The island of Phuket lies in the southwest of Thailand, and is the perfect place to spend a few weeks relaxing on the beach and exploring the karst landscapes of southern Thailand. The area is still one of my favourite places in the world, and the landscape is incredible for photography. When planning our 2020 adventures, I wanted to take Soph somewhere for a few days to relax and explore before we headed back to Bali. We hopped onto lastminute.com and got a great deal in the sale on flights and a hotel in Phuket and headed to the airport the following week for another #TripsCreatedByUs guide.
We always rent a scooter in Thailand as we often want to shoot at sunrise, and so having our own transport makes this a lot easier. There are plenty of scooter rentals outside Phuket airport so you can grab one before you get to your hotel. We paid 250 THB per day (you can absolutely get it cheaper if you look around but we didn’t have time to do that). There are also car rentals outside of the airport if that is of preference to you.
As for the boat trips, we tend to not do organised tours as they usually run in the middle of the day and so I wouldn’t be able to get any decent photos because of the harsh light. Instead, we find a local who will take us out on a private tour. This time round, we decided to take the boat from Phang Nga (Ngop-Ko Tapo pier to be exact) as we were already in the area to shoot another location. We paid 2000 THB for 4-5 hours, starting just before sunrise. You can, of course, take a tour which tends to be cheaper, but you may not get the best light for photos.
When to visit
November to April is the dry season, and therefore the best time to visit. We visited early January, and while the weather was great, it was pretty busy. So, if you aren’t tied down to school/public holidays, I’d recommend steering clear of the Christmas and New Year period.
We have been to Thailand a few times in the rainy season, and whilst we haven’t had any problems in doing so, getting caught in the torrential rain on a beach or boat tour probably isn’t the way you imagined spending a holiday.
So, book your flight and keep reading for some of my favourite places to shoot in and around Phuket!
I first shot this incredible karst and mangrove formation 3 years ago, with a drone that didn’t take the best quality photos, and have wanted to go back ever since. So when the opportunity arose, I jumped on it, and much to Soph’s dismay, the evening we landed in Phuket we were on a motorbike for an hour to shoot the sunset here.
Getting there: It takes about an hour from both Phuket and Krabi, so I’d recommend hiring a motorbike or a car. You can also arrange a taxi, and there are a couple of hotels nearby if you’d prefer not to drive all that way.
Entrance fee: None.
Best time to go: Both sunset and sunrise look beautiful, so whichever you prefer.
Photo tip: You can only really shoot this with a drone, but if you don’t have one, this is the place I organise a private boat to some of the islands, so you may well still want to come here. Also, wait for the local boats to drive out to fish as it adds an extra dimension to the photo from above.
Koh Panyi is a small stilt settlement built around a lone karst peak in the waters of Phang-Nga, and was built by fishermen from Indonesia. The village only has a population of around 1,700 people, but it still has a school, a police station, a healthcare centre, a mosque and most importantly, a floating football pitch. Being built entirely on stilts, it makes for some fantastic photos from both in the village and above.
Getting there: You can take a tour from Phuket, but we prefer to rent a private boat, which will set you back about 2000 THB but means you can be flexible with when you want to go.
Entrance fee: None.
Best time to go: Try and get there for sunrise if you can! The island gets very busy with tourists towards lunchtime so if you go there early you’ll have the place to yourself.
Photo tip: As well as using a drone, the village is a great place for street photography and telling a story. The stilt pathways and local people getting ready to welcome the tourists make for great photos.
MAI KHAO BEACH
I had seen photos of airplanes landing directly over the beach in Phuket, and so made sure to book a hotel nearby to shoot it. I then read online that the beach was closed and you couldn’t go to shoot there, but turns out this wasn’t true (thank goodness). Unfortunately for us, the wind wasn’t going in the right direction so the planes were only taking off over the beach and not landing, meaning I couldn’t get the shot I wanted, but it was still a lovely place to visit and pretty cool to be stood under a plane as it takes off!
Getting there: The beach is right next to the airport, so you can take a taxi, tuk-tuk or hire a motorbike or car. You could definitely walk if your hotel is near the airport too.
Entrance fee: None.
Best time to go: We went for sunset and it was glorious, but I think sunrise is when the planes are more likely to land over the beach.
Photo tip: Instead of getting the classic shot from directly under the plane, try using the shoreline as a leading line and shooting down the beach.
The Big Buddha in Phuket is one of the most important landmarks on the island, and one that is frequented by most tourists who pass through Phuket. It’s situated on top of a hill and stands at 45m tall, meaning the views from the top are dreamy. I’ve seen some great drone photos of the Buddha, but we went too late in the morning to shoot with a drone due to the light so went with just my camera instead.
Getting there: The Buddha is located in the South of Phuket, around an hour from the airport. Hire a taxi, car or motorbike to get there, or jump on a tour.
Entrance fee: None.
Best time to go: Opening or closing time. We went in the middle of the day and on top of it being incredibly busy, it was also sweltering hot and we could only last 30 minutes there.
Photo tip: As well as the standard shots from the bottom of the Buddha, try using a zoom lens to get a compressed shot, and if you have a drone, consider flying it!
JAMES BOND ISLAND
James Bond island, or Ko Ta Pu is a very well known landmark in Phang Nga Bay, made famous from the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. The karst island looks like it is about to fall over, and isolated it makes for a beautiful photo. The next island, Koh Ping Ghan, where your boat will dock, is also beautiful and if you get there early enough, you’ll have the beach all to yourself.
Getting there: Take a tour, or hire a private boat and hit Koh Panyi and James Bond island together.
Entrance fee: 300 THB/pp.
Best time to go: As early as possible! After Koh Panyi, we went straight to James Bond Island and arrived at about 8am. We had the beach to ourselves for about 10 minutes before the boat loads of tourists began to arrive.
Photo tip: Go up to the James Bond Island sign and down onto the rocks just behind it, where you can use the sea to get a low down shot of the peak.
There are so many more locations to shoot in Phuket and the surrounding area, such as the Phi Phi islands, Wat Chalong and Koh Yao Yai, but we just didn’t have the time to visit them all. I’d recommend spending a good 4-5 days in the area so you can see all that Phuket has to offer!