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Phuket, pronounced “Poo-get,” is Thailand’s largest island and with a population of 89,072 and also its second smallest province. Phuket is about 54 kilometers in length 24 kilometers wide. The Island is located on southern Thailand’s west coast facing the Andaman Sea and connected to Phang Nga Province by a pair of short road bridges.
Phuket enjoys great popularity as a travel destination. Most beaches are on the west coast, with Phuket Town to the southeast and the airport in the north. Phuket might not have the historical sites that Bangkok and Chiang Mai have but visitors can enjoy pristine beaches and crystal clear waters. Scuba diving, yachting, jet-skiing and parasailing are some popular activities on the island. Many of the world’s best dive sites are located around Phuket and nearby islands. From here divers can reach the Similan Marine National Park and the dive spots around Phi Phi Islands easily and the island has many diving schools operating daily tours to these destinations. Phuket also enjoys a reputation as a world class golfing destination with many golf courses on the island and the nearby mainland offering first rate facilities in a spectacular setting.
Over three million tourists visit Phuket annually but the island does not seem crowded due to its large size and the many smaller beaches with only few hotels. A good road network enables easy exploration from Chalong Bay and Rawai Beach in the South east coast, following Cape Prom Thep at the southern-most point and up to the western shoreline, which includes Nai Harn Beach, Kata Beach, Karon Beach, Patong Beach and Kamala Bang Tao. North of Phuket Town in Thalang a road branches off to Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Sanctuary. The east coast facing Phang Nga Bay is dominated by large mangrove forest inhabited by small monkeys.
Phuket can be reached easily by air from Bangkok, Koh Samui as well as an increasing number of international destinations mainly from other Asian Countries and Europe. Thai Airways also operates a daily flight from the northern province of Chiang Mai directly to the island.
There are several daily VIP buses departing from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal. The bus is by far the cheapest way to travel to Phuket but the trip takes about 12 hours.
Phuket cannot be reached directly by rail. However travelers looking for a small adventure can take the train leaving Bangkok’s Hua Lampong station and traveling along the Gulf Coast to Surat Thani province from where a bus crosses the Malay Peninsula to Phuket. This is not the cheapest and by far the slowest way to travel but also the most adventurous.
On Phuket itself you can travel to along the major beaches and to Phuket town by small local busses. The most convenient way however is by Tuk Tuk. The later are small 4 wheeled, open, mostly red taxies. Prices are not fixed and you need to negotiate with the driver before you enter the vehicle. Motorcycles and jeeps are for rent at most beaches at reasonable prices if you want to discover the island by yourself. An international driver’s license is required in Thailand although seldom requested.
Thailand is renowned worldwide for many things, but temples (‘Wat’ in Thai) in particular are considered a highlight when visiting the land of smiles. Phuket is not without its share of enchanting temples but the biggest most visited temple is situated in the north of the Chalong district.
Wat Chalong is elegantly decorated throughout the three floors, and inside the more recently built Chedi, a true treasure is displayed, an actual fragment of bone from Bhudda himself.
The temple is believed to have been originally constructed sometime between 1806 – 1842. It is custom to remove your shoes before entering and wear suitable attire in the form of trousers and shirts with sleeves.
As with any popular attraction in Phuket, souvenir shops are scattered around close by. On occasion, markets, fairs and stages are erected as Thais celebrate with food, music and live performances, these are always very entertaining events.
Phuket FantaSea provides an evening that will surely leave you breathless, or at that very least, thoroughly entertained. The islands most colossal show portrays the history and culture of Thailand with a fusion of fantasy which includes singing, dancing, trapeze artists, elephants and other exotic animals. The costumes are colourful and vibrant, as are the performers and the atmosphere, and it is commonly referred to as the ‘Ultimate cultural theme park’.
Either side of the main show there is bundles of entertainment, including fair games, a children’s arcade, a shopping village, open air bars, a family photo studio, the Similan adventure centre and the Palace of the Elephants. It also houses one of Asia’s largest buffet restaurants, serving both Thai and international cuisine, so no one goes hungry at FantaSea.
