If you know about me, you know I previously served in the US Air Force for 24 years. What you may not know is that while I was posted in Bangkok I used to support the US Navy ship visits when they’d pull into port at Phuket. Honestly I didn’t have a whole lot of responsibilities. Though I appreciated the getaway from Bangkok, it seemed like a boondoggle really. But there were 3 things that were important:
- Make damned well sure I saluted the flag before boarding the ship. Don’t be the clueless Air Force guy boarding.
- Don’t turn too green in the Captain’s Mess during the briefings (which could be pretty tough if I spent the previous night enjoying too much “reconnoitering” of the area’s bar scene). I learned quickly that motion sickness pills are my friend.
- Make sure the sailors on shore leave kept their shirts on at the various Patong Walking Street bars…tough to do when they’ve been on a ship for months doing nothing but push-ups and saving money.
I didn’t explore much…
Most of my time was spent in the Patong beach and bar areas. Though had I been a younger, single man I might have had a better appreciation of my Phuket experience then. However, during my trips I never had the opportunity to explore the other less touristy places, try some of the amazing food places, or engage in any activities that I particularly enjoyed. Thus I had a rather jaded opinion of visiting Phuket. I was wrong. I now know there’s much more to Phuket than I thought.
A different perspective…
My opinion changed when I was recently invited by the Tourism Authority Thailand (TAT) to join a blogger media familiarization trip to Phuket and Phang Nga/Khao Lak. During the 4 day itinerary I had the opportunity to experience some amazing food and drink places as well as engage in some great activities. In this article I’d like to share the best of those experiences.
If you’re thinking of visiting Phuket, and want to get away from the Patong Beach and more touristy areas, these are some must visit eateries and activities that won’t disappoint!
Places to eat & drink in Phuket
I’m a man with priorities so I figured I’d start off this article with the things that are most important to me, the places to eat and drink. These are the places that really stood out for me. These are places I’d highly recommend and places I’d visit again if I went to Phuket. I didn’t get the prices of the dishes as TAT was generous and footed the bill. Without further ado…
Kiew Kai Ka
With two branches in Bangkok, and one in Chiang Mai, in April, 2019 Kiew Kai Ka opened up their fourth branch in Old Town Phuket. It’s hard to miss this gorgeous mansion of Sino-Portuguese architecture. Beautiful inside and out, the food itself stands on its own. Their menu focuses on traditional Thai cuisine and authentic local dishes. Here’s what I like!
Their Crispy Thai Omelette is the best I’ve ever tried. It’s crispy on the outside and very light and fluffy on the inside. It’s also not the least bit oily. I’ve never seen or tasted a Thai omelette this fluffy before!
Any dish that has pork belly as the main ingredient is going to rank pretty high in my book. Just sayin’. If you feel the same you must try Moo Palo. This Southern Thai specialty is a savory pork belly and hard boiled egg soup made with fragrant herbs and spices like cinnamon and palo powder (Chinese five spice). It’s a super savory way to get your tender pork and collagen fix!
Made with fermented shrimp paste Kaeng Ranjuan is a soup that balances spicy chili with the sour flavors of lime. I found that many soup dishes that are common in Southern Thai cuisine lean towards spicy and sour.
Put some stank on it!
If you’re a fan of James Brown then I am sure you will love Sataw Pad Kapi Goong. Why? Because when it comes to both the singer’s songs and this dish it’s got to be funky! This is one of my favorite dishes–though I admit it’s not for everyone. Most folks are turned off just by the fact that sataw goes by another name, stink bean. How to describe it? Imagine biting into meaty almonds that taste like they are filled with methane gas.
You’d absolutely never eat these things on their own like a bowl of peanuts. But when fried together with minced pork, fiery chilies, shrimp paste, and some large sweet shrimp…well that changes things. Enjoy this dish with some beers and you’ll be enjoying some “dragon breath” for a couple of hours!
One tip I’d give if you visit, save room for their fruit shakes. I didn’t. But here’s a picture of their fresh Mango Shakes. No sugar, just pure mango goodness with a mango sidecar on the glass!
Tu Kab Khao
It’s easy to spot the Tu Kab Khao restaurant in Phuket’s Old Town. How can you not? I mean a giant lobster adorns the side of the building!
