Phuket (ภูเก็ต) , pronounced (roughly) "pu-ged", is Thailand's largest island. It is 48 km in length, 21 km at its widest, and is in Southern Thailand, on the west-facing Andaman Sea coastline, suspended from the southern tip of Phang Nga Province by a pair of short but substantial road bridges.
Phuket nestles in balmy Andaman Sea waters on Thailand’s Indian Ocean coastline 862 kilometres south of Bangkok.
Phuket formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber, and enjoyed a rich and colourful history. The island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, and was frequently mentioned in foreign trader’s ship logs.
In recent times, though, Phuket's top earner has been tourism, which has transformed the island into Thailand's wealthiest province. The west coast of Phuket was hit severely by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, but almost no evidence of the damage now remains.
Phuket enjoys great popularity as a travel destination. Most beaches are on the west coast, with Phuket Town to the south-east and the airport in the north.
Phuket is hot and humid throughout the year. The hot season is generally considered to be from March to early May. During the summer monsoon season from May to October, mornings and afternoons are still sunny and clear, but it tends to rain in the evenings and water clarity goes down. Locals consider November to February the "cool" season, and the weather is quite tolerable, much more so than in the tourism centers around the Gulf coast. It's comparable to Florida's summer weather in temperature and intensity of rain storms: 25-33 deg C, flying clouds, short and thunderous rainfalls in the afternoons and evenings. Surfing is possible off the western beaches.
Phuket is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and even sea gypsies. The majority of the population in the rural areas is Muslim. Outside of the provincial town, the rural folk speak with a thick Southern dialect which is difficult for even other Thais to understand. The provincial town’s economy having boomed over the past decade has lead to a lot of the youngsters leading similar lives to those in Bangkok. Altogether, the lifestyle of the urban Thai-Chinese resembles that of Bangkokians.
In Thailand, like most of Asia, it is important to save face. This is something that is very gracious but can be very annoying to most westerners. Saving face is more important than anything. Getting mad or angry at someone does not bode well for you and it is likely to get you nowhere. Stay calm, relax and take a deep breath. Smile and don't get angry.
Only a few of Phuket's cities are not on the beach.
Phuket Town - The administrative center of the province, and the island's main population center. Has the cheapest accommodation, but no beaches.
Chalong Bay - On the east coast, home to Phuket's most popular yacht anchorage and the primary gateway to the islands off Phuket
The major beaches, alphabetically ordered:
Bang Thao (Laguna Beach) — long, very quiet beach
Cape Panwa — home to Phuket Aquarium
Kalim Beach — a series of small beaches just to the north of Patong
Kamala Beach — a quieter beach to the north of Patong
Karon and Karon Noi Beaches — the second most-developed beach after Patong
Kata Noi Beach — quieter sister of Kata Yai
Kata Yai Beach — busy, clean tourist beach with good surf
Laem Sing — small bay with stunning views, between Kamala Beach and Surin Beach
Mai Khao (Sai Kaeo) — near the airport, very quiet (aside from the planes!) and far away from it all
Nai Han and Ao Sen — a quiet beach (probably the best) in the south, near Phromthep Cape view point
Nai Thon and Nai Yang — two quiet beaches in Sirinat National Park
Patong Beach — the largest beach resort, known for its nightlife
Rawai, Mittraphap and Laem Ka — set off point for lots of local islands, popular with locals for eating on the beach
Surin and Pansea Beach — an up-and-coming upmarket destination
Ya Nui Beach
There are dozens of small islands (ko) between Phuket and Krabi Province in the Phang Nga Bay. The following have accommodation:
Ko Bon — 10 minutes from Rawai, an ideal island for a day of snorkeling and relaxing.
Ko Hae (Coral Island) — 15 minutes by speedboat from Chalong Bay, accessible all year.
Ko Lon — quiet, mostly Muslim island with a few bungalows
Ko Mai Thon — gorgeous little island with only one (expensive) place to stay
Ko Maphrao (Coconut Island)
Ko Racha (Ko Raya) — consists of two islands (Yai and Noi), popular with scuba divers and a relaxing snorkeling destination.
Ko Sire (Ko Si Le) — Sea Gypsy colony, connected to the mainland by a causeway
Ko Yao — two islands halfway to Krabi, with four upmarket resorts
The compact Phuket International Airport (IATA : HKT) (ICAO : VTSP) is in the north of the island, and is Thailand's second largest hub, second only to Bangkok. There are very frequent flights to/from Bangkok as well as direct flights to many other airports in the region, including Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and direct charters to Europe and Australia in the high season.
