Head to the northern end of Phuket Island and you will discover the tranquillity, serenity and natural beauty of the wildlife reserves and national parks, the largest of which is the Khao Phra Taew Royal Wildlife & Forest Reserve. The reserve offers untouched rainforest inhabited by a diverse range of wildlife including langurs, deer, sun bears, wild boar, monkeys and gibbons. There are hiking trails through the forest and guides are available for hire from the park's headquarters at the main entrance to the reserve. Also near this entrance is the scenic Ton Sai waterfall as well as a restaurant with spectacular views over the area.
Taking the opposite entrance to the Khao Phra Taew Royal Wildlife & Forest Reserve brings you to the more spectacular Bang Pae waterfall, or if you have the stamina you can trek the 8km trail from the main entrance. However you get there, the pond at the base of the waterfall is perfect for a refreshing swim. Also at Bang PAe is the Phuket Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre, caring for injured or orphaned gibbons and returning them to the wild. You can visit the centre and even adopt a gibbon!
On the north-western tip of the island is Sirinat National Park , which encompasses a thin stretch of coastline and extends 5km out to sea to include diverse coral reefs and to protect the nesting sites of endangered sea turtles. Mia Khao, Nai Yang and Nai Thon are the three main beaches visited by the turtles between November and February to lay their eggs. The park headquarters is situated at the northern tip and can provide guides for walking trails with an emphasis on wildlife spotting and protection.
For a real Thai experience, visit the Chalong Highlands, a short journey into the mountains, inland from Kata Beach or Chalong. Here you will find an eco-friendly elephant camp where you can learn about caring for these majestic creatures. The elephant trek will take you through jungle trails with spectacular views of Chalong Bay and the surrounding islands. You can see how the young elephants are trained, talk to the mahouts who take care of them, learn some Thai language commands and of course feed them their favourite bananas. Sitting on the back of an elephant is bound to be a little daunting the first time, but it gives you a chance to develop a deep respect for the strength and agility these amazing animals manage to combine.
Locally known as Muay Thai, this national sport is an exciting spectacle to watch. If you catch the ringside action between beer bars at Patong Beach , you will see some ferocious fighting, be encouraged to take sides and tip the winner as he emerges triumphantly from the ring for a victory lap with his cup, cap or beer cooler to collect donations. Alternatively, you can visit the Phuket Boxing Stadium in Phuket City to witness the competitive rounds fought for status and titles. Here the fighting is just as brutal, with the most professional hard-core fighters saved for the final bout.