Jamie's Phuket Blog

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Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2021

Well after a mostly cr*ppy 2020, and a not great 2021, let's look at the Top 10 Phuket Hotels for 2021. It seems Phuket and world tourism in general will be re-opening for real soon, let's hope the Covid-19 pandemic doesn't last for too much longer. But I am guessing it's going to be well into 2022 before we can use the word "normal" again. It seems a little petty to complain that Phuket tourism has suffered when so many have suffered worse, but Phuket does rely to a very large extent on tourism and I hope things can get going again soon. The Thai government "Phuket Sandbox" idea allowed vaccinated tourists to visit, but it was not that easy. Not all hotels were available for Phuket Sandbox tourists - only those with the SHA+ certification. As from November 1, 2021 Thailand will be allowing tourists back again if they are vaccinated against Covid-19. We all hope things are normal soon all over the world and we can book any hotel we want! I would like to be able to visit Phuket again soon after 2 years back in the UK!

For sure the list is still subjective, your personal choice will depend on many factors, and you can search hotels easily on Agoda to try and find the best Phuket hotels for you. It's a big place, Phuket. Take your time when looking for hotels, check the location on a map, read reviews, figure out if you want somewhere really quiet or close to lots of restaurants and bars. The right hotel is there, but you do have to do some digging! When you feel ready to travel to Phuket - please do re-visit the Phuket Blog for lots of Phuket tips.

1. Avista Grande (Karon Beach)

Avista Grande

Avista Grande at Karon Beach leaped into the top 10 last year and now tops the list. The full name is Avista Grande Phuket Karon MGallery by Sofitel .. bit of a mouthful. Sofitel is a chain, part of the Accor group, with MGallery being a more boutique luxury style of hotel. I worked at Karon beach at the Sunrise Divers shop and we had a fair number of happy customers staying at this hotel.

Avista Grande - Information, Reviews & Booking

2. The Cove (Cape Panwa)

The Cove Phuket

The Cove is a smaller hotel (I think it has about 15 bungalows) which has been open for a few years and seems to have suddenly got very popular! It's located in the Cape Panwa area of Phuket which has long been one of my favourite areas miles away from the big beaches, but there are quite a few restaurants and plenty of local life. It's at Ao Yon beach, right by the sand.

The Cove - Information, Reviews & Booking

3. The Chava Resort (Surin Beach)

Chava

The Chava was number 1 in 2016, number 2 last year and now number 3 - pretty consistently one of the best hotels in Phuket! Surin Beach always has something in the top 10! The Chava Resort has 2 - 5 room apartments (an "apartment resort"), some are run directly by the hotel, while some are privately rented. Rooms are really big, great for families and groups. It's a place with sea views, slightly up in the hills, not right on the sand but just few minutes walk from Surin beach.

Chava Resort - Information, Reviews & Booking

4. BYD Lofts (Patong Beach)

BYD Lofts

BYD Lofts has been in the top 5 for 6 years. If you want a room near the heart of Patong Beach, close to the action and in the middle of the busiest beach area in Thailand, BYD Lofts offers serviced apartments with the hotel featuring a rooftop pool (and a view over the rooftops and hotels of Patong). There are 1 or 2 bedroom apartments of various sizes. I rarely used to venture into Patong myself - not my style, but Patong beach is very convenient for visitors, with huge numbers of restaurants plus shops/the big Jungceylon Mall and tour agents near you. And bars and nightlife too.

BYD Lofts - Information, Reviews & Booking

5. Navatara (Rawai Beach)

Navatara

Navatara is another that remains popular - it has been at number 5 for 3 years running. Navatara opened in 2013, but with hotels opening all the time I'd not even heard of it until writing the top 10 list in 2016! Navatara has 37 rooms, built (I would say) "Thai style". Some rooms have pool access, and all rooms look pretty big. This is a smaller, Thai style resort away from the main beaches, but not too far - many people ask me to recommend a hotel like this or The Cove. Like many of the hotels on this list, it's not on the beach. Navatara is about 500m from Rawai beach and a few minutes drive from Nai Harn beach and Phromthep Cape. One of my favourite corners of Phuket.

Navatara - Information, Reviews & Booking

6. The Surin (Pansea Beach)

Surin Hotel

The Surin (formerly called The Chedi) reopened with the new name about 10 years ago, but The Chedi had already been in Phuket for years, with it's uniquely excellent location on a semi-private beach between Surin and Bang Tao beaches in the north of Phuket. I'd like to stay here! Another resort that is a little bit remote but you can get to Surin or Bang Tao for restaurant options. Personally, I'd rent a car if I stayed here. And The Surin is not ridiculously expensive compared to the neighbour - the beach is shared with the very very fancy Amanpuri.

