This guest post is by Cat.
Phuket, Thailand’s largest and most famous island, is an amazing, safe destination for solo female travelers. It’s also great for couples and friends, and the perfect base for exploring some of the most stunning islands in Thailand!
I’ve traveled extensively around the country, its islands, and the rest of Southeast Asia, including twice to Phuket solo: first as a backpacker at the beginning of my round-the-world trip, and then again recently for a scuba diving getaway when I was living in northern Thailand. So I know the must-see destinations and must-do activities for a quick trip to Phuket. And now you will too!
This three-day itinerary includes a lot of sea, but in a way that allows you to take full advantage of being in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world, even if you only have a few days there:
Day 1: Sightseeing and Phuket Town
Depending on how much energy you have and what kind of vacation you’re in the mood for, you have a few options for the first day. You likely chose Thailand over other countries in Southeast Asia because of its famous beaches, so you can head straight to one, or you can start sightseeing.
Phuket Town (aka “Old Town”) is worth visiting if you have the time. It’s not the most charming or historical I’ve ever visited (although there are some colorful Portuguese-style homes to take pictures in front of), but it’s central to a lot of fun activities!
Phuket Town is especially worth visiting on Sunday nights, when Thalang Road is closed to cars and becomes the Sunday Night Market (also called “the walking streets”). I was surprised at how many types of food stalls there were compared to other markets I have visited in the north, so I went several Sundays in a row for dinner! (On Tuesday and Friday nights, the Karon Temple night market offers delicious street food.)
Another site I recommend visiting nearby (about a 20-minute drive away) is Wat Chalong (aka Wat Chaithararam), Phuket’s largest and most-visited temple.
The Big Buddha is another must-see in Phuket. It sits atop Nakkerd Hill, between Chalong (about 20 minutes away) and Karon Beaches. The 45-meter-tall white marble statue offers impressive views of the surrounding area and excellent photo ops.
You will want to get to Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha early in the morning to beat the crowds and the heat. Don’t forget to wear shoes that are easy to take off (since you must remove your shoes before entering temples), and cover your shoulders and knees for the temple visit.
However, if you are spending time in other parts of Thailand and have the opportunity to see temples elsewhere, I would skip these and use the time for more water activities instead. Check out Kata Noi Beach, one of the best in Phuket. My other favorite beaches are Freedom, Nui, Nai Harn, and Bang Tao.
Depending on where you’re staying and which beach you choose, Promthep Cape is another must-see for amazing views. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset and get stunning pictures of Phuket. Karon Viewpoint is also a popular sunset spot, located between Nai Harn and Kata Noi Beaches.
An easy way to see Phuket’s main sites in a day is to book this Phuket City Tour, which includes a visit to Karon Viewpoint, the Big Buddha, and Wat Chalong. You’ll also visit a cashew nut factory, stop for photo ops at various viewpoints and beaches, and learn from a local guide.
Day 2: James Bond Island
James Bond Island (the nickname for Khao Phing Kan) is one of the most iconic tourist attractions in Phuket. It’s worth the hype!
If you have a short time here and only want to visit on a day trip, the best way is to book this speedboat tour.
You won’t have the island to yourself, especially during high season, but it’s not the island that you’re there to see. What makes it special are the spectacular limestone cliffs that you may remember from the movie The Man with the Golden Gun, and the vivid green water. No filters needed!
Seeing the island by speedboat is better than some of the cheaper boats, because you’ll have more time at each stop, so you can get your fill of swimming, snorkeling, hiking, and kayaking. While you’re not allowed to swim at James Bond Island itself, your guide will bring you to other memorable spots.
It’s a long day, but if you have energy for more, check out the Simon Cabaret, starring the most glamorous ladyboys, decked out from head to toe in bright costumes! I recently went with friends, and we had a blast!
Koh Phi Phi is another good option. Take this speedboat tour to nearby Maya Bay (famous because of the DiCaprio movie The Beach). You’re not allowed to swim in the bay, but tours will stop at other beautiful places nearby.
Koh Phi Phi is worth staying overnight on if you have the time. I love the pedestrian-only streets and chill vibes.
Day 3: Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
I was first certified as a scuba diver in Koh Tao (another island), and now I’ve dived in Thailand 30-40 times. If you’re a scuba diver, there are several great reefs near Phuket: Koh Phi Phi, Racha Noi, and Yai (islands); the King Cruiser Wreck; and Shark Point. I went with Super Divers dive shop and had a great experience.
What you see depends both on the season and on luck. I was in Phuket in August and was lucky enough to see huge schools of snapper and barracuda, a leopard shark, a sea turtle, and so many eels.
My favorite dive site was Koh Phi Phi, not because of the dive sites themselves, but because sitting on the boat surrounded by the impressive limestone cliffs was magical — seeing cool underwater creatures was just a bonus.
Thailand’s best diving and snorkeling is at the Similan Islands, about 100 km northwest of Phuket. Some dive shops offer day trips there, but the best way to experience everything they have to offer is to stay on the islands overnight or do a live-aboard boat.
If you still have gas in your tank at the end of the day and want to enjoy Phuket’s nightlife, check out Bangla Road (aka Patong Walking Street), where you’ll find a variety of bars and clubs. There are some seedy places around here, too, which is something to be aware of.
If you’re not a scuba diver, no worries — you can do an amazing day trip to nearby Phi Phi Islands for some world-class snorkeling! This speedboat tour allows you to see the best of Koh Phi Phi in a day and includes snorkeling at Bamboo Island, plus a visit to both Monkey Beach and Maya Bay.
I was lucky enough to do this tour when Thailand first reopened Maya Bay and got to experience it without the crowds — something I’ll never forget it!
