If paradise does exist, you are unlikely to find it in Phuket at the moment. Named as the world’s most overcrowded tourist destination in 2023, it seems that accessibility and beauty combined has a price. Whether your interest in Phuket was sparked by the food markets, the nightlife, the cultural heritage sites, or the beach activities — here are six alternatives to consider until the crowds die down a little.
Krabi, Thailand 🏖️
Krabi is still one of the most crowded destinations in Thailand — but the laidback vibe and distance away from a metropolitan scene makes it feel surprisingly secluded.
Still, it is never hard to find a party in Krabi. It may not be as wild as the Full Moon Party in Ko Pha Ngan (what place is?), but Krabi strikes a comfortable balance between letting loose and staying safe. Plus, you will have enough space in the clubs to actually dance to the music.
And if you are still craving Phuket but don’t want to commit to staying there, you can travel between the two destinations. Krabi and Phuket are a good three hours away from one another by bus — but if you plan accordingly, then there is no reason you cannot have an exhilarating full day out.
Palawan Province, The Philippines 🌊
Palawan is hardly “off-the-beaten-track”; yet, the province’s sustainability-conscious attitude and active efforts to preserve its rainforest give this destination a certain freshness. Heading deep into the jungle in search for dozens of waterfalls or exotic creatures requires some determination, and so many travellers choose to spend their time right by the sea.
We cannot blame them, as the marriage of luxury lodgings and unspoilt beaches make leaving this haven an impossible task. If you want nothing more than to go island hopping by boat for the day, or try scuba-diving right by the second-to-none Coral Triangle, Palawan will welcome you with gentle waves and open arms.
Surfing and trekking are not the only adrenaline-rush activities that Palawan has in store, either. Aside from its astonishing limestone rock formations (which share a likeness to Phang Nga Bay in Thailand), El Nido has some of the best nightlife in all of The Philippines. The local rum, Tanduay, is pretty affordable also — meaning that a wild night costs little over on this side of the world.
Uncover everything this island nation has to offer with our ‘15 Unusual and Mind Blowing Places in The Philippines’ guide here.
Okinawa Island, Japan ⛩️
If you thought Kyushu island was Japan’s most tropical destination, you’d be mistaken. 400 miles away from the mainland, Okinawa is actually closer in distance to Taiwan. Combine this with a history of poverty and U.S military occupation, and what you have is an adaptable culture that borrows customs from all over to create something “champuru” — “mixed” in Okinawan.
Okinawa may be more slightly traditional than Phuket, but the island is well-versed in catering for an international audience. Dishes like taco rice are more palatable than they sound, but you’ll also find less overt foreign influences in traditional noodle dishes. The one ingredient you won’t want to miss out on, though, are Okinawa’s own purple sweet potatoes: rumoured to be the secret ingredient for immortality.
The raw natural beauty might also have something to do with the island’s death-defying population. After seeing beaches like Yonaha Maehama in person, who in Earth would want to leave it behind? That satisfying blend of pure sand, an electric blue ocean, and clear skies have earned it the title of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Penang Island, Malaysia 🥡
A cultural melting pot since the 7th century, Penang island has a distinct flair that is unlike anywhere else in Malaysia — or even the majority of Southeast Asia. In just George Town (Penang’s capital) alone, you will find Anthony Bourdain approved Hawker Centre stalls, preserved colonial streets, and urban murals centred around the locals.
Phuket’s street food scene may be famous, but George Town’s is memorable. One of the best parts about vacationing in such a multicultural city is that you can switch between Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine whenever you like — or eat them all at once.
Pair your three-course fusion dishes with cocktails inside former speakeasies. The drink menus get just as creative and include all kinds of signature orders. You have to try it for yourself to get the full picture though, as Lonely Planet approved bars like Backdoor Bodega say that the less you know going in, the better.
Want to find out more about Penang and George Town? Read our in-depth five day guide to Malaysia’s melting pot here.
Chiang Mai, Thailand 👑
Our next choice may seem unusual, because other than both destinations belonging to Thailand, what else do Chiang Mai and Phuket have in common? If you are passionate about Thailand’s cultural heritage and want to visit as many UNESCO sites as possible in little time, we suggest looking beyond The Big Buddha and to the north. When you have ornate white temples and golden triangles hidden inside mountains, the need for a beach disappears.
Despite having all the reason to brag, Chiang Mai has a low-key attitude. As a result, you can pretend you’re the first outsider to ever discover temples like Wat Pha Lat after a hike through the woodlands. It’s far from true, but the attractions inside this seven centuries old city make your imagination run wild.
Beyond the luxurious temples and curated gardens, you’ll find that there’s a casual quality to Chiang Mai, too. The Talat Warorot market is so rowdy today that you’d hardly believe it could be Chiang Mai’s oldest market. Here you’ll be able to taste the biggest differences between this northern city and Phuket — as while the street food is still intense, it is slightly fresher, milder and sweeter.
Jeju-do, South Korea 🥾
This top domestic holiday destination is lovingly referred to as the ‘Hawaii of Korea’. Comparing the faceted landscapes of craters, caves and cliffs side by side, there is truth to the nickname.
But Jeju-do is not a copy-cat destination. You may be able to climb a volcano or spot the sunrise elsewhere, but there is something special about following the Olle trails which lead you into the island’s countryside. Much of the island requires a certain level of fitness — but facing the Halla Mountain Challenge or trekking to the Sanbang-gul-sa (a Buddhist temple) are rewarding journeys.
On your nights out, indulge in the nationwide tradition of noraebang: private karaoke rooms. You should be able to find a few English songs on the setlist — so get ready to give it your all, in the privacy of your own booth. Don’t take it to heart if the karaoke machine gives you a bad score — it’s either down to technical difficulties or liquid courage, but who can say which?