Lying on the fringe of the Andaman Sea off the west coast of Southern Thailand, the island of Phuket is approximately 890km from Bangkok. It is Thailand’s largest island at 550sq km, roughly the same size as Singapore.
The name Phuket is apparently derived from the word bukit in Malay which means mountain or hill, as this is what the island appears like from a distance.
Phuket is surrounded by many smaller islands that add a further 70 sq km to its total land area. Phuket is separated from the mainland by the Chong Pak Phra channel at its northernmost point, where a causeway connects the island to the mainland.
Phuket is quite mountainous. There are a couple of peaks above 500m, the highest being Mai Tao Sipsong at 529m. Many of these are covered in lush jungle. The lowlands consist of rice paddies, plantations of rubber, pineapple and coconut as well as the only significant area of rainforest remaining on the island, Khao Phra Thaeo Park which is now protected.
The most beautiful beaches are found on the West coast, separated by rocky coves and headlands. The east coast comprises limestone shoals with only a few sandy beaches while spectacular limestone islands adorn the horizon. Coral gardens full of exotic marine life dot the emerald waters surrounding the island.
The residents of Phuket comprise Thais who have migrated from the mainland, ethnic Chinese, Malays, and Chao Leh or ‘sea-gypsies’ who are the original inhabitants of Phuket.
According to the census, Thai-Buddhists account for 71% of the population, with Malays (24%) and Chao Leh (4%) making up the remainder. The figure for Thai-Buddhists also includes the Chinese who are almost completely assimilated. Some estimates put the percentage of ethnic Chinese at around 35%. The vast majority of the population resides in or around Phuket City and Patong Beach, creating a population distribution along an east-west axis.
Tourism has dominated the island’s economy for the past two decades. Each year, over 3 million visitors arrive to enjoy Phuket’s natural splendor and many amenities.
Getting there and around
- By Air
Although Phuket is an island, getting here is very straightforward. The majority of tourists arrive through Phuket International Airport (HKT). However, you can also get to Phuket by road, rail (in a roundabout way), and of course by sea if you have your own boat.
Getting to Phuket by air couldn´t be easier. Phuket is served by an international airport with a number of scheduled and charter flights from Europe and around Asia.
However, the majority of visitors still fly to Bangkok first, where there are over a dozen domestic flights to Phuket daily. With the growth in budget airlines such as Nok Air, Air Asia, Bangkok Airways and Orient Thai (One2Go), ticket prices are now very low. There is also the national carrier Thai Airways, which is slightly more expensive but offers a higher level of service.
- Flights from Bangkok take about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Book your tickets early, especially during the high season from November to April.
- Phuket International Airport is situated at the northern end of the island about 45 mins drive from Phuket City. Tel: +66 (0)76-327-230 (information counter is extension 1111 or 1122).
- By Road
Phuket is about 867km (539 miles) from Bangkok, with a travelling time of approximately 10 hours. There are many car rental companies in Bangkok, both international firms such as Avis and Budget, as well as local companies.
Driving in Thailand is quite pleasant outside of town and cities. Motorways are in good condition and mostly well sign-posted in Thai and English. Driving standards are poor but better than many other developing nations.
Take Highway 4 from Bangkok, passing through Nakhorn Pathom, Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi, Prachuapkhirikan, Chumphon, Ranong and Phang Nga. The highway between Ranong and Phang Nga is quite scenic with forest-covered mountains on one side and the Andaman sea on the other
- On the Island
Well paved roads service the island, giving ready access to all beaches, retail centres and the administrative center Phuket Town. The best and safest form of transport is a self-drive air-conditioned vehicle (car or 4 wheel drive jeep); motorbikes can also be hired (be cautious of traffic hazards and wear a crash helmet). You then have the freedom to explore the island and its treasures at your own pace. A private car and driver can also be arranged by your concierge service.
Sights, Scenes and Sports
Against the backdrop of hills, the beaches of Phuket stand as one of the most sought after palm-fringed tropical destinations. The most popular spots are Patong, Kata and Karon, however nearly all beaches along the island’s west coasts are frequented by locals and tourists, with the northern beaches along the west coasts remaining very quiet and unspoilt.
In such an idyllic setting the temptation is simply to laze peacefully on the beach and soak up a tropical sun tan. But if you want more there are amenities for water sports, such as sailing, windsurfing, kayaking diving and snorkeling. The coastal waters are exciting to explore and are especially rich in shoals of brightly colored fish and exotic coral formations.
Principal among Phuket´s natural sights are two picturesque waterfalls, Hin Lat and Na Muang.
Island hopping is another attraction and boats can be easily hired for trips to Phang Nga Bay to discover the myths surrounding the formation of the mountainous limestone karsts which are scattered across the bay, Krabi province and The Phi Phi Islands which boasts beautiful bays with colorful coral formations and marine life, and offer excellent conditions for diving and snorkeling.
A more adventurous full day excursion can be made to The national park of the Similan Islands, 140 square kilometers in total, 14 of those being land in the shape of an archipelago consisting of nine islands. There is an enormous diversity in species – both in fish and corals. The visibility is the best you will find in Thailand. You will see plenty of colorful fish such as lionfish and clownfish (Nemo), and if you´re lucky you may spot a bigger one like a manta or even a whale shark.
Elephant riding is a good way to support the remaining domesticated elephants of Thailand and their mahout, is fairly cheap, and can be an interesting new experience. The elephants are well trained, and you can tip the mahout by giving the money to the elephant who will hand it to the mahout with its trunk.
Visit the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project by the beautiful Bang Pae waterfall. They have a visitor centre manned by Western volunteers and English speaking Thai staff who will talk to you about the project. Talks are free, but please support the project by buying a souvenir, sponsoring a gibbon or giving a donation. Don´t have your photo taken with a captive gibbon in Phuket or on the beaches.
Golfing in Phuket
The golf courses of Phuket are of international standard. Each one has its own particular challenges and scenic splendour that only Phuket can offer. Discount green fee are available by booking through Phuket golf booking agencies.
• Blue Canyon Country Club
• Laguna Phuket Golf Club
• Loch Palm Golf Club Phuket
• Mission Hills Phuket Resort and Spa
• Phuket Country Club
• Thai Muang Beach Golf and Marina
Dining, Entertainment and Spas
Most beach resorts have their own restaurants and there is vast and varied choice of places to eat, drink and enjoy. Fresh seafood, spicy curries and tropical fruits are the natural specialties of Phuket, though you will find menus sufficiently varied to cater to all tastes. International favorites as well as spicy Thai dishes are available. We recommended you to use the Dining Guide Where to Eat in Phuket as a reference when selecting your evening venue. Local markets and restaurants also offer great value for money with their traditional Thai food and specialties from all regions of the country.
Phuket has, like most of Thailand’s major tourist destinations, turned into a spa paradise in the region. The island boasts of world class spas, retreats and yoga centres offering luxurious and rejuvenating body and facial treatments, aromatic steam baths, spa cuisine, yoga, and so much more. Please visit Distinctive Spas for more information.
Thailand, and therefore Phuket, is fast becoming a country to be visited all year round. This is of course largely due to the tropical weather and climate.
The ´dry´ season is from November till May. Temperatures average 30 degrees year round. The ´green´ season is from May to October when temperatures are around the 25 to 30 degree mark.
All in all, Phuket, like most of Thailand, is a place for all seasons.