Phuket is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand and foreigners have been coming here for hundreds of years. Europeans first came to this island in search of precious metals, but in recent decades westerners are coming because of the climate, natural beauty, and wonderful culture. There is nowhere else in Thailand that has as much to offer tourists as Phuket, so it is likely to remain the number one tourist area for many years to come.
Location and Geography of Phuket
Phuket is the largest island in Thailand – it is roughly the size of Singapore. The north of the island is connected to the mainland by a bridge. It is located in the south west of the country in the Andaman Sea, and it is approximately 850 km (529 Miles) from Bangkok. Phuket has an area of approximately 570 square km (220 Square miles). Most of this land is mountainous (70 per cent), and the majority of settlements are beside the coast. The highest peak on the island is Khao Phara which is 422 meters high. It is believed that Phuket was once a cape on the mainland, but millions of years of erosion turned it into an island.
Name of Phuket
Phuket (ภูเก็ต) is believed to have been derived from the Malay word bukit which means hill, and it refers to the fact that Phuket is so mountainous.
History of Phuket
The earliest mention of Phuket was by a Greek explorer and geographer who was traveling around the Malay Peninsula by ship in the third century, but there is evidence of settlements here from at least 100 BC. For hundreds of years this area was referred to on maps as Junk Ceylon (this is where the popular department store in Patong gets its name). Local people referred to the area as Thalang – and there is an area in Phuket that is still called this name.
Recorded history on the island begins around 1000 AD when it became an important area due to its rich resources including; gems, timber, and pearls. It was common for ships on their way from India to China to stop here as part of their journey. The Europeans (first the French and Dutch, but later the British) arrived on the island in the seventeenth century in search of tin, and they were rewarded with ample quantities of this material. For many decades the Europeans basically controlled southern and western sides of the island, and there was even a French governor of Phuket at one time.
In the eighteenth century the Burmese army attempted to take over the island, but they were repelled by an army led by a woman – Than Phu Ying Jan is still considered a great hero to the people in this part of the world.
Foreign visitors first began to arrive here to holiday at the beginning of the twentieth century, and by the 1960s it was already considered a popular destination. In 2004 the island was devastated by a Tsunami and hundreds of people were killed. Some worried that this might cause lasting damage to the tourist industry but Phuket continues to grow in popularity.
Culture of Phuket
Phuket can fairly be described as a mix of cultures. For at least a thousand years the island has been home to different nationalities, and this has had an impact. A walk around the Old Town in Phuket provides visitors with the chance to see how the Europeans have been impacting the local culture for centuries, and today they make up 21.1% of the local population – this does not include the tourists who stay here for months at a time. Approximately 30% of the local population are Muslim and many of these are decedents from Malay fishermen who came here hundreds of years ago. The majority of the population is Buddhists who come from Mainland Thailand, and they have been attracted to the area because of its financial wealth. There is also a significant Chinese population – particularly in Phuket Town. The original inhabitants of Phuket are believed to be Mons from Central Thailand. The fact that so many different ethnic groups call Phuket their home means that it is truly an international island.
Climate in Phuket
Phuket has a tropical monsoon climate. This means that it is hot and humid for most of the year. It is possible to divide the year into three seasons:
- The cool season from November to February is the best time of year to come to Thailand with average temperatures of about 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) and very little rain.
- The hot season from March to May can be excessively hot at times.
- The Rainy season from June to October is the low season in Thailand when there is regularly heavy rain and flooding. There can still be plenty of beautiful sunny days and the average temperature remains around 31 degrees Celsius – trips on the sea are best avoided during the rainy season with the exception of Koh Yao where the waters are secluded and thus protected from the worst of the weather.
Main Areas in Phuket
The main areas in Phuket would include:
- Patong is the most popular tourist area, and this is where to go for the best nightlife in Phuket. Some visitors may find the party atmosphere in this town to be a bit too wild, but there are plenty of quieter areas to go to. *Phuket Town is actually a city but people still affectionately refer to it as a town. This is a typical Thai city, but there is also plenty for tourists to do here – the old town is particularly beautiful.
- Karon is sometimes referred to as Patong’s little sister, and this is the second busiest tourist area on the island. The beach here is 4km long making it the longest beach on the western side of the island.
- Kata is on the other side of Karon and there is a nice beach here as well. There has been a good deal of tourist related development in this area, but the town still retains a village-feel.
- Rawai is on the south eastern side of the island, and it is less touristy than the beaches on the western side. There are many Muay Thai camps in the local area, and an increasing number of westerners come here to learn this martial art.
- Ao Chalong is next to Rawai, ans this is where the main pier in the island is located.
- Kamala Beach is to the north of the island, and it is a good choice for those looking for something sedate. The beach here is beautiful, and this is also where the Fantasea Theme Park is located.
- Surin is 15 km to the north of Patong, but it could easily be a different world. The beach here is unspoilt, and there are plenty of cheap options for accommodation in this area.