Internationally known for its budget shopping opportunities, Phuket hosts a number of interesting shopping haunts. The Patong beach night market is very popular with tourists, selling a range of items from local cultured materials and crafts, to the latest electronics and games, to fine leather clothing. The market stretches the entire length of the beach and there are many bargains to be found.
Similar markets are also found in Phuket Town, such as the Walking Street market held every Sunday, perhaps for the more talented hagglers, at slightly cheaper prices than Patong. Some of the best shopping locations in Old Phuket Town are Thalang and Dibuk, but other hotspots include Phang Nga, Yaowarat and Rassada. Also on the oustskirts of Phuket Town is the weekend market, not to be missed for shopping lovers.
In the hustle and bustle of markets really aren’t for you, perhaps a trip to the air-conditioned shopping centres such as Central Festival and Jungceylon in Patong would be more appealing. In the northern region of Phuket Town, the Premium Outlet mall houses around 50 boutique shops selling a range of designer and brand name clothing at attractive prices.
The heart of Phukets nightlife, Bangla road truly has to be seen to be believed and is an experience you’ll never forget. The road is packed with go-go and beer bars, and as the sun sets on the day, it awakens launching bright lights, beautiful girls and loud music.
Bars complete with one another for custom, using girls in skimpy outfits to entice clientele using provocative pole dancing techniques, more subtle challenges of playing innocent bar games and general charm and flirting.
Overall it’s a non-threatening, happy go lucky vibe, where the only rules that exists, are to have fun. It is here that you can witness some of those shows that Thailand are famous for across the globe, such as those featuring ‘Ping Pongs’ and ‘Lady Boys’.
There are also so more low-profile restaurants, bars and clubs in and around the area, offering a slightly less ‘hectic’ atmosphere.
Just uphill from Rawai beach, is the islands notorious and possibly most visited attraction, Laem Promthep Viewpoint. From it’s peak, the most magnificent sunsets can witnessed each evening and a magical glow lights up the entire area. It provides the perfect end to a romantic evening for some, and for others fantastic photo opportunities to go into the holiday album.
The sunsets alone are worth the trip, however there is still more to see. The lighthouse museum (Kanchanaphisek) not only has panoramic views over the south eastern ocean to neighbouring islands, but also offers some local historical education.
Like most attractions in Phuket, there are shopping opportunities to be had. Small market stalls are set up, leading from the car park area to the hill and selling various souvenirs and some practical essentials. There is also a quaint restaurant based at the top of the hill perfect for a scenic supper overlooking the ocean.
The pier and harbor at Chalong Bay provides a diverse range of boating and yachting activities throughout the day. Popular with tourists, there are yacht races, fishing trips, diving, snorkeling, sailing, sunset cruises, island trips and much more to be enjoyed.
In addition to the many sea activities, there are plenty of inland attractions to be explored, such as elephant trekking, golf, go-karts and paintball, all of which can be found at the Phuket shooting range.
Chalong bay is most certainly worth a visit for the more active holiday maker or those looking to add a little adventure to their holiday. Other local sites include the Big Buddha of Phuket, layered with white Burmese marble is stands tall and glistens in the sunshine. As with any seaside resort, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, shopping and excursion kiosks located around the area.
Phuket Town is enriched with local Thai history which can be explored throughout the many temples and attractions it holds. Old Town is particularly renowned for exhibiting the history of tin mining in the area over 200 years ago and the Sino-Portugese houses that were built around the time by the European mining companies.
Various wildlife is available for exploring, a particular highlight for animal lovers is Monkey Hill. This makes for a fun and inexpensive afternoon, just be careful to hold onto your valuables, those cheeky little critters sometimes let curiosity get the better of them.
Although it holds the persona of a quiet sleepy town, there is always something happening day and night which will grab the interest of visitors. Early mornings see the parades of monks and fresh food markets, whilst afternoons offer a wide range of activities such as, Thai cooking classes, Muay Thai training, spas and excursions. Evenings are for the cabarets or dining in the many restaurants or enjoying a cheeky cocktail or two in the bars and nightclubs.
Keen shoppers will be glad to hear that Phuket Town caters for all budgets, tastes and needs, featuring an abundance of retailers that offers local crafts, clothing, Thai silks and much more.