Malaysia - AirAsia , FireFly and Malaysia Airlines have direct flights from/to Kuala Lumpur.
Germany - Air Berlin has nonstop flights to Berlin(ends 26 April) and Munich.
There are some charter flights in high season from European and Asian countries such as Sweden, Taiwan, Japan, etc. The airlines charge a very cheap fare.
Several domestic discount airlines fly here, including Air Asia . Tickets from Bangkok can cost under 1000 baht one-way if booked well in advance, or around 2000 baht (including taxes) if bought on the day.
Thai Airways flies from Bangkoks Suvarnabhumi airport several times every day, as well as once daily from Chiang Mai (but there are no direct flights in the opposite direction). Additionally, they sell tickets from/to many domestic and international destinations with stopover in Bangkok - which are usually cheaper (especially international) than if you book separate tickets. Cheapest (non-exchangeable and non-refundable - though taxes are refunded even in the unfortunate case of no-show, if you call them later) one-way ticket from Bangkok, as of April 2008, costs 2320 baht - worth checking if you book just a few days before flight, as low-cost airlines may cost only 200-300 baht less in this situation, but you get world-famous Thai Airways service, and free onboard meals too.
Bangkok Airways has a monopoly on direct flights between Phuket and U-Tapao (Pattaya / Sattahip) and Ko Samui. They also have 4 daily flights from Bangkok - fares are around 1700 baht inclusive of taxes when purchased on the airline website.
Destination Air Shuttle offers direct seaplane transfers (some of which operate seasonally) between Phuket and Ko Lanta, Ko Phi Phi, Krabi, Ranong, Trang, the Similan Islands, and other popular Andaman coast destinations.
To get from the airport to your destination, there are several options:
Limousine (blue) taxis from the airport are expensive, costing 500-600 baht to Patong Beach or Bt 400 Phuket Town. The airport co-op booth tucked away towards the back is a little cheaper than the competition. Despite the name, most "limousines" are Toyota Camrys with leather seats, though you may be lucky and get a Mercedes.
Metered (yellow) taxis (ignore the touts and turn right as you exit the airport building, there is a stand at the end) cost 300+ baht, you tell your destination to the staff at the stand and they will give you a paper with the taxi driver number for you to keep in case you need to report a problem, the rate is what is displayed by the meter plus 100 baht airport fee, the meter will start with a 50 baht display. You may stumble upon a freelance taxi driver that will take you from the Airport to Patong for the flat fee of 400 baht. If the driver is pleasant, you may wish to ask for his mobile number for the return trip later. The same driver can take you from Patong to Phuket Town for 350 to 400 baht.
Minibus services (basically door-to-door share taxis) charge 150-250 baht per seat. Any travel agent can arrange a ride for the way back to the airport, but if you want one from the airport, you'll usually need to charter the whole thing for over 1000 baht.
Municipal a/c Airport Bus service (every day 6:30-20:45, every 60-90 minutes) to Phuket Town bus station costs 85 baht; local buses run from there and Ranong Street Market to all the major beaches until around 18:00 for about 25 THB. To and from Patong and Kathu the best transfer point is at the Surakul Stadium. After getting off the respective bus just cross the street and wait for the continuing bus there. It is a very convenient and comfortable spot, with no touts or hustlers, plenty of shade and a mini mart for drinks and snacks. -- The bus will stop anywhere along its route upon signalling the driver ("bus hiking"). A very informative website is here: www.airportbusphuket.com .
Departure tax is now included in the ticket price. The airport is notionally divided into Terminal 1 and 2, with some charter and low-cost operators using the second, but these are only a few hundred meters apart and connected by an air-conditioned walkway.
There are no direct train services to Phuket. But many trains leave from Bangkok central station going south all the way to Singapore. The most comfortable are the sleeper trains (~685 THB for a berth in a 2nd class a/c car. Travellers by train must get off at Phun Phin railway station in Surat Thani province and continue for another 5 hours by regular bus to Phuket. Do not buy the bus ticket until you actally see the bus and can make sure it is not standing room only as it picks up passengers at the popular Ko Samui ferry. If full wait for the next one. See Surat Thani for more details.
Buses to mainland destinations including Bangkok, Chumphon, Hat Yai, Krabi, Phang Nga, Ranong, Satun, Sungai Kolok and Surat Thani use the BKS terminal off Thanon Phang Nga in Phuket Town.
