Formerly known as an important centre for Arab, Indian, Malay, Chinese and Portuguese traders who came to exchange goods for tin and rubber with the rest of the world, Phuket has been attracting sand and sea lovers as one of the world's premier beach and top diving destinations with all imaginable facilities and has numerous beaches, many aquatic activities such as canoeing, diving, snorkeling and jet skiing, organized tours and accommodation ranging from budget to 5-star luxury resorts.
Things to do in Phuket:
Scuba diving, snorkeling, SNUBA, yachting, jet-skiing and parasailing are the most popular activities on the island. Most dive sites are off nearby islands, but distances are fairly short and there are dozens of dive shops and boats to cater to your needs, mostly based near Chalong Pier. In addition there are good snorkeling locations located off several of the most popular beaches. Seek local information regarding riptides, currents, and safe snorkeling areas.
Sailing and Yachting Phuket has become the sailing and yachting center of Thailand and adjacent countries. It's home of Six Senses Phuket Raceweek, King's Cup Regatta, Phang Nga Bay Regatta, the Phuket International Boat Show (PIMEX), 4 marinas, two yacht clubs - Ao Chalong Yacht Club (ACYC) and Phuket Yacht Club (PYC) and some well sheltered anchorages which are teeming with yachts.
Diving Phuket Island has some decent dive sites and the largest diving center in Thailand. The reefs around the area are in a healthy condition with both solid and colorfully soft corals. There is also an abundance of marine life. Most of the dive locations are suitable for all levels of divers but there are also some that are quite deep.
Snorkeling This can be enjoyed in sheltered bays all around Phuket. It is particularly enjoyable at easily accessible reefs at Patong, Karon and Kata beaches. Fins, mask and snorkel can be rented on a daily basis from shops all over the island.
Swimming This can be enjoyed throughout the year, and is mostly safe. However, during the rainy season’ storms this can be very dangerous. Look for posted signs and flags indicating conditions for safe swimming; if the red flag is flying, do not go swimming in the ocean!
Windsurfing Boards may be rented by the hour, half day, full day, or week at most major beaches. Tuition is available free.
If Phuket is your only destination in Thailand, you'll certainly want to get to some of the Muslim fishing villages, small rural temples, and Phuket Town. Outdoor activities top the list of things to do, and there's something for everyone.
Thalang National Museum, in the east just off Highway 402 at the Heroines' Monument, exhibits Phuket's indigenous cultures, the history of Thai settlements on Phuket, and crafts from the southern Thai regions as well as a 9th century statue of the Hindu deity Vishnu which is evidence of early Indian merchants visiting the burgeoning kingdom.
There are a few Buddhist temples on the island that are quite notable: The most unique is Wat Phra Thong, located along Highway 402 in Thalang just south of the airport. The most famous temple among Thai visitors here is Wat Chalong. Chalong was the first resort on Phuket, back when the Thais first started coming to the island for vacations. Nowadays, the discovery of better beaches on the west side of the island has driven most tourists away from this area, but the temple still remains the center of Buddhist worship. The temple is on the Chaofa West Road, about 8km (5 miles) south of Phuket Town.
Sea Gypsies, or Chao Ley, are considered the indigenous people of Phuket. This minority group used to shift around the region living off subsistence fishing, but commercial fishing interests and shoreline encroachment increasingly threaten their livelihoods. Related to the Malaysian Orang Laut people and the southern Thai Sakai tribes, Phuket and Phang Nga's Sea Gypsies form a few small settlements on Phuket Island: one on Koh Siray (aka Koh Sire), east of Phuket Town, and another atRawai Beach just south of Chalong Bay. The villages are simple, seashore shacks, with vendors selling souvenir shells. It's quite educational to visit these people and their sadly disappearing culture.
Had Nai Yang National Park offers a peaceful retreat from the rest of the island's tourism madness. There are two fantastic reasons to make the journey out to the park. The first is for Phuket's largest coral reef in shallow water, only 1,400m from the shore. The second is for the rare chance of spotting the endangered leatherback turtles that once came to nest every year between November and February.
The newly renovated Phuket Aquarium at the Phuket Marine Biological Center seeks to educate the public about local marine life and nature preservation. Most of the signs throughout are in Thai but it is still worth a trip. It's open daily 8:30am to 4pm, and admission is US$1.40 pp.
Phuket Butterfly Garden & Insect World, Soi Phaniang, Samkong, Phuket Town breeds hundreds of gorgeous butterflies in a large, enclosed garden. There are plenty of chances for photos. It's open daily from 9am to 5pm; adult admission is US$9 and children 9 and under pay US$4.30.
Phuket Shell Museum You'd never think seashells were fascinating until you visit the museum which is just south ofChalong Bay. Billed as "the largest shell museum in the world," it's actually not the quantity that amazes, but the quality. As always, the gift shop sells a range of tempting high-quality shell products; however, these days, any eco-savvy traveler will be well aware that the retail shell industry is depriving a sea creature of a home, and that countries like Australia actively prohibit their import. The museum is open daily from 8am to 7pm.
How to travel to and in Phuket:
By Plane: Thai Airways flies daily from both Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport and Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Bangkok Airways connects Phuket with Koh Samui at least two times daily.
Budget airlines flying here include Air Asia, Nok Air, and One-Two-GO Airlines; they all fly daily between Bangkok and Phuket. Connecting with Singapore is Silk Air. Budget carriers Tiger Airways and Qantas subsidiary Jetstar also have regular connections from Phuket to Singapore; Jetstar flies directly to Australia, too.
Destination Air is a new air service based at Phuket Airport, running small, amphibious light aircraft between island resorts such as Krabi, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi.
Getting from the Airport to Town: The modern Phuket International Airport is located in the north of the island, about a 45-minute drive from Patong Beach in off-peak hours, or an hour in rush hour. There are banks, money-changing facilities, car rental agents, and a post office at the airport.
By Bus: Three super-cooled air-conditioned VIP buses leave daily from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal and cost from US$21. These buses feature fewer seats, more room, a usually deafening all-night action movie, hostesses, and snacks. Numerous regular air-conditioned buses go each day and cost as little as US$7.85. Standard buses make frequent connections to Surat Thani and nearby towns on the mainland.
By Minivan: Minivans to and from Surat Thani, Krabi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Ranong, and other southern cities leave on regular schedules throughout the day. In each city, minivan operators work with the hotels and arrange free pickup, so it is best to book through your hotel front desk or a travel agent.
Phuket is at its best in dry season: you'll get long sandy beaches, warm water, and excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. It also boasts some of the best seafood in Thailand. The prices are more than a tad overblown, but for well-heeled fun-seekers who want to be at the heart of the action, Phuket is a fabulous choice.
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