When in Phuket, make the most of Southern Thailand's natural features. White-sand beaches, placid mangrove coasts, old-growth rainforest, and superb underwater landscapes can all be found close to the island.
Located in the neighboring provinces of Phang Nga, Surat Thani, and Krabi, this list of Phuket day trips includes some hyper-popular places like Phang Nga Bay and Koh Phi Phi, as well as off-the-beaten-path stops such as Cheow.
Phang Nga Bay: Striking Limestone Islands
Ao Phang Nga National Park’s 100-plus limestone islands look almost alien in origin, with gravity-defying spires and steep, jungle-carpeted peaks rising from the sea.
Many day trips to Phang Nga Bay include a photo op at Koh Tapu, famous for its cameo role in a James Bond movie; kayaking through Koh Panak and Koh Hong’s sea caves; and a lunch stopover at the Muslim fishing village of Koh Panyee.
Getting there: Tours of Phang Nga bay usually originate from Bang Rong Pier.
Travel tip: Leave in the early morning or mid-afternoon to avoid the tourist crush. Most trips to Phang Nga take place over a few hours in the middle of the day.
The rebels that camped out in Khao Sok’s jungles in the 70s and 80s unwittingly saved it from deforestation. The jungle today is unspoiled and spectacular—with waterfalls, caves, and rare animals that might occasionally cross your path!
Make the most out of the National Park’s 280-plus square miles by kayaking down the Sok River through almost impenetrable rainforest; walking down jungle trails to Khao Sok’s scenic waterfalls; or braving Nam Talu Cave’s 2,700-foot-long passage.
Book your park adventure at the Visitor Center near Khao Sok’s main entrance, or through the official site.
Getting there: Ride the bus to Surat Thani from Phuket’s Bus Terminal 2; get off at the park entrance near Khlong Sok Village. It’s a four-hour drive—the earlier you leave, the better. (Private tours leave before dawn.)
Travel tip: Khao Sok receives the most rainfall in all of Thailand, so plan your trip around the area’s dry season from December to April.
Koh Phi Phi: Beaches & “The Beach”
While Koh Phi Phi is one of Thailand’s most famous beach destinations, the crowds heading there have taken a bit of the shine off. Still, its close access to Phuket and gorgeous white-sand beaches remain a potent draw for Phuket visitors.
Six islands make up Koh Phi Phi, including Koh Phi Phi Don, home of Monkey Beach’s macaques and Laem Thong’s dazzling white sands. As the main port for the islands, the village of Tonsai Bay on Koh Phi Phi Don will be your first stop; the town is replete with budget resorts and restaurants.
Getting there: Ferries from Phuket’s Rassada Pier depart three times daily (four in high season) to make the two-hour trip to Tonsai Bay.
Travel tip: Ko Phi Phi Le, whose Maya Bay served as a backdrop for Leonardo DiCaprio’s star turn on The Beach, closed in 2018 due to overtourism; it is tentatively rescheduled to reopen in June 2021.
Khao Lak: Laid-Back Culture and Nature
The town of Khao Lak is better known as a jump-off point to Similan and Ko Surin, but its natural attractions and cultural cachet make it worth a detour.
Start with the beaches—La On Village and nearby Nang Thong Beach are two of the most popular. Further inland, explore Khao Lak's national parks (Khao Lak Lam Ru and Thai Muang) along with their waterfalls and other natural wonders.
Closer to town, you’ll find the Bang Niang Night Market (open between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday), and the International Tsunami Museum commemorating the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 4,000 in Khao Lak alone.
Getting there: Take the bus to Takua Pa from Phuket Bus Terminal 2; disembark when the bus passes through Khao Lak. Buses leave every hour for the 1.5-hour-long trip.
Travel tip: Visit during the Turtle Festival in the first week of March, when volunteers release turtle hatchlings at Thai Muang National Park Beach.
