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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThailand's largest and most popular island is a phenomenal holiday destination and arguably the most all-encompassing hub of all. It offers a mind-boggling stretch of pristine shores, crystal clear Andaman Sea waters, a vast array of fun and active pursuits, plenty of scuba diving sites, cultural delights and an abundance of fresh, tropical seafood. Phuket's night-life is also the stuff of legends, this being arguably its most famous attribute. When push comes to shove, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more ideal all-rounder anywhere in Southeast Asia. Forbes Magazine recently listed Phuket as one of the world's top retirement spots for Westerners, yet although the island's appeal is certainly understandable, not all news is good news for this pocket of tropical gorgeousness.
By and large, Phuket is the most expensive island resort in the whole country, the most visited and, by consequence, the most congested of all at high season. It can attract obnoxious party animals, opportunist locals itching for a quick buck and the kind of boisterous drunken crowds one usually tries to avoid on relaxing vacations. Unless one wants to partake, of course! From sleazy, middle-aged foreign men looking for anything with a pulse, to annoying crotch-grabbing lady-boys (kateoys), Phuket's seedy night-life can either be your most fervent fantasy or your worst nightmare. You pick. Things don't improve all that much during the day either. Yes, you'll have some of the clearest and most attractive waters in which to swim and snorkel, but you'll also have to fight for a spot on the beach, elbow your way to the nicest and most 'secluded' sunset spots (with countless others) and if you haven't been ripped off at least half a dozen times during your stay, then you've obviously never walked out of your hotel room.
Sure, this treasured spot may be extensive and cover an impressive 576 square kilometres (just a few shy of Singapore), but much of it is untouched natural wilderness. The infrastructure and great majority of resorts, towns and crowds concentrate on just a few hubs, most of which are on the western coastline. This is Phuket's most adored side, the one where all the cool kids head to and the one with the most accessible beaches. If you're after a quiet spot, this is not the one you want to head to. In fact, Phuket does boast some adorable nooks, away from the crazy scenes and in the midst of the breathtaking, natural landscape. It also offers quite a few off-the-beaten path attractions which offer you the best of Thailand, if only you're willing to get off the tourist trail and, make no mistake, pay a little more for the privilege.
Phuket is what it is but knowledge, in all regards, is very much power. Get to know this most infamous of holiday destinations before heading here and you're bound to have a much more rewarding time. There is a lovely cultural side to this isle, it is easily reached via Bangkok or Krabi, and is a fantastic springboard to reach far-out isles like Koh Phi Phi. If you do want to stay away from its brash, seedy side, then realise this is not all that hard to do.
Know what you want and where to get it, and the pros and cons of Phuket, and this island can really offer one of the most unforgettable vacations you’ll ever have.
HistoryAlthough one may view this island as sinful and lacking history, the reality is that Old Town in Phuket was settled in the 1st century B.C. by Indian colonists. This mecca for travellers came to be when it was a major stop-off point for the India - China trade. Nowadays, thanks to tourism particularly, this is Thailand's wealthiest province. Phuket was a major site for Portuguese, Chinese, Arabian, and Sri Lankan tradesman.
Dutch, English, and French traders in the late 1600s and early 1700s came to Phuket looking to trade for tin, something in which Phuket is incredibly wealthy.
In 1785, a month-long war between Burmese and Thais was raged on the island of Phuket.
Much history has been made on this popular holiday and backpacker tourist destination, do not let its rough edges of popularity because of it's party nightlife fool you. A history buff could have a lovely time exploring old relics still left behind on Phuket today. You'll notice an array of diverse architecture on the island, testament to the long-standing foreign influence.
Phuket’s western coastline suffered substantial damage, and the loss of 250 lives, during the catastrophic Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, yet within merely two months all had been cleaned up and re-opened, attesting to the island’s formidable importance to the country’s economy.
Brief OverviewNorthern Phuket is the quietest and, for some, most stunning corner of the whole island. Beautiful beaches are the norm, of course, but you’ll also be within minutes of rural villages and outstanding national parks. Although this area is known as a hub of 5 star resorts, you will find affordable accommodation and find that prices in local beach food shacks to be much lower than anywhere else on the island.
