Phuket the Pearl of the Andamans
Phuket is the largest and most visited island in Thailand and easily lives up to its flashy nickname – The Pearl of the Andamans, with its fine weather, beautiful sandy beaches and pumping nightlife. Most tourists head for the west coast beaches, in particular buzzing Patong, which is loaded with hotels, restaurants and bars. Karon, Kata and Kamala are other well-known beaches where entertainment options are numerous day or night.
Phuket also has plenty of stunning natural attractions, such as the colourful reef systems just offshore, and you’ll find all the water sports action you can handle. The best thing about Phuket is that it is large enough to accommodate thousands of tourists at any one time, as well as being petite enough to explore on a motorbike in a day.
Despite what you may have heard, there is a beach for everyone on Phuket; from noisy, hedonistic Patong to the easier going climes of Kata Noi and Surin beaches, south and north respectively.
Karon beach, just south of Patong, is slightly more laid-back than its bustling neighbour yet is a bit nondescript as far as beaches go, while Kata (heading south again) has a gorgeous beach, bags of charm and just the right amount of entertainment.
All the beaches south of Kata are nice and quiet, while north of Patong and Kamala are quieter beaches still, such as exclusive Surin, sweeping lagoon-backed Bang Tao, and sleepy Nai Yang.
Another highlight in Phuket is the capital city, Phuket Town. Located towards the south of the island, directly east of Patong, Phuket Town is one of bustling markets and a genuine old Thai character with its Sino-Portuguese architecture and Chinese herbal clinics.
Family attractions in Phuket: those with kids might like to head to Phuket Fantasea in Kamala beach, an extravaganza that is part Thai culure, part Vegas show, but certainly well done, with its themed venue.
On the other side of the island is the slightly overrated Phuket Zoo near Chalong, alterantively the Phuket Aquarium in Cape Panwa is far better value. For culture vultures Wat Chalong, in the middle of the island, is the most striking Buddhist temple and pagoda on Phuket.
Those who venture out and decide to hire a car or scooter should check out some of Phuket’s many viewpoints.
Promthep Cape at the extreme south of the island is the main one, and although a little on the crowded side, the sunsets here are great.
The viewpoint from above Kata Noi beach of Kata and Karon, before you reach Promthep Cape (heading south), is particularly beautiful.
The Big Buddha offers one of Phuket most beautiful views the island. It has 360 panorama of south Phuket and one can see Phuket Town, Kata, Karon beaches, Chalong Bay from here.
There are also some stunning destinations within easy reach of Phuket and tours go from all major beach resort areas.
Boat tours run regularly to the Phi Phi Islands, to the southwest, while just north is the otherworldly seascape of Pha Nga Bay, with its karst pillars.
A slew of national parks and pretty countryside is also open to the discerning tourist in and around Phuket.
Phuket has some decent shopping although those familiar with northern Thailand’s amazing handicraft markets may be slightly disappointed.
That said you can always pick up some good swimwear products and cheap clothing, as well as the obligatory silk and cottons.
Eating in Phuket:
Seafood is naturally big in Phuket, especially within the main resorts of Patong, Karon and Kata, while traditional Thai noodles and a myriad of markets offer cheap single-dish meals.
The cuisine of Phuket is typically southern and there are some fantastic specialised fish dishes and curries to be had.
Restaurant prices along the beach in Patong are relatively steep.
Phuket is known throughout Thailand for its legendary nightlife and you can thank Patong for that. There are literally hundreds of bars along a few central streets in Patong as well as a huge number of go-go bars and pumping nightclubs. Girlie bars exist in just about every corner of Phuket, but if it’s cultured dining and drinking you want, head to Phuket Town.
Phuket is one of the most expensive places in Thailand, close behind Bangkok and Ko Samui. Average room prices in Phuket generally run into the thousands of baht while restaurants are also expensive, due to catering mainly to foreigners. By all means tip in Thailand but don’t feel obliged, and don’t tip for bad quality or bad service.
Phuket has an international airport, which receives direct flights from some long haul cities, as well as from throughout Thailand and other Southeast Asian cities. Transport options to hotels and resorts from Phuket International Airport include buses, minivans, and meter taxis. Hire cars are also readily available and can be booked online ahead of time to boot.
Songthaew are red, glorified pick-up trucks that provide inter-resort travel around Phuket, while tuk-tuk (motorised rickshaws) are the main mode of transport within resorts. Always haggle the latter. Alternatively renting a scooter is practical and easy but drive carefully!
December to April is the least humid and driest time in Phuket and is thus the busiest, and if you plan on arriving during the peak season make sure you book flights and hotels way in advance. The rains hit from May onwards and this is when you will find better deals on hotels, and it doesn’t always rain.
Although a major tourist destination, Phuket is a safe place yet there are obvious dangers to be aware of as well as annoyances to avoid. Be very careful with kids in the sea if visiting Phuket between May and October, as this is the monsoon season when strong currents and heavy surf hit. Phuket has a high road traffic accident rate, mainly owing to careless drivers and steep roads, while pickpockets, touts and flower sellers are an issue in Patong.