The Surin - Information, Reviews & Booking

7. Marina Phuket Hotel (Patong Beach)

Marina Phuket Hotel

Quite surprised to see a hotel like Marina Phuket Hotel in the top 10 - a block by the side of one of Patong's back roads, a fair walk to the beach, not really a pretty area, but it does seem to have a lot of good reviews on TA and on Agoda (see link below). And it does have a rooftop pool and bar/restaurant. And the price is pretty good.

Marina Phuket Hotel - Information, Reviews & Booking

8. Renaissance Phuket Resort (Mai Khao Beach)

Renaissance Phuket

Renaissance is one of several Marriott resorts just north of Phuket Airport at Mai Khao Beach. Renaissance has been on this blog before as part of the Best Luxury Phuket Resorts list and was in the Top 10 Hotels for 2019, 2018 and 2017. Mai Khao beach is still really quiet and unless you stick to the various Marriott hotel restaurants you'll need transport or taxis to get to other places. Rent a car, explore, drive just a few minutes from here and you're over the bridge into Phang Nga province. Ideal for relaxation and a quiet base for exploring the greater Phuket area!

Renaissance - Information, Reviews & Booking

9. Kantary Bay (Cape Panwa)

Kantaray Bay

Another hotel in the Cape Panwa area to the south of Phuket Town and a long way from the busy main west coast Phuket beaches. Kantary Bay is part of the Cape and Kantary group which have very nice hotels all over Thailand - the nearby Cape Panwa Hotel is also theirs. It's located right by the aquarium on a quiet road with a few nearby restaurants and there are often lots of local food stalls on the roadside. Nice view across the bay, but there's not much beach there. The hotel cafe is apparently very good.

Kantary Bay - Information, Reviews & Booking

10. Chanalai Hillside Resort (Karon Beach)

Chanalai Hillside

And another at Karon beach! There are several Chanalai resorts in Phuket (Garden, Hillside, Romantica, Flora) and all are in Kata or Karon. Note - if you stay at one of these, be sure if you book tours that you know which Chanalai you are at (I speak from experience booking people for dive trips!) Chanalai Hillside is .. you'd never guess, on the hillside - about 5 minutes walk to Karon beach.

Chanalai Hillside Resort - Information, Reviews & Booking

And that's the Top 10 Best Phuket hotels for 2021. Maybe. Be sure to check if you can book your favourite hotel during the Phuket Sandbox period. Have you stayed at a hotel that's not listed, but you think it should be? Go and give it a big review and get it's TA ranking up! Phuket has been on the mainstream tourism route for 30+ years now, and there is a great mix of old and new resorts (hard to keep up with openings and re-brandings!), big hotels, guesthouses, villas, apartments, hillside, beachfront, busy areas, quiet areas and lots to do. There really is something in Phuket for everyone! If you can't get to Phuket in 2021, hopefully you can in 2022.



Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2021 Schedule (5 - 15 October)

The 2021 Phuket Vegetarian Festival (aka Nine Emperor Gods Festival) was on from 5 - 15 October 2021. The dates change every year, as it's based on the Chinese lunar calendar. In 2022 the festival will be 25 September - 5 October. It always was my favourite Phuket event / festival and I always used to take too many photos! I sold my "nice" camera a while back, and for a few years used a combination of an old (but OK) Lumix mixed with iPhone photos! In 2017 most of the main events and processions were cancelled due to King Bhumibol's funeral taking place the same week. In 2018 I missed the festival due to holidays, and in 2019 I was back in the UK so missed it again! Shame! In 2020 it took place despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and again this year the events are being affected - less people, processions in vehicles rather than on foot and no or minimal face piercing.

There is a lot to this festival, it took me a few years to understand, and there are still parts of the festival I have not seen much - I have only attended one firewalking event and it was so crowded that I didn't get great photos. And until 2014 I had not experienced the crazy final night procession in Phuket Town - I have now been a few times and it's absolutely insane! Most of the events happen far away from the main tourist beach areas, mostly in and around Phuket Town or at the various Chinese shrines around the island. If you are in Phuket during the festival, I do recommend that you try to see something!

I have written a LOT about the vegetarian festival on the Phuket blog in the past and there are hundreds of photos on the blog and my Flickr account. For more information about Phuket's most unique and bizarre festival start at:

Phuket Vegetarian Festival - My Favourite Festival in Phuket.

