The pearl of the Andaman

Longtail boats on the beach
Longtail boats on the beach

Phuket, also known as “The pearl of the Andaman” is Thailand’s largest island, and is located almost 900 kilometers south of Bangkok.

The islands interior is mostly mountainous, while its west coast has a number of magnificent long sandy beaches and lots of nightlife. For centuries, the main source of income for the island was tin mining.

Now, tourism and rubber have made Phuket the wealthiest province of the country. The 2004 tsunami badly damaged Phuket, mainly the beach resorts on the west side of the island. Since then, Phuket has fully recovered and a tsunami warning system has been put in place.

Phuket’s beaches

Phuket’s most famous and developed beach is Patong beach that has a more than 2 kilometers long sandy beach located in a bay with warm waters, ideal for swimming and relaxing in the sun. The beach is lined up with beach chairs and umbrellas, that can be rented for a small daily fee. Vendors selling ice cream, fresh fruits and drinks walk the beach all day, offering their goods. Besides swimming and relaxing in the sun there are plenty of things to do like parasailing and jet skiing. For complete relaxation, try a Thai massage available on the beach.

Patong is also Phuket’s center of nightlife. The area around Soi Bangla has more than 200 pubs, bars, go-go bars and discothèques where the action does not stop until very late at night. Patong offers a countless number of accommodation options, from basic bungalows to international 5-star resorts. There is plenty of choice of restaurants, both Thai and Western, some of which serve some of the best sea food in the country.

One of Phuket’s many sandy beaches
Tropical beach in Phuket

South of Patong are a number of less busy beaches. A short distance from Patong is Karon beach, which is more of a family destination and has a completely different feel than Patong. This is a place to enjoy a great sea food dinner and watch some classical Thai dance. This more up market destination has a 3 kilometers long, broad and very white sandy beach.

Directly south of Karon are the beaches of Kata and Kata Noi. The beautiful sandy palm-fringed beaches are quieter and more family oriented. Good food and especially fresh seafood can be found in abundance here and some of the finest restaurant of the country like The Boathouse Wine & Grill and Mom Tri’s Royal Kitchen are located here.

Yet a little more south is a viewpoint, where you can have magnificent views over Kata, Karon and Patong. A number of smaller beaches like Kamala, Surin and Bang Tao are located north of Patong.

Although Phuket’s west coast beaches are great for swimming, at some of the beaches there can be strong currents, mainly during the monsoon season. Watch out for red warning flags.

Phuket’s east coast has a number of beaches that are more muddy. From Rawai beach and Chalong bay you can take a boat to one of the many surrounding islands. On the southern tip of the island is Phromthep cape, a popular place to view the sunset.

Phuket town

Phuket town directly opposite of Patong on the east coast is the capital of Phuket province. Take a walk here through the old town where there are Sino Portuguese shop houses and Sino Colonial residential mansions from the 19th century, some of which are open to the public. Try some local food in one of the many restaurants.

Phuket seaview restaurant
Restaurant with seaview

To do & see in Phuket

Besides the swimming and relaxing on the beach there is plenty to do for everyone in Phuket. Of course there is the snorkeling and diving off the many islands surrounding Phuket, sailing, elephant trekking, watching Muay Thai boxing games or shopping in the large JungCeylon shopping center in Patong or in the countless souvenir shops along the beaches.

For some night entertainment, go to Phuket Fantasea, a huge cultural theme park located about a 20 minute drive from Patong. Watch the Las Vegas style show called “Fantasy of a Kingdom”, which really is made up of a number of shows around themes as Thai culture, elephant circus, magical illusions and acrobatics. Besides that, there is the “Palace of the Elephants”, the Carnival village with games and shopping and a number of restaurants. The park is open every day except Thursday, from 5.30 pm until 11.30 pm. Tickets can be bought at any local travel agent, for show only or show and dinner.

Near Phuket in neighboring province Phang Nga is Koh Tapu, better known as James Bond Island which became famous through the movie “The man with the golden gun”. Phuket’s largest temple is Wat Chalong on the South East corner of the island. To see some of Phuket’s highlights as well as Phuket town, do an island and city tour.

How to get to Phuket

Most tourists arrive via the international airport located in the Northwest of the island. Phuket airport is Thailand’s second largest with many daily flights from Bangkok operated by a number of airlines, among them Thai Airways. There is a number of international destinations from Phuket, although most people arrive via Bangkok, which takes a little more than one hour.

A cheaper, yet pretty slow alternative would be by bus from Bangkok, or a combination of train and bus. There is no direct rail service to Phuket, you would have to take a train from Bangkok’s Hualamphong station to Surat Thani’s Phun Phin station and take a bus from there. Total journey would take around 16 hours. There is a direct bus service from Bangkok’s southern bus terminal to Phuket, which takes around 13 to 14 hours.

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