Phuket, which at one time was called Talang, is the largest island off the coast of Thailand and the west coast of the Andaman Sea. About the size of Singapore, it is connected to the mainland by two bridges. Phuket in the past has been a rich source of tin and rubber and gained most of its wealth by its convenient location along a major trading route between India and China.
Phuket’s present income, however, has been made possible by its booming tourism industry. On Boxing Day 2004 the island suffered small effects of a tsunami caused by the Indian Ocean earthquake, but has happily since made a full recovery.
Of its many attractions, Phuket’s parks, gardens and arboretums are especially beautiful, often featuring nature trails that, in some cases, continue meandering for miles on end. The larger parks, such as the Khao Phra Taew Wildlife Sanctuary or the Sirinat National Park, are important centres for research and conservation efforts.
The Khao Sanctuary, for instance, occupies 5,500 acres, much of it lush primary rainforest which is home to a diverse range of species, many of which are endangered, including monkeys, gibbons, birds, small mammals and reptiles. And for those with an interest in local marine life, the Phuket Marine Biological Centre runs the Phuket Aquarium, where many Andaman Sea species are on display, including some rare indigenous corals.
Phuket’s general weather pattern is fairly typical for a tropical island, being divided into a hot season, from March to early May, which tends to be fairly dry, and a rainy or monsoon season, from May to October, which, although rather cooler, can never be described as cold.
Many people, in fact – both residents and visitors – actually prefer the rainy season, finding it refreshing and invigorating. There is occasionally a late afternoon thunder shower lasting no more than an hour, and this can be followed by some hard rainfall during the middle of the night, but the earlier parts of the day are usually fine – except perhaps for the occasional storm lasting up to two or three days, but these are really quite infrequent.
Most of Phuket’s cities are conveniently built close to the beach; one of the exceptions, however, is Phuket Town, which has the largest concentrated population on the island and is also its administrative centre. It also boasts the lowest priced hotels.
On the east coast is Chalong Bay, where Phuket’s most popular yachting clubs are to be found. This is also the main gateway to the smaller islands standing further out from Phuket. The main beaches of Phuket - for which the island is famed - include Banana Beach, sometimes known as Coral Island, close to Chalong Bay, where hornbills can be glimpsed, as well as an abundance of marine life.
Cape Panwa is the home of Phuket Aquarium, while Kata Yai Beach is enormously popular with surfers. Laem Singh Beach is renowned for its breathtaking views. Patong Beach - the largest on the whole island - is very well known for its nightlife, while Mai Khao is extremely quiet, unfrequented and unspoiled by the bulk of tourists, and close to several small Thai villages, temples and restaurants, one of them built on a bamboo platform overlooking the estuary.
Phuket, then, is well worth a visit, having something to offer even to those with the most diverse tastes and requirements in holiday destinations.