Pearl of the Andaman Sea
Phuket is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Asia. There are about 400,000 inhabitants in Phuket but from November to March, during the tourist season, the population grows exponentially. Around 5 million tourists visit Phuket yearly and they have several good reasons to do so.
A commonplace misconception about Phuket is that Phuket is merely a city. In reality, Phuket is an entire island, the largest island in Thailand by square mileage. In total, the island covers 543 square kilometers; it is 50 kilometers long and 21 kilometers wide.
Most tourists visiting the beaches of Phuket don’t wander into the actual city of Phuket, located on the east coast of the island. Phuket Town, the capital city of the island, is mostly inhabited by locals and attracts few tourists. The tourist beehive is on the western side of the island, in the Patong area, and in addition to the above mentioned two areas, there is the rest of the island: square miles after square miles of stunning, glorious views and places to explore, all embraced by clear skies and sparkling sunshine.
The majority of the people in Phuket are disarming in their friendliness and extreme helpfulness – a big reason for developing a serious crush on the place. Thai people in general are one of the genuinely nicest nations in the world.
Official Name: Thailand
Government: Constitutional monarchy
Population: 67 million
Area: 510,890 sq. km
Main religions: official religion Buddhism (94.6%), Islam (4.6%), Christianity (0.7%)
Life expectancy: 77 (women), 72 (men)
Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
Main exports: electronics, computer parts, automobiles and car parts, textiles and shoes, fish, rice, rubber
GNI per capita: US $10,300
Time Zone: UCT/GMT + 7
Best of Phuket
Getting bored in Phuket is very difficult; you have to exhaust yourself in order to get there. The island in itself is mesmerizing, and being able to live the every day life in these surroundings can pull the rug from under your feet easily. In addition, you can be in awe of:
Kata Noi, Nai Harn and Patong beaches, as well as the other beaches mentioned in guide books, are absolutely stunning but also busy, for good reasons. Phuket is, though, full of unchartered territory when it comes to finding your favorite sun or swim spot and many of the beach treats are yet unknown by the majority of the holiday goers. Extra time in Phuket is, thus, fun and easy to spend on finding the ultimate beach for you and your friends.
It is easy to be a nature lover in Phuket since even the indoorsy people can enjoy it comfortably from, for example, the Kata View Point, a viewing spot high up above the sea level that reveals panoramic views across the southern Phuket. Also, the southern tip of Promthep Cape is a popular, romantic place to look at the sun set. If you want a more hands on experience with the nature in Phuket, the Khao Phra Taeo national park encloses the last remaining bit of the ancient jungle that once covered the whole island. There is also a rehab center at the park for gibbons, i.e. a species of monkeys, which aims at returning the monkeys, once illegally captured for tourist attractions, back to the wild. The center is a good reminder of the unethical measures sometimes taken to make a buck, and visitors of the island should choose carefully which acts they want to support. For example, the conditions of the elephants at the Phuket Zoo are questionable but there are many animal friendly elephant safaris in Phuket, too.
The sun, even though an important factor in Phuket, does not dominate the best times to crawl out of your cave. Especially Patong has a second coming at night when the bars and clubs on Bangla Road turn on their lights and turn up the music. If you enjoy a good time out, Phuket is an excellent, cheap choice for some dancing, drinking and socializing.
There are various ways to experience the authentic, local culture in Phuket. There are, for example, a multitude of galleries that hang local art in Phuket Town and in Rawai and when you want to tap into your spiritual side, the Wat Chaiyataram temple is a fascinating place for all those interested in the main religion in Thailand, Buddhism.
Many islands in South East Asia are famous for their waves. Phuket doesn’t top the charts as having the biggest waves but it is a good place to start surfing if you have no previous experience on a surf board. The Kata Noi area in the south offers different services for blooming surfers, i.e. boards and teaching. You can also try out surfing on artificial waves in the pool at the Surf House Phuket in Kata. Phuket Wake Park in Kathu, in contrast, has dedicated a whole beach for different water boarding and skiing options. You can try out water skiing where you are pulled by a wire, instead of a boat, there, among many other water sports.
