Phuket obviously has a reputation as a backpacker sanctuary (thanks to the book/movie The Beach, which brought global attention to budget travelers back in the late 90s). The allure is here—white-sand beaches, bathwater sea, authentic food and markets, nightlife, ubiquitous hostels, etc—but Phuket is gaining more attention with luxury travelers these days, who are basically driving out the backpackers (at a snail pace). Rest assured, they come in peace, and they’re doing 5 things on a budget in Phuket like everyone else.
Also, wait… the new international terminal is huge. Direct flights will be coming from all over the world, and you can bet they won’t be cheap. AGAIN- THIS IS HUGE. Phuket was always just a side trip from Bangkok but it’s turning into a world-class destination.
I love Phuket. It manages to preserve its culture well, and there’s plenty of activities and attractions to explore where you’re not elbow-to-elbow with budget travelers. These are among the favorite things luxury travelers do while vacationing here and, IMO, are well worth the trek. Best of all? You can do it all on a budget.
5 best things to do on a budget in Phuket
1. Chill out at luxury resorts. I’ve stayed at the best (Amanpuri, Paresa, etc), and this time around I opted for Phuket Marriott Resort Nai Yang Beach, which opened June 2016. Before you roll your eyes, I assure you Phuket Marriott is on the same level as other luxury resorts. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. But the good news? Luxury hotels in Phuket are SUPER CHEAP.
The resort is strategically located on a very secluded beach (there are no other resorts here), literally on the beach and only ten minutes from the airport. It’s also a lot nicer than I expected with elevated dining, huge rooms with gardens and swim-up lagoon pool access (as in, your patio door opens directly to the pool) and beach villas with private pools. The Quan Spa is also booked solid because the services are insane. I think my masseuse knocked out some kinks that have been lurking in my shoulders for years. Also, did I mention the secluded beach?
2. Take in these breathtaking views at the relatively unknown Tunk-Ka Cafe. Even though I’ve been to Phuket six times now, I keep discovering new amazing places, like Tunk-Ka Cafe, which is perched on a hilltop in the rainforest serving up sweeping views of city and sea. The food is authentic (not a tourist trap as you’ll see a majority of locals), and you can expect all your favorites (mine is morning glory).
There’s also a viewing platform that captures the entire panorama just steps away. While up here, you may see a family of monkeys, so hold on to your sunglasses.
3. Get off the beach and explore Old Town Phuket. Old Town Phuket is a mishmash of old colonial buildings painted in bright colors, street vendors, boutiques and bustling cafes. By day, it’s a fun, laid-back stroll but at night it transforms into a bustling, walking market with vetted vendors that sell amazing street food for cheap, knick knacks, snacks, souvenirs, jewelry and even some boutiques from local Thai designers.
It also feels like a movie set as you meander thanks to the historic buildings, wall murals and the way it’s lit up.
I like to send people to Little Elephant, a gorgeous boutique that’s clean and bright and sells some of the best knick knacks in town.
4. Hit up Traditional Thai Medicine Clinic for massages. You can get daily massages in Phuket (I shoot for two a day) but if you veer toward the more established places, you’re getting the real deal, like Pheangchit Traditional Thai Medicinal Clinic. Here, legit Thai massage therapists with medical backgrounds use holistic medicines and methods. It’s practically the same price as a massage off the street (400 baht, which is basically ten bucks), so it’s worth it. It’s clean, and the staff are the friendliest you’ll meet.
5. Feel fancy at Kamala Beach. Kamala Beach is the most upscale beach in Phuket, where highbrow visitors chill TF out with beach service, beach clubs, the works. It’s also very beautiful. Anyway, check out my video of the best things to see in Phuket!
Have you gone to Phuket? Let us know your 5 best things to do on a budget in Phuket in comments below!