Another historical tribute displayed in Phuket, is the beautiful Heroines Monument. It is situated in Talang, acting as a bold of centre piece at the Thepkasattri road roundabout. It depicts the legend of two sisters who bravely stood against Burmese invaders and inspired other local residents to do the same, winning the two century old battle. The sisters became an icon as not only was this a truly inspiring revolution for Thai women at that time, but it also lead the Thai people to victory.
The monument itself is well kept and respected by locals, standing tall and elegant it is a definite point of interest for visitors wanting to learn more about the history and culture of Phuket.
The 45 metre tall, white marble Big Bhudda statue is not only a place of worship for both locals and visitors, but also houses a museum and accommodates ceremonies from time to time. The biggest attraction for holiday makers is however, the magnificent 360 degree views over-looking Phuket and the bays below.
The atmosphere at the Big Bhudda is one of calm and peacefulness, high up and away from the noisy town, all that can be heard are the chiming sounds of small bells and the wind gently blowing.
It is located at the top of the Nakkerd Hills which are between the towns of Chalong and Kata and can be reached by road. The statue itself is known to locals as Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri and was built mostly with donated money, so it is greatly respected, admired and celebrated.
Northern Phuket is home to one of Thailand’s many exotic national parks, Khao Phra Thaeo. It is here that visitors flock to witness the beauty of the Bang Pae Waterfall, the largest waterfall in Phuket, standing at 18 metres tall. The waterfall is at its most spectacular during the rainy season (June-November) but is still well worth a visit all year round.
There are numerous outdoor activities to partake in, such as picnics, nature walks, swimming in the lake and even hiking in the surrounding hills. There is also a gibbon rehabilitation centre in the jungle which is popular with nature enthusiasts.
Tonsai Waterfall, the second largest in Phuket can also be found in the very same national park. Almost identical in size to the Bang Pae waterfall, yet slightly more remote with less surrounding shops and restaurants, it provides a sense of seclusion and adventure.
The ancient art of Muay Thai boxing has long been practiced throughout Thailand and in the twentieth century became a worldwide recognized sport. It requirements great discipline and professionalism and many aspiring sports men and sports women travel to Phuket to master this martial art.
The Phuket Boxing Stadium in Phuket Town showcases Muay Thai fights twice a week and over a time it has become a thriving attraction. Holiday makers, martial arts lovers or not, seem fascinated with this sport and consider it to be ‘must-do’ event in order to make their experience of Thailand complete.
The stadium is located close to the pier and is open on Tuesday and Friday nights from 8pm. Admission may seem a little pricey to some, starting at 1300, however it is an experience you’ll never forget.
If there’s one thing they know how to do in Phuket, that’s to throw a party and the Vegetarian Festival is no exception to the rule. The festival is held annually and runs for around ten days from late September to early October. The festival itself originates from Chinese heritage and participants will partake of a strict vegetarian diet for the duration, as a means of cleansing their bodies and minds and restoring peace within themselves and the spirit world.
During this period the streets are brightly covered in traditional Chinese style decorations, accompanied by performances that are not for the faint hearted. Some of these include barefoot walking over hot coals, inserting sharp metal skewers through body parts and climbing ladders carrying heavy loads of dangerous objects. These seemingly bizarre rituals are somewhat morbidly fascinating and definitely provide for an entertaining afternoon.
The vegetarian culinary delights are not to be forgotten, widely available across food stalls, the mouth-watering selection of treats may even convince some to permanently convert to vegetarianism.
A trip to Thailand cannot be complete without seeing a live elephant and Phuket has many elephant camps which allow visitors to get up close and personal with these captivating animals. Monitored and regulated by the Asian Elephant Foundation of Thailand, the majority of these camps offer a safe and humane environment to the animals.
There is something magical about being in the presence of these creatures, feeding them, bathing them and trekking with them. Due to the elephant’s incredibly sensitive skin, it is considered by many, better to ride on the elephant’s neck, without the heavy and uncomfortable chairs used in some camps.
