Phuket, Thailand: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
The island of Phuket is Thailand's largest island that has an area of 576 square kilometers. The island is located in the southern region of Thailand facing the Andaman Sea coastline at approximately 862 kilometers south of Bangkok. It is divided into three administrative districts; the Amphoe Muang, the Amphoe Thalang, and the Amphoe Kathu. Phuket was once one of the major trading routes between India and China. Nowadays, its economy is centered in tourism making it the wealthiest province in the country. The island is a popular beach destination that offers a warm blue sea with white palm-lined beaches, great value in terms of accommodation, and the vibrant nightlife. The island's long history has shaped Phuket of today with its culture and architectural influence. This made the island a complete tourist destination offering beyond its natural attractions. In visiting the island, there are only two seasons throughout the year; the green season from May to October and the hot season from November to April.
Phuket has an abundance of sandy beaches and clear waters with more than 30 fine beaches. The most famous beach is the Patong Beach. Most of the major beaches are located at the south coast and are typically crowded. On the other hand, there are more tranquil and peaceful beaches located at the north coast of the island. Phuket's beaches have it all for everyone's cup of tea.
Patong is the most popular beach town in the island. It offers a wide variety of activities and nightlife making it an ideal place to party and play. Patong hosts an outstanding choice of restaurants, shops, nightlife entertainment venues, and accommodation for thousands of visitors per year.
Known as the most popular spot for tourists, Patong has a great number of guesthouses, hotels, and resorts to accommodate hundreds to thousands of visitors spending their holiday. One of the most booked hotel is the Amari Phuket located just at the south of Patong. It is a 4.5-star hotel with 345 rooms and suites. The hotel's facilities include two swimming pools, a scuba dive center, a spa, tailor shop, a fitness center, and several quality restaurants.
Patong is also a nightlife central with bars and restaurants that attracts tourists. The Soi Sea Dragon is the hottest place on the nightlife scene. This nightlife spot is a 100 meter long lane that is comprising around 46 bars, beer bars, and go-go bars. Some of the best bars and dance clubs in Patong are the Seduction Complex; the largest nightspot in Patong Beach with four separate levels, and the Hard Rock Café Phuket; a home from home for all those who love rock music and western food in a classy environment.
Patong also boasts some of its beautiful attractions like the Kathu Waterfall; a series of drop pools with cool water ideal to plunge in to beat the heat. It is also a home to some cultural attractions like the Kathu Mining Museum that features displays ranging from tin mine models to a recreated scene in an opium den and the Wat Suan Khiri Wong or known as the Wat Patong that features beautiful structures including the main ubosot or chapel, pagoda, monastery hall, and statues of Lord Buddha.
Some easily accessed beaches from Patong are the Freedom Beach, the Paradise Beach, and the Kalim Beach. The Freedom Beach is an exclusive 300 meter long strip of white sand surrounded by hills. Popular activities in this beach are beach soccer, beach volleyball, and snorkeling. The Paradise Beach has great views right across Patong Bay. It is a small beach that measures 150 meters long and it is one of the most attractive beaches in Phuket. Activities enjoyed in this beach include snorkeling, sea kayaking, and body boarding. The coral reef is Paradise's main aquatic attraction. The Kalim Beach is located just north of Patong Beach. The highlight of the beach is surfing in low season and it is considered as one of the best surfing spots in Phuket.
Other Popular Beaches
Aside from the ever famous Patong Beach, there are other major beach destinations in Phuket. These are the Karon Beach, the Kata Beach, and the Kata Noi Beach.
The Karon Beach features the third longest beach on Phuket Island. It is the second popular holiday destination in the island. The beach has three main areas. The first area is the Karon Center. It is a lively small city with a good choice of dining, shopping, and nightlife entertainment opportunities. It also has a Buddhist temple that hosts a weekly market. The second area is the Karon Beach Road that is ideal for taking an evening stroll with large resorts, restaurants, and shops. The third area is centered around Luang Poh Chuan Road that houses excellent restaurants and the hippest nightlife spot.