Previous Vegetarian Festival Blog Posts

2016 Vegetarian Festival Photos
Food at the Phuket Vegetarian Festival
2015 Phuket Vegetarian Festival
The Crazy Last Night of the Vegetarian Festival

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2021

Schedule - 5th to 15th October 2021

The start of the 2021 festival is Tuesday 5th October in the late afternoon when the "lantern poles" are raised at all the participating shrines. The Emperor Gods are said to descend down the poles into the shrines at midnight. I often attend Kathu shrine (my local) and took a lot of photos of this opening ceremony in 2011 : Photos of Pole Raising and Midnight Ceremony.

Not too much happens for the next couple of days, but the Chinese shrines are always interesting to visit any evening or any time during the festival really. The first big street procession will be on 7th October - There used to be no procession on this day, but a few years ago the small "Naka" shrine joined as a newcomer in the festival and will be the first to have a procession. All the main street processions pass through the old Phuket town area, all of them start early (around 7am or earlier), all finish either at Sapan Hin (south end of town) or back at their home shrines if the shrine is in or near Phuket Town. There are also smaller local processions in some areas of Phuket like Kata, Chalong, Surin.

Tuesday October 5th

At all the Chinese shrines, sometime between 4 - 6pm - raising of the Go Teng pole. Events at the shrines will go on all evening. The lanterns are hung from the pole at midnight, signifying the start of the festival. There will be plenty of firecrackers and fireworks too. In 2011, I went back to the shrine just before midnight expecting some bizarre ceremonies, but it was far more hushed and reverential and kind of spooky. Did not leave the shrine until 1am and people were still gathered there saying prayers.

6th October - there are no big events on the first full day of the festival - the first street procession is from Naka shrine on October 7th, but people can visit any shrine at any time, and the Jae (เจ) food is to be found all over the island but mostly around the shrines and especially in Phuket Town. The festival has many aspects and the food is one part of it. I normally try to stick to the strict diet during the festival. No meat, no alcohol. Not just "no meat" - it's vegan, so no dairy either and the food is specially prepared with clean utensils and certain other ingredients like garlic and onions are not allowed due to the strong flavour. Don't worry if you are not vegetarian, almost all restaurants are open as normal in tourist areas. In fact, it can be hard to find the special festival food near the beaches.

Thursday October 7th

Street procession into Phuket Town from Naka Shrine, located next to the weekend market just outside Phuket Town. This shrine is a newcomer to the festival and has only been doing processions for a few years. I visited in 2014 and it was quite crowded with "pro" photographers looking to get their first photos of the festival. Some photos here.

Friday October 8th

Street procession starting 7am for Sapam Shrine - this shrine is a few km north of Phuket Town (about a 10km walk from the shrine to Sapan Hin). To see piercing taking place at any shrine you have to be there before 7am. Try 6am. In the evening, around 7pm (better get there earlier), there will be another procession around Kathu village for the Birth and Death Gods (Lam Tao and Pak Tao). I have been in the village quite a few times for this very noisy procession! A similar procession also takes place at several other shrines on the same evening. I believe there is a very big one at Jui Tui Shrine in Phuket Town.

Below - Birth / Death Gods Procession at Kathu Shrine

Walking through the firecrackers

Saturday October 9th

Today's big street procession is from Sam Kong Shrine. Procession goes from the shrine in the north of town (not far from the big Tesco Lotus store), past the Bangkok-Phuket Hospital and through the old section of Phuket town. The shrine is not far from my house and I find that they have some pretty gory face piercing! The Sam Kong area is also a good area for food hunting during the festival though parking is a b*tch, there are stalls all along the street here for half a kilometer. It's a good one to attend early in the morning.

Sunday October 10th

The street procession today is from Tha Ruea shrine which is in the Thalang area of Phuket in the center of the island - this used to be the main town in Phuket a couple of hundred years ago and there are several historic temples in the area and the annual Heroines Festival celebrating an important date in the history of Phuket - the Heroines story predates the Vegetarian Festival by several decades.

Monday October 11th

Lots of things going on today... In the morning (7am), a huge street procession in Phuket Town for the Bang Neow Shrine, which is in the south of the town on Phuket Road, one of the biggest and most important shrines participating in the festival. Expect very big crowds in town on this day. I have been in town many times for the Bang Neow procession, but have not tried to get into the temple due to the number of people. There is also a smaller procession starting 7am from Cherng Talay Shrine which takes place in Thalang district in the Cherng Talay area. A good one to see if your hotel is in Kamala, Surin or Bang Tao beaches and you don't want to head all the way to town.

