafood restaurant that opened in its place, is helmed by chef Tim Butler of Bangkok’s fabulous Eat Me restaurant.
On Phuket island, more affordable luxury is to be found at Point Yamu By COMO, with a whimsical Paola Navone design, outstanding Nahmyaa Thai restaurant and spectacular Phang Nga Bay views; Anantara Phuket Layan, which boasts a superb Thai cooking school, exceptional Thai restaurant and seaside swimming pool; The Surin, which has charming cottages slap bang on the sand and stunning beach; Andara, which offers spacious apartments with kitchens, palm-fringed Olympic-sized swimming pool and a fine Thai restaurant; Sala Phuket, which has a laidback vibe, beachside swimming pool, restaurant and bar, and sunset watching spots; and Kata Rocks, where you’ll find light-filled two-storey villas and lofts with private pools and state-of-the-art kitchens made for entertaining.
In the heart of Phuket Town, with unbeatable locations, mid-range hotel options include The Memory at On On is our pick for history and charm while Casa Blanca offers air-conditioned cool and personal service.
Click through for reviews of all of these Phuket hotels.
Kick off your weekend in Phuket taking in the local scene. Make a beeline for Phuket Town’s petite Indy Market (Thursday and Friday 4-10pm; Dibuk Road) located beside Limelight Avenue shopping mall and Lemongrass Restaurant. It’s a fun spot to take in the Thai hipster scene. Young Thai vendors lay out their artsy wares on the path – expect handmade jewellery, retro clothes, and crafts – and you can get anything from a manicure to your portrait drawn. There’s live music and plenty of stalls selling snacks – dumplings, fish balls, som tam, fish maw soup, barbecue chicken, and the ubiquitous khanom buang (Thai ‘tacos’). Wash it down with sugar cane juice, a cold beer, or a cocktail. Just don’t eat too much! While you’re there, drop into Pint Factory (2nd Floor Limelight Avenue; 11am-11pm) and sink into a Chesterfield to sip one of over 100 types of craft beers and ciders. If you liked the Indy Market, you’ll find more of the same on a much larger scale at the funky Chillva Market Phuket (Thursday to Saturday 4-10pm; 141/2 Yaowarat Road), with eateries, cafés and bars in revamped shipping containers (daily 4-10pm), many with rooftop areas where you can kick back with a drink.
Phuket has a long history of settlement and trade and was a port of call for ships sailing the maritime trade routes between the Mediterranean, Middle East, India, and China. Phuket’s unique cuisine reflects these cultural influences, so make the first meal of your weekend in Phuket special with the best introduction you’ll get to Phuket cuisine. Century-old Raya is located in an atmospheric Sino-Portuguese mansion. Owned by the original family, the matriarch watches every plate leaving the kitchen – if she’s not on the stove herself. As a result, this is the finest Phuket cuisine you’ll find on the island. Order the pad bai liang (stir fried bai laing leaves), nam prik goong seab (spicy prawn chilli dip), moo hong (stewed pork belly), and (our favourite) the gang poo bai chaplu (crab meat curry with betel leaves). If you can handle the heat, tell them you want it “Phuket-style” (ie. fiery).
After dinner, head up the stairs to Quip Sky Bar (4pm-midnight) on the rooftop of quirky Quip B&B (5th Floor, near corner of Phuket and Rasada Roads) to recline on cushions as you sip a cocktail or cold beer under the stars and toast to your weekend in Phuket. For more craft beers – 80 different kinds, including local brands like Full Moon Brew Works and Chalawan Pale Ale – try CRAFTs & Co. (91 Yaowarat Road; 5pm-midnight) in a remodelled shophouse with a sleek interior dripping with potted ferns hanging from the ceiling.
Your first breakfast on the island should be in Phuket Old Town and one of the most quintessential of Phuket breakfasts, siew boi, Phuket-style dim sum. Locals eat breakfast early, so aim to be at 100 year-old Juanhiang (Chana Charoen Road, near corner of Tilok Utis 1 Road) between 6am and 8am. If they’re sold out, try century-old Boonrat 1 (off Bangkok Road, behind the fresh market). Sit down and staff will bring you Chinese tea and a selection of steamed buns, dumplings, deep fried snacks, and Portuguese-style tarts. Raise your hand when you’re ready for more.
SATURDAY MORNING MARKETS
If you stuffed yourself silly at Juanhiang, stroll down to Ong Sim Phai Road to explore lively Kaset Market, behind Robinson Department Store. If you went to Boonrat, then walk to the central market, Talad Sod Satarana (busiest in the morning until 11am; Ranong Road). Cross the road and you’ll see a soi (lane) and the more colourful outdoor downtown fresh market, where you’ll find beautiful produce, fruit and veg, seafood, and street food. Time to eat again? Head in the direction of Krabi Road and take a right toward Thalang Road.