There are many camps advertised by ticket touts throughout the island, some of the most popular camps include, Siam Safari in Chalong, Safari Elephant Club in Patong, Kok Chang Elephant camp in Kata Noi, Sea View Elephant Camp in Nai Harn and Camp Chang Kalim in Kalim.
Spas have become a big business in Phuket and add that extra luxury factor to any holiday. Whether it’s a traditional Thai massage, a facial, a manicure or a mud bath that suits, Phuket has a wealth of spas available that cater for everyone, ranging from reasonably inexpensive establishments to more upmarket clinics.
Phuket is arguable the best golfing destination in Thailand, with around 8 professional courses that cater for beginner to expert level. The island hosts some of Asia’s biggest tournaments and the lush green trees and plentiful lakes really do set an idyllic scene. Golf lovers should definitely check out the following courses:
Red Mountain Golf Club, Loch Palm Golf Club, Mission Hills Golf Resort, Blue Canyon Country Club (Canyon & Lake Course), Phuket Country Club, Laguna Phuket Golf Club and Phunaka Golf Course
Lady boy shows are part and parcel of the Phuket experience and curiosity will entice even the most dubious holiday maker to take a peek. A truly energetic and intoxicating performance by some of the most elegant and convincing transsexuals, the Simon Cabaret Show is a must see. Suitable fun for all the family, It’s located close to Patong beach and admission prices are very reasonable.
Situated on the West coast, Patong is undoubtedly the liveliest beach in Phuket and attracts visitors from all over the globe. It is a well-developed resort which has no shortage of amenities, entertainment, accommodations, restaurants and nightlife.
Known as a party town, it really comes to life at night when the bright lights of the restaurants, discos, bars and GoGo bars begin to dazzle.
During the daytime there is also plenty to do. Patong is known as one of the world’s leading snorkeling and scuba diving sites and dive trips can be easily booked across the resort. Alternatively people can enjoy activities such as jet skiing, zip lining and bungee jumping. For the less adventurous there are plenty of options for shopping, sunbathing and shows such as Thai boxing (Muay Thai) and cabarets.
The beach itself is very popular with travellers and displays beautiful white sands and glistening clear blue water. It’s provides perfect relaxation to help unwind after a busy night.
Karon is the second largest beach in Phuket and spans across three main areas; Karon Plaza to the south, central Karon and Aroona Plaza to the north. Measuring an approximate length of 3km, there is plenty to do and explore here. A range of restaurants and accommodations can be found to suit the needs of everyone, with budget styles in the south and more luxury options in the central area.
Most of the stretch along the beach front is public and has ample space for cyclists and pedestrians to stroll and enjoy the view of the white sand beach and ocean.
Fun daytime activities are aplenty, with miniature golf in the south and the Nong Harn Lake beachside park in the north. This facilitates keep fit enthusiasts looking for a scenic location to enjoy jogging, cycling or exercise routines.
Nightlife is fairly low key but can be found in the central and northern areas, consisting mainly of restaurants and bars. Shopping and excursions are also available in abundance along with bus services into Phuket town.
Kata beach is located to the south of Karon and is made up of two bays, Kata Yai and Kata Noi. Unlike many beaches in southern Thailand, it has become popular with surfers between the months of May to October, due to its sizable waves. The rest of the year round, the white sands beckon to travellers and sun worshipers to enjoy lazy days of sunbathing and relaxing.
The two beaches are lined with beautiful trees amongst a range of restaurants and resorts. Kata Yai is the busier of the two bays and has some lively evening entertainment, whilst Kata Noi is more secluded and quiet.
Perhaps best suited to families and couples, Kata beach also offers snorkeling, scuba diving, package tours and markets for souvenir shopping. If this is sounds like too much hard work, then a soothing ocean side massage might be more up your street.
The stunning Nai Harn beach is in the south of the Island and hosts a unique feature, a lagoon which trickles out from the mainland to the sea, providing cool shallow waters perfect for children to paddle in. The ocean water is calm and remarkably clear whist the bay is enclosed by tree covered mountains, it’s a true breath of fresh air.
Unblemished by tourism and not swamped by visitors, it still has all its charm and character. It’s the perfect location for swimming and relaxing with no noisy jet-skis disturbing the peace.