Getting around Phuket
Many travelers underestimate the size of Phuket Island — it’s big! That means it will take a bit of time, likely 45 minutes or more, to get from the airport to wherever you’re staying, and it can easily take 45 minutes or more to get from one part of Phuket to another.
Since I’ve spent so much time in Southeast Asia and Thailand in particular, I feel very comfortable riding a scooter. You can rent one for just a few dollars a day, but I only recommend doing this if you are very comfortable, as it’s not the safest means of transport. By law, you’re required to have an International Driver’s Permit with a motorcycle designation (I’ve been fined several times in Thailand for not having a motorcycle designation on mine). Remember, they drive on the lefthand side of the street in Thailand!
The easiest way to get around is by using the Grab app (Southeast Asia’s version of Uber) to call a ride when you need one. I recommend you set up the app before you get to Thailand so that you have it ready to go. If you hail a taxi on the street, make sure they turn on the meter.
Tuk-tuks are always a fun way to get around, too, but they’re generally more expensive than taxis because they know tourists often overpay. I like to use the Grab app to check what a fair price is before negotiating with a tuk-tuk driver — and you should always negotiate the price before getting in!
You can also try using Songthaew trucks to get around — that’s how the locals do it! These are essentially pickup trucks with two long benches in the back that you can hop on and off of. They’re as close as Thailand gets to public transportation around town. Just flag them down like you would a taxi. You’ll pay your fare directly to the driver — tell him where you’re headed and ask for the cost. But using the Songthaews will take more time than a taxi — not ideal for your three-day itinerary!
Getting to/from Phuket International Airport
Since you only have a short time in Phuket, I recommend arranging an airport transfer in advance, so that you don’t have to stress about how you’re getting from the airport to your hotel.
You will also have no trouble finding either a taxi (which is supposed to use a meter) if you’d rather wing it. And in the arrivals hall, near the exit, there are shared-taxivan options if you don’t mind a slightly slower route.
You can also call a Grab taxi, but they’ll likely want you to walk a little outside the airport, since the regular taxis will get mad at them if they enter. That can be annoying, what with all your luggage.
If you’re on a budget and have plenty of time, there’s a very reliable airport bus that runs on a set schedule to and from the airport.
More Options: Build Your Own 3-Day Phuket Itinerary
If you want to build your own Phuket itinerary from scratch and are just looking for some inspiration, here are all of the top things to do! Feel free to swap in any of them to make this itinerary your own.
1. Ko Racha Yai: Enjoy crystal-clear waters, snorkeling, and serene beaches on this nearby island paradise.
2. Bang Pae Waterfall: Hike through the lush jungle to discover this refreshing waterfall, perfect for a cool dip.
3. Sirinat National Park: Explore untouched nature, pristine beaches, and a mangrove forest in this coastal national park.
4. Bang Tao Beach: Relax on the tranquil shores of one of Phuket’s longest beaches, known for its laid-back atmosphere.
5. Banzaan Market: Savor local flavors and shop for souvenirs at this bustling market offering fresh seafood, street food, and crafts. Make sure you bargain!
6. Paradise Beach: Escape to a secluded and picturesque beach known for its calm waters and water sports activities.
7. Koh Panyi: Discover a floating fishing village with stilted houses, enjoy seafood, and immerse yourself in local culture.
8. Koh Phi Phi: Take a boat trip to the iconic Phi Phi Islands, famous for their stunning beaches, snorkeling, and Maya Bay.
9. Thai massage: All Phuket itineraries should include a traditional Thai massage! Or, if you’re a wimp like me, try a foot massage instead.
10. Thai cooking class: Learn the secrets of Thai cuisine with a hands-on cooking class, including visits to local markets.
11. Food tour: Sample Phuket’s diverse culinary delights, from street food to gourmet dining. This is one of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling solo — I always make friends!
12. Muay Thai: Watch or try your hand at Thailand’s national sport, Muay Thai, at local gyms or events. I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy watching people fight, but I had a great time seeing the talented martial artists!
13. Sunday Night Market: Experience the vibrant atmosphere of this weekly market offering crafts, art, and street food. Try everything.
14. Chalong Bay Rum Distillery: Take a tour of the distillery and taste locally produced rum while learning about the process.
15. Baba Nest Rooftop Bar: Enjoy breathtaking sunset views from this renowned rooftop bar, listed among the world’s best by CNTraveler.
19. Koh Lanta: Take a three-hour ferry ride to the less touristy island of Koh Lanta for a tranquil escape from Phuket’s hustle and bustle. Not suitable for a day trip, but if you have extra time, this is a good option!
20. Simon cabaret show: A family-friendly extravaganza featuring dazzling costumes, talented performers, and captivating transgender artists. A must-see cultural experience.
21. Bangla Road (Patong Walking Street): Phuket’s nightlife epicenter features lively bars, dancing, and vibrant street performances. Experience the energetic atmosphere (but be wary of the seedier shows on offer).
After spending three days in Phuket, you’ll fully appreciate what it has to offer: beautiful beaches, delicious street food, vibrant nightlife, and easy access to some of the most stunning islands in Thailand.
This three-day itinerary will allow you to maximize your time in Phuket, or you can use it to get inspired and customize the perfect trip for yourself!
(If you have extra time, I recommend you explore other islands, like Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui. And don’t skip Northern Thailand! Chiang Mai is one of my favorite cities in the whole world!)
Be careful, though — after exploring everything Phuket has to offer, you’re never going to want to leave!
About the author: Cat is a very hungry solo female traveler in her 30s, who left a six-figure job in NYC to travel (and taste!) the world. Cat is determined to prove that there are ways to backpack the world on a budget without fully sacrificing the “grown-up” lifestyle you love. Follow her journey through her blog, Cat Is Out of the Office.