The Kata Beach is just a few minutes south of the Karon Beach. It is a very popular place for families due to its spectacular palm-lined beach, great restaurants, lively but not extremely loud nightlife, and accommodation all close to the beach. Kata has two focal areas; the Kata Center that is located at the northern end close to Karon and the Kata South, which is a home to several resorts.
The Kata Noi is a cosy little bay that is found at the end of a beach side cul-de-sac. It is just a few minutes drive over the hill from Kata Beach. It is a popular spot for surfers in the monsoon season of May to October. The Kata Viewpoint offers a stunning vista across the three bays of Karon, Kata, and Kata Noi.
Aside from the crowded and touristy beaches that are very popular to tourists, there are hidden beaches in Phuket. These secret beaches are gems in the island with beautiful and tranquil surroundings. Some of the secret beaches are the Ao Sane Beach, the Ao Yon Beach, the Banana Beach, the Nui Beach, the Khao Kad Beach, and the Yae Beach.
The Ao Sane Beach has three mini beaches, granite boulders, rough sand, and a snorkeling site. It is an attractive place to spend the afternoon with a fair bit of shade by groves of tropical almond trees. The Ao Yon Beach is also home to oyster growing rafts a few hundred meters out to sea aside from the white sand and shallow waters. This is a peaceful place by weekdays and sometimes busy during the weekends due to its location facing the south. The Banana Beach has a crescent-shaped strand with a hard to find location. No other beach can beat its tranquility and beauty. The Nui Beach is one of the most beautiful hidden beaches in Phuket. It is a tropical destination that features activities like snorkeling, beach volleyball, sea kayaking, fly boarding, donut boating, massage, sauna, and even scuba diving. However, access to the beach is not free. It costs 350 baht to enter this remote sandy shore. The Khao Kad Beach, or Panwa Beach, is a tranquil place and a haven to people seeking peace and quiet beaches. At the far west end of the beach, there is a mangrove swamp. The Yae Beach is a 200 meter long beach secluded enough to be quiet on any given day. It is a great place for sunset viewing.
Other Top Attractions
Phuket has a fantastic range of attractions. These attractions are all within a short driving or sailing distance from each other. There are temples, museums, zoo and gardens, and national parks. The island also boasts some of its events and festivals that are visited by both the local and foreign tourists.
There are a lot of temples in Phuket; Wats or the Buddhist temples and Chinese shrines that are Taoist temples. Wats are the most important temple of Thailand because Buddhism is the major religion in the country. Phuket has 29 Buddhist temples. The Big Buddha in Phuket is one of the most important landmarks on the island. The 45 meters tall image sits on top of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata. From its location, it offers the best 360 degree views of the island.
The Wat Chalong is where the locals come to pray and pay pilgrim and the Westerners come to learn about Buddhism. Its Grand Pagoda contains a splinter of Lord Buddha's bone that is officially named as Phramahathatchedi-Jomthaibarameepragat. The pagoda has wall paintings decoration illustrating Buddha's life story.
The Wat Khao Rang is also known as the Sumnak Song Khao Rang. It is the home of the first big sitting Buddha image in Phuket. The temple is the spiritual center in Phuket for the locals. It's grounds are divided in two areas; the original building that supports the sitting Buddha on its roof and the new temple next to it.
The Wat Phra Thong is not a large temple with the half-buried golden Buddha image as its main attraction. This is one of the island's oldest temples that received a visit by King Rama VI in 1909 and gave its official name.
The Wat Srisoonthorn is known as Wat Lipon by the locals. Its main attraction is the 29 meter high Sleeping Buddha on top of the wat's central building. Other than Buddha images, the temple also displays other images that are taken from Thai myths. The lions are believed to act as the temple guards. There are also images of phets or ghosts because Thai believe that one will be a phet in the afterlife if does bad things. Many wats have this ghost images to remind the people to be kind to others.
