In January 2023, I left my Corporate America job after 15+ years. I traded accounting for adventure, and began my new career as an Independent Travel Advisor with Vincent Vacations. Our first advent...Read more
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Thailand's largest and most popular island, Phuket is colorful, cosmopolitan and attracts millions of travelers every year. Visitors are lured to its beautiful shores by the promise of sun, sea and excitement. With incredible scuba diving, championship golf courses, a vibrant nightlife and a whole feast of other activities, Phuket is a great destination for a laid-back yet adventure-filled vacation. This fun island provides an unbeatable combination of palm-lined beaches, true hospitality and great value. Beautiful scenery, tropical sunsets and warm blue sea await travelers at Asia's most popular beach destination.
Phuket, Thailand's largest island (360 sq mi/930 sq km—about the size of Singapore), is known as the pearl of the Andaman Sea. The island of Phuket (pronounced poo-KET) is linked to the mainland by Sarasin Bridge and is home to the capital, Phuket Town, and several beach resorts, the most famous of which is Patong.
People seeing Phuket for the first time will be impressed with the island's beauty and the opulence of some of the hotels and resorts, but may be perhaps rather shocked by the uncontrolled development of some areas. However, the island has some excellent restaurants, and there are still plenty of beaches for snorkeling and other watersports.
Whether you are looking for a relaxing beach holiday with a little spa indulgence or an action-packed break of diving and sailing, Phuket has it all.
Sights—Local traditions and exotic flowers at Thai Village and Orchid Farm; troops of gibbons at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center; the golden Buddha image at Wat Phra Thong temple; the Big Buddha at Nakkerd Hill; the old quarter of Phuket Town.
Museums—The world's largest golden pearl at Phuket Sea Shell Museum; exhibits about life in old Phuket in Thalang National Museum; assorted objects at Thavorn Hotel Museum; learning about southern Thai life and culture at the Phuket Cultural Centre, Rajabhat University; Phuket's tin-mining past at Kathu Mining Museum.
Memorable Meals—Mali Seafood Restaurant, where you can select your own local seafood; unique fusion fare at Tatonka; Phuket lobster at The Boathouse Restaurant; East-meets-West cuisine at Sala Bua.
Late Night—Extravagant shows at Simon Cabaret; dancing and music at Seduction Discotheque and other discos and nightclubs on the infamous Bangla Road.
Walks—Sino-Portuguese architecture and beautiful temples of Phuket Town; the health park at Khao Rang; seashore walk along the western beaches; explore Karon Town and its environs; enjoying some of Phuket's last virgin forest at Khao Phra Thaeo National Park; trekking through Khao Sok National Park.
Especially for Kids—Shows at Phuket FantaSea; Splash Jungle Water Park at Mai Khao Beach; Phuket Aquarium at Cape Panwa.
Phuket is Thailand's largest island. Located in southern Thailand, 521 mi/840 km from Bangkok, it lies off the country's western coast. Set in the Andaman Sea, Phuket is approximately 31 mi/50 km long and 9 mi/15 km wide and is linked to the mainland by Sarasin Bridge in the north. The renowned destinations of Khao Lak and Phang Nga lie just off the island to the north, Krabi to the east and Koh Phi Phi to the south.
The interior of Phuket is tree-covered and hilly with land rising to more than 1,640 ft/500 m. In the lowland areas, there are many rubber and coconut plantations, once an important occupation for islanders but now increasingly sidelined by tourism. Many coastal coconut plantations are now the sites of luxury resorts.
Phuket Town, the island's commercial center, is situated to the southeast of the island.
The west coast of the island has 15 beautiful beaches facing the Andaman Sea, including Patong, Karon, Kata, Kamala and Surin. The beach areas are often separated from each other by rocky headlands. The beauty of the beaches and quality of the sand means that most of the island's resorts and nightlife are located on this side of the island. The eastern coastline mainly comprises shallow bays and mangroves, is less attractive and has very few quality beaches, but it is the location of the Phuket Marina. Phuket International Airport is in the north of the island.
The island of Phuket has a rich and interesting history. The earliest known reference to Phuket dates from the third century when Greek geographer Ptolemy wrote about an island called Jang Si Lang, later referred to by the corruption Junk Ceylon. It became part of the Kingdom of Siam in the 13th century and was prized for its wealth of natural resources.
It was these resources, particularly tin and gems, that attracted the Dutch to its shores in the 16th century. However, they were not the only ones interested in Phuket's riches. In 1681, the French appointed a governor on the island, and the British, keen to establish a base close to the Straits of Malacca, temporarily settled on Phuket before moving on to the more strategically important Penang off the coast of Malaysia.
