Why the island paradise should be on your must-visit list.
Once a strategic point on the nautical Spice Trade route between India and China, Phuket has long held an iconic status for sunning under equatorial rays on many a traveler’s bucket list. But these days, visitors are discovering that the stunning tropical island has much more to offer than beautiful beaches. For those in the know, it’s becoming a leading destination for authentic cuisine, luxurious resorts and outdoor adventures above, on and beneath the cerulean Andaman Sea.
Swap that bikini for a morning or afternoon among the gentle giant residents of Phuket’s Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, an ethical refuge for these magnificent creatures in a sustainable rainforest. Guided by local experts, visitors feed bananas and sugarcane to Asian elephants before joining them for a mud bath, followed by a playful dip in the river. Equally endearing are the indigenous white-handed gibbons at Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Sanctuary. Created to repopulate Phuket’s rain forests, it’s also home to Bang Pae Waterfall, which makes for a refreshing swim in the sultry jungle.
Better than sending up a camera-equipped drone, go flightseeing by helicopter for the most dramatic angles on Thailand’s largest island. Experienced pilots fly the latest model choppers around the fantastical rock formations shooting up from Phang Nga Bay and over to the electric blue waters around Koh Phi Phi, made famous on screen in The Beach. Another day, head back here by Thai long-tail boat to climb these ancient karst limestone outcroppings.
Napoleon wrasse, damselfish, and parrotfish—plus five species of endangered sea turtles—make their homes in the still pristine Andaman Sea off Phuket. Snorkel with them along kaleidoscopic coral reefs, or head out by speedboat to scuba dive with elegant lionfish, seahorses, black tip reef sharks, and spectacular anemones.
Portuguese missionaries introduced chillies to Phuket during the 1600s, and today the peppers give Southern Thai cuisine its reputation for fiery flavors and spicy dishes. Ease into Phuket’s eye-popping edibles at the Blue Elephant Governors Mansion, also known for under the radar local dishes like the lamb kurma, a Muslim wedding delicacy. Another night, head for the hills where Lim’s serves Thai classics like winged bean salad and chilli-basil chicken along with freshly squeezed tropical cocktails. More family friendly, Ceramic Kitchen serves both local and global fare in a garden setting with an impressive 100-label wine list and Thai rums.
The new Rosewood Phuket brings a refreshingly sunlit expression of its A Sense of Place® philosophy to a gently sloped hillside along a pristine beach, aptly named Emerald Bay for the clear waters. Each of the 71 airy modern villas and 32 expansive residences has sightlines to the Andaman Sea. Retractable glass walls and lushly landscaped rooftops also allow this utterly modern enclave to nestle contextually into the timeless natural backdrop of 150-year-old banyan trees, considered sacred in Thai culture. Come barefoot to the rustic beachfront restaurant built of recycled teak wood to dine on the day’s freshest catch. Three other dining options on property include a casual poolside eatery, bistro and the terrace bar. Elsewhere on this sprawling beachfront retreat, an herb garden provides the organic ingredients for holistic treatments in the six-villa spa.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary: 168/18 Phangmueangsai Kor Rd., Patong, Kathu; +66 96-246-5492
Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Sanctuary: 104/3 Moo 3 Paklock, Talang; +66 76-260-492
Helithai & Associates: Boat Lagoon Marina, Thalang; +66 81-926-2102
Blue Elephant Governors Mansion: 96 Krabi Rd., Tambon Talad Neua, + 66 76-354-3557
Lim’s: 28 Phra Baramee Soi 7, Kathu, Patong; +66 82-451-4590
Ceramic Kitchen: 185/15 7, Srisoonthorn Road, Si Sunthon, Thalang; +66 99-410-0956