Note: We’ve always tried to be fair-minded in describing the sites in and around Phuket, but of late, we are, frankly, getting a bit concerned about the ongoing reports that seem to keep rolling in concerning rip-offs, intimidation, and physical violence against tourists on Phuket. We've had great times on Phuket, but we’ve seen some of this nonsense first-hand. For instance, here’s an article indicating the issue has finally come under scrutiny by the Thai government: Senators ‘worried’ about Phuket beating, cheating, intimidating tourists. We think the honest folks trying to make a living in tourism on Phuket deserve better than this, so please, Phuket, clean up your act!
Phuket (pronounced poo-GET) is Thailand’s largest island, with beautiful resorts and beaches, rubber trees, and two commercial cities.
Phuket’s shopping scene is best reflected by several outstanding antiquities establishments, primarily found along highway routes.
To get a feel for the island, we suggest you hire a car or motorbike, and drive around the easily navigable roads.
Motos are generally 200 baht for 24 hours for a geared model, or 300 baht for an automatic.
We toured the entire southern half of the island on 50 baht’s worth of petrol.
Patong Beach, 20 kilometers to the west of Phuket Town, is famous for its nightlife, but reminiscent of the hustle-and-bustle of Pattaya.
The beach here is crowded, and less-than-compelling in terms of beauty.
Unless you're a single person looking to hook up with a partner, Patong may not be your cup of tea.
If you're a couple or family, we'll bet you'll enjoy Phuket’s outlying beaches a lot more than Patong.
We recommend the beautiful and reasonably quiet Karon, Kata, and Kata Noi beaches a few kilometers south of Patong, on the western side of the island.
Phuket Town is primarily a Thai and Chinese commercial city, and frankly, not the most interesting spot on the island.
If you're there anyway, you'll enjoy taking a walk in the old city, where beautiful old Portuguese and Chinese residences are being restored.
Debuk Road, near the intersection of Yaowarat Road, boasts some fine old houses, and several have been made into restaurants serving European fare at reasonable prices.
To the east of Yaowarat Road, Thaland and Phang-Nga roads (which parallel Debuk Road) also have some nice architecture.
Much of the “colonial walk” is designated by colorful tile pavers set in the sidewalk every half-meter or so.
The bustling fishing pier is picturesque, especially in the early afternoon when the day's catch is processed.
Just outside of Phuket Town, the small Phuket Butterfly and Insect Museum is quietly tucked into a tiny street.
Here, beautiful butterflies land on your finger, after you dust it with pollen found on flowers grown in the enclosure.
You can also buy wonderful moth and butterfly specimens, collected after their natural deaths (in some cases, they live less than two weeks).
To get there:
Phuket Butterfly and Insect Museum, Sam Kong, Phuket. Tel: (076) 215-616, open 9 am – 5:30 pm.
GPS Coordinates: N07°53.855’ E098°17.773’
Phuket is close to many good diving areas, and Patong is the most popular access point on the island.
The most favorite spots include Ko Phi Phi, Ko Yao, Ko Raya, Hin Daeng, and Hin Muang (Shark Point).
Here, you'll also leave for the Similan Islands, 100 km to the west.
Several dive operations are members of the Sub-Aquatic Safety Service (076) 342-518, which operates a de-compression chamber.
If you run into trouble and the dive operation is not a member, you'll be charged for their services, which are steep (approximately $3000).
The dive season runs between November and April, with visibility generally 10-25 meters, at depths of 30-45 meters.
Similan Islands National Marine Park: There are nine islands in this diving-rich group, 50 km west of the Malay Peninsula.
A visitor center, park headquarters, and lodging are found on Ko Miang, the second largest island of the group.
In addition to the spectacular sea life and excellent visibility, the islands are breathtaking, with huge granite cliffs that plunge into the sea, providing exceptional dive-through's.
Visibility in Similan is generally 35-40 meters, at depths of 25-90 meters.
All-in-all, your best bet for Similan is an overnight diving trip from Phuket.
Surin Islands National Marine Park: Further, still, than the Similan Islands, are the five islands that make up the Surin complex, which boasts what many believe to be the most spectacular coral reefs in Thailand.
The Burma Banks, consisting of a series of seamounts 60 km northwest of the islands, have exceptionally beautiful colors and formations, and are visited regularly by several species of sharks.
This trip requires a boat trip out of Phuket lasting a minimum of 7 days.
Among the more reputable scuba establishments are:
Calypso Divers Co., Ltd., Kata Beach, Phuket. Tel: (076) 330-869.
Instruction in English, German. PADI.
Scuba Cat Diving, 94 Thaweewong Road, Patong Beach, Phuket. Tel: (076) 293-120.
Instruction in English, German, and Swedish. PADI.
White & Blue Dive Club, 71/5 Mu 10 Chao-Fa Road, Chalong Muang, Phuket. Tel: (076) 281-007.
Instruction in English, German, and Japanese. PADI.