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Phuket Island is one of the most beautiful holiday locations in the world. The island is all about beaches and a laid-back, tropical lifestyle as enjoyed by several million visitors a year and a good number of ex-pat residents. Phuket Island can be anything you want it to be. The island is a hub for some of the world’s best nightlife, and a peaceful haven surrounded by lush jungles, small villages, and friendly locals. This in-depth guide to the island will help you to know more about its past, present, and future.
Phuket Island Overview
Phuket island is linked to the mainland by two bridges and divided into four main areas: Western Phuket, Southeastern Phuket, Interior Phuket, and Phang Nga Bay. Phuket town lies along the coastline of Interior Phuket, and the famous beach resort and the party capital of Asia, Patong, is found in Western Phuket.
Southeastern Phuket boasts off-beat beaches and Chalong Bay has an impressive yacht harbor and ferry port. While lovely Phang Nga Bay has soaring limestone cliffs, caves, and tiny, traditional fishing villages. Interior Phuket, away from the crowds in town and unvisited by the vast majority of tourists, reveals pineapple and rubber plantations, mangrove forests, Phra Taew National Park, and small Muslim communities.
The population of Phuket province sits at around 525,000, with at least 115,000 residents of foreign extraction, including Burmese, Laotian and Cambodian workers and a good number of Westerners. A majority are Buddhist, with a significant number of Muslims of Malay descent, descendants of Chinese tin-mining migrants and Perenakans from Malacca and Penang. The Muslim community traces its origins to the original sea-dwelling gypsies who first came to the island.
Understanding Phuket Island History
As with many of Thailand’s islands, Phuket Island began as an agricultural and fishing settlement until its strategic position resulted in its rise as a major trading hub between China and India. Wealth was derived from its tin mines and rubber plantations and, in the late 17th century, French, Dutch, and English traders all competed for the tin trade. Initially, a French East India Company ship left the island for Europe in September 1680, loaded with a full cargo of the metal.
Several years later, still looking to reduce English and Dutch influence on the island, the Siamese king named a French missionary, Brother Rene Charbonneau, as governor of Phuket, a position which he held until 1685 when the tin concession was officially granted to the French. Three years later, a revolution in Siam permanently dispatched the French and caused the concession to be revoked. The following year, a French expedition attempted unsuccessfully to recapture the island and restore French influence in Siam, thus ending any connection between Phuket and France.
Almost 100 years later, concurrent with their attacks on the mainland, Burmese forces arrived on Phuket, only to be met by a hurriedly assembled local militia organized by the wife and step-sister of the island’s recently deceased governor. After a month-long siege of the capital, the Burmese were forced to retreat, and the two women became heroines, still celebrated as such today. The tin industry continued under King Chulalongkorn, and Phuket became a province in 1933 after the constitutional monarchy was established and Siam became Thailand.
As with other southern beach regions, the beauty of the island was discovered by backpackers in the 1970s, with the tourism potential soon realized and acted upon. Over the last 40 years, Phuket has developed into one of Asia’s most popular tropical destinations, with a huge choice of hotels, restaurants, tour offices, and facilities. It’s also a major destination for holiday and retirement homes, with a large, well-established ex-pat community.
Phuket Food & Dining
Phuket Restaurants and local eateries in the main tourism areas of Patong and Phuket town are surprisingly cosmopolitan, due to the setting up of Western restaurants by expats happy to cater to their fellow foreigners’ preferences. Local eateries serve all the Thai favorites, and seafood dishes are the most popular. Noodles are the staple here, rather than rice, and are served fried or boiled with chicken or pork, local herbs, and a variety of spices and sauces. Upscale international food is found in many of the luxury hotels, and European cuisines such as Italian and French are represented in the major tourist areas. Street food, food courts in the malls, and fast foods make sure no-one goes hungry day or night.
Phuket Island Transport (airport, trains etc)
Phuket International Airport lies in the north of the island and is Thailand’s second-largest arrivals hub after Bangkok. It’s a genuine international airport with direct flights to Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, the Middle East, and other Asian countries. Domestic flights run to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui, and charter flights serve several European destinations. Minibuses, an airport bus, metered taxis, and limos provide ground transportation from the airport, and luxury long-distance VIP buses run from Bangkok to the island.
Phuket Island is a large island and has limited public transport, with taxis, songthaews, and tuk-tuks the only practical ways to get around unless you drive. Car hire or purchase is straightforward but expensive, and driving on the island is an adventure due to local drivers’ lack of care. Driving habits are confined to ignoring the rules and keeping going, traffic lights are more often than not regarded as suggestions rather than orders and the winding, hilly roads in the interior add to the challenge. Even so, once you’re used to driving defensively, the entire island opens up and reveals all its treasures.
Phuket Weather and climate
Phuket’s tropical monsoon climate makes it hot and humid all year round, whether it’s the dry season from November through April or the rainy season from May to October. Daytime temperatures stay around 32-36°C all year, with occasional spikes into the 40s, and the monsoon rains are heavy from May through October. December through March see the sunniest and driest months and most visitors as a result.
Phuket Family Attractions
Over the last few years, Phuket Island has tried hard to cultivate a family-friendly reputation by building and organizing a wide range of children’s attractions and fun things to do. Theme parks such as Phuket Fantasea, go-kart racing tracks, a totally modernized Phuket Aquarium, elephant rides, zip-lining through jungle tree-tops and the Splash Jungle water park with its wave pool, waterslides, lazy river, and various swimming pools are all favorites with visiting or resident kids and their parents. For older children, family scuba-diving, whitewater rafting, and thrilling ATV rides through jungles make for a great day out.
Phuket Sports and Leisure Facilities
For new arrivals keen on sport and activities, Phuket’s sports clubs and fitness centers are the places to make friends and stay healthy and fit. Places such as Thanyapura Sports Club offer world-class sporting facilities such as tennis, rugby, and football. If you are a fan of golf, Phuket island has some amazing choices such as the Canyon Course at Blue Canyon Country Club or Red Mountain GC. If you are a fan of combat sports, there are many top-quality Muay Thai Boxing camps on the island where you can come and learn this ancient martial art from true experts.
Phuket Island is one of the most awe-inspiring and exciting holiday islands in the world, and whether you are already here on holiday, deciding whether or not to book a trip, or are looking to live here, this article will help you to learn more about this immense tropical island.