PHUKET (862 kilometers south of Bangkok) is Thailand’s largest island and currently one of its premier tourist destinations. Situated on the west side of Thailand and connected to the mainland by a causeway, it is 48 kilometers (30 miles) long and covers 810 square kilometers and features a stunning Andaman Sea coastline with beautiful white sand beaches broken up periodically by hills and rock outcroppings. Fortunately, it is large enough to accommodate the large number of travelers, of all different persuasions and nationalities, that come here. While some beaches—named Patong, Karon and Kata—can be crowded and developed, others are quiet and isolated.
Phuket (pronounced Poo-get) has consistently been rated one of the world top 10 islands by Travel and Leisure magazine. It drew about 7 million tourists in 2012, about a third of all those who visited in Thailand. Phuket had its own airlines, Phuket Air, but it has gone out of business. It’s airport can even handle 747 jumbo jets. Even though it is quite developed construction continues at a blistering pace. Tourism, plus lucrative rubber, cashew and tin sectors, and the presence of a number of Chinese businessmen has helped make Phuket Thailand’s richest province. There are only two seasons in a year the green season (May to October) and the hot season (November to April). Phuket's high season population is estimated to be around 500,000. Phuket is one of the major Thai ports on the Indian Ocean. It exports fish, rubber, charcoal, and tin.
History of Phuket: Phuket Town, along with the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore, is home to a peculiar hybrid of Chinese commercial culture and tropical laissez-faire that dates back centuries. In the early days of regional maritime trade, the cape of Phuket was locally referred to as Jung Ceylon, while locals called it Thalang, which evolved to be the name of the main town to the north of the island. As the perfect stopover sheltering traders from monsoons, Jung Ceylon welcomed merchants from India, Persia, Arabia, Burma, China, and also Siam. During the 16th century, the island was a popular trading port for tin. Among those who showed up at that time were the Portuguese and the Dutch and later the French and English. Pirates found hide outs in the maze of islands and lafoons.
In 1785, Thalang town was surrounded by Burmese troops who invaded the coastal area. It was under the leadership of Chan, the widow of the governor, and her sister, Muk, who united the local residents and successfully fought and drove the invaders out of Phuket. It took over 30 days for the defending troops of Phuket, under the command of Chan and Muk, to claim their victory. As a result of such heroic deeds, noble titles were granted to Chan and Muk as Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Sri Soonthorn, respectively. They are still highly respected by Phuket residents even today. When the city was in a peaceful state, the development of mining was so unprecedented. Chinese businessmen and miners later migrated to Phuket and soon enjoy thriving wealth. The island's long history has shaped the Phuket of the present with its diverse ethnic groups, culture, architectural influence, and fine cuisine.
Great Tsunami of 2004 in Thailand
The first waves from the December 2004 tsunami hit the west coast of Thailand just around 8:30am on December 26th, about a half hour after the Sumatra earthquake and kept coming for another two hours. The waves that did the most damage were slow, steep and closely-packed. This is because the sea around the west coast of Thailand is relatively shallow, which slowed the waves down considerably.
The tsunami struck six provinces in Thailand. The final death toll was 5,395, of which 1,953 were believed to be foreigners. Another 2,929 were listed as missing, An estimated 2,000 people were killed in the fishing village of Ban Nam Khem. The village lost half of its residents.
Thailand was in the middle of the tourist season. There were hundreds of thousands of foreigner in the country. Hotels were filled foreigners. In many places the sea receded a great distance before the largest waves hit. When the water went out many people thought it had something to do with the moon. Bill O’Leary, an employee of the Amanouri resort, knew it was a sign of a tsunami. He is credited with saving scores of lives by warning people to run inland before the waves arrived. But others were killed because they had no clue what was happening. The New York Times reported: “Bodies littered the once crowded beach resorts. Near the devastated Similan Beach and Spa Resort, where mostly German tourists were staying, a naked corpse hung suspended from a tree as if crucified.”
Many coral reefs were destroyed by the tsunami. The great waves snapped hundreds of sea fans. Debris from the tsunami littered natural areas. On green turtle was washed almost a mile inland and deposited in a pond north of Phuket. Some people in boats rescued survivors pulled out to sea. Others kept their distance.