If surfing is too difficult to execute in Phuket, there are various other, great options for keeping fit. The campus has a full size (European) football field and the Kathu area hosts the best golf courses in Phuket. In addition to these Western forms of fun, Phuket is an excellent place to try something more local, Thai boxing. There are a lot of excellent schools offering Thai boxing courses on every possible level. Furthermore, the oceans are not only for surfing or swimming but great for sailing, diving and snorkeling, especially along the southern coastline.
Geography and areas
Phuket is divided into three geographical sections, Mueang Phuket, Kathu and Thaland. Mueang Phuket covers the southeastern region, Kathu the western coastline and middle sections of the island and Thalang the northern areas of Phuket.
The most familiar area for tourists in Phuket is Patong, located on the west coast. Patong is charming but quite crowded during the high season during which one might opt for keeping some distance to the hub. High season Patong is characterized by the dozens of street vendors competing for the attention of the herds of European tourists, trying to sell them everything from t-shirts to watches and from electronics to ferry tickets. The most popular beach in Phuket, Patong Beah, lines the coast of Patong. Patong Beach’s clear blue water and long sandy beaches are uncorrupted in their irresistibility; the beach is a delightful oasis despite its buzzing surroundings.
Bangla Road, which cuts through Patong, is at its heartiest at night when the bars and clubs are filled with bubbly party folk. The atmosphere of the Bangla Road nightlife has nothing to do with a regular Friday night out; this is holiday style partying. It might be quite difficult to find authentic Thai culture in Patong since the area is dominated by Western style restaurants and bars. It is still, though, worth wandering into at least a few times, both day and night, to capture the wonderfully weird flashiness of the area or even catch one of the quirky shows aimed for the tourists.
Patong is especially attractive for students at the weekends because of the outrageous clubbing opportunities: The area has the largest and most impressive nightlife spots.
The island of Phuket is, though, much more than Patong. Kathu, the town located in the middle of the island that hosts the Prince of Songkla University campus, will probably become the most familiar to Asia Exchange students during their exchange in Phuket. Kathu is Patong’s opposite in many ways, mostly by having almost exclusively local inhabitants as well as having a much more chilled nightlife. One doesn’t have to worry about being circled by street vendors there; Kathu charms its visitors precisely with its relaxed vibe and local color. For example, there are various excellent Thai food restaurants scattered around Kathu. Students usually find Kathu very homely and most of them choose to live there. In addition, Kathu is one of the most inexpensive areas in Phuket – dramatically cheaper than, for example, the Patong area. A delicious meal goes for a euro, and the villas, very popular among students there, are very affordable when compared to the Western prices for similar style luxury accommodation.
Other local areas, in addition to Kathu, are the capital city of the island, Phuket Town, and the city of Chalong. Both of the cities are located in the southern end of the island. Phuket Town and Chalong are larger than Kathu and, thus, have a bit more shops and sights. Still, the shopping and the atmosphere in general are a far cry from the more hectic and touristy Patong. Even though Phuket Town and Chalong aren’t tourist hubs they do attract some visitors. For example, the weekend night market in Phuket Town is very popular. Phuket Town and Chalong are both near Kathu and the campus area and within easy access from the university and students’ housing. Phuket Town has nowadays become increasingly popular among backpackers and, following, has a fluid, interesting and laid back visitor base.
The southern corners of the island host possibly the best beaches in Phuket, for example the Kata Noi and Nai Harn beaches. On sunny days it is almost impossible to peel oneself off these beaches. They are absolutely stunning in their serenity, colors, and sun-kissed sand, and, in addition, are refreshingly cooled by the gentle winds blowing in from the ocean. The little towns located near the beaches are perfect spots for afternoon browsing and beers on one of the countless charming little terraces. The Kata beach does attract tourists, too, but it is still much calmer and quieter than Patong beach.
The northern coastline of Phuket receives often much less attention even though it has many excellent beaches that are dramatically emptier than some of the southern beaches. If you want to find your own beach, yet untainted by someone else’s footsteps, you have to go wander around the northern coastline. There are also little local towns in the north, the Phuket international airport as well as the bridge leading to continental Thailand.