In 1767, an invading Burmese army sacked Ayuthaya, then the capital of Siam, before advancing southward with its sights set on Phuket. However, Capt. Francis Light, a British naval officer who had established an outpost of the East India Co., warned of the impending attack. Following a monthlong siege, the Burmese army was repelled, and the reunification of Siam began.
Over the years, however, it has been Dutch and Portuguese traders and the Chinese settlers they brought with them that have exerted the greatest influence on Phuket. Its naturally sheltered position in the Andaman Sea provided safe anchor for ships sailing from India to China. The tin-mining boom that began in the 19th century attracted thousands of Chinese laborers to the island. This massive influx of immigrants left its mark.
Today, the architecture of old Phuket Town is still dominated by the original Chinese influence. Many Chinese temples are scattered across the island, and the annual festivals, including the huge vegetarian festival, are part of Chinese culture rather than Thai. The island's long association with sailors also continues, and it hosts the annual Phuket Regatta, attracting world-class competitors from around the globe.
As one of Asia's most popular holiday destinations, Phuket continues to welcome visitors to its shores. More than 3.5 million tourists spend their annual holiday in Phuket, and the booming tourism industry and buoyant property market have brought the island huge prosperity. It boasts the highest per-capita income of any province in Thailand but is also one of the most expensive places to live. Phuket is also increasingly known as a location for second homes for wealthy businessmen and retirees, and the housing market continues to grow.
Despite having been badly affected by a major tsunami in December 2004, Phuket quickly rebuilt, and the island attracts hordes of tourists. The massive influx of tourists and long-term residents, however, has clearly had a detrimental effect on local culture, to the extent that Thais often refer to Phuket as koh farang—foreigner's island.
Certain areas—such as Patong—clearly suffer from overdevelopment and crowds of holidaymakers. The beachfront town serves as a startling example of the negative effects of tourism. Strolling down the crowded main street with its Western-style pubs and restaurants, and never-ending array of cheap tourist junk for sale, you could be at any down-market beach resort in the world. Much of this is the result of tourism authorities trying to increase visitors to the Land of Smiles and spending massive amounts of money promoting the country in a wide variety of markets.
The effects of overdevelopment are also being felt in other once-idyllic spots on the island. The local authorities' failure to curb the growth of tourism also has led to many serious environmental problems. The island regularly suffers from a water shortage, the dumping of raw sewage into the sea spoils more and more beaches, and the overfished waters no longer provide good catches. The building of resorts and condominiums on cleared hillsides has caused water runoff problems, and landslides are common during the rainy season.
The government is strongly enforcing zoning laws that keep buildings a certain distance from the beach and under a specific height, which should help to protect the beaches despite growing development.
As the name suggests, the indigenous Sea Gypsies, or Chao Ley, once lived as nomadic fishermen. There are an estimated 12,000 Sea Gypsies in Thailand. They are thought to have come from the Andaman and Nicobar islands between Myanmar and India.
The cast at Phuket FantaSea includes 400 birds, 44 elephants, 40 goats, six buffaloes and lots of chickens.
Chinese cuisine is popular in Phuket Town. Shops selling old-style dishes such as hokkien noodles are part of the legacy of the town's historical links with China.
In a bizarre and gruesome procession through town for the vegetarian festival in October, young men will fall into a trancelike state and pierce their cheeks with swords and knives.
Phuket Island is predominantly Buddhist, although at about 75%, less so than other parts of Thailand.
Drawing hundreds of guests every night, Simon Cabaret in Phuket is one of the biggest transvestite cabaret shows in the world.
The Port of Phuket deep-sea terminal is located at Ao Makham, a channel between Koh Taphao Yai and Phuket Island, north of Cape Panwa. The port is the main stopover for many large international cruise liners plying the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca. Some cruise ships also drop anchor opposite Patong Beach.
There are plans to improve the facilities at the port, including a duty-free shop, but at the moment, the area resembles little more than an empty parking lot; however, a small market greets visitors on days when ships are in port.
Visitors are recommended to arrange transport into Phuket Town—about a 20-minute drive—through a tour operator in advance. There are taxis and tuk-tuks waiting at the pier, but the drivers generally prey on tourists with little knowledge of the area; most visitors will have to negotiate long and hard before they can reach a reasonable price. Tour buses wait in the parking area about 1,000 ft/300 m away.
Typically cruise ships stopping at Phuket only anchor for a day. They offer a variety of small group tours that take in the island's highlights. Local tour agents and taxi drivers at the port also offer half-day excursions in minivans or taxis.
Typical excursions include elephant-riding adventures on the outskirts of the town, a tour through the city, a shopping excursion, a tour of the Phuket landmarks such as the Giant Buddha, snorkeling at one of the island's 15 beaches, trekking at national parks such as Khao Sok and diving at one of the smaller surrounding islands.
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