The western coastline of Phuket is its most popular hub, and where you will find world renowned Patong, Surin and Kata beaches. Patong is the most crowded of all and known as one of Asia’s top party capitals, so it will either be the place to beeline to or the last to visit, depending on your inclinations. Beaches abound on this side, yet considering how accessible they all are expect them to be filled with visitors for most of the year. When they are not filled to the brim, during the harsh rain seasons, they are at their least attractive. Hotels, resorts and cheap and nasty guesthouses abound.
Inland Phuket is one of its most enticing parts and the least visited by beach goers, which spells great news for those who want to see more of nature, and less of humans. You’ll see extensive rubber plantations (one of the island’s best income makers), gorgeous forests and mangroves and a smattering of shrimp farms and fishing villages along the eastern coast. A fab place for a day trip although you can also easily organise homestays if you wish to stay out of sight for a few days. A few hostels in Phuket Town offer a wonderful compromise, as the town offers plenty to see and do yet visitors just skim through on their way to outlying islands.
On the eastern and southeastern coasts is where you’ll find the most stunning and hardest to reach beaches, with gems like Laem Phan Wa (only a 15min drive from Phuket Town) offering superb beaches and incredible seaside resorts for all budgets. On this side you’ll also find Chalong Bay the hub for boat trips to Koh Phi Phi and fellow floating gems. Islands like Ko Tapu and Ko Racha, plus any along Phang Nge Bay are like miniature pockets of tropical perfection, comprising virgin rainforests, karst limestone cliffs and supreme beaches.
Local cultureAs far as the local population is concerned, melting pot doesn’t even begin to describe Phuket. Thais, Chinese, Malay, Cambodians and what-not all call Phuket home nowadays. Inland you’ll discover mostly Muslim inhabitants, while the whirlwind tourism wave has added a healthy dose of expats to the mix, as well as an incredible amount of immigrant workers from nearby Asian hubs.
Things to see and doThis ancient island offers every luxury one could want in a holiday destination. Away from the booze, prostitution and drugs, it’s a splendour of striking natural beauty. Here are just some of Phuket’s most outstanding attractions, which attract over a million visitors every year.
Scuba diving/SnorkelingThailand plays host to thousands of islands, many of them having what some of the world considers premier scuba diving. Phuket's many ports make it incredibly easy for one to escape the busy island life and spend a day island hopping and diving/snorkelling with a variety of sharks and tropical fish. The island itself is also known for offering snorkelling above reefs right off the beach. Are you not an experienced and certified diver? Phuket has hundreds of PADI certified instructors so you can also get your license here. A typical PADI license on Phuket will cost from 7,000 - ฿10,000 ($310). The option for one to obtain their advance and masters will cost the student even more. Although diving licences are more expensive to acquire on Phuket, rather than Koh Lanta, they are still cheaper than in many of the world's top scuba destinations, so thousand of wanna-be divers include a course and certification here during their vacation. There are dozens of compact coral reefs and deep wrecks to explore and a wealth of sealife to admire, including leopard sharks, turtles and giant octopus.
If you want to indulge in water sports, you’ll find a vast array of kayaking, windsurfing, kite-surfing, jet-skiing and parasailing (and more!) activities on offer and all of the island’s main tourist beaches. Off the southern shores you’ll have the chance to join stunning sea canoe trips which will take you to secluded grottoes and unspoilt beaches. Sailing and yacht chartering is also abundantly popular, so if you have your licence you could set off for a few days to explore little known islands just off the shores of the island.
- Patong Beach: Considered the second busiest beach in
Thailand, after Pattaya. It is also the largest beach in Phuket. It sees a wide variety of beach-goers,
including U.S. Navy personnel from ships that port here. Unsurprisingly, prices everywhere along Patong seem to
magically double in price whenever these ships dock. Many servicemen venture through Phuket because of its easy access
to the bars of Bangla Road. Bangla Road is where all the action happens in Phuket, and side alleys which shoot
off the main road host a variety of bars, nightclubs, and advertised sex-trade establishments. Soi Crocodile is
one of the most thriving streets in town.
- Karon Beach: Phuket's second most
popular beach, also known as Kata Noi Beach, is right next to Patong although often regarded as its polar
opposite. A large coral reef extends its way across the water. Many upscale holiday resorts line the board walk of this
beach, so this tends to be the cleanest beach in this area. Next to it you’ll find Kata town’s second beach,
Kata Yai, which is much bigger but also much more visited.
