Dubbed the 'Pearl of the South' by the tourist industry, Phuket is Thailand's largest island and lies in the Andaman Sea off the country's south-western coast. The island is connected to the Thai mainland by a bridge, but has retained a distinct culture fused from Chinese and Portuguese influences combining with the culture of the chao naam, the indigenous sea-faring people. About 35% of the island's population are Thai Muslims.
Phuket and nearby islands have superb scuba diving grounds. A number of dive shops offer modern equipment rentals and internationally certified lessons for beginners. One-day dives cost as little as 3,000 Baht, but the more popular trips are five-day liveaboard diving excursions to the outer islands, like the Similan Islands of Phangnga Province, home of the most beautiful and colorful soft corals in the world. Visibility is often more than 100 feet and the water temperature doesn't really require a wetsuit.
Phuket is best known for its beautiful beaches. During the peak season of November-January, European visitors migrate to these sandy shores to bath in the sun and play in the surf. Most are situated on the western side of the island and are great for swimming and windsurfing. Patong is the most popular beach, teeming with all kinds of accommodations and activity, day and night. Its southern neighbor is Karon, a long, quiet beach lined with palms and evergreens, and the white sandy beaches of Kata, a stark contrast to Patong. The east has small islets ideal for snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing.
Wat Chalong is the most popular temple in Phuket. Built in 1837, a recent additon to the temple is a 61.4-meter high chedi containing the Phra Borom Sareerikatat relic, a piece of Buddha’s bones brought over from Sri Lanka. Combining the architectural styles from the Southern, Central and Northeastern Thailand, the chedi is the first in this region to house this holy relic.
The Phuket Fantasea is a cultural theme park, the first kind ever, providing an immersion into Thai culture with fulfilled, elaborate magical and illusion shows. They also offer a dinner buffet in a cavernous dining hall. It is located on Kamala Beach.
Game fishing trips are organized year-round with abundant tunas, barracudas, merlins, sailfish, and even sharks inhabiting the waters off Phuket. A favorite destination for most anglers is the nearby Racha Island where every trip is bound to reel in a big catch.
See turtles laying eggs and watch baby turtles being released back into the sea during the Songkran Festivals (April 13-15) at Nai Yang Beach, an area filled with government regulated bungalows.
Catch the most breath-taking sunsets at Phromthep Cape, Phuket's southernmost point. Be sure to get there early or else fight your way through throngs of tourists that converge at the cape daily.
View the spacious colonial-style residences built in the late 19th century by tin and rubber barons and distinctive shophouses with shaded walkways in the heart of Phuket Town. The town was founded by Chinese and Malaysian merchants and the Sino-Portuguese architecture still retain influences from both cultures, as evident by the Government House, Phuket's oldest public structure.
"Islands near PHUKET"
Directly the south of Phuket lie the twin islands of Racha Yai Island and Racha Noi Island which offer significantly better diving than do Phuket's Western beaches.
Racha Yai Island
The clean, sandy beaches and crystal clear waters of Racha Yai Island are a major attraction for daytrippers from Phuket. On the west coast of Racha Yai Island is a fine beach, closed in by a horseshoe-shaped hillside, called alternately Ao Tawan Tok or Ao Bungalow. From the top of the hill to the south of the bay is the viewpoint from which the whole island can be seen. On the east, at Ao Kon Kae Bay, is an excellent site for diving.
Racha Noi Island
About 10 km from Racha Yai Island, is the result of coral reef build up, and there are more rocks than beaches. In a small bay on the west is a boat anchorage. The waters at Racha Noi Island are emerald green, and the fishing there is famous, but swimming is not recommended. By long-tailed local boat the travel time is about two hours. Larger boats operated by tour companies will make the trip in about one hour.
Travel to Racha Islands is restricted to dry season and periods when the monsoon is not blowing.
Coral Island is small island a few kilometers off the south-east corner of Phuket is the most popular with island day-trippers. The trip by speed boat takes minutes, the coral surrounding the islands is excellent for snorkeling, beach activities such as parasailing and snorkeling are available and there are several good restaurants. Boats leave from Rawai and Chalong.
Khai Nok Island
Fairly isolated with only a few groups visiting each day attracted by the coral reef which is suitable for snorkelling. Uninhabited and quite small with a beach on either side of the island, it's a great place to spend the day. You can get there either by longtail or contact one of the tour companies which offer day trips to many of the smaller islands near Phuket.
Maiton Island is small island off Phuket's South-East coast is highly prized for its still perfect natural environment, including fine white beaches and crystal waters; ideal for swimming, diving, or fishing. The only business of any kind is the upmarket Maiton Island Resort. The visitors not wishing to stay overnight may take a daytime excursion leaving from Ao Makham Deep Sea Port in Phuket.
Rang Yai Island
Lying off Phuket's east coat, this small island has been developed for out-of-doors minded tourist. Among the many activities are snorkeling on the coral reefs. sea kayaking, mountain-biking, playing miniature golf, and visiting the island's pearl farm. To travel to Rang Yai Island, boats may be hired from Laem Hin Pier from Phuket Boat Lagoon. Package tours are providede by Richy Island Tour, and other tour agencies.
Separated from the mainland of Phuket by the Khlong Tha Chin, a shallow mangrove swamp, this twenty square kilometer island is connected by a causeway to the city. Wat Koh Si-re, on the hill, has a large Reclining Buddha and provides fine views of the surroundings. Phuket's largest settlement of Sea Gipsies, or Chao Ley, are on Si-re Island at Leam Tuk-kae. Swimming is not present because of the muddy bottom. Thre are some popular seafood restaurants on the eastern shore.
Taphao Yai Island
Just 10 minutes from Phuket by ferry from Ao Makam on Phuket's southeast coast. The island is home to the Bucerotes hornbill. To get there from Phuket Town take Chao Fa Rd., to the Sakdidet Rd., intersection, turn left on Sakdidet and follow it 8 kms. to Ao Makham. The road splits in the vicinity of oil storage facilities; take the left fork about 200 meters to the Ko Taphao ferry pier. Dining and accommodations are available on the island.