Friday, May 7, 2010


The reigning granddaddy of Thailand beach vacations, Phuket Province features one giant island – the Andaman’s drop zone of quintessential tropical fun.


The island of Phuket has long been misunderstood. First of all, the ‘h’ is silent. Ahem. And second, Phuket doesn’t feel like an island at all. It’s so huge (it’s the biggest in the country) that you never really get the sense that you’re surrounded by water, which is probably the reason why the ‘Ko’ (meaning ‘island’) was dropped from its name. Dubbed the ‘pearl of the Andaman’ by savvy marketing execs, this is Thailand’s original flavour of tailor-made fun in the sun.

Phuket’s beating heart can be found in Patong. Located halfway down the western
coast, Thailand’s ‘sin city’ is the ultimate gong show where podgy beach-aholics sizzle like rotisserie chickens and gogo girls play ping-pong…without paddles…

These days, however, Phuket’s affinity to luxury far outshines any of the island’s other stereotypes; jet-setters come through in droves, getting pummelled during swanky spa sessions and swigging sundowners at one of the many fashion-forward nightspots. But you don’t have to be an heiress or an Oscar-winner to tap into Phuket’s trendy to-do list. There’s deep-sea diving, high-end dining, soda-white beaches that beckon your book and blanket – whatever your heart desires. Visitors never say phuket to Phuket.


Phuket has always had a reputation for welcoming foreigners. After all, Indian merchants founded Phuket Town in the 1st century BC. Ptolemy, a Greek geographer who visited in the 3rd century AD, tabbed it ‘Jang Si Lang’, which later became ‘Jung Ceylon’, the name you’ll find on ancient maps of Thailand (it’s also the name of the unavoidably massive shopping complex in Patong, )

Among Phuket’s original locals were nowextinct primitive tribes similar to Malaysia’s surviving Semang pygmies. They lived in triple-canopy virgin rainforest and survived by hunting and eating jungle fruits and roots.Meanwhile, the nomadic chow lair populated the coastal areas of Phuket, living off the sea’s spoils.

In the 16th century, copious lodes of tin inspired Portuguese, French and British traders to set up makeshift colonies. A century later the British contemplated using Phuket as a base in order to control the vital Strait of Malacca. They sent Captain Francis Light to scout it out, where he was swept up in Phuket’s most important historical event.

The year was 1785, and Burma and Thailand were locked in a series of wars for regional supremacy. Thai soldiers had repelled Burmese forces from Phuket a year earlier, but now the Burmese were returning in an enormous fleet. Captain Light spotted them and alerted the governor’s office. But the governor had recently passed away, so his wife, Kunying Jan, took charge. She and her sister, Mook, assembled the forces, and, according to legend, disguised the local women as male soldiers, which made Phuket’s military manpower seem invincible to the Burmese scouts. They attacked anyway, but quickly lost heart and left after a short siege. King Rama I awarded Kunying Jan with the royal title of ‘Thao Thep Kasattri’, and she and her sister are honoured with the
Heroines Monument at the Thalang roundabout.

Heroines Monument

In the early 19th century the tin-mining boom took Phuket by storm and attracted thousands of Chinese labourers. The Chinese brought their culinary and spiritual traditions with them, and when they intermarried among the Thai, a new culture was born. The first and future generations of the ethnic Thai-Chinese are also known as the Baba people.Although their roots were in the mines, many Baba descendents became merchants. They built up Phuket Town, erecting enormous homes with Portuguese and Chinese accents. Tin, along with rubber, remained the dominant industry in Phuket until the 1970s, when the beachcombers began arriving en masse after Club Med invested in Hat Kata and Thai Airways began offering daily flights from Bangkok.

Tourism remained strong until the tsunami hit on 26 December 2004. On Phuket, 250 people died as Patong, Kamala, Kata, Karon, Nai Thon and Nai Yang all suffered major damage. As a result, Phuket’s economy briefly suffered, but in 2006 resort development skyrocketed
once more.


Phuket’s stunning west coast, scalloped by its trademark sandy bays, faces the crystal Andaman Sea. The island’s quieter east coast features gnarled mangroves rather than silky sand. Patong, about halfway down the west coast, is the eye of the tourist storm, while Phuket
Town, in the southeast part of the Phuket, is the provincial capital. Phuket International Airport is in the northern part of the island, while most longdistance buses arrive and depart in Phuket Town. For information on getting around the island. We have organised Phuket’s sleeping section to follow the island’s natural geography. Listings start with the northern beaches (from south of Hat Nai Thon down to Hat Kamala), moving south to Patong, then the
southern beaches (Karon, Kata, Nai Han and Rawai), and finally the inland Phuket Town. The island’s eating section is organised in a similar manner.