Phuket is beloved by holidaymakers and wellness fanatics for its resort spas, yoga studios and a laidback beachy lifestyle that even managed to tame British bad boy DJ and actor Goldie. (He divides his time between this southern Thai island and the UK.)
Still, there’s no shortage of heart-pumping outdoor activities in Phuket and across its neighbouring islands. Use our guide below to plot your next adventures, be it a thrilling zipline ride through the jungles, stand-up paddleboarding through mangroves or scuba diving among reefs teeming with coral, sea turtles and fish.
Note: Thailand is currently offering a Special Tourist Visa (STV) that allows entry for long-stay tourists for between 90 and 270 days, so long as 14 days quarantine is first completed at a State Quarantine or Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) facility (or seven days for tourists who can show proof of vaccination).
Scuba Dive or Snorkel in the Andaman Sea
The weather stays mild in Phuket all year, with optimal diving conditions from November to April, when the Andaman Sea is calm and rain infrequent. Scuba divers can explore hard coral reefs and soft corals teeming with barracudas, stingrays, seahorses, tropical fish and vibrant nudibranchs. The neighbouring islands of Koh Racha Noi and Koh Rachai Yai – about 35 minutes by speedboat – are known for whale sharks and sea snakes. There are even wrecks of old barges and planes for advanced divers to uncover.
If you’re more comfortable splashing on the surface, stick to snorkelling around Koh Phi Phi’s Monkey Bay or Hin Klang, an enormous reef just north of Koh Phi Phi, where a rainbow of colourful fish dart among the shallow corals. It’s about a two-hour ferry ride from Phuket.
Zipline Through the Treetops
There are many ways to get around the island, but none is as fun as whizzing through the rainforest canopy, 40 metres above the ground along on a zipline. To try this outdoor activity in Phuket, head inland with an operator like Flying Hanuman, appropriately named after the fearless Hindu monkey god. Over the course of a few hours, experienced guides will help you rappel down from the treetops, ascend spiral rope staircases, brave sky bridge crossings and zipline across 80,000 square metres of lush rainforest. The longest stretch is 400 metres, providing more than 45 seconds of heart-pumping adrenaline as you travel over 60 kilometres an hour while securely locked into the wire on your harness.
Brave the Rapids by Whitewater Rafting
The mighty Phang Nga River, 80 kilometres north of Phuket in Phang Nga province, is the place to go for a thrilling whitewater adventure. You and a few others will suit up with a life jacket, helmets and oars and then navigate a five-kilometre tract of rocky rivers hedged in by dense jungle – with an instructor in tow. Set aside a full day for the experience and book a tour that covers pickup and drop-off. Some packages also include four-wheel ATV rides and ziplining.
Tour a Mangrove on a Stand-Up Paddleboard
To enjoy outdoor activities in Phuket at a slower pace, consider a mangrove tour on a stand-up paddleboard. Mangroves play an important ecological role as a natural barrier against large waves and flood damage – also filtering impurities in water – and their roots provide a habitat for nurseries of fish and crabs.
As you cruise along Klong Mudong, a tidal estuary that flows into the mangroves along Phang Nga Bay on Phuket’s east coast, keep your eyes peeled for native birds, macaques and snakes. The nearby village of Ban Bo Rae Panwa is great for refreshments, and you can catch a stunning sunset looking out over the bay at the Panwan and Khao Khad viewpoints.
Go Cycling on Koh Yao Noi
Just a short boat ride from Phuket is the sleepy rural island of Koh Yao Noi, where you can rent bikes to gear up for a scenic 28-kilometre cycling route (one way to work off some of those calorific pad Thai and mango sticky rice lunches). Operators such as Amazing Bike Tours arrange packages that include transport, rentals and lunch on the island. Your guide will weave your group through small market towns, rice paddies, rubber tree plantations and sparkling coastlines.
Enjoy Ethical Elephant Experiences
Elephants are an integral part of Thai culture and one of the most popular outdoor activities in Phuket. But some operators are more respectful than others. Avoid places where people are riding, hugging or bathing with elephants and instead say yes to ethical animal experiences whenever you can. At the 12-hectare Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, for instance, you can enjoy a hands-off, unobtrusive experience, admiring the animals from afar as they roam, socialise and trumpet. Another option is to visit retired working elephants that have been saved at Phuket Tree Tops Elephant Reserve; its oldest, Nam Sook (meaning ‘grandma’), is over 70 years old.
Hike to Waterfalls
Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, in Phuket’s north, is one of the island’s green lungs, featuring hectares of verdant rainforest, native species, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre and Instagram-worthy waterfalls. You’ll need to arrange your own transport to the park and pay a small fee to enter. Once you’re in, Ton Sai awaits just east of the town of Talang; it’s easily accessible and equipped with an information centre (where you can enquire about guided tours), bathrooms, a carpark and a playground, which makes for great days out with the family. A four-kilometre trail leads to the taller Bang Pae waterfalls, snaking through forests that are home to 80 bird species, some with names as colourful as their plumages like the red-legged crake and the Siberian blue robin.
Cast Your Line for Big-Game Fish
The warm water of the Andaman Sea attracts some of the most prized creatures in the world of big-game sport fishing, one of the more popular outdoor activities in Phuket. It’s not unheard of for deep-sea anglers to cast their lines out and reel in marlin, two-metre-long wahoo, skipjack, long-fin and yellow-fin tuna and the famed giant trevally. Half-day and full-day private charters will likely head out to the waters around the Racha Islands and Koh Rok. Overnight or multi-day big-game fishing trips can go farther out to areas such as the remote Similan Islands, 100 kilometres northwest of the Phuket coastline.