- Nai Harn
Beach: This small beach is mostly undeveloped, so you’ll find it quiet and relaxing. Lovely shores, crystal clear
waters and incredible sunset viewing spots are what bring the still-manageable crowds here. Away from the hustle and
found just south of Phuket town.
- Freedom Beach: Getting to this beach requires an arduous , one-hour long
slog through thick forests. This, is exactly what makes Freedom Beach one of the most divine spots on all of Phuket,
even though you’ll still find plenty of sunbathers who cheat and head here on longboats. The sandy shores are pristine
and sparkling and waters incredibly idyllic.
- Bang Tao Beach: On the immaculate shores of the north-western coast of Phuket lies what is, without a doubt, one of the most unspoilt beaches on the island. Mind you, it’s still brimming with exclusive resorts and a fantastic gold club, but at least that’s where the commercialisation ends. Laguna Resort may take up a big chunk f the beach, yet this is the longest stretch of sandy shores in Phuket and there is still plenty of glistening sandy room for all to enjoy.
Health & Beauty SpasPerhaps it’s a natural consequence of boasting such a thriving night-life, but Phuket is swiftly emerging as the spa capital of Thailand. Opulent beauty and health centres are springing up like wildflowers, offering a plethora of indulging treatments to soothe away the aches and pains of a hard year at work, or a hard night on Patong. Treatments and prices can suit all budgets: you can have a USD5 massage on the beach (mediocre at best) or splurge hundreds on a three-hour pamper-athon at the Banyan Tree Spa . Entire spa resorts have been emerging as of late, catering for those who wish nothing more than a daily dose of manipulation and beautification.
Island HoppingHopping on a longboat and heading out for the day to one of the many uninhabited islands off the shores of Phuket, is one of the most popular things to do here. Chartering boats to more popular hubs like Koh Phi Phi, Ko Racha or Coral island can be an expensive exercise, so most people opt for an organised day trip with an agency. Unfortunately, this gives you neither the privacy or quietness which you may crave when island hopping, so if that’s what you fancy it’s best to head to lesser known islets which are just as enticing.
Medical TourismPhuket is well known for having some of the most highly skilled surgeons and doctors in all of Thailand, aside Bangkok. Medical tourism is booming business in Asia, although a few problems (with rogue, unqualified doctors) have marred its reputation somewhat. Nevertheless, minor cosmetic procedures and dental work (primarily) are becoming increasingly popular here, with many foreigners booking in for procedures during a two-week holiday. They still end up spending much less than they would at home, holiday included.
History & Culture
- The Big Buddha of Phuket: the 45 meter high Buddha representing Phuket's Buddhist culture.
- Two Heroines Monument: This monument was built to honour the Burmese-Thai battle and depict two female warriors.
- Wat Chalong: Popular Wat (Temple) dedicated to the monks who battled against the Chinese in 1876.
- Old Phuket Town: The wonderful Portuguese inspired architecture is the town’s main draw card. The main road hosts many different restaurants, bars, hostels, and hotels.
- Phuket Seashell Museum: One of the most colourful and delightful museums you’ll probably ever see, boasting a priceless collection of seashells from all over the world, some of them revered collector’s items.
- Phuket Trickeye Museum: An odd attraction but one which seems to attract hordes of visitors. Here, you can pose in front of over 100 3D printed paintings, which are in themselves striking works of art. Wear dark clothes, practice your best pose and come have fun with your mates.
ShoppingTailor-made clothing is one of the best souvenirs you could bring home from Phuket. Although both fabrics and handiwork can be found cheaper in Bangkok, Phuket is for many much more convenient. Spend your days by the beach and have your new wardrobe additions ready by the time you’re a nice shade of lobster-red. Word of mouth and personal recommendations are your best bet, as tailors abound but quality not that easy to find.
Dining & DrinkingPhuket’s dining scene is perhaps its best asset, with an incredible amount of options to suit all tastes and budgets. From cheap and cheerful food stalls to superlative five starred restaurants, everything is available here, cuisine-wise included. Considering there won’t be much bargaining to be done on accommodation, in high season, frugal travellers can at least save some serious cash, as meals served in local joints are both delectable and infinitely cheaper than in Western-aimed eateries.
The night-time hub of Patong is the second busiest in the country, trailing after Pattaya. Nevertheless, every built up nook of Phuket boasts plenty of bars, nightclubs and restaurants which are open ‘till the wee hours of the morning, so finding your ideal drinking spot, whether that be in a go-go bar or exquisite beachside club, is child’s play.