The most reliable buses from Bangkok are the public BKS buses from the Southern Bus Terminal to Phuket. The journey takes 13 hours. There are also 2 private bus companies, Phuket Travel Tour and Phuket Central Tour. Khao San Road operations have a bad reputation for theft, often turn out to include a "surprise" transfer to a minibus at Surat Thani, and are best avoided.
From Phuket bus terminal to your final destination, you can take a motorcycle taxi, tuk-tuk, meter-taxi, or bus. A motorcycle taxi into Phuket Town will be about 10-20 baht; to most beaches 100-200 baht (negotiable).
A local bus to one of the main beaches will cost around 15-30 baht. It's not unusual for the tuk-tuk drivers at the bus terminal to tell arriving travellers that the local bus service has finished, even though it hasn't. If you are of the hiking/backpacking type, the local bus station, which will take you to Patong Beach is about twenty minutes away. When exiting the bus terminal, make a right onto Phang-Nga Rd. Continue down Phang-Nga until it terminates at Yaowarat Rd., then turn left. Within a few steps you will see a roundabout. Once at the roundabout, keep right. By keeping right, you will find Ranong Rd. Within 100 to 200 meters you will find the local bus stop.
Before exiting the Phuket bus terminal, grab a free Phuket map from the information window. While supplies may always not be on hand, the map is a great way to get your bearing before jumping-off.
Phuket is directly connected to the mainland by the Thao Thepkasattri Bridge. From Bangkok, take Highway 4 through Nakhon Pathom, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, thence through Ranong province’s Kra Buri and Kapoe districts, Phang-nga province’s Takua Pa and Thai Muang districts and onto Phuket island. The total distance is 862km.
Ferry services connect from Rassada Port in Phuket Town to Ko Phi Phi and on to Krabi on the mainland twice a day, taking 90 minutes and costing 350/650 baht one-way/return, for each leg. It's usually a pleasant ride, but can be rather bumpy when it's windy.
There are also speedboats to Ko Racha (2 hours), the Similan Islands (about 3 hours) and other islands in the high season only. Boats and yachts can be chartered at Chalong Bay, the Boot Lagoon, the Yacht Haven and Royal Phuket Marina.
It's possible to visit Phuket by cruise ship. For cruises from Singapore, try Star Cruises .
Phuket Aquarium: Located in Cape Panawa, this tropical aquarium offers a variety of fish and corals.
Crocodile Farm: Watch the staff at Chana Charoen Road tame crocodiles and alligators right in front of you.
FantaSea: This is referred to as the Disney Land of South East Asia. It's the ultimate in night entertainment on Phuket.
Butterfly Farm: 40 native species of butterflies are home in this gigantic butterfly farm.
Chalong Temple: Visit the ancient temple of Phuket's monks that helped the people during Chinese rebellion.
Waterfalls: Explore the biggest waterfalls in Thailand, especially in the rainy season. The largest counts 10 meters and just 22 kilometers outside Phuket.
Scuba diving, snorkeling, SNUBA, yachting, jet-skiing and parasailing are the most popular activities on the island. Most dive sites are off nearby islands, but distances are fairly short and there are dozens of dive shops and boats to cater to your needs, mostly based near Chalong Pier. In addition there are good snorkeling locations located off several of the most popular beaches. Seek local information regarding riptides, currents, and safe snorkeling areas.
Sailing and Yachting
Phuket has become the sailing and yachting center of Thailand and adjacent countries. It's home of Six Senses Phuket Raceweek , King's Cup Regatta , Phang Nga Bay Regatta , the Phuket International Boat Show (PIMEX) , 4 marinas, two yacht clubs - Ao Chalong Yacht Club (ACYC) and Phuket Yacht Club (PYC) and some well sheltered anchorages which are teeming with yachts. The marinas are all located at the eastern side of the island which makes them an ideal starting point to explore the nature wonders of the Phang Nga Bay. An entire fleet of traditional junk rigged boats is located there, offering day trips. But as well real sailing yachts are on offer for this. Phuket has sailing yachts of virtually every size and for all budgets on offer to explore the surrounding beautiful islands on a yacht charter. Sailing Thailand Island Cruises operates a wide array of sailing catamarans from budget to luxury, most of them located in Chalong Bay. Small sailing craft like Hobie Cats and Lasers are available at most of the tourist hot spots on the west side, e.g. Patong and Kata.
Phuket Island has some decent dive sites and the largest diving center in Thailand. The reefs around the area are in a healthy condition with both solid and colorfully soft corals. There is also an abundance of marine life. Most of the dive locations are suitable for all levels of divers but there are also some that are quite deep.
