Phuket, it seems, has become the poster child for a beach resort destination that’s becme completely tailored to western tastes and values. But in amongst the luxury resorts, farang-friendly bars and sunned up tourists sipping lattes in trendy cafes, it’s still possible to taste the real Thailand. In fact, step away from the main tourist avenues and you’ll find a Phuket that's changed very little in centuries. Here’s how to experience Phuket like a local.
Go on a local life heritage walk
Long before Phuket became a mecca for sun-seeking and flip-flop wearing travellers in pursuit of a beach holiday, the island was a major trading port, popular with itinerant merchants from both the East and West. But the discovery of tin in the 17th century lured fortune seeks from Portugal, China, France and Britain who ultimately established a more permanent presence on the island, building grand mansions and shop houses in the Old Town that still remain today. Take a walk with a local guide along these quaint streets colonised with boutique shops, quirky guesthouses and preserved examples of Sino-Portuguese architecture and get a refreshingly real dose of culture that’s many layers deep.
Learn how to cook like a local
Gain an insight into Thai culture via your tastebuds and learn the refined art of cooking Thai cuisine at Pat's Home Thai Cooking School. A chef with over a decade of experience in cooking authentic Thai fare, Pat’s passion for teaching is almost as intense as her chillies! After visiting the local market to purchase the day’s fresh ingredients, you’ll be taken into Pat’s home where you’ll quickly learn how to perfectly balance traditional flavours and spices to create mouth-watering renditions of some of your favourite dishes – all in a relaxed environment. Your dinner parties back home will never be quite the same again.
Eat like a local on the streets
If you’d prefer to leave the cooking to the pros (and there’s definitely no shame in that at all) then head to the streets as the locals do and graze on some of the best street food in the world – hands down. To steer you to the best foodie spots locals secretly keep to themselves, join a Phuket Street Eats tour on an empty stomach and be led by an in-the-know guide through colourful local markets, sampling the crème de la crème of Thai cuisine, including the best mango sticky rice, coconut cake, chicken skewers and many other local favourites.
More Thai to tempt your tastebuds: Go Beyond Green Curry - Eat Thai Like a Local
Next stop: island paradise: The Secrets of Koh Lanta
Get back to nature at Hanuman World
Escape the sensory overstimulation of Patong and head for the trees – literally – at Hanuman World, donning your Indiana Jones hat for a few hours of fun and exploration in the tropical Thai jungle. Inject a dose of adrenaline into your day by zipping through the trees on Thailand’s fastest roller zipline, or dial down the pace but pump up the serenity and walk along the longest tree-to-tree sky bridge in the country. Either way, you’ll be able to experience what it’s like to be surrounded by lush jungle, which, for many Thais, is a daily affair.
Experience a spectacular sunset on a dinner cruise
Spend the last moments of the day onboard the June Bahtra (a traditional Chinese junk boat) for a relaxing sunset dinner cruise through Phang Nga Bay and its spectacular limestone karts, sticking out of the emerald-green water like humps of an underwater dinosaur. If the visual feast for the eyes isn’t enough to fully satisfy, then the included five-course Thai buffet with wine certainly will be. Yep, with a gobsmacking view like this every day of the week, Phuket locals are definitely happy to call their island of paradise home.