As Thailand’s largest island, Phuket has for decades drawn sun seekers, water sports enthusiasts, island hoppers and late-night revellers, never disappointing with the quality of service and diverse attractions on offer. Ever increasing in popularity and leaving visitors spoilt for choice, Phuket is the go-to option for many seeking to spend time in the Andaman Sea.
The capital Phuket City is found on the east side of the island, culturally rich with colourful 19th-century shop houses and Sino-Portuguese buildings. Main attractions include the Baan Chinpracha mansion, built by a wealthy tin merchant in 1903, it has Italian floor tiles, shuttered windows and antique furniture. Set in a 1930s manor, the Thai Hua Museum houses exhibits on Phuket’s culture and history.
The country’s largest island, mountainous and covered in rain forests, can leave you feeling like you are still on mainland. Besides decadent hours spent lounging on the beach, you will find scuba diving, excellent food, sacred temples and traditional Thai massages. For the activity hungry there is rock climbing, speedboat excursions and a cruise around Ao Phang Nga National Park. The bay’s waters are filled with coral reefs and perfect for snorkelling, even for the inexperienced swimmer, while in the north – wildlife sanctuaries and national parks can be visited.
By far the most popular and somewhat overcrowded tourist area on Phuket is Patong Beach on the central west coast. Most of Phuket’s nightlife and its shopping is in Patong and the area has become increasingly developed. This may be exactly what you are looking for, but if you’re seeking something quieter look to the north of Patong where Kamala Beach, Surin Beach and Bang Tao Beach are generally less developed than Patong. To the southeast is Bon Island and to the south are several coral islands.
The Sirinat National Park on the northwest coast was established in 1981 to protect an area of 90 square kilometres of land and 68 kilometres of marine area, including the Nai Yang Beach where sea turtles lay their eggs, a forward-thinking decision that has preserved the area.
In the historically rich Old Phuket Town you will find shrines, temples, ornate and beautifully preserved shop houses, old-world cafés, tiny print shops, private and public museums. Phuket Old Town is easy to tour on foot and this is what we recommend. The best time to do this is early in the morning or after the day has lost its heat.
The first thing you’ll embrace is the mix of cultures that live here, from Thais, Chinese, Malays, Indians and Nepalese, a young and growing Eurasian community and a unique mix of Hokkien Chinese and Thais called Baba. The Baba are Chinese migrants who settled in Phuket at the beginning of the 20th century and their heritage can be seen in their architectural style, dress and way of life.
Phuket Walking Street hosts an extremely popular market every Sunday on Thalang Road. This 350m long cosmopolitan street is popular during the week with many shops, restaurants, bars and guesthouses, but really comes to life on Sundays between 4 and 10pm. The area allows visitors to discover some typical southern Thai culinary specialties as well as local handicraft and gift stall and is family-oriented with toy stalls and a trampoline for the little ones.
If you are a shopper or just want to buy some souvenirs to take back home, you should visit the Night Market where there are literally hundreds of stalls set up within this tightly packed marketplace selling literally anything you can imagine at a very good price.
Interesting facts about Phuket
– Phuket, one of Thailand’s southern provinces and the country’s largest island is in the Andaman Sea, with 32 smaller islands off its coast. The Sarasin Bridge to Phang Nga Province connects Phuket Island to the north, with Krabi the neighbouring province.
– Phuket Province covers an area of 576 square kilometres, which makes it just a little smaller than Singapore. The island’s length from north to south is 48 kilometres and its width is 21 kilometres.
– Looking to the early days, it formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber and enjoys a rich and colourful history, which is worth exploring. Phuket was once one of the major trading routes between India and China and was frequently mentioned in Portuguese, French, Dutch and English ship logs. Today without question, the region gains most of its income from its thriving tourism sector, yet forest, rubber and palm oil plantations do still cover more than half of the island.
– The relatively recent name, ‘Phuket’ is said to be derived from the word bukit which means hill in Malay. The other idea is that the name is derived from two Thai words, ‘phu’ which means mountain and ‘ket’ which means jewel. Either description works. Prior to the renaming it was known as Jung Ceylon and Thalang.
– As can be attained from the origin of the name, seventy percent of Phuket’s area is covered with a mountain range that stretches from north to south.
Best time to visit Phuket
Bear in mind that with a tropical climate, the weather in Phuket varies between warm, cool and rainy. It never really gets cold though. The high tourist season is from November to February when it’s cool and dry, after which it remains hot until May. Monsoon season begins mid-May and goes on until October, although even then the beaches can be enjoyed as the rain is sporadic and the weather remains warm.