CautionsAlthough safe by many standards, there are a few annoyances of which to be wary.
- Pick-pockets: Like all busy tourist hubs the world over, Phuket is a busy hive for pick-pockets, so keep your valuables close and only take with you what you’re prepared to lose.
- Mini-bus VIP scams: It’s not rare to have one’s luggage be ramaged through during a long bus ride, so use strong locks on your zips. This is usually enough to deter opportunistic thieves.
- Taxis: Just like everywhere else in Thailand, please ask for your taxi to be metered to ensure that you won't be ripped off. If the driver refuses to use their meter, use at your own caution.
- Motorcycle Taxis: Easy and cheap to get around, but see below why one should be cautious about riding a motorcycle. Taxi bike riders usually wear bright orange vests and, if you fail to see them, you will definitely hear them. "Where you want to go? I take you!" is about the most uttered sentence in Phuket. Feeling adventurous? Barter the price before getting on and aim to slash 70% off the initial asking price.
- Motorbike Rentals: Only use reputable companies and only hop on a bike if you actually know how to ride one. Thailand is the world leader in motorbike accidents, and although the island boasts a very good international hospital, it’s safe to assume you don’t want to visit it during your vacation. Phuket bike rental agencies are also renowned for scamming riders (claiming already-existing damages to scooters upon their return), so consider going to the trouble of pinpointing all damages, writing them own and getting the lender to sign before you take off. If deciding to rent a motorbike, expect to pay 150- ฿200 ($6.20) per 24 hour basis.
- Jet Skis: Renting jet skis is a lot of fun and very popular activity, yet cheaper agencies have been known to pull off ‘damages’ stunts, much like motorbike rental companies. Best bet is to pay more and rent one from a 5 star resort instead.
- Lady-boys: Many a lady-boy has yelled rape and assault after an encounter with a foreigner, so do be warned and know what you’re getting yourself into, if you choose to take your encounters behind closed doors. Corrupt police are usually involved in scams and the only way to get out of it is to cough up your hard-earned cash.
- HIV and other STD's: The island’s booming industry is said to be a hive of sexually transmitted disease, so take precautions unless you wish to come home with an undesirable souvenir.
- Rips and currents: Quite a few tourists dies in the waters off Phuket island every year, thanks to massive currents and harsh rips. Monsoon tides are the most dangerous ones to be wary of and claim the most amounts of lives, so do beware and do not head off if you see all the beahes boasting red flags.
- Wild monkeys: Phuket’s primate inhabitants can be as annoying as its tuk-tuk drivers, and much more aggressive. Don’t be fooled by the sweet eyes and small stature, these beasts have some spine-chilling fangs.
Get in/Get outPhuket is an incredibly easy destination for one to reach, hence the crowds. The island hosts one of Thailand's major international airports. The ease of this island's reachable nature is advertised all over Thailand and even into Malaysia,as the mini-bus system between the two countries is both fast and effective. You can reach Phuket for ฿500 ($16) (mini bus) or ฿2,000 ($62) (for a fancy bus) from Bangkok, Pattaya, Koh Phangan (with ferry included).
Highly recommended companies are Songserm, Lomprayah, and Seatran.
AirportPhuket Airport (HKT) is serviced by many international carriers, and located on the far north side of the island. Such providers as Thomson Airways have direct flights to London, and Emirates flies directly to Dubai. With its busy airport, it is considered wise to arrive at least two hours before your departure. From most hot tourist spots on the island, it is around 40 minutes to an hour to reach the airport. One can reach the airport via minibus, yellow taxis, and blue limousine. Mini buses are the cheapest method, usually offering around a ฿100 ($3.10) ride per passenger.
Train servicesThere is no direct train service into Phuket. One can stop at Surat Thani and travel for 5 hours via bus to Phuket. This is easily arranged from most travel agencies and combined into one single fair.
Popular Nearby Destinations
- Koh Phi Phi - Island located 1.5 hours away.
- Koh Lanta - Relaxing, calm island 2 hours away.
- Krabi - Second main island port for multiple destinations, 2 hours away.
- Rai Leh - Very relaxing upscale island 3 hours away.
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Author: ChaseHunter. Last updated: Feb 04, 2015