I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it took me eight years to visit Phuket. It’s not like it’s a hidden jewel or anything; after all, almost 9.3 million people visited Phuket in 2017, making it the 12th most visited city in the world that year. I just didn’t go to Phuket because I’d heard it was really expensive, and it can be, but, as I learned, it doesn’t have to be.

Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and the flight time from Bangkok is only an hour and twenty minutes (yes, we’re already planning our next trip). After doing some research, we decided to stay at Kata Beach — or was it that I found a cute hotel on Agoda and wanted to stay there? Either way, the first thing we had to figure out was how to get from the airport to Kata, which is on Phuket’s southwest coast and is about an hour’s drive from the airport. I knew that taxis are incredibly expensive so they were never an option. I read in Lonely Planet’s Thailand guidebook (Lonely Planet is my go-to source for reliable travel information) that a shared van (or a minibus, as it’s often called in Thailand) from the airport to Kata was 200 baht per person. It was too easy. We saw the stall as soon as we walked out of the terminal — a ride to Patong was 180 baht, Karon or Kata 200 baht.

The van to Patong, Karon and Kata

After buying our tickets, we waited a few minutes for more passengers, drove to another area of the airport for even more passengers and then had to stop and get out at the office so the agents could write down the name of our hotel (???). We ended up leaving the airport around 10 PM (we landed at 9:30) and arrived at our hotel around 11.

(We went back to the airport the same way we came. We booked 2 seats in a van at a shop next to our hotel, but this time we paid 250 baht per person instead of 200 baht. The van came right to our hotel to pick us up.)

And what a hotel it was! Aurico Kata Resort & Spa was fantastic. The hotel opened late last year and was beautifully designed. We loved our large room and balcony, the heated pool and the friendly staff who greeted us every time they saw us. We also loved the location — the hotel is on a quiet road with several eating options; Kata Beach was only a 10-minute walk.

Thanon Thaina, outside Aurico Kata Resort & Spa
The lobby of Aurico Kata Resort & Spa
The pool at Aurico Kata Resort & Spa

The thing I most wanted to do in Phuket was to visit Phuket’s Old Town for its Sino-Portuguese architecture (and, of course, go to the beach, but I’ve been really into buildings lately). As I read in Lonely Planet, “Phuket was an island of rubber trees, tin mines and cash-hungry merchants. Attracting entrepreneurs from the Arabian Peninsula, China, India and Portugal, Phuket Town was a colorful blend of cultural influences.” The old town, which is still very colorful but is significantly smaller than I imagined it would be, was captivating.

The most striking examples of the Sino-Portuguese architecture are the Promthep Clock Tower, which was once a police building and is now part of Museum Phuket, and the former Standard Chartered Bank, which was Thailand’s first foreign bank and is now Museum Phuket’s primary building. (We walked into the museum — it’s free — looked around for a second and then walked out.) These two buildings face each other on Thanon Phang-Nga right at the corner of Thanon Phuket.

Promthep Clock Tower
The former Standard Chartered Bank

Thanon Thalang (Thalang Road) is Old Town’s center. Worchihan and I spent a long time meandering along this road (and along Thanon Krabi, which Thanon Thalang turns into when it crosses Thanon Yaowarat) popping into shops (me) and taking pictures and videos (me with the pictures; Worchihan with the videos). Here are a few of our favorite scenes.

Thanon Thalang
The many colors of Thanon Thalang
Chim Jae Walking Street
The Old Phuket Coffee “Coffee Station”
The Old Phuket Coffee “Coffee Station”
Thai Hua Museum, which we didn’t visit
CAFE’IN on Thanon Krabi

We couldn’t miss Soi Romanee, which Lonely Planet called Old Town’s “prettiest street.” Soi Romanee is a rather short road off of Thanon Thalang that connects to Thanon Dibuk. We had lunch at the outdoor restaurant on the corner of Thanon Thalang and Soi Romanee and enjoyed watching all the people taking pictures there.

Soi Romanee
On Soi Romanee
Doubrew Coffee on Soi Romanee
The most popular spot to take a picture on Soi Romanee (and yes, we do like each other, but we were SO HOT)

As I wandered down Thanon Yaowarat, I noticed a building at the end of a soi Google Maps calls Soi Soon Utis. While Google Maps identifies it as a shipping company, I couldn’t tell what it was, especially as I seemed to be looking at it from the side. It looks like it needs some repair work but is beautiful just the same.

Before we left the old town, we spent some time on Thanon Phang-Nga, which should not be missed, mostly because of The Memory at On On Hotel, which opened in 1929 and is considered Phuket’s oldest hotel (at that time, it was known as On On Hotel). I loved the lobby and the interior courtyard.

Reception at The Memory at On On Hotel
The lobby of The Memory at On On Hotel

With Old Town checked off our list, we headed to Laem Phromthep on our bike for the view, but stopped at Rawai Beach on our way there, which was peaceful and quiet.

Long tail boats at Rawai Beach

On to Laem Phromthep, which is Phuket’s southernmost point. The view is supposed to be best at sunset, but we went around 3 or 4 because we wanted to be at the beach at sunset. It’s got to be a beautiful view at any time of day.

Laem Phromthep
Laem Phromthep

Now finally, Kata Beach (we visited only Kata Yai, or Big Kata). Many of Phuket’s beaches are pretty long, including Kata Yai Beach. The first day of our trip, we went to the quiet end (the northern end) of the beach, while we went to the crowded end (the southern end) the second day. On the busier end, we saw lots of people surfing (surfing lessons are available here) and, in front of Beyond Kata Resort, playing volleyball. On Kata Yai Beach, I believe you can rent 2 lounge chairs and an umbrella for 200 baht per day.

The northern end of Kata Yai Beach
The southern end of Kata Yai Beach

At this point, you may be wondering how we got around Phuket, so here’s my advice. If you go to Phuket, you’ve got to rent a motorbike (or a car); we rented a Honda Click for 240 baht per day (and a 3,000 baht deposit) at a shop across the street from our hotel. If you don’t have a bike or a car, you are dependent on public transportation which can be expensive or can take much more time than is necessary. You should know how to ride a bike before you rent one in Phuket, especially because the roads can be pretty steep and pretty winding. We saw a few guys with bandages wrapped around their legs, which you can just assume are injuries from motorbike accidents.

A three-day weekend didn’t prove to be enough time in Phuket. On our next trip, we would like to drive around the whole island, including the interior and visit more beaches, especially Nai Harn Beach. We also want to visit the Big Buddha for the view and stop at Laem Phanwa, which is, as Lonely Planet describes it, “Phuket as it once was.” We will definitely stay at Aurico Kata Resort & Spa where we will spend more time relaxing at the pool.

We really enjoyed our time in Phuket and consider it a must-visit for all visitors to Thailand. If you have any more tips for fellow travelers, please share in the comments.

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