See Separate Articles on the 2004 Tsunami factsanddetails.com
Tourism in Phuket
Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Phuket Office, 191 Thalang Road , Tambon Thaladyai, Amphoe Mueang, Phuket 83000, Tel. +66 7621 1036, +66 7621 7138, +66 7621 2213, Fax. +66 7621 3582, E-mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org. . Book: “Exploring Phuket & Phi Phi” by Oliver Hargreave (Odyssey, 2008);Tourist Police are readily available and will assist travelers in resolving disputes. Most Tourist Police speak English. Website: tourismthailand.org/phuket;
Accommodation: Phuket features a dizzying array of accommodation options ranging from luxury hotels to family friendly beach resorts, secluded island villas to budget hotels. With so many types of accommodation available in Phuket, you may actually have a challenging time trying to decide which is the best to suit your needs; it may be helpful to learn about the attractions (or lack thereof) near each of the beaches in Phuket and then narrow your search once you have a couple different beaches in mind.
There are more than 500 hotels in Phuket. If you have money you can stay at Banyan Tree Phuket, selected by Condé Nast Traveler reader's poll as the world's best spa resort; the Amanpuri Resort in Phuket, which made it into the Condé Nast Traveler top five and ranked high on Travel and Leisure reading rankings of hotels; and the Royal Meriden, which has rooms between $280 and $900 a night. Six rooms at Amanpuri with oceanside views go for $6,000 a night.
If you don't have money you can stay down the beach from the Royal Meriden, off a gravel road, in a guesthouse or a bamboo bungalow for $10 or $15 a night. In 2004, about 3,000 hotel rooms were damaged of completely washed away by the tsunami but 70 percent of the island’s hotels were operating normally a few days after the disaster.
Getting Around in Phuket: Car Rental Service: There are numerous car rental services on Phuket. Cars or jeeps can be rented at the airport, in Phuket Town, and at most of the more popular beaches. Be aware that only Commercial First Class Insurance provides full coverage on rental cars (as opposed to limited personal or third party only insurance). Most international car rental agencies will offer this insurance (some only for those with a valid international driver’s license) while local companies may or may not. You may wish to request a copy of their insurance policy and ensure that it states "For Commercial Use". Regardless, inspect rental vehicles prior to rental and drive with caution, particularly as traffic in Thailand can be quite confusing, especially the habit of Thai motorcycles drivers to drive on the wrong side of the road.
Motorbike Rental: For around 150 to 300 baht per day you can hire your own 100-150cc motorbike, which will typically require you to leave your passport as a deposit. Be sure to inspect bikes prior to rental and drive with extreme caution as rental motorbikes are not normally insured and accidents are frequent. Helmets are required by Thai law. Motorcycles can be rented from rental agencies located on Rasada Road or from different operators at various beaches. Motorcycle taxis: It costs approximately 20 baht / person / trip to travel via motorbike taxi around Phuket Town.
Songtaew and Tuk-Tuk: Songtaews are operated along Ranong Road in Phuket Town to various destinations including most beaches. The cost ranges from 20 baht to 25 baht / person / trip. Normally the service is provided from 7.00am until 5.00pm Tuk-Tuks can be chartered for travel between the beaches and Phuket Town or between different beaches; however, rates are negotiable and will cost at least 200 baht to Patong Beach, 230 baht to Karon and Kata Beaches and 300 baht to Nai Han and Kamala Beaches. Within Phuket Town, Tuk-Tuks should cost 20 baht for short distances. Taxi Meter: Visitors can call 076 232157-8 to get a metered taxi that will take them anywhere on Phuket. The metered fare will include a 20 baht surcharge.
Boats to Nearby Islands can be found at the following ports: 1) Rawai Beach: An old local port, it is from here that long-tail boats depart for nearby islands such as Koh He, Koh Racha Yai, Koh Mai Thon, Koh Lon, etc. The chartered price depends on the distance. 2) Ao Chalong: The largest port of Phuket servicing all kinds of boats, including cruisers of tour companies that organize package tours to other islands. 3) Ao Makham: Located near Phanwa Cape, this port is only for cruisers and container ships. 4) Boat Lagoon Port (Ao Sapam): This port is for traveling boats of tour companies.
Getting to Phuket
As the most popular island destination in Thailand, Phuket has numerous options for traveling to the island and getting around once you arrive. Both domestic and international airlines service Phuket Airport with direct flights from numerous destinations in Thailand and around Asia. Once on the island, the size of Phuket makes a rental car arguably the best option, though there are various modes of transportation if you do not wish to drive. Phuket is 14 hours by bus from Bangkok, or a $157 roundtrip on Thai airways from Bangkok.