Climate and weather
The climate in Phuket is warm and pleasant year round – a factor that has contributed greatly to its popularity as a destination. Seasons in Phuket can be roughly divided into a rainy season and the summer; and the high season and the tourists follow the climate patterns. The rainy season begins in May and continues till the end of October. During the rainy season, the weather has a tendency to be unpredictable, consisting of some heavier monsoon rains as well as long periods of the loveliest, uninterrupted sunshine. The rains are short, soft and warm by their nature and even during the rainy season, the sun shines daily. An added bonus during the rainy season is the completely leveled prices.
Summer starts, at the latest, in November and banishes the left over rain clouds from the horizon. The weather is excellent all summer long, and since the summer season in Thailand takes place during the European winter, Phuket is a popular Christmas break destination for Westerners. The summer season continues till May and during the season the daily temperatures often rise above 30 Celsius.
Transportation and getting around
Even though travelling in Thailand and the neighboring countries is tempting, Phuket itself is also a surprisingly diversified island both in terms of its nature’s biodiversity and the local culture. Especially the above mentioned northern corners and nooks of the island are worth a thorough wander. Also, in the southernmost plains of the island roam around completely wild elephants, among other interesting wild creatures.
If one wants to travel outside Phuket, the easiest way to conquer mainland Thailand is either by crossing the bridge from Phuket or taking a plane to more faraway destinations, like Bangkok, or the largest city in North Thailand, Chiang Mai. There are also many breathtaking islands around Phuket, for example the Koh Phi Phi Islands, most famous for being the islands where The Beach was filmed. Other gorgeous hide-away islands are Koh Yao Noi, Koh Yao Yai and Koh Raya Yai. There is a harbor in Phuket Town where you can hop on one of the ferries that travel to the nearly islands only in a matter of a few hours.
After having Thailand under your belt, you can enjoy the excellent connections from the Phuket International Airport to, for example, to various destinations in Malaysia, China, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. You can find more information on traveling in Asia here.
The currency of Thailand is the Thai baht (THB). One baht is divided into 100 satang. One euro is approximately 50 baht, depending on the exchange rate. Credit cards are accepted at major establishments, but you might have to pay an additional fee for paying with them. Cash will be needed for transportation, street vendors and smaller stores.
Phuket is a relatively safe island. Beware of pick-pockets in crowded areas and don’t keep all your cash in one place but divide it among your wallet and pockets. Do not leave valuables in your hotel room, especially if you choose a cheaper accommodation. Find out more about general safety instructions at our destinations.
Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and Tetanus-diphtheria are should be kept up-to-date. Hepatitis A and B are recommended. Japanese encephalitis is recommended for those who are planning on spending a month or more in rural areas or who are going to spend a lot of time outdoors in rural areas after dusk. Find out more about vaccinations from here.
The first mention of Phuket in history was by the Greek geographer, Ptolemy. The island was referred to as ‘Junk Ceylon’. Phuket fell under Thai control in the 13th century and the area became increasingly important due to its natural reserves of gems, ivory, firewood, spices etc. Later on, during the 17th century, the Dutch, English and French competed for the monopoly of the tin and rubber exports from the island.
After Thailand’s old capital, Ayutthaya, fell to the Burmese in 1767, the Burmese also planned to raid the prosperous Phuket from sea and capture as many people as possible to be sold into slavery. Luckily, however, the Burmese fleet was discovered and the people of Phuket were warned in advance. The counterattack was gathered and led by Kunying Jan, the wife of the recently deceased governor, and her sister Mook. The Burmese siege lasted a month, but the people of Phuket were victorious. King Rama I awarded the sisters titles usually reserved for royalty only. Jan became Thao Thep Kasattri and Mook Thao Sri Suntorn. The sisters are still thought of as heroines and a monument has been raised in their honor on Thep Kasattri Road.
When tin became more important in the 19th century, Chinese workers flocked to Phuket. The influence of the Chinese can still be seen in the food and culture of the island.
The tsunami that devastated South East Asia in 2004, an abnormally ruinous natural phenomenon, was detrimental in Phuket as well. Phuket has been reconstructed and reinforced since 2004, and has bounced back from the event remarkably well.