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Phuket Island is Thailand's largest at 48km in length and 21km at its widest. It's 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.
Western Phuket (Bang Thao, Kamala, Karon, Kata, Laem Sing, Mai Khao, Nai Thon and Nai Yang, Patong, Surin)
This region is what Phuket is known for the world over. There is a wide variety of beaches, some calm, some totally ruined by millions of visitors each year. Patong is one of the party capitals of Asia.
Southeastern Phuket (Chalong Bay, Cape Panwa, Nai Han, Rawai, Ya Nui)
Slightly off-beat beaches that are worth the trip. Chalong Bay is the largest town that acts as a harbour for outgoing boats to Phi Phi island and others south islands.
Interior Phuket (Bang Rong, Ko Sire, Phuket Town, Phra Taew National Park, Thalang)
Besides Phuket Town, the interior of Phuket is pretty much unvisited by foreign visitors. This fertile hilly expanse consists of mangrove forests, fishing villages, rubber and pineapple plantations, small Muslim communities and shrimp farms. The Phra Taew National Park is a nice escape from the tourist crowds, as is the Gibbon Project.
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. Expect prices to be a bit higher than on the mainland. 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 southeast 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.
Phuket is a melting pot of indigenous Thais, Thai-Chinese, ethnic Malays 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 led to a lot of the youngsters leading similar lives to those in Bangkok. Altogether, the lifestyle of the urban Sino-Thais in Phuket resembles that of their counterparts in Bangkok.
The compact Phuket International Airport (HKT) is in the north of the island, and is Thailand's second largest hub, second only to Bangkok.
There are very frequent flights to and 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.
There are no direct rail services to Phuket.
However, many trains leave from Bangkok's central station going south all the way to Singapore. The most comfortable are the sleeper trains. Get off at Phun Phin railway station near Surat Thani and continue for another 5 hours by regular bus to Phuket.
There are two bus terminals in Phuket, the new number two a few Km north of the City and the old number one in the centre of Phuket Town.
From the new terminal go all the long distance buses, as well as some minibuses. Many of the buses and minibuses go to places close to here, such as Phang Nga, Krabi, Chumphon, Khao Lak etc.
From the old terminal go buses to Takua Pa, and minibuses to Phang Nga. Also songteows go from here to all of the beaches, as well as a non aircon bus to Patong.
The most reliable buses from Bangkok are the public BKS buses from the Southern Bus Terminal and North-Norteastern Bus Terminal to Phuket. The journey takes 13 hours and costs between 650-950 baht.
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 862 km.
Ferry services connect from Rassada Pier in Phuket Town to Ko Phi Phi, from which you can connect to other destinations. The ride takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours.
Phuket is a large island and you need some form of transport to get around. Public transport is very limited and taxis and tuk-tuks are the only practical means. Another, more dangerous option is rent your own wheels. Hotels generally offer shuttle bus services into Phuket Town, and also have taxi and car hire facilities.
By songthaew or local bus
Public transport within Phuket is limited to a radial network connecting Phuket Town to the beach towns. There are a few full-size buses, but most lines are operated with songthaews, basically converted pick-up trucks serving as buses. The fare is 25-40 baht up on distance, and there are no set stops — they pick up and drop off as requested. Most local bus services operate at half-hour intervals and stop at around 18:00.
Phuket has three types of taxi — millions (or so it seems) of small songthaew-style minivans (usually bright red, occasionally bright yellow) called tuk-tuks, a much smaller number of conventional sedan-style taxis (yellow and red, with a "Taxi-Meter" sign on top), and random indistinguishable vehicles that serve as unofficial taxis.
By motorbike taxi
There are also motorbike taxis (motosai). While you should never hop on the back of just anyone's motorbike, motorbike taxi drivers wear bright numbered vests and are usually the cheapest way to go. However, these are more dangerous than a tuk-tuk, for obvious reasons, and are not comfortable for long trips. However, if you just need to get around town, they are a great way to go.
For a bit of island hopping the longtail boats are a great way to do so. Prices must be negotiated and are approximately 500 baht per hour or no more than 1,800 baht per day.
Phuket is one of Thailand's premier tourist destinations and English is 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.
What to do
Swimming, snorkelling, diving, yachting, jet-skiing and parasailing are the most popular activities on the island. Other activities include Freediving, windsurfing, kite surfing, wakeboarding and deep sea fishing. Popular kite surfing locations include Nai Yang in summer and Chalong Bay in winter season. Sea Canoeing is a popular activity in the Phang Nga Bay, as many grottoes are only accessible by canoe.
There are several small beautiful islands around Phuket such as Phang-nga bay, Phi-Phi island, Khai island, Racha island, Hae island or Coral island, Maiton island.
Swimming, sun bathing and surfing
Most beaches on the west coast are wide, containing white sand and clear waters, especially after the monsoon season (November-April). It is suitable to swim or sun bathe. You can do those activities in front of your hotel. Those who stay in town, can reach the beaches by local bus, rental car or motorbike. However,there are big waves during the monsoon season. It is too dangerous to swim at that time. Only surfing is advisable.
Phuket is the beating heart of diving in Thailand and has recently become the center of activity in the emerging Southeast Asian Freediving scene. It is also the home of the area's only AIDA Instructor Training Center.
Most freediving trips go out with SCUBA dive boats to the well-known dive sites, but some freediving off the beach is also possible. The local operators are usually very happy to find like-minded divers and will happily give pointers.
Snorkelling can be enjoyed in sheltered bays all around Phuket. It is particularly enjoyable at easily accessible reefs at Patong, Karon and Kata beaches.
If you're really into snorkelling, you might want to consider staying in Khao Lak in Phang Nga province instead, where access to Similan Islands is easier.
Phuket has some decent dive sites and is the centre of diving in Thailand. 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 Bay. The reefs around the area are in a healthy condition with both solid hard corals 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. It is home to Ter Bay where there is an exciting wreck in the depths of 25-35 meters. The island south of 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.
Sailing and yachting
Phuket has sailing yachts of virtually every size and for all budgets on offer to explore the surrounding beautiful islands on a yacht charter. With the recent increase in Phuket's popularity as a tourist destination, the range of companies offering sailing trips and boat charters have increased as well. It is recommended to chose an established, reputable charter company with a good safety track record.
Getting married in Phuket
Phuket has become a sought after destination for people getting married. Undeniably romantic with an abundance of stunning locations not just necessarily on the beach but also in luxury ocean view villas and resorts. Combining both the stag or hen do, the wedding ceremony, party and honeymoon all in one Island location has proved that Phuket continues to grow in this market.
Phuket is a 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 take them to a dry cleaner. Choose your own fabrics (you can buy them on 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.