Phuket is one of Thailand’s most popular destinations for a reason; the Asiatic nation’s largest island is awash with jungles, beaches, national parks, and a gorgeous archipelago of neighboring islands that wow visitors year after year. Crucially for the nomad scene though, while Phuket is full of natural wonder, it also provides accommodation and facilities that range from extremely luxurious to affordable and well-equipped. The island itself is mountainous and the climate is tropical—the temperature doesn’t change much throughout the year—but the rains come and go, so humidity varies. The best time to visit Phuket is November to February when the days are mostly dry, but if you don’t mind the occasional downpour, it’s a great base all year round.
Phuket has a rich and interesting history—the island has been inhabited for thousands of years with Tai tribes settling in the area since 100 BC, joining the Ayutthaya kingdom in the 16th century. Around this time arrived Portuguese explorers, who began trading tin from the local mines. The island became a busy trading port between India and China, also used by the British, Dutch, and French. This legacy still lives on in the Sino-Portuguese architecture lovingly restored and visible in Phuket Old Town. In the 18th century, Chinese folks arrived on the island and around half the population of Phuket today is of Chinese descent.
While mass tourism has been slow to return, devoted fitness fanatics still flock here to Phuket, which is something of a Mecca for the national sport Muay Thai, with boxing camps, elaborate gyms, and health food cafes in every neighborhood. Alongside the bodybuilders and boxers live Phuket’s thriving community of digital nomads—the island being Thailand’s second-largest nomad hub outside of Chiang Mai. Consequently, there are great coworking spaces, cafes, and many apartments available for rent.
Most nomads are based in the south of the island, in the quiet, pleasant, and slow-paced neighborhoods of Nai Harn or Rawai, or enjoying the ambiance of bustling Phuket Old Town in the center of the island. We don’t recommend living in Patong Beach, a notoriously rowdy area whose reputation usually precedes itself, with loud bars and the seedier side of Thai nightlife, featuring go-go bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and cabarets that spill into the street along the Bangla Road. Aside from this stretch, Phuket is pretty serene and peaceful. It is the perfect corner of Thailand to base yourself and then take weekend trips to the Similan Islands, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, and Koh Lanta, which are all relatively nearby.
Karon Beach & Kata Beach
Karon and Kata were two of the buzziest beaches in Phuket before events in 2020, as firm favorites with families and group tours. It’s a different picture now but the area is hesitantly rebuilding for the young professional traveler, with cool beach bars and restaurants popping up in the past year.
Karon Beach is a lengthy one, dotted with resorts, nuzzled by the jungle to the east and lapped by the Andaman Sea along the west coast. Trails lead through the jungle to Karon View Point, which is a popular spot at sunset, or to Karon Temple and the colorful Buddhist shrine Wat Karon. There’s a divine new vegan restaurant at the north end of the beach, Soul Phuket, where a healthy menu appeals to all diners no matter their diet, listing the full ingredients of each lovingly prepared meal. Beach bar A Blanket & A Pillow is an idyllic place to spend your days or nights, with interiors that are full of hammocks and bean bags to rest on, while you take in the stunning seaside views. They also host fun EDM artists on Saturday nights, if you fancy a dance.
Kata Beach to the south of Karon is a surfing hub, with pilgrims coming from far and wide to find the perfect wave. Pre-pandemic there were many thriving surf shops and beachwear stores but with tourism slow to come back to Thailand, these businesses are yet to return. This hasn’t deterred the surfers though, and you can find instructors on the island who’ll take you out for lessons. Just under Kata Beach are the sands of smaller Kata Noi, where people go to snorkel and dive.
Kata still has a few great international dining options such as Pomodoro Pizza Restaurant, as well as healthy food offerings at Green Heart Garden, which is tucked away in the hills. Not far from Green Heart is Maybelle's Coffee Garden, a lovely place to work in the heart of nature. You can also easily visit the infamous Big Buddha (aka Phra Phutta Ming Mongkol Eknakiri) while you’re in this neck of the woods—based on top of a mountain just outside Kata, it’s a phenomenal site, notable for the scale of the seated buddha statue as well as the views. Additionally, Kata Hot Yoga studio is one of the best on the island.
Known for having one of the finest beaches in all of Thailand, Nai Harn is a small town on the rise. Built between jungle and coast, the previously sleepy neighborhood has become a hub for expats and nomads in the past couple of years, and the supply of fine international and local cuisines is meeting the demand. Whether it’s excellent coffee, bakeries, brunch stops, health food cafes, or vegan restaurants you’re after, you’ll find it all here.
You’ll likely visit Nai Harn beach a few times a week if not daily, and take some time out to enjoy the easy hike up to Windmill Viewpoint to look over the rolling sands and aquamarine blues below, but there’s lots more to do here. This charming hamlet is much loved by health nuts, as it is the home to some world-class sports facilities. Whether you are fitness-focused or not, Phuket is a great way to get into it and Nai Harn is full of enticing activities. You can get your gains at the palatial Nai Harn Gym, zen out at excellent yoga studios, and train in martial arts at Temple Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Or for the joggers, the inland, rectangular Nai Harn Lake is very popular for laps at sunrise or sunset.
After all that exercise you’ll want to treat your aching muscles to a massage and there’s a range of great places in town to choose from. The two 5-star hotels The Nai Harn and Chivitr are top of the pile, with treatments ranging from local Thai style to Swedish and Ayurvedic. You'll find the best at Pinky’s just before Nai Harn Lake. Ask for owner Pinky, whose sports massage is second to none.