The Phra Nang Sang Temple is said to be the oldest temple in the island that was built 500 years ago. It is also called the Wat Leuat Khao or the Temple of White Blood because it was built in honor of a princess who was executed for a crime she did not commit. The story says that at her execution, she bled white blood showing her purity.
The Wat Suwan Khuha is also known as Wat Tham or Temple Cave due to its location in a limestone cave. The largest cave houses a 15 meter reclining Buddha image and it is decorated with attractive Benjarong tiles. A chedi structure is similar to the Bangkok's Wat Arun. Aside from the religious images, the temple has an aggressive monkey population that are prone to grabbing snacks and stuff so proper care must be taken.
Chinese shrines are also significant in Phuket because of the great Chinese community that migrated in the island through the centuries. Jui Tui Shrine is a popular Chinese temple as it plays an important part in the annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival. It is also one of the oldest and the most respected spiritual centers in the island. The temple also displays photos of the Jui Tui Shrine when it was just a single construction without side buildings dating back to 1911.
The Kiew Tien Keng Shrine is one of the most beautiful places of worship in Phuket with its location near the seashore. On the final night of the Vegetarian Festival, it is considered as the departure spot to send all gods and deities back to heaven.
The Kathu Shrine is known as the original home of the Vegetarian Festival. This is the roots of the festival where rumors said that a Chinese opera from mainland China came to Phuket and fell ill at no particular reasons. They decided to hold a vegetarian diet ceremony that they had forgotten to carry on. Within no time, all the sickness and problems disappeared. This was witnessed by the locals and they participated in the ceremony that was passed on today's generation.
From the ancient times, Phuket has been on a well-established trade routes that is mostly visited by traders and travelers. The mining industry is also an important part of the development in the island. After it disappeared, the Chinese immigrants settled and profited from the rubber industry. All of the island's history are reflected on the museums.
The Thalang National Museum contains ancient artifacts from the island's history. It also displays exhibits about the famous Battle of Thalang where Two Heroines Chan and Mook defended the island from the Burmese invaders during the 18th century. Everything about the history of Phuket are featured here in this national museum.
The Kathu Mining Museum is one of the most interesting museums in the island. It features displays of tin mine models, recreated scene in an opium den, and other objects that can portray the early mining industry. There is a minimal entrance fee and the museum is open everyday except every Sunday from 8 am to 4 pm.
The Phuket Seashell Museum is located near the Evason Resort in Rawai. It displays valuable seashells from all over the world. The museum has four main exhibitions that have information in both English and Thai language.
The Baan Chinpracha is located in the Phuket Town. It is the finest example of a Sino-Colonial mansion. Phra Pitak Chinpracha built this mansion in 1903 that nowadays, Jaroonrat 'Daeng' Tandavanitj and her late husband, Pracha Tandavanitj, inherited. They decided to open parts of the mansion to the public for people to see how a wealthy Phuket family used to live many decades ago.
The Phuket Trickeye Museum is one of the most visited museums especially by families. It is an interactive 3D painting exhibition that offers photo opportunities. The museum features a gallery of about 100 painted and sculpted scenes using the "Trompe-l’oeil Technique", which means "deceive the eye" in French. The idea is to create a three dimensional illusion in a flat background.
Zoo & Animal Parks
Other popular spots in Phuket are the Thai zoo that offers a very different version than that of the zoo from the western interpretation. The animals are encouraged to perform for large audience, which appear to be more like circuses.
The Phuket Zoo is a home to a wide range of attractions like the exciting animal shows. Some of the animal shows include monkeys playing basketball, elephants balancing on one foot, and the famous "head in the crocodile’s mouth" show. It is also an amusement to guests with children. Another popular animal park is the Tiger Kingdom that allows guests the opportunity to get up close and personal with several Indochinese tigers. It is an attractive set-up located next to the Go-Kart track in Kathu. There are also extreme activities like bungee jumping and zip lining.