They’ve recently received a “Michelin Plate” recognition for their excellent food, but their atmosphere and service are also excellent. Here’s some of the dishes that I’d recommend if you visit!
Very different than Moo Palo, Moo Hong is a signature dish for Phuket. Chunks of pork belly are braised with a paste made from garlic, black peppercorns and coconut or palm sugar. What you are left with is a super tender flavorful pork in a thick savory sweet gravy. A must try dish!
Tu Kab Khao is also very popular for their seafood dishes (you probably guessed that when you saw the giant lobster on the building, right?). If you like crab you’re going to love this Pu Pad Phong Karee, a stir fry of large chunks of crab claw meat, veggies, egg, and yellow curry powder. It’s incredible!
You also can’t go wrong ordering any of their fried fish with garlic. I especially enjoyed that they cut it up so you didn’t have to dig around the bones to get some nice hunks of meat. If you really want to bring a tear to your eye, make sure to dip it (the fish not your eye) in the fiery green chili seafood sauce.
If you really want some tears go ahead and dab a little sauce in your eye, weirdo.
When it comes to drinking I am an old fashioned kind of guy. Specifically, I like an Old Fashioned. Tu Kab Khao has a full service bar that makes an excellent Old Fashioned. They also have a great selection of signature cocktails that are worth trying and when you order them they go all out in the production. They will prepare the drink table side in front of you and often provide some accessories to enjoy the libations with (as “Miss Phuket” demonstrates).
But for a really unique drinking experience, here’s a place you should really check out!
Z1MPLEX Mixology Laboratory
First off, Z1MPLEX Mixology Laboratory is NOT a traditional bar. It’s not a place where you’d order a beer, a wine, or a rum and Coke. They consider themselves a “shot bar”. But in that they are different, too. It’s not a place to order shots of tequila, Jaegermeister, or (insert your favorite shot when you want to make some mistakes).
Their menu consists of works of art in shooter glasses that are carefully crafted with mesmerizing effect and have colorful names like “Aztec Jellyfish” and “Parallel Universe”.
Z1MPLEX is the creation of Khun Tom, a copywriter turned DJ turned self-taught mixologist. The bar has a lab vibe where the long bar table with inlaid lights provide illumination under the glasses as his steady hand plays with the viscosity of each liquid to create beautiful and delicious shots.
Z1MPLEX has a set menu of their regular shots to choose from, but don’t be afraid to let Khun Tom zero in on what you like. Allow him to go “off menu” for a mind blowing Instragrammable treat!. Your liver will thank you (the next day your head may not).
Things to do in Phuket
First off, there’s plenty of things to do and see in Phuket. But I want to highlight the things that I experienced that are off the beaten path from what most folks do and see in Phuket and are also very fun. As an example, the Giant Buddha statue (Phra Phutta Ming Mongkol Akenakiri, shortened to Ming Mongkol Buddha) rising high above the Phuket landscape is a popular hike for tourists to visit.
But wouldn’t it be awesome to see it from this vantage?
Get a bird’s eye view of Phuket!
When I first saw the itinerary provided by TAT, one event on the schedule immediately grabbed my attention: “31st May, 2019/0900 hrs – Leave for Phuket town sightseeing by Helicopter”. Seriously? We’re going on a helicopter?
Like me, the other passengers were feeling the same way about it, a mixture of joy and nervousness. We felt joy at the opportunity, and nervous that we were actually, no kidding doing it (if you’ve never been in a helicopter before you’d be nervous your first time, too!).
As we examined what looked like a large toy helicopter and put on our rotor noise masking headsets I began to wonder, a company called Advance Aviation must be legit, right?
Up and away!
Any reservations I had was immediately dissolved as 50,000 moving parts fought against each other so that we miraculously gained lift. First off it was incredibly smooth. In fact, it was like taking an elevator but this elevator did more than just go up and down…it went forward too! Smoothly…
Our pilot cum tour guide was happy to point out the various bays of Phuket and super exclusive resorts as he glided us along the coastline. But the highlight of the experience was circling high above the Giant Buddha statue feeling like we had a better view than the “ants” below.
