From stunning beaches and luxury hotels to lively nightlife and tasty food, it’s easy to see why Phuket is one of Thailand’s most popular destinations. However away from the tourist resorts, the Pearl of the Andaman has a long history that dates back a thousand years. Venture into the island’s sprawling markets, exciting festivals and breath-taking monuments to discover the vibrant culture and heritage at the heart of this holiday hotspot.
Mingle with the crowds at the Phuket Vegetarian Festival
With its beginnings in the 19th century, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is an action-packed celebration of a nine day abstinence from meat where devotees express their commitment in some unusual and somewhat shocking ways. Thousands of participants from all over Asia flock to the nine-day event every October. Revel in the street processions, watch daring locals climb bladed ladders or cross burning coals whilst less squeamish spectators look on. Some enthusiasts even pierce their cheeks with various sharp objects including knives and skewers. If your tastes are tamer, forgo the shocking displays and stick to the island’s markets and street stalls for an array of delicious vegetarian cuisine.
Discover Buddhism in Wat Chalong
Phuket’s largest temple, Wat Chalong or Chalong Temple has been welcoming worshippers and visitors since the 19th century. Regarded as the island’s most important temple and a must-see for sightseers, the temple’s Grand Pagoda is said to hold an actual splinter of Lord Buddha’s bone. Roughly 8km south of Phuket City, the temple is open from seven in the morning and allows tourists a look into Buddhist relics and the Buddha’s life story. Elaborate murals and gilt-covered statues are among the displays in this ornately decorated place of worship.
See the view from Big Buddha
Seen from miles around, Phuket’s Big Buddha is one of the most revered landmarks on the island. The 45 metre tall statue sits atop the Nakkerd Hills, offering 360-degree views over the island. Set in peaceful surroundings with soft background music, it is easy to get to and provides one of the best spots on the island to watch the sunset. Remember to dress modestly as this is a religious site, avoiding beachwear and revealing clothing. Once you’ve taken in the beautiful vista, relax with some seafood at the restaurant near the summit.
Sample the wares at the Phuket Weekend Market
Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon visitors can absorb everyday island life and culture at this treasure trove of food, second hand goods and knick-knacks. Known locally as Naka Market, it is divided into covered and outdoor sections. Head to the covered section for pre-owned clothing and island souvenirs, or stay outside for stalls of brand new electronics, toys, clothing and jewellery. You’ll also find a huge selection of mouth-watering food and drink, including grilled chicken, corn on the cob and fishcakes along with deep-fried insects for adventurous diners.