The most well-known dive site in the Phuket area is Racha Yai with its sloping rocky reefs and its plenitude of solid coral forests. There is also Ter Bay where there is an exciting wreck in the depths of 25-35 meters. The area south Racha Yai, Racha Noi, is a haven for experienced divers as the depths are greater and the currents stronger. The overall topography is strikingly different from Racha Yai with huge granite boulders. The diving in Racha Noi compared to Racha Yai is definitely more challenging but the rewards are far greater.
Just off Phuket, is the limestone island of Koh Doc Mai that soars vertically from the sea-bed. It is home to a diversity of fish and offers the opportunity to view leopard sharks, moray eels, octopus and turtles. Further afield, most particularly around the ever popular Phi Phi Islands in neighboring Krabi province, some 2 hours east of Phuket, and the Similan Islands, in Phang-nga province, some 110km northwest of Phuket, and the Raya Islands, 1-3 hours due south of Phuket, depending on the type of boat. Diving in Phuket’s warm clear blue waters is best from mid-October to May, when the calm seas and rain free days make Phuket diving a truly unique experience.
Kon-Tiki Phuket Diving & Snorkeling Center . 30 years of experience in Thailand catering divers and snorkelers from around the world. PADI 5 star dive center & GoEco operator. Daily diving and snorkeling trips to Phi Phi Islands, Racha Islands, Shark point and Similan Islands.
Dive Asia , Phuket's first Padi 5 Star CDC Center, offers a full range of diving services: liveaboards to the Similan/Surin National Parks, daytrips to Phuket's local dive sites and Padi diving courses and IDCs.
This can be enjoyed in sheltered bays all around Phuket. It is particularly enjoyable at easily accessible reefs at Patong, Karon and Kata beaches. Fins, mask and snorkel can be rented on a daily basis from shops all over the island. Full and half day trips are available to the islands surrounding Phuket. Most popular are Coral Island, Racha Yai (Raya Island), Khai Islands, and Phi Phi Islands. There are many tours available at very cheap prices and the speedboats will be filled with up to 65 people. Research your options before signing up for any tour. Kon-Tiki Phuket Diving & Snorkeling Center . 30 years of experience in Thailand catering divers and snorkelers from around the world. PADI 5 star dive center & GoEco operator. Daily diving and snorkeling trips to Phi Phi Islands, Racha Islands, Shark point and Similan Islands.
Snuba diving is the safest and easiest way to try diving on holiday in Phuket. Popular in Hawaii, the Carribean, Mexico, and Japan, Snuba gives an introduction into the world of diving. No certification required, children 8+, just like scuba diving except easier. SNUBA trips go to most Phuket dive sites. No heavy equipment to wear, no long classes, maximum depth of 7 meters, professional dive guides accompany each group.
This can be enjoyed throughout the year, and is mostly safe. However, during the rainy season’ storms this can be very dangerous. Look for posted signs and flags indicating conditions for safe swimming; if the red flag is flying, do not go swimming in the ocean!
Boards may be rented by the hour, half day, full day, or week at most major beaches. Tuition is available free.
Deep Sea Fishing
Daily tours are available, making early morning departures and late afternoon returns, mostly to lesser islands to fish for Red Snappers, Rainbow Runners and other game fish.
This form of eco-tourism is available in several forms, as popular one-day tours, or more extended tours involving overnight camping on island beaches, and occurs principally in the neighboring Phang-nga Bay and Krabi province, where mangrove swamps and island grottoes are accessible only by canoe.
Food in Phuket is surprisingly cosmopolitan, especially in Patong Beach, as many foreigners have set up shop to cater to their fellow travellers. All the usual Thai favorites are of course still available, with a particular emphasis on seafood. See the individual town articles for detailed listings.
Phuket has its own style of preparation and cooking. Some of interesting local dishes include:
Fried or Boiled Noodle Dishes (หมี่ผัดหรือหมี่น้ำแบบต่าง ๆ), usually with pork or chicken, are available at many noodle shops in the town such as Mi Ton Pho, Mi Sapam, Mi Ao Ke, Mi Hun Pa Chang, and etc.
Khanom Jin (ขนมจีน), a version of noodles taken at breakfast, usually served with a spicy curry sauce and fresh vegetables.
Nam Phrik Kung Siap (น้ำพริกกุ้งเสียบ) is a mixture of dried chili and smoked shrimps eaten with various fresh vegetables.