The Phuket Bird Park has hundreds of beautiful bird species from all over the world. It has a lovely wooden bridge like that of Disney cartoons and a display of indigenous masks along the way that are called didgeridoos, an Australian native instrument. The bird park has an exotic flora, odd memorabilia, cafes, and a souvenir shop.
The Phuket Aquarium is a popular spot for the local and foreign visitors, especially guests with children. It has over 30 tanks of thousands of tropical, colorful and exotic marine creatures. The entrance fee is usually 100 baht for adults and 50 baht for children.
Other than the animal parks and zoos, there are botanical parks like the Phuket Botanic Garden and Phuket Orchid Garden & Thai Village. The Phuket Botanic Garden has an orchid pavilion display, rain forest garden, winter garden, many rare plant species, and more than 30 other selections. The Phuket Orchid Garden & Thai Village has four restaurant pavilions, a playground for children of all ages, handicraft shops, workshops, and two cultural shows daily.
Phuket, as a tropical island, offers a wide range of water sports. Scuba diving in Phuket and the Andaman Sea is considered to be among the top ten scuba destinations in the world. It features its clear water, coral reefs, rock formations, and the amazing marine life. Snorkeling is also a must-do in the island. It can be done year-round, but the best time of the year is November to April. Phuket's West Coast is now gaining a reputation as a surf destination. There are three main annual surf contests in the island since it is an ideal place for surfing. Another exciting water activities is the Phuket Cable Ski & Wake Boarding. It is one of the most fun and challenging activities including knee boarding.
There are also fun activities out of the water. The Flying Hanuman in Kathu allows the tourists to explore the jungle in an aerial way. Other activities are golfing and the mini golf in Dino Park. It has an 18-hole course themed on dinosaurs; life-like cement dinosaur statues, an erupting ‘volcano’, and a Flintstones-themed restaurant. A visit in Phuket will never be complete without experiencing the traditional Thai massage and watching a Muay Thai match.
In arriving by plane, the Phuket International Airport caters both international and domestic flights. There are frequent daily flights from Bangkok and international flights from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Other Asian countries also has flights to Phuket such as Philippines, Indonesia, China, Korea, and Qatar. Flights from Australia, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. From the airport, there are airport shuttle services and taxis that can take tourists to their destination.
Another option is by taking a bus. There are two bus terminals in Phuket; the Old Bus Station that is located in the Phuket Town's center and the New Bus Station that is located few kilometers north. From Bangkok, the travel time is usually 13 hours.
Phuket is easy to get around. Most of the beach resorts are small enough to walk around and most of the hotels are near the beach, restaurants, and shopping centers. There is no scarcity of public transport. Tuk-tuks, a Thai mode of transport, are good for short distances. However, the price is quite higher than that of the other places in the country that even short distances cost around 100 baht.
Songthaew in Phuket is quite different than the ones in the other parts of the country. It is an open-air bus-like vehicle that is painted in blue. It has no designated bus stops making it easy to flag them anywhere. The price usually costs 15 baht depending on the distance. This is, so far, the cheapest way to get around.
There are taxis in Phuket that are classified into three; the airport taxis, the metered taxis, and the car taxis. The airport taxis are the only authorized limousine service to provide transfer from the airport. It has a rate of 100 baht to 200 baht for shared vehicle and up to 500 baht for a private ride depending on the distance. The metered taxis outside the airport terminal and around Phuket are set at 50 baht for the first two kilometers and 7 baht additional per kilometer. The air-conditioned car taxis can be hired at all the main resort areas with similar rates to the tuk-tuks. Another form of taxi is the motorbike taxi. It is ideal for short distances and during the rush hour. Drivers wear red or green vests and will take you anywhere and fares depend on the distance.
Another option is renting a motorbike. There are two types of motorbike for hire; the small 50 cc Honda motorbikes and the big bikes. It is a fun and convenient way to get around, but it's also extremely risky as insurance is usually not included. One must have a Thai or an International Motorbike Licence In order to make a claim on insurance in case of an accident. Roads become slippery due to oil leak build-ups during the rainy season. One must be very careful to avoid accidents.