The 40 minute tour we took is called the “Helicopter Sightseeing Amazing Big Buddha & Magical Bays of Phuket” tour and at 51,900 THB it isn’t exactly cheap. It becomes cheaper if you can fill the occupancy of the helicopter and spilt the costs per passenger. The maximum occupancy load is 6 passengers.
If a helicopter ride just isn’t in your budget but you still want to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, then why not check out this next activity?
For those interested in “higher learning” the MACA Trapeze and Aerial Academy certainly provides a memorable experience. Lessons are available for those at any (or no) skill level, and the activity is suitable for anyone aged 4 and up, which makes it a great family friendly activity. Operating from the grounds of Phuket’s British International School they are conveniently located centrally in Koh Kaew so it’s just a 15-20 minutes drive from most locations on the island.
My experience with the trapeze beforehand was zero. I felt very comfortable with the friendly staff of professionals who were excellent at demonstrating and explaining each move. But what really assuaged my concerns about swinging at such a hight was the many, many overlapping safety gears (harnesses, carabiners, and of course a giant net to catch me).
Regardless of skill level, everyone had a great time learning the trapeze. Which is why I’d recommend this activity for folks who want to do something fun and engaging with their family and/or friends when visiting Phuket. If learning the trapeze is on your bucket list of activities, this is a great place to scratch it off!
Day trippin’ to Phang Nga…
For some amazing viewpoints, less crowded beaches, and an opportunity to learn to surf, a day trip Phang Nga and Khao Lak is a great outing from Phuket. Along the way there are two must see viewpoints: Ao Tho Li and Samet Nangshe. Ao Tho Li is situated on the edge of Phang Nga Bay.
Samet Nangshe provides a panoramic view of the entire Phang Na Bay and closer views of the fantastic limestone formations dotting the bay.
Surfs up, dude!
If you’re interested in learning to surf, or are familiar with the sport and want to catch some waves, Memories Beach Bar & Pakarang Surfshop in Khaolak is the place to visit. Memories Beach Bar (pictured above) is your typical palm leaved thatched roof beach bar. An easy place to drink some ice cold suds, eat some inexpensive local dishes, and enjoy the beach views.
Tucked behind and to the left of the bar is the Pakarang Surf School where surfers can rent gear and folks who want to learn to surf can get some hands on instruction in the sport. They’ve been operating for more than 10 years so they know what they’re doing.
This is an excellent beach to learn to surf. It differs much from the Patong Beach of Phuket in that it has a much larger expanse of sand, there are fewer people, more wave action, you won’t see a jet ski, nor will you have to worry about a someone parasailing landing on you.
Want to overnight it?
For folks wanting to spend the night in Khao Lak, the Apsara Beachfront Resort and Villa shares the beach with the surf school. In fact, the Pakarang Surf School Facebook page often has special rate deals combining surf lessons with overnight stays at the hotel.
Some more resources…
I hope you found this article helpful for some truly unique activities and excellent places to eat and drink in Phuket (and Phang Nga/Khao Lak). My experience during this trip completely changed my opinions of visiting Phuket and I’d happily return again. That being said, this article really just scratches the surface of what there is to do, but what I’ve shared are a few things off the radar of most tourist activity lists you’ll find online.
Here are a few links to some resources that I believe are very helpful, well put together, and most importantly current.
- 19 Best Things to Do in Phuket (Updated) by Phuket 101 – Willy Thuan puts together an impressive collection of activities with additional resources. There’s sure to be something here to keep you busy and exploring Phuket
- Phuket to Khao Lak by Bangkok Attractions – A nice breakdown of how to travel from Phuket to Khao Lak, the pros and cons of each transportation method, and resources for booking.
- Very Good 8+ Recommended Places to Stay in Phuket Town by Booking.com – A one-click search result for those resorts, hotels, and hostels that are located in Phuket Town (where most of the activities and restaurants I’ve written about are located).
Talk to me…
If you visit Phuket and find an activity, restaurant, or bar that just amazes you please let me know in the comment section below, directly to me, or via message on either the Chow Traveller Facebook page or Chow Traveller Instagram. However you choose, I’d love to hear from you!