A visit to Phuket province today doesn’t immediately reveal the island’s long and complicated history. As the most popular tourist destination in Asia and a mecca for western travellers, it’s the scuba diving and snorkeling along with the gorgeous, sheltered beaches that bring visitors to Phuket. But scratch the surface and Phuket’s complex past emerges in the ethnic and cultural diversity of its people and character of the island.
In the first century B.C. Indian colonists founded Phuket Town. The Greeks knew about the island as far back as 300 A.D. Over time, its abundance of natural resources has been a mixed blessing as traders and adventurers from Arabia, Sri Lanka, China and Portugal all sought the ivory, pearls, timber, animal hides and gems found there. By the 17th century Phuket was a much prized source of tin for Dutch, British and French companies vying to extract the metal. Throughout its history, in addition to the allure of its natural resources, Phuket has been valued as a trade center, resting as it does on a major trade route between Indian and China. As a result, modern Phuket is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and sea gypsies.
The appeal of Phuket, beside its natural beauty, is that there is something for everyone to enjoy here. To begin, there are beaches on the west side of the island to suit any inclination. The beach at Patong is the busiest resort area and famous as an Asian party capital with an anything-goes sensibility. All the popular resort water sports and activities are available here as are beach amenities and comforts including sun cots, umbrellas and a generous number of restaurants.
Calmer beaches are easily found, if that’s your preference. Some of the more tranquil and relaxing beaches in the North of Phuket include Hat Mai Khao near the airport; the nationally protected beach at Hat Nai Yang; Hat Nai Thon Nai Yang and Mai Khao, part of the Sirinat National Park; as well as Surin and Kamala. Southern beaches include Karon, Kata, Nai Han and Laem Ka.
The lower area of the Andaman Sea, which includes Phuket, offers some of the most diverse and dense marine eco systems in the world and the best scuba diving and snorkeling anywhere. Sites such as Richelieu Rock, Koh Phi Phi, the Rachai Islands as well as The Similans are familiar names among divers. Diving is well supported with many dive centres along the south west and south east coasts that cater to novices through more experienced divers.
Phuket is the center for sailing and yachting in Thailand and home to a number of international regattas and races. The sheltered east coast of the islands has four marinas and two yacht clubs; including the Boat Lagoon Phuket and the Royal Phuket Marina in Koh Kaew and Yacht Haven Marina near the airport. All have excellent facilities to provide the necessities and comforts for most sailors. Day-trip as well as longer term charters of every size of yacht are available and smaller sailboats like Hobie Cats and Lasers can be found at most of the tourist resorts on the island’s west side.
Golfers will enjoy Phuket’s dozens of courses that offer challenges of varying degrees for beginners and seasoned golfers alike. Banyan Tree Club & Laguna on Bang Tao Bay is notable as is the Blue Canyon Country Club near the airport — a favorite of Tiger Woods.
Some of the other must-not-miss sights and activities include: the Big Buddha at the summit of the Nakkerd Hills, Old Phuket Town, Wat Chalong the most important Buddhist temple on Phuket as well as Khao Phing Kan or James Bond Island, the limestone cliffs and the caves at Phang Nga Bay. That said, there is such a diversity of culture and natural landscapes on Phuket there are too many places to see and explore in a lifetime of visits.
A word about the climate… it’s what you’d expect in a South Asian tropical destination. Year-round average daytime temperatures hover between 29 to 33 degrees Celsius. The dry season lasts from November to April and a rainy season from May to October.
It also bears mentioning that any trace of the effects of the devastating tsunami that engulfed the west coast of Phuket in 2004 have virtually disappeared.
As for shopping, Phuket is full of opportunities from open-air village food markets and raucous night markets to high-end clothing and jewellery boutiques. Traditional handicrafts and antiques are much sought after and are plentiful.
LaCure villas on Phuket are located on the most beautiful beaches on the island with some of the best and most stunning vistas imaginable (including Bant Tao, Kata Beach, Kamala Bay, Surin, Rawai Islands, Natia Beach and Layan Beach) and offer a level of luxury you would expect from your own private villa.
Visitors to Phuket come for a lot of reasons: the beaches, the water, the shopping, the food, the world-class diving or just to get away from it all. No one goes home disappointed.