Phuket Tours and Safaris

Whilst on holiday in Phuket many people join an organised tour of some kind, as it can be a very enjoyable and convenient way to experience the amazing sights around the island and beyond. This option may not appeal to everybody’s taste, but it can be the easiest way to explore and participate in a diverse range of sports and activities, especially for anyone unfamiliar with the island or that has limited time on holiday. The itineraries tend to be quite varied, and it’s possible to tailor most tours to individual preferences and budgets, or even to do an identical trip with a privately arranged guide and transport.

Many of the attractions and places of interest around Phuket, such as the coastal viewpoints, beaches, museums, zoos, temples and cultural hotspots, could just as easily be visited independently at a much lower cost, but this requires transport such as a car or small motorbike. For many people this will not be a suitable option but it’s recommended where possible, as you won’t be shepherded around or have to keep to a fixed itinerary.

Choosing a Tour

Tours and Safaris - ElephantChoosing a tour is the easy part as there are all types of fun and interesting activities in Phuket, including elephant trekking, jungle safaris, cycling and motorbike tours, general sightseeing, Thai cooking lessons, scuba diving and snorkelling, off road ATV tours, whitewater rafting, golfing, and much more. You name it, Phuket seems to have it!

There is such a wealth of tours and companies that it’s easy to find an agent just by wandering around wherever you happen to be staying in Phuket, especially around Patong. Decent travel agents and small booths can be found everywhere; all have detailed tour information and can get you onto any tour as they simply act as booking agents. Alternatively, many hotels can make the necessary arrangements, and should be able to recommend which tours have the best reputation.

It can be hard to determine the most reliable companies, but nowadays most tour companies behave in a responsible manner and many even promote themselves as eco-friendly and environmentally conscious. Look for those that are well established and have positive reviews, that provide insurance and have decent instruction and local guides. It’s best to avoid companies that have recently sprung up, as they could just as easily be out of business tomorrow; such is the overcrowded nature of the tour market.

The majority of organised tours include a local pickup from hotels around the tourist areas of Phuket’s west coast, but may charge extra if you are staying elsewhere such as Rawai or Surin. Many tours provide half day, full day and multi-day programmes, so you could do a longer trip if it’s an activity that you particularly enjoy. As an example, most jungle safaris and live-aboard diving trips have extended itineraries so you can get the maximum enjoyment out of the experience.

Popular Types of Tour

We’ve highlighted some of the most popular tours below, to give an idea of what’s available to do in and around Phuket. It’s worth remembering that many of these tours can be combined into multi-activity trips, such as elephant trekking and a jungle safari, or quad biking and white water rafting. Just think of a combination and you’re sure to find a suitable tour. We’ve also covered many of the outdoor and water sports (such as jet-skis and kite surfing) in our sports section as they aren’t generally offered as part of a tour.

Sea Canoes and Kayaking
What better way to explore the small bays, coves and impressive limestone karst and cave scenery in this part of Thailand than by sea canoe. It’s possible to paddle around many of the secluded bays in Phuket by canoe which can be great fun itself, but the highlights are surely a trip around Phang Nga bay to places such as James Bond Island, or the hard to reach limestone caves and lagoons known as hongs that can only be entered when the tide is at a suitable height, exposing hidden wildlife and glittering stalactites.

A full day canoeing adventure is perhaps the best option, and there are even night tours that let you explore by the light of the moon, a very atmospheric and memorable tour indeed. These trips are possible to do and fun at any time of year, come rain or shine. Typical prices are around 3000 baht for a full one day trip, which includes hotel transfers.

Diving Tours
Phuket and much of the Andaman Sea marine area is particularly well known for its world class diving, and has some of the best and most enjoyable dive spots in the world. The conditions are nearly perfect and the underwater flora and fauna can be stunning and easily accessible. Many dive schools are based in Phuket which offer all sorts of varied dive trips and PADI courses, from short half or one day tours along the western coast of Phuket and the small reefs and islands, to longer live-aboard trips that explore local shipwrecks and islands further away, such as Koh Phi Phi, Richelieu Rock, and the particularly impressive Hin Daeng (red rock) and Hin Muang (purple rock).

A typical dive tour can range from a few thousand baht for a short trip with several included dives, and tens of thousands of baht to explore further away and more remote places. The live-aboard vessels are probably the best way to experience the unmissable diving, as they can travel in comfort to places such as the Similans and even the islands and coastline around Burma. For more comprehensive details on diving around Phuket, check out our sports section.