Affordable restaurants are tucked away in the shaded areas to escape the sun and cool off with a refreshing drink, perhaps a notorious Mai Thai cocktail. It remains very popular with local Thais, with its tranquility and perfection still unknown to many, it’s the perfect getaway from the rest of the tourist herd.
Set in a peaceful location away from the hustle and bustle of the busier resort of Patong, Kamala beach is enclosed by jungle like hills, giving it a detached feeling from the rest of the island.
Kamala is a quiet beach resort and doesn’t draw as many visitors as other parts of the island, however remains popular with local expats and boasts a range of hotels, apartments and villas.
There is ample chance for shopping and dining out in one of the beach front restaurants is a perfect way to spend the evening. For food enthusiasts, a visit to the fresh market in the village is a must. Here you can browse a range of exotic fruits and vegetables and experience some native Thai treats.
Albeit a quieter resort then some of it’s neighbours, Kamala has some great nightlife. One particular highlight is Phuket Fantasea Park, which hosts an impressive acrobatic show.
Situated on the west coast is one of the most beautiful panoramic beach resorts in Phuket, Surin beach. This is known as a high end resort offering luxury accommodation and is popular amongst celebrities.
Along the perfect white sand beach and clear turquoise water, holiday makers can enjoy a range of upmarket restaurants and wine bars, as well as some more traditional Thai style dining.
Both travellers and local Thai’s enjoy this village making it one of the most popular resorts on the island, and still not too crowded, it maintains its scenic ambience.
Swimming is a fantastic pastime. Out in the crystal waters and looking back, people can enjoy the view of the beautiful casuarina trees which line the shore.
Other entertainment can be found set back from the beach in the village. ‘The Plaza’ is 3 floors tall and provides shopping opportunities, along with some smaller stores and clothes shops.
On the northwest coast of Phuket, closest to the airport, lays the longest quiet and tranquil stretch of beach, Mai Khao. Completely secluded, it provides travellers with a sense of solitude and a relaxing atmosphere. Mai Khao is part of the Sirinat National Park and has many species of marine life, birds, lizards, snakes, plants and other wildlife. During the dry months, giant sea turtles can be spotted along the shore, where they have ventured to lay their eggs. Then during Songkran (Thai New Year in April) they are released back into the sea as part of the festivities.
Swimming in the ocean during the rainy season (May – November) is not advised due to rough waters. However the rest of the year, during the dry months, is perfect for swimming and snorkeling and exploring marine life.
Shopping and entertainment are limited and the Turtle village is one of the main attractions here.
Freedom beach is a truly unique, tiny taste of paradise on the west coast of Phuket. Undisturbed by noisy watersports or large crowds, visitors can enjoy the 300 meter long stretch of smooth, fluffy white sand and translucent ocean water, in total peace and harmony.
This beach is only reachable by boat during the high season (December – June) which is no doubt is the secret to it maintaining a low flow of human traffic, despite its exquisite setting and natural beauty. It is also possible to reach by motorcycle, however the journey is not easy and will include a taxing walk and hike after parking in the ‘car park’ at the top of the hill.
The bay itself is surrounded by a backdrop of luscious green jungle and steep hills, which the more adventurous may want to hike. Alternative entertainment can be found on the beach, including football and volleyball or snorkeling.
Rawai beach is known as a kind of ‘port’ for fishing and excursion boats that anchor here throughout the day. It is from this southern beach that people embark on day trips to nearby islands, fishing or snorkeling. It is also home to large portion of Phuket’s expatriates, so has a more mellow vibe than some of the other more ‘touristy’ beaches around the island.
From Rawai beach, there is a good view of the smaller islands surrounding the south coast, such as Koh Racha, Koh Lone and Coral Island.
One distinct advantage to housing the local fishing boats, is the many seafood restaurants operating from here, offering a delicious range of fresh seafood dishes every day. Many still offer traditional a ‘Thai style dining’ experience, enjoying you’re a meal from floor level at a ‘miniature’ designed table.
The Gypsy Village is fantastic for souvenir shopping, selling cultured seaside gems and a visit to Laem Promthep View point is a must do, from here the most dazzling sunsets can be witnessed.