Long-stay housing options are plentiful and generally of good quality. The area is still low rise in height, with many a soi of bungalows, petite houses, and villas dotted here and there. A few condo buildings are cropping up, but none that are too high or obstructive to the village vibe as yet. The main coworking space in town is recently refurbished The Project: Coworking Space & Virtual Offices, plus there are many fantastic cafes to work in. The top choice is Cannelle Bakery & Co. where the cinnamon rolls are plentiful and air conditioning stays flowing; BOOST Cafe & Restaurant has a menu of delicious salads and international Thai fusion and they are more than happy to host remote workers, and Coffee Tribe Cafe is the place to go for really good coffee.
Dining-wise, you’ve got most cuisines of the world covered in Nai Harn, as well as fantastic, cheap Thai food. Wilson's Cafe does the best brunch, La Cantina is a top choice on the island for steaks alongside a solid Italian menu, Fit Geeks are leading the local health food scene with their protein-focused menu, and Pure Vegan Heaven serves dairy-free nachos that are out of this world.
Phuket Old Town
The beating heart of Phuket City, Phuket Old Town is the cultural and historical capital of Phuket, with an interesting history and architecture to match. Slightly set back from the eastern coast of the island, the old town is reminiscent of a time when Phuket was a busy trading port, with merchants from Europe, China, Malay, and Siam coming and going. Consequently, the town is home to some rare Sino-Portuguese buildings that mostly date back to the late 1800s, which have been lovingly restored and painted in bright pastel colors that serve as popular photo backdrops.
The peak of the week here is the Sunday Night Market when the whole of Soi Thalang is filled with stalls selling everything from arts and crafts to food. Do not eat before visiting! The area can get pretty busy at this time but don’t be put off by the crowds, it’s one of the best night markets in Thailand. The best way to take it all in is to follow the one-way system and take in the length of the south side of the street, before lapping back to do the north side. Aside from Sundays, the Old Town is relatively quiet and you can often have the streets to yourself, particularly in the mornings.
Of all the Sino-European buildings you’ll wander past, a few have been turned into museums; the gorgeous time warp Chinpracha House is a must-visit, as you’ll follow a guide around the lavish mansion to understand the wealth that flowed through the town; or to understand more about the history of the local Chinese community and their contribution to building the area, stop at Phuket Thai Hua Museum, which is based in a former school house.
Phuket Old Town has a great nightlife, attracting revelers from across the island, particularly on the weekends, with its countless, vibrant bars on every street. Good Vibes P-Town is the one to head to for live music, swing by The Library Phuket for cocktails, or Rockin’ Angels Cafe for big retro vibes. The neighborhood is also a big draw for coffee lovers, as it's home to excellent coffee roasters such as Campus Coffee Roaster, where the minimalist decor is as inviting as the niche brews, or RUSH Coffee Rommani, where you can watch the roasting take place.
There are a couple of great coworking spaces in the wider area such as BAYACO Coworking Space and HOMA. The former is more focused on work and the latter more focused on living but both offer excellent amenities. There are cafes to work in on almost every corner of the Old Town but our favorites are The Vegan Table, which is the best vegan spot in Phuket, or Craftist Phuket, another excellent coffee roaster with the perfect ambiance for having a productive day.
Like its neighbor Nai Harn, Rawai is currently having its day in the sun. This formerly quiet corner of the island is now a remote worker hotspot thanks to the excellent long-stay accommodation and cafe scene. Coworking and co-living options soon followed and the area is currently flourishing as one of Thailand’s best areas to live and work in.
First off, you’ve got frontrunner Let’s Work Coworking on Rawai Beach Road, overlooking the sea—a space that prides itself on sociability as well as reliability. Behind Let’s Work stretches the huge housing complex The Title, a sprawling low-rise condo complex with some of the most well priced apartments in the area. If your budget extends to the more luxurious though, you’ll want to check out Saturdays Residence, which is in a league of its own. Both complexes offer long-stay contracts. Additionally, international hostel chain Selina has a Rawai outpost. Just north of the main seaside drag, the newly opened Breakers Coworking Space offers a great menu as well as affordable coworking options.
Rawai is home to some excellent cafes to work in. Purveyors of fine baked and organic goods Home Grain Cafe are a very sweet operation. At the western end of the seafront road, We Cafe has a great build-your-own-salad option, and Macaw Café & Restaurant serves an excellent menu of international and Thai favorites with a fantastic sea view. Less of a workspace but very much a creative space, Rawai Ceramic Cafe is a lovely place to spend an afternoon enjoying their top coffee as you paint. For dinner, you’ve got neighboring TERRASSE 48 Café or Rustic and Blue, both boasting wonderful sea views and excellent international-Thai fusion menus.
While you’re in Rawai, why not give Muay Thai boxing a try? Top tier camps are AKA Muay Thai and Sinbi Muay Thai, or try out family-run Keh Muay Thai for absolute beginners. All three camps offer early morning or evening group sessions or 1:1 training. Treat yourself after training at upmarket Le Spa, whose onsen is top of the line, or Ton Mai Spa, for a more affordable but just as relaxing range of treatments.
Rawai is also the spot to find a boat and navigator to take you on boat trips to nearby islands, such as Koh Phi Phi, home to the infamous Maya Beach. Local diving school Aum Scuba are a great outfit for first-timers, training you in their pool before taking to the sea.
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