Elephant Jungle Treks
Elephant treks and rides are always one of the most popular tours in Phuket, and a brilliant way to get up close to these magnificent animals and back to nature. Being the national symbol of Thailand and revered throughout the kingdom, elephants were once hard at work all over the forests and jungles of Thailand, but the number remaining in the wild is now quite low. Nowadays, it’s more common to see them being used on jungle tours or even walking along the busy streets of Bangkok. A jungle trek is safe and suitable for all the family, and should be experienced at least once in Thailand.

There are numerous elephant camps in Phuket where the tours are based, and nearly all will take you through forested areas and trails where the creatures are in their natural environment. Perched on an elephant with the mahout up front guiding it along is a splendid way to enjoy trekking through the undergrowth. Besides the trek, there is normally the chance to learn more about the elephants, join in feeding time, and to see how they are trained from youngsters. The tours usually last between 30 minutes and an hour, but it’s possible to have a longer ride or go further afield to places such as Khao Sok and Khao Lak, where the jungle scenery is stunning. Prices start at just over 1000 baht for a 30 minute tour.

Golf Tours
Many people love nothing more than to play a few rounds of golf whilst on holiday, and Phuket has this more than covered. After all, what better way is there to hone your skills in a beautiful and tropical setting in between trips to the beach and the bars? There are some first rate golf courses here and the conditions can be nearly perfect with challenging courses, top notch facilities and beautiful mountain backdrops. Of course, it’s possible to arrange your own golf trip and turn up independently, but by doing it through an organised tour you may obtain discounted rates, and the total price usually includes the green fees, caddy, and round trip transport to and from your hotel.

The main clubs in Phuket include the Blue Canyon, Mission Hills, Laguna, Phuket Country Club, Thai Muang, Loch Palm and Red Mountain. You can get the details on all the courses and the full lowdown on golf in Phuket in our sports guide.

Horse Riding
Phuket may not immediately spring to mind when you think of horses, but it’s a great place to enjoy a few hours of riding on the beach, along jungle trails and through small villages. The best time to ride is in the morning or late afternoon, as it can be extremely hot during the day with all the gear on. Prices range from about 800 baht for a one hour jungle trek, but you can also do a beach tour or combine them into an extended experience.

A horse riding tour is great fun, and the instructors will show you the basic techniques and provide all the necessary equipment. There are usually Thai horses and some imported ones which are perhaps the most impressive.

Island Tours
It’s quite simple to reach the islands close to Phuket by hiring a long tail boat, but one of the more popular ways is with an organised tour by ferry or speedboat. There are a dozen or so great islands to visit each with unique characters, such as Coral Island, Rang Yai, Racha Island, Koh Yao, Lone Island and many more. Most island tours will visit a few of these and stop occasionally at secluded beaches and coves along the way, giving visitors a chance to lie on the beach or snorkel in the shallow waters.

Besides the islands immediately close to Phuket, the most common tours are to Koh Phi Phi and its Maya Bay (the idyllic film location for the movie The Beach, now overrun in the daytime but impressive nonetheless) and to the Similan Islands, which have many unbeatable dive spots. Full day organised trips to Phi Phi by speed boat and activities included costs around 3000 baht, or slightly less by ferry. For those with cash to splash, it’s possible to charter private boats to practically anywhere, but the cost is much higher.

Motorbike Tours
When the weather is fine and dry (and terrible traffic aside) there is really no better way to explore Phuket than riding a big motorbike around the island. It’s made all the easier by joining a tour as everything is provided and the route can be followed without needing a map! Most tours start off near Patong and circumnavigate the island for a half or full day, with various stops along the way to enjoy the views, but it’s possible to go much further on extended tours to Krabi, Ranong, Khao Sok national park, or even to Koh Samui.

In Phuket, once you’ve left the hubbub of Patong Beach there are some terrific roads that snake through the mountain scenery, and you soon leave the traffic behind. A popular and well received selection of Harley Davidson tours is organised by Nicky’s Handlebar Harley Tours, who have a good local reputation.

Mountain Bike Tours
Although not quite the same full-on petrol head experience as a motorbike tour, a mountain bike trip lets you explore the island quite quickly and reach some places that are otherwise inaccessible. Bike tours travel through idyllic scenery, small villages and dirt tracks, small valleys and rubber plantations, and make stops at the gorgeous beaches and other local attractions.