Also on this date ... Fire Walking at several locations including Sapam Shrine, Sapan Hin (participants from Jui Tui shrine), Baan Tha Reua Shrine and Sui Boon Tong shrine (just west of the market and not far from Jui Tui shrine in Phuket Town). Fire walking kicks off around 8pm. Maybe I'll try to get some firewalking photos again this year.

Below - Phuket Town Procession Photos - Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Ma Song Girls

Did I overdo the HDR?

Tuesday October 12th

Street procession starting at Jui Tui shrine, which is probably the biggest shrine in Phuket town - just west of the main market. I went to see the procession a couple of times - it was very crowded but I got lots of photos! It is hard to get into the shrine early morning, better to find a spot just outside or along the procession route - the route is always easy to find - just follow the people and the little shrines that people set up outside their houses - that means the procession is coming this way! The area around Jui Tui and along the street from the market is always busy and lined with food stalls during the entire festival.

Later in the day, there are lots of events on the schedule at various shrines including bladed ladder climbing at Sam Kong and Bang Neow shrines and "nail bridge crossing" at Sapam Shrine. Not sure what that is! We did go to watch bladed ladder climbing one time at Sam Kong, I did not take a camera as it was a bit rainy outside, the weather can be a concern at this time of year, but usually not too bad and sometimes darn hot! The bladed ladder climbing did not seem too dramatic. Can't say I saw any bleeding feet!

Wednesday October 13th

Street procession from Kathu shrine to Phuket Town. It's a long walk this one, about 10km from Kathu Shrine all the way to town, around the old town and ending at Sapan Hin. Kathu is (was) my "local" shrine. The shrine is only about a mile from our old house. I have been there early (6 - 6:30am) many times to watch piercing rituals. Should try to get there even earlier. 6:30am is a bit too late really! Must make an extra effort! I think 5:30am would be better. But hard work! Things happen early in the morning that are mysterious. The piercing may freak people out the first time they see it. If you are taking photos do try to be respectful.

Below - Street Procession - Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Firecrackers in Kathu village

Happiness is a Vegetarian Festival Procession

Later in the evening on October 13th - fire walking at Bang Neow, Cherng Talay and Sam Kong shrines. Got to be worth a look!

Thursday October 14th

The last full day of the vegetarian festival. There is a street procession for Sui Boon Tong shrine in town early in the morning which I attended for the first time in 2016 and it's quite a big one, then events such as firewalking at Kathu shrine in the afternoon - I went in 2010 and I did take some photos, but the firewalking seems to draw very big crowds. Maybe come with a stepladder to shoot photos over everyone's heads! Or a GoPro camera on a selfie stick might work!

In the evening/night of the last day (14th October) there is a HUGE procession around Phuket Town, with people carrying statues of the gods to Sapan Hin. Millions of firecrackers and fireworks. It is absolutely mad. Mental. I went for the first time in 2014. Again in 2015 and 2016. There is so much smoke and so many firecrackers, it's advisable to wear long trousers, a shirt with long sleeves and something more than flip flops or you'll get burnt feet! Need to wear a cloth or face mask over your face too, to avoid too much smoke inhalation! And earplugs would be a good idea. It's like a warzone. A friend had a firecracker land in his pocket a few years ago and melt his iPod! Read more @ Final Night of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

Earlier in the evening on the last night there is the "Bridge Crossing for Purification" ceremony at the shrines. We did this in 2011 and it was an evening I enjoyed very much. Everyone in white, lots of smiles, no bloody faces, seemed like the whole village was there!

Below - Crossing the Bridge for Purification - Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Crossing the Bridge

Below - Final Night in Phuket Town - Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Running the Gauntlet

Last Night of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Friday October 15th

At about 5pm the lantern poles (Go Teng poles) will be lowered at the shrines marking the very end of the 2021 Phuket vegetarian festival. The full dates again for your calendar : 5 to 15 October 2021. Hoping maybe I can be there for 2022. Depends on funds, timing with UK school holidays, and Covid!

See you there?!