By Train: There is no direct train service to Phuket. Travelers arriving by train must get off at Phun Phin Railway Station in Surat Thani Province and continue by regular bus to Phuket. For more information, call the State Railway of Thailand, 1690, 0 2223 7010, or 0 2223 7020 or visit www.railway.co.th. By Car: From Bangkok, take Highway No.4 (Petchakasem Road) through Petchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, Surat Thani and Phang Nga Provinces, then cross the Thep Krasattri Bridge or Sarasin Bridge to Phuket Island. The total distance is 862 kilometers and the travel time is approximately 12 hours.
By Bus: Air-conditioned and non air-conditioned buses leave Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal for Phuket several times daily. Trips by air-conditioned bus, which normally leave in the evening, take about 13 hours. Call 0 2434 7192, 0 2435 1199 or visit www.transport.co.th for more information. There are also regular bus services (VIP, air-conditioned, and non-air-conditioned) between Phuket and neighboring provinces such as Krabi, Phang Nga, Chumphon, Koh Samui (bus/boat), Nakhon Si Thammarat, Ranong, Surat Thani, Satun, Hat Yai, Takua-Pa, and Trang. Departures are from the Phuket Bus Terminal off Phang Nga Road. For more up-to-date schedules and fares, call Phuket Air-conditioned Bus Station, tel. 0 7621 1977.
By Air: Flying to Phuket is arguably the easiest way to get to the island. Most domestic airlines operate several flights daily between Phuket and Bangkok, Samui, and Chiang Mai. Some domestic airlines operate flights from Phuket to Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Trang, and Hat Yai. There are also numerous international airlines that fly directly to Phuket from various cities around Asia, including Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Penang, Singapore, and Sydney.
Phuket International Airport is located approximately 30 kilometers north of Phuket Town. Taxis between Phuket Town and the airport cost approximately 400 baht, but the fares to the beaches range between 500 and 600 baht. Minivans charge approximately 80 baht /person to town, but 120 baht/person to Patong, Kata, and Karon Beaches. Phuket Limousine (tel. 076 248596), located approximately 1 kilometer west of the city, operates hourly shuttles to the airport from 6.30am to 7.30pm
Sights in Phuket
Sights and Attractions in Phuket include watersports, bars, Buddhist temples, Chinese pagodas and Muslim mosques. Sino-Portugueses mansion are reminder of the time when the area was the center of a tin ming boom. Many rubber and coconut plantations in the area date back to early 20th century. The road along Patong Bay buzzes with bars and clubs and late nigh shopping. Surin Bay features a more upscale boutique plaza with a number of designer store, Backpackers, many of them from Australia and Scandinavia, gather around Rasada Road in Phuket Town. As you might expect there are lots bars and cheap restaurants here. The relatively new Phuket museum houses a collection of old cannons, ceramics and other objects.
Some sea gypsies live around Rawai Beach. Phanwa Cape is the location o Phuket’s marine Biological Research Center and Phuket’s Aquariuam, which boats hundreds of colorful marine species. The Thai Village hosts cultural shows with dancing, sword fighting, Thai boxing and elephants. Handicrafts are also displayed. Also check out the Phuket Butterfly Farm and Insect World. There are also some Pearl Farms.
Phuket Thaihua Museum has been renovated with the aim of becoming Phuket’s main historical attractions. Housed in a Sino-Portuguese mansion built in the 1930s, it houses a photo exhibition and video media which tells the history of the Chinese people in Phuket and displays on mining, local costumes, Sino-Portuguese architecture, local foods and traditions and culture of Phuket. Location and Contact: 28,Krabi Road, Tambon Talat Yai, Amphoe Mueang Phuket, Phuket. Tel. 0 7621 1224. Hours Open: The Museum opens from everyday except Wednesday, between 8:30am and 5.30pm.
Pung Chang Cave (between Ao Nang and Phuket) is a destination for tourists who love adventure since rafts or canoes are required to travel through it. Pung Chang cave is near the area of Prajimkate Temple, where there is stream flowing all year and many big and small caves with stalagmites and stalactites and incredible limestone formations and colors. Drops of water on the surface of each stalactites shine brightly like diamonds when reflected in the lamps worn by visitors. The formations appear in various figures such as fishermen, fish and different figures of elephants. It takes around one hour and a half to tour this cave, which is about 600 meters long. Apart from the beauty, Pung Chang cave is the second location where the Khun Kitti bat, the smallest bat in the world, was discovered. Hours Open: To take this trip you have to arrive at the caves between 10am and 2pm. Admission: The entrance fee to Pung Chang cave is 200 baht per person.
Laem Phromthep is a headland forming the extreme south end of Phuket. "Phrom" is Thai for the Hindu term, "Brahma," signifying purity, and "Thep" means "God." Local villagers used to refer to the cape as "Laem Chao", or the God's Cape, and it was an easily recognisable landmark for the early seafarers travelling up theMalay Peninsulafrom the sub-continent.