Cashew nuts and pineapples are grown in Phuket and available all year round. The nuts are available dried, fried or coated. Phuket pineapples are some of the most delectable, sweet and firm.
Phuket is the source of cultured pearls, nielloware, pewterware, ornaments and dried seafood. Specialist shops dealing in souvenir products can be found on Ratsada, Phang-nga, Montri, Yaowarat, and Tilok-U-thit roads, in Phuket Town, Thepkasattri Road, north of town and at the beach centres of Patong, Kata, Karon and Rawai.
Phuket's larger beaches are ravaged by ravenous hordes of touting tailors, who are certainly cheap, but will screw you over if they can — for example, suits done in 24 hours are usually just glued together and will fall apart the first time you bring them to a dry cleaner. Choose your own fabrics (you can buy them at Thalang Rd in Phuket Town), insist on multiple fittings and check the quality of work carefully. It makes little difference which tailor shop you choose, since they're all just sales fronts for a few central sweatshops.
There are two giant shopping malls in Phuket: Central Festival, at the northwest edge of Phuket Town, and Jungceylon, in Patong.
Lotus (Tesco Lotus Supercenter), 0 76254888, 10AM - 11PM, 104 Mu 5 Chalermprakiet Road, Amphoe Muang, A combination of discount store and food outlet
Robinsons, 0 76256500, 11AM - 10PM, 36 Tilok-U-Thit 1 Road,Tambon Taladyai, Muang, A good mix of brand name outfit and quality products.
Big One Department Stoures, 0 76223057, 52/9 Chaofa Road, Phuket Town
Makro, Wholesale Supermarket in Phuket
Plaza Surin, Various boutiques in Surin Beach
Canal Village Laguna, 0 7627 0957, Shopping village for crafted antiques to designer clothing.
Ocean Plaza Bangla Patong, Small department store on Bangla Road.
Index Living Mall, Shopping centre with large furniture superstore.
Super Cheap, Supercheap department store.
Phuket is one of Thailand's premier tourist destinations and (basic) English is very widely spoken, especially in the beach areas. That said, even a little Thai will draw smiles and can be useful in the less touristed areas of Phuket Town.
Tap water is generally not potable. Liquids from sealed bottles nearly always are, and should be used wherever possible. Take care in restaurants and bars...some may use untreated/unsafe tap water to make ice for drinks that otherwise have bottled/safe ingredients. Some residents claim that ice with round holes is made by commercial ice makers who purify their water; others state that it is wise not to rely on that claim. Tap water in most hotels should not be used for drinking or brushing teeth unless explicitly labeled as safe.
Particularly in the summer monsoon season, there are strong currents on many of the beaches and drownings are a depressingly common occurrence; four tourists died during a single 3-day stretch in June 2009. Heed the warning flags on popular beaches and play it safe if off the beaten track.
Crime as of late has definitely increased in the Phuket area among Farangs (tourists) and you should keep this is mind and be vigilant of anyone who wants to befriend you or trick you into gambling (which is illegal) and anything else you consider out of the ordinary. Katoeys (Ladyboys) are notorious for pick pocketing as you walk around the tourist areas at night. Also muggings do take place on regular occurrences. Avoid walking down unlit sois; stick to the main roads. If something looks/sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Tourist police can be contacted locally using - 1155 - They have a good basic understanding of English, so if in trouble these people should be contacted. Thai police speak hardly any English and normally take the side of the locals even if it is their fault. Always insist on Tourist Police if you have any run-in with the Thai Police.
Nationwide television, cable TVs, local cable TV channels are available in Phuket especially in tourist spots. International newspapers and magazines are available at some bookstores in downtown and tourist spots, local English radio can be found throught Phuket at Phuket FM Radio see the What's On Page for latest events and on 91.5 FM
Landline telephones, satellite phones, all mobile phone systems, high-speed internet (ADSL), post offices and parcel services are available in Phuket.
Khao Lak - family-oriented resort town that has made an impressive recovery after the tsunami.
Ko Phi Phi - 1.5 hours by ferry, parts of The Beach were filmed at this stunningly beautiful location.
Ko Lanta - 3.5 hours by ferry, another island destination, gaining more popularity.
Krabi - the place to go when you want to visit the beaches at Ao Nang and Rai Leh.
Phang Nga - 2 hours away, this bay is famous for its gravity-defying limestone formations, including James Bond Island.
Rai Leh - 2.5 hours by ferry, passing Koh Phi Phi renowned as International Rock Climbing point
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