Not far from the corner of Yaowarat Road and Thalang Road, you’ll find retro Kopitiam by Wilai, decorated in antiques and bric-a-brac, which is where you should try Phuket’s thick, creamy Thai coffee, made with condensed milk. While the food is very good, don’t eat anything else here now, as you need to save room…
SATURDAY MORNING SNACK
Continue along Thalang Road until you’re near the corner of Phuket Road. Just before the corner you’ll come to two of Phuket Town’s oldest Muslim eateries, Aroon and adjacent Abdul. They’re both good but try Abdul’s first, where Abdul can usually be found making wonderfully flaky roti out front. Order some roti and a couple of different curries to dip it in (don’t worry, they’re tiny bowls), then drop into Aroon for a glass of cha-chuk, a frothy pulled tea-coffee combo served in a tall glass.
Backtrack along Thalang Road to Krabi Road to visit the Phuket Thaihua Museum (28 Krabi Road; 9am-5pm daily; 200 baht) to learn about the fascinating history of Chinese migration to Phuket, Southern Thailand and the Malay Peninsula. Set in a handsome building dating to 1934, which served as a Chinese school, the Museum charts the arrival of the first Chinese, the tin mining boom, and development of the Baba-Yaya culture (known as Baba-Nyonya on the Malay Peninsula) that was born through the marriage of Chinese migrants with Siamese (Thai) women. While the museum houses intriguing exhibits on everything from traditional ceremonies to costumes, a highlight are the rooms on local food, which provides a great introduction to Phuket cuisine and its adoption of dishes and melding of influences from southern Thailand, various regional Chinese cuisines, and Indian and Malay food, particularly from Penang.
Continue to explore the surrounding streets on foot where you’ll now recognise the Baba-Yaya culture in the architecture, costumes you see in the shops, and the food on the streets. Concentrate on the five main roads – Krabi Road, which becomes Thalang Road, and parallel Dibuk Road, Phang Nga Road, and Rasada Road. Yaowarat Road connects them all.
Don’t miss Baan Chinpracha (98 Krabi Road, after the Blue Elephant; 9am-4.30pm, closed Sundays), a charming old mansion filled with antiques and memorabilia that you can peek into for a donation. The owners are happy to show visitors the elegant interior which features antique floor tiles, an interior courtyard open to the elements, and fascinating old photos on the walls.
You must be hungry again by now. Head the corner of Dibuk and Yaowarat Road to Lok Tien Food Court, Phuket’s oldest, dating to the 1950s, to sample more quintessential Phuket street food dishes made by the original families who brought them to the island. Start with the Phuket-style popiah, fresh wheat-flour wraps stuffed with char siu-style pork, grated turnip, bean sprouts, and peanuts, and drowned in sweet sticky tamarind sauce. Beside this stall, Phuket’s famous loh bak made by an old Phuket family, are deep fried snacks of braised pork and entrails that are tastier than they sound. At the entrance, at the Pae Lee stall, you can sample O-ew, Phuket’s legendary, medicinal tasting, banana jelly and crushed ice dessert that’s a favourite of locals.
Your weekend in Phuket would be missing something if you didn’t spend your Saturday afternoon on a town saunter. By now the light is probably starting to soften, so take a stroll around the old centre, admiring the architecture. There are lovely rows of shophouses and a couple of grand mansions on Dibuk Road, and on Soi Romanee, the red light district during the mining boom, is the largest concentration of renovated shophouses, most having recently received fresh coats of candy-coloured paints. With strings of lanterns strewn above the street and houses boasting ornate decorative elements and traditional shrines, it’s a picturesque little street.
SATURDAY LATE AFTERNOON
When you arrive at Thalang Road again, head to charming China Inn Café (20 Thalang Road), as much to take in this airy heritage shop-house, furnished with antiques, as to enjoy a cool drink and rest your weary feet in the tranquil garden café out back. Now that it’s a tad cooler and the light is even softer, take your time to absorb the architecture along Thalang Road, the heart of Phuket Town’s heritage district. Its Sino-Portuguese buildings are best appreciated in the late afternoon when there’s less traffic and the pastel-painted facades take on warm hues in the golden light. After dark, the buildings are illuminated by coloured spotlights and they look even more dramatic.
A Saturday night of a weekend in Phuket should be spent in Phuket Old Town. For dinner, Thai and foreign tourists alike love the Northern Thai-Euro fusion of Chef Tammasak Chootong at the all-white Suay Restaurant in Phuket Old Town (Takuapa Road), however, food can be hit and miss. Book a table on the veranda or interior so you’re not down the side where the waitresses tend to forget you. More reliable is local favourite, One Chun (48/1 Thepkasattri Road, near the intersection with Dibuk Road). Located in a Sino-Portuguese building, with vintage décor (expect stacks of well-travelled old suitcases, antique clocks, radios and TV sets, vinyl records, and even an old movie projector), One Chun has a menu of authentic Thai dishes that includes Southern Thai specialties. Don’t miss the gaeng poo, a fiery yet sweet yellow crabmeat curry, and moo kua klue (deep fried pork belly). Don’t let the crowded dining room deter you, there’s seating upstairs and in a garden out back.