The main Phuket beaches are Patong, Kata, Karon, and Surin. People like to gather at Phrom Thep cape to watch the sunset. The beaches of the south coast are typically crowded, while the north is far more tranquil. Nai Harn in the south is fairly quiet. Mai Khao in the north is nearly deserted. Karon Beach and Kata Beach have cheap bungalow accommodation, lots of outdoor hostess bars and beaches with sand that is so white and fine it squeaks when you along it. Kata Beach is popular with the European partying set. Some of them stay here for long stretches of time. Karon has become more developed in recent years. All the major beaches (such as Patong, Kata, Karon, Nai Han, Mai Khao and Nai Yang) offer instruction and equipment for diving, snorkling, wind surfing and sailing.
Hat Karon is a three-kilometer-long straight beach with fewer visitors than some other Phuket beaches. Nightlife is pretty much confined to dining and a few beer bars. One of the nice parts of the beach has been taken over by the Le Meridien resort. Kata Karon Viewpoint is the most famous observation point of the three beaches—Kata Not, Kata and Karon. It is located on the road half-way between Nai Harn Beach and Kata Noi Beach. Hat Kata (20 kilometers from Phuket) is a nice place separated by Karon by a headland. The small island of Ko Pu is within swimming distance of the shore. South of Kata is Kata Noi, a smaller beach with only a few hotels and little other development. The beach is superb. Many fish inhabit the rocks and corals along the beachless shoreline stretching to the south. To get there, one can take the narrow beach road up over the hill from Kata. Hat Kamala (north of Patong) is a two-kilometer-long beach favored for witnessing sunsets. The northern end of Kamala Beach is suitable for swimming.
Hat Nai Han (a few kilometers from Kata Beach, next to Phromthep Cape, 18 kilometers from Phuket) is a nice beach that has white powdery sand and crystal clear water. The beach borders on two charming landscaped lagoons surrounded by rubber trees and other tropical plants. As the beach has not yet been fully developed to its full potential, it is less crowded, more peaceful, thus is ideal for people seeking solitude. Holidaymakers are not recommended to swim during the monsoon season from May to October. Watch out for the red flag! Despite having a rather limited selection of accommodations, they range from budget bungalows to the top-class Yacht Club. Check with the TAT Phuket Office for more up-to-date information and room rates. Getting There: This beach can be reached by songthaeos, which leaves from the intersection of Ranong Road and the fountain circle. The fare is 25 baht / person / trip. In addition, visitors can also charter tuk-tuks which costs a lot more at 150 baht to 200 baht / trip.
Patong Beach (15 kilometers from Phuket city) is the most developed area of Phuket. Here, there are beaches with large resort hotels, bars, bunjee-jumping operations, miniature golf courses, lively nightclubs, prostitutes, and tourists from all over the globe.Many young people come here. In the peak season the atmosphere is like Cancun during Spring Break. Patong Beach is a major center for the Thai sex trade.
Masseuses and drink sellers roam the beaches. Along Bangla Road are pubs, souvenir shops, herbal therapists and food stands, Some of the nightclubs offer performances by “katoys” (transvestites). There are also a number of souvenir shops, beauty parlors and custom tailers. Make sure to check out the Artist Studio (Soi Bangla, Patong Beach), where you can have copies of works made by Warhol, Piccaso, Jasper Johns, Matisse, Gauguin, Monet, van Gogh and Modigliani made to order. the artist make up $5,000 a month selling paintings that cost between $100 and $1,000.
Hat Patong has a wide range of accommodations and shopping arcades, and provides magnificent leisure activities and energetic night-time entertainment. Its postcard-perfect three-kilometer-long white sandy beach is perfect for swimming, lazing, and enjoying water sports such as jet skiing, windsurfing snorkeling, sailing, and parasailing.Among the entertainment places there are: 1) Phuket Water Ski Cableways: Tel: 0 7620 2525-7, 2) Simon Cabaret: Tel: 0 7634 2011-5, 3) Tarzans Jungle Bungy Jump: Tel: 0 7632 1351, 4) Tazans Catapult Bungy: Tel: 0 1464 1581, 5) Patong Go-kart Speedway: Tel: 0 7632 1949, 6) Phuket Joyland: Tel: 0 7620 3005, 7) Horror House: Tel: 0 7629 3123. In addition, Patong offers gastronomical delights for seafood lovers. There are plenty of good restaurants located along the beach.