The promise of excellent snorkeling and scuba diving is what draws adventure seekers to Mu Koh Similan National Park, which covers more than 87 square miles and is made up of 11 islands: most notably Koh Similan (Island Number 8), site of the scenic Sail Rock and white-sand beach; Koh Payu (Island No. 6), the Park’s best snorkeling spot; and lunch at Koh Miang (Island No. 4), with a chance to explore the island’s thick jungle cover.
Around the islands, a diverse collection of aquatic life can be seen by divers. Whale sharks are a common sight; their visits reach an absolute peak between January and March.
Getting there: Ride a bus from Phuket to Khao Lak (1.5 hours), where boats cover the distance from the pier to Koh Similan in a little over an hour. The park is only open during peak season, from October 16 to May 15.
Travel tip: Tourist entry to Koh Similan is highly regulated. Visitors need to purchase a Marine Park ticket before entering; package tour companies can take care of this for you, factoring the ticket price into the total package.
Railay Peninsula: Rock Climbing Hotspot
Rock climbers have made a mecca out of the limestone cliff faces of Railay Peninsula in Krabi Province. Some 700 bolted routes wind up Railay's cliffs and caves; local climbing shops provide ropes, chalk bags, and other essential gear in addition to conducting classes for beginners.
Diamond Cave Wall and the Pinnacle are two favorite spots for novice climbers, while more experienced climbers can try the challenging cliffs (and deepwater solo experience) at Tonsai. After your climb, relax at Phra Nang Beach or explore the sea by kayak.
Getting there: Take the Ao Nang Princess Ferry from Rassada Pier in Phuket to Railay. The trip takes a little over two hours, with a stopover at Ao Nang. Longtail boats can take you from the Railay pier to your preferred beach.
Travel tip: Peak climbing season occurs in the dry season from November to April.
Cheow Lan Lake: Artificial Lake in a Rainforest
This artificial lake is technically part of Khao Sok Park, but it deserves its own position as a day trip from Phuket. Created in 1987 to power a hydroelectric plant, Cheow Lan Lake is a 63-square-mile reservoir fringed by old-growth rainforest and studded with curious limestone formations.
A scenic lake tour of Cheow Lan crosses from one end of the lake to the other in two hours. Early-morning boat safaris glide along the shores to catch views of forest wildlife, including longtail macaques and great hornbills.
Getting there: Package tours can be arranged for early-morning departures from your Phuket hotel; the 110-mile trip will take three to four hours each way. The Ratchaprapha Dam marina hosts boats for lake trips and their booking offices.
Travel tip: Don't visit in the rainy season from May to November, as wildlife stops visiting the lake edge and chilly rains will completely dampen the boating experience.
Takua Pa: Old Town and a "Little Amazon"
The sleepy town of Takua Pa has a surprising history behind it. Like Phuket Town, Takua Pa grew rich off of the tin trade. The distinctive mansions (resembling those of both Phuket Town and Penang in Malaysia) can be seen on Thanon Si Takua Pa and adjoining streets.
This town is famous for its khanom pia (Chinese cake), made at Tuangrat Taosor from a generations-old recipe. For a nature-based experience, ride a boat down Takua Pa’s “Little Amazon," a riverside mangrove forest thick with overgrowth and the occasional monkey and snake traipsing through the canopy!
Getting there: Take the bus to Takua Pa from Phuket Bus Terminal 2; these leave every hour, and take two hours to cover the distance.
Divers visiting Mu Koh Surin National Park can expect to see a rich proliferation of undersea life within the park’s 50-odd square miles. Any visit might bring you face-to-face with whitetip reef sharks, leatherback turtles, moray eels, and the occasional whale shark (the latter most commonly congregating at Richelieu Rock).
Above the water’s surface, visitors can swim at one of the park’s beaches; embark on a hiking tour into the interior; or visit a Moken “sea gypsy” village. The Visitor Center rents out snorkels, approves hikes, and provides camping facilities in the park.
Getting there: Private speedboat tours from Phuket are the best arrangements you can make. You can also go to Khao Lak on your own and arrange for a return boat trip from there.
Travel tip: Visit during peak diving season between December and April, when the water temperature and wind are at their best. Visit after February for your best chances of spotting large pelagic species in the waters.