Hit dimly lit shot bar Z1mplex Mixology Laboratory (156/48 Phangnga Road; 9pm-1am) where the mad scientist mixologist owners Parist ‘Tom’ Auttayatamavittaya (AKA Tom Funk) and Chanida ‘Nann’ Yantapanit concoct shooters that look like science experiments. Order a Spectrum Jellyfish which resembles a lava lamp in miniature. Up for some live music with the locals? Try Timber Hut (6pm-2am; Yaowarat Road, between Mae Luan and Dibuk Roads).
It’s not a complete weekend in Phuket if it doesn’t include khanom jeen so you’ll have to rise early if you have a cooking class today to squeeze in another of Phuket’s quintessential breakfasts. We love the legendary Po Lamai (intersection of Satun and Dibuk Road) for khanom jeen – fermented rice noodles, drowned in rich coconut-based curries and eaten with an array of fresh aromatic herbs and greens.
Spend the first half of the final day of your weekend in Phuket doing a cooking class. The best on the island offer Southern Thai dishes and if you ask in advance will focus on Phuket specialties. We tested out Thai cooking classes all over the island and found these to be the best: Recipe cooking school at The Paresa and Spice Spoons at Anantara Phuket Layan, which includes a visit to a local market first; Trisara and The Surin, where cooking class menus can include Phuket specialties if you ask; and at the Andara, where their cooks can offer in-villa lessons while making your lunch; we recommend asking them to go off-menu and cook the dishes they make at home. If you’re staying in Phuket Town, the Blue Elephant Cooking School runs classes twice daily at 8.45am and 1.30pm.
Lunch is always included in a Thai cooking class with participants eating the lunch they cooked at the end of the class, so enjoy your fruits of your labour.
Reward yourself with an afternoon by the sea or pool on the last afternoon of your weekend in Phuket. If you stayed in Phuket’s Old Town and don’t have a stretch of sand nearby, make a beeline for a beach. There’s a lovely stretch of sand in front of The Boathouse (see our accommodation post, above, for more details) at Kata Beach, which is home to the laidback Re Ká Ta beach club (7am to 8pm), a local favourite. While the pool is petite, there offer floating beanbags, are home to a Quiksilver surf school, there’s Sunset Apero with free-flowing bubbles, and a poolside DJ after dark. If you’re after something more glam and more of a party vibe during daylight hours then head to Surin Beach for Catch, one of Phuket’s oldest beach clubs and still one of its most popular places to don a spangly kaftan.
For the final sunset of your weekend in Phuket, recline on the comfy cushions at Baba Nest (opens at 5pm). The lofty bar on the rooftop deck of Sri Panwa Resort is one of the best sunset viewing spots on Phuket for gawking at the sun sinking over the sea. Note that there’s a minimum spend for non-guests.
Spend the final evening of your weekend in Phuket back in the Old Town on Thalang Road, which closes to traffic every Sunday from 4-10pm for Phuket Walking Street, called Lardyai or Talaad Yai, which is ‘big market’ in Southern Thai. You can easily spend a few hours here, shopping for vintage collectables, handicrafts, artsy knick-knacks, and the handmade jewellery and accessories that young Thais are so good at making. In between shopping you can stop to wash down Phuket oysters with cold beers and tuck into an array of street food snacks, from barbecued skewers to Thai ‘tacos’.
Dripping with greenery – potted palms, plant boxes, hanging ferns – Thamachat (Natural) Restaurant (62/5 Soi Phutorn, off Bangkok Road; daily 10.30am-11.30pm) is another quirky eatery of the kind Phuket Town loves and is a fabulous spot to wind up your weekend in Phuket. Recommended to us by local Thai foodies, it was packed with a mix of Thais and expats, couples as well as groups of friends and families. ‘The Natural’ is located in a big old house with dining areas in the downstairs covered courtyards, on the wide covered balconies above, and in every conceivable nook you can find, all decorated in an eclectic style with statues, fountains, kitschy knick knacks, retro finds, and handicrafts, such as traditional masks. While the extensive picture menu features Thai and ‘international’ food, we strongly recommend you stick to the local Phuket dishes, such as the Southern Thai style fish curry or fiery crab curry. Warning: service can be slow here also.
HOW TO GET TO PHUKET
A weekend in Phuket is possible for those of us in Asia and Australia. From Australia, there are flights to Phuket with AirAsia and JetStar that will get you there direct in nine hours or via Bangkok in 12+ hours from Sydney; 12+ hours from Perth with Scoot; 12+ hours from the Gold Coast with JetStar; and a longer from Brisbane or Adelaide with Silk Air, Qantas, Malaysian and others. There are countless flights to Phuket, direct and via Bangkok, from Asian cities. We also have direct flights from Siem Reap to Phuket with AirAsia. If you’re flying from the Middle East, Europe or the Americas you’ll probably have to travel via Bangkok. Arrange an airport transfer with your hotel and, if you’re not hiring a car on Phuket, organise island transfers with your hotel as well, as Phuket’s notorious taxi mafia aren’t much fun to deal with.
So how was your weekend in Phuket? We’d love to hear from you if you tested out this or any of our other ‘weekend in’ itineraries.
Pictured above, Iniala Beach House by Terence Carter.