There are comprehensive bike tours which take in eastern Phuket and the area around Bang Rong and visit the Gibbon Project (see our article on Phuket attractions) or the famous Wat Chalong temple in the south of the island. The itineraries are extremely varied and can be tailored to your interests and abilities. Koh Yao Noi (which means small long island) is another great biking spot as it’s quiet and there is none of the excessive traffic that can plague Phuket. Typical prices are about 2,500 baht for a full 1 day tour.

Zoos, Farms and Animals
The local zoos and animal farms draw many visitors, often as part of an island-wide tour that includes several attractions in a single day. Phuket Zoo features an array of exotic animals and puts on entertaining elephant and monkey shows, as well as letting guests pay to have their pictures taken with tigers and other animals. Crocodile farms are another unlikely but interesting attraction, and worth seeing just for the sheer numbers of ferocious sharp-toothed reptiles, not to mention the daring shows.

The Phuket Aquarium is one of the best animal attractions and although not that large by any means, it has some impressive tropical fish species on show, a brilliant walkthrough glass tunnel, and a chance to see conservation work in aid of the endangered sea turtles. Phuket also has a butterfly farm with some of the rarer species and other creepy crawlies, and visitors can walk through the midst of them in the glass houses.

Lastly, the Gibbon Project in the Khao Phra Theaw national park is probably the most worthwhile animal related attraction. Run entirely by volunteers, they help save and rehabilitate white handed gibbon monkeys which are under serious threat from poaching, loss of habitat and mistreatment. The cute youngsters are often used as tourist attractions and then abandoned later in life. You can learn more in our sightseeing article.

Phuket and City Tours
There are so many things to see and do around Phuket, and the best way can be to join a whistle-stop island tour that includes many of the best local attractions in just a single day. This might include a short stop at some of the more remote and scenic beaches, a visit to a traditional sea gypsy village, popular viewpoints such as Laem Promthip, the Big Buddha, gem and pearl factories, museums such as the seashell museum and the mining museum, Thai cultural dances and shows, and Phuket Town with its old Sino-Portuguese mansions and original Chinese shophouses. Many of the other attractions such as crocodile farms and zoos can be combined with such a tour; it really just depends on what you want to see and how much time you have available.

Prices start at less than 500 baht and transportation is usually by minivan with a small group, but you should check to see whether entrance fees are included in the tour prices.

Quad Bike ATV Tours
All-terrain quad bike tours around Phuket have become very popular in recent years as it’s a great way to reach inaccessible and challenging terrain, and have a lot of fun in the process. The tours last between 1 and 3 hours on powerful 300cc or 450cc bikes, and includes instruction on how to drive and some practice sessions before being let loose on the jungle trails, through small villages and across rivers. You can definitely expect to get quite wed and muddy on a tour like this.

For those that don’t want to handle the machines themselves, it’s possible to ride as a passenger and let a guide do all the hard work. Some tours also include a scenic trip up to the famous Big Buddha temple.

ATV tours are not especially cheap. Prices start at around 1500 baht for a 1 hour tour.

Safaris and Nature Tours
Jungle safaris and nature tours tend to combine several short activities such as an elephant ride or 4×4 drive, a coffee plantation visit, a demonstration of rubber tapping, a monkey show, waterfalls, whitewater and bamboo rafting, canoeing, and a cruise on a traditional junk boat. The possibilities are endless and there is plenty of choice available.

For a typical fully featured group tour, you can expect to pay upwards of 2000 baht, but this will include several activities as well as lunch and refreshments.

Thai Cooking Classes
Learning how to prepare the delicate flavours and subtle aromas of Thai food can be an immensely enjoyable experience, and is one that many visitors to Thailand have high on their agenda of things to do. There is no greater reward than being able to prepare an authentic, healthy and delicious Thai meal, and then demonstrate to friends back home your new found culinary skills.

The classes start with a quick introduction followed by a visit to a lively local market where you can buy all the necessary fresh ingredients, then some hands on tuition by experts in a local kitchen or restaurant where you’ll learn how to prepare the most amazing dishes such as spicy soups and curries. People are often amazed at just how simple to make many Thai meals are and it’s usually the combination of ingredients and key flavours that produce its complex and unique flavours. When you’ve finished the preparation you’ll have the chance to enjoy the mouthwatering meal that you’ve just cooked.

Typical courses last between 2 to 5 hours and you can expect to pay anywhere between 1500 and 4000 baht depending on the duration of the course.

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