Phuket sits amid some of the world’s most ravishing scenery. Lush limestone peaks jut from the emerald Andaman Sea and punctuate the dense jungles on land, providing superb options for day trips. The most popular excursions are multi-island boat tours, where you can skim the clear waters through towering rock formations on a speedboat or traditional longtail boat and explore nearby archipelagos. Not far from Phuket lie the famous Phi Phi islands, with Maya Bay and Monkey Beach, and Phang Nga Bay, home to the distinctive pinnacle made famous in a James Bond film.
Further afield are the Similan Islands, a favorite diving location. All this beauty lures hordes of tourists, however just a short hop from Phuket are a few sleepy islands, where the locals still follow their traditional way of life, and you can step back in time and soak up a more authentic Thai vibe. Eco adventures are also a highlight. In Khao Sok National Park, you can commune with elephants; canoe down the serene Sok River; and trek through the jungle, where monkeys and gibbons swing in the canopy, and tigers and bears still roam.
1. Phi Phi Islands
Hands down the most popular day trip from Phuket are the Phi Phi Islands. About 45-60 minutes away by speedboat from the Royal Phuket Marina, these six dazzling islands are famous for their dramatic limestone karst formations, cloaked in lush foliage, which jut from the jade-green sea. But all this beauty comes at a price. Throngs of day trippers descend on these shores every day, so if you’re seeking seclusion, you won’t find it here. What you will find are some famous sights such as of Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Ley, the location of the famous film The Beach and Koh Phi Phi Don, the archipelago’s only inhabited island. Packed with resorts, this island is famous for the crab-eating macaques at Monkey Beach and the white sands of Laem Thong. Snorkeling is excellent in the crystal clear waters around the islands.
2. Phang Nga Bay
More than 100 steep, jungle-cloaked rock islands dot the clear, green waters around Phang Nga Bay, creating a breathtaking seascape that is best viewed from the water. A large area of the bay is protected as the Ao Phang Nga National Park. The most famous island is Koh Tapu (meaning Nail Island in Thai) more commonly known as James Bond Island, thanks to its distinctive top-heavy pinnacle made famous in the 1974 film The Man with the Golden Gun. Koh Ping Ghan is another popular stop and a great place to snap a photo of James Bond Island’s famous rock formation. Many boat tours also include a lunch stop at the Muslim fishing village of Koh Panyee, which is home to wooden shops and homes built on stilts above the island’s fringing shallow waters. Other tour highlights include swimming at Naka Island and kayaking through the limestone sea caves or Hong (“rooms”) at Koh Panak and Koh Hong. Try to pick a tour that leaves in the early morning or after lunch as tourists clog the islands in the middle of the day.
3. Khao Sok National Park
About 150 kilometers from Phuket, Khao Sok National Park is a visual symphony of lush greens, deep blue lakes, waterfalls, and towering limestone peaks, all set in 738 square kilometers of one of the planet’s oldest rainforests. Favorite activities here are canoeing and kayaking down the Sok River, elephant experiences, exploring bat-filled caves, and jungle trekking. Deep in the national park, man-made Cheow Lan Lake is a top attraction, with its floating raft houses and luxury tented camps. The park is home to diverse flora and fauna. Wildlife includes spectacled langurs, wild elephants, tigers, deer, boar, bear, and marbled cats, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot wild gibbons swinging through the canopy. The park is also home to more than 300 species of birds including the impressive hornbill. This is one of Thailand’s rainiest areas, so the best time to visit is during the dry season, from December through April.
4. Coral Island
Called Koh Hae by the locals, Coral Island lies about six kilometers southeast of Phuket and is a popular day trip destination for snorkelers and beach lovers, although the coral here has seen better days. The island is home to two lovely, but typically crowded stretches of soft, white sand: Long Beach, where many of the tour boats land, and Banana Beach, a rugged fifteen-minute walk through the jungle from the eastern end of Long Beach. The day trippers who come here love to feed the many fish that congregate in the clear water or kick out to the offshore coral reefs to snorkel with the tropical fish, including parrotfish, butterfly fish, and trumpet fish. Parasailing, kayaking, banana boat rides, and massages on the beach are other popular activities. Deck chairs are available along the shore, and you can also enjoy a meal at one of the beachfront restaurants.
5. Racha Islands
Translucent turquoise water and white sands lure crowds of day trippers to the two Racha Islands, about 12 kilometers south of Phuket. Racha Yai (Big Racha) is the most popular, with its beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay, called Ao Tawan Tok, and luxury villa-style Racha Resort. Ao Siam, the island’s other large bay tends to be a little quieter. The main activities here are snorkeling and swimming in the warm, clear waters and basking on the white sands. Racha Noi (Little Racha) is uninhabited and has no tourist infrastructure, but the surrounding waters offer some decent diving. Tour boats usually depart from Chalong Pier or Rawai, and the trip takes about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the type of boat. This day trip is often combined with a stop at Coral Island.
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