Islands near Phuket
Koh Racha (south of Phuket) embraces Racha Yai and Racha Noi islands. Koh Racha Yai (Big Racha) has an enchanting beach located on the west between the valleys that resembles horseshoes. The area is known as Ao Bungalow which is famous for its white powdery beach and crystal clear water. Visitors can marvel at the delightful panoramic view of the whole island from the vantage point at the peak of the mountain located south of the bay. Koh Racha Yai is the ultimate place to explore the wonders of the underwater world, especially at Ao Siam, Ao Tue and Khon Kae. Accommodations are available. Koh Racha Noi (Small Racha) is located just 10 kilometers from Big Racha Island. Originating from the accumulation of coral stones, the island has more rocky hills than beaches, thus the island is more suitable for fishing. To get there, visitors can charter long-tailed or speed boats from Chalong Pier. Alternatively, they can buy a package tour from reliable travel agencies.
Koh He 'Coral Island' (southwest of Cape Panwa) is famous for its white powdery beach and rich coral reefs which are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing and other water sports. As the island is not affected very much by the monsoon, would be visitors can enjoy traveling to the place year round. Koh He has become a popular one-day tour from Phuket as it is only half an hour from the Chalong Pier. It is also dubbed the Coral Island by tourists. Accommodations and basic tourist facilities are available. Open everyday from 07.00 -5:00pm. Contact: TAT Phuket or Tambon Chalong, Amphoe mueang, Phuket, Tel. 0 7621 2213,
Activities in Phuket
Activities in Phuket include yachting, scuba diving, golf, spa treatments, jet skiing, windsurfing, snorkeing, waterskiing and other watersports. There is no shortage of things to do in Phuket. Scuba and snorkeling trips can be arranged to some of the out lying islands. Popular dive spots include Ko Do Pai and Koh Phi Phi. There are dive sites with whale sharks, manta rays and turtles. Shark Point is famous for it docile leopard sharks. Boat tours of James Bond Island and Phangnga Bay and the Andaman Island are offered. There are nice beach tracks which follow the perimeter of the island as well as some nice walks to waterfalls. Phuket Fanta Sea (9 kilometers south of Pating) is a family-style theme park on Kamala beach with a 4,000-seat restaurant and a Palace fo Elephants, which hosts an evening show with acrobats, dancers and elephants.
There are four top 18-hole golf courses in Phuket. Horseback riding if offered by three riding clubs: 1) on Thanon Patak on the way to Hat Kata; 2) Ban Sai Yuan on the way to Hat Nai han; and 3) Laguna Phuket at Bang Thao.
Among the entertainment places on Patong Beach are: 1) Phuket Water Ski Cableways: Tel: 0 7620 2525-7, 2) Simon Cabaret: Tel: 0 7634 2011-5, 3) Tarzans Jungle Bungy Jump: Tel: 0 7632 1351, 4) Tazans Catapult Bungy: Tel: 0 1464 1581, 5) Patong Go-kart Speedway: Tel: 0 7632 1949, 6) Phuket Joyland: Tel: 0 7620 3005, 7) Horror House: Tel: 0 7629 3123. In addition, Patong offers gastronomical delights for seafood lovers. There are plenty of good restaurants located along the beach.
2018 Boat Accident in Phuket
In July 2018, two tourist boats capsized and sank near Phuket during a sudden storm, killing 47 people, all of whom were on the double-decker ship Phoenix PC Diving, which carried 101 people, including 11 crew members and a tour guide and 89 tourists. All but two of the tourists were Chinese nationals. All 42 passengers aboard the second boat, Serenita, were rescued. [Source: Wikipedia, AFP]
The Phoenix had sailed from Phuket to Koh Racha, a popular snorkeling island off the coast of Phuket. The boat set off despite a severe weather warning against "strong winds and storms", which had been in effect for a few days. Survivors reported that the sky was clear at the time of departure, and a number of other boats, including the Serenita, also ignored the warning.
When returning from Koh Racha, the Phoenix was caught in bad weather off the coast of Phuket, with waves reaching 5 meters (16 feet) high. Somjing Boontham, the captain of the Phoenix, said that as the huge waves slammed the boat, his crew members frantically lowered the lifeboats and he urged the passengers to put on their life jackets. Some passengers, including children, made it to the lifeboats, but others were presumed to have been trapped inside the ship when she overturned and sank.
Afterwards the tourist industry took a hit. Many Chinese stopped coming to Thailand. The accident highlighted lax safety rules in the tourism sector and authorities worked hard to restore the country's image.
Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.
Last updated August 2020