Where are the shrines? Location Map - Chinese Shrines in Phuket


View Phuket Vegetarian Festival Chinese Shrines in a larger map



Chinese Shrines in Phuket

Phuket island has been a port and a crossroads of the sea for many years, so it's no surprise that you find a mix of cultures and religions in Phuket. The island has quite a fascinating history. It's location near the Straits of Malacca led to Phuket being a port used by Indians, Arabs, Chinese and Europeans over the years, and this is reflected in the diversity here - now further diversified by many long term expats from all over the world. Right from the start of this blog in 2006 I started blogging about Phuket's many Buddhist temples and over the years I have also written about mosques and Christian churches in Phuket and even visited a Sikh Gurdwara.

In the 19th century many Chinese people (mostly men) traveled to various parts of SE Asia seeking a new life. They ended up in ports such as Singapore, Malacca, Penang and Phuket. After recovering from wars with Burma in the late 18th and early 19th century, Phuket became important because of tin mining which attracted many Chinese workers who brought their ideas and culture with them. Phuket festivals such as the vegetarian festival and hungry ghost festival started with these Chinese immigrants. Chinese shrines were built all over Phuket. Not sure how many there are in total - I guess more than 20. The Thai word for 'shrine' is SANJAO (ศาลเจ้า). I have blogged individual shrines before. Other shrines I visited only as part of festivals. Here's a few worth visiting ...

Pun Tuao Kong Shrine

Many of the Chinese temples in Phuket are hidden away down side streets or located out of the normal tourist areas, so you might not see any unless you really go looking, but this one is easy to see - as you cross the big hill between Phuket Town and Patong beach, right at the top of the hill, you may notice cars beeping their horns as they pass this little shrine right by the road.

Pun Tuao Kong Chinese Shrine

(above) Pun Tuao Kong Shrine

Tha Reua Shrine

Another shrine that's easy to find, it's right by the main road heading south from the airport towards Phuket Town, just south of the Heroine's Monument. And this is a big shrine. Tha Reua was one of the older communities in Phuket, before Phuket Town even existed. More info and photos - Tha Reua Shrine.

Dragons at Tha Reua Chinese Shrine, Phuket

(above) Dragons at Tha Reua Shrine

Kathu Shrine

Kathu is the area in between Phuket Town and Patong. It was originally the center of Tin Mining in Phuket and in the mid 19th century was the center of Phuket business before Phuket Town became important. It is said that the vegetarian festival started in Kathu. The shrine was my local and I attended many festival events here including morning and evening street processions, fire walking, and the "crossing the bridge for purification" ceremony on the last night of the vegetarian festival.

Kathu shrine prayers

(above) Vegetarian Festival prayers at Kathu Shrine

Sapan Hin Shrine

Sapan Hin in the south of Phuket Town is a park and recreation area and where the Bang Yai canal meets the sea. This canal used to be navigable through Phuket Town and even up to Kathu and was very important for the tin mining industry. Almost all of the vegetarian festival processions head through town and down to Sapan Hin. More info and photos - Sapan Hin Shrine.

Prayers at Sapan Hin shrine

(above) My family saying prayers at Sapan Hin Shrine

Por Tor Kong Shrine

A shrine that I had not heard of until checking out the annual Por Tor (aka Hungry Ghost) Festival. It's hidden away down a narrow street in Phuket Town and is the center of the Por Tor Festival. Very much worth a visit if you are in Phuket during that event.

Por Tor Kong Shrine

(above) Festival Time at Por Tor Kong Shrine

Shrine of Serene Light

The first time I found this shrine it was very hard to find down the tiniest alleyway in Phuket Town and with a secret pasageway leading to a restaurant on the next street. The entrance was widened some years ago and the shrine made into more of an attraction in the middle of old Phuket Town. Certainly a place to visit while exploring the town. More info - Shrine of Serene Light.

Shrine of the Serene Light

(above) Shrine of Serene Light

Jui Tui and Bang Neow Shrines

The 2 largest shrines in Phuket Town - and on the mornings when these shrines have their street processions during the vegetarian festival it's a bit manic. There are about 10 shrines in the Phuket Town area - the map below shows locations. Much of the time at shrines like this nothing much is happening. if you visit on a random morning, not during a festival, you will find them quiet, but open to anyone who wants to look around. At festival time, it's another story!

Did I overdo the HDR?

(above) Street Procession from Jui Tui Shrine (Vegetarian Festival)

I always found it interesting to explore Phuket's history and culture, which can be hard to find in the more touristy areas, but there's a lot more to Phuket than just being a holiday island with hotels and beaches. Part of the reason for starting this blog way back in 2006 was to show the real Phuket and encourage visitors to see a bit more. Happy Travels!

Location Map - Phuket's Chinese Shrines


View Phuket Chinese Shrines in a larger map