Thailand's largest and a province in its own right, Phuket (pronounced “Poo-ket”) has been a well-off region since the nineteenth century, when Chinese merchants got in on its tin-mining and sea-borne trade, before turning to the rubber industry. Phuket remains the wealthiest province in Thailand, with the highest per-capita income, but what mints the money nowadays is tourism: with an annual influx of foreign visitors that tops one million, Phuket ranks second in popularity only to Pattaya, and the package-tour traffic has wrought its usual transformations. Thoughtless tourist developments have scarred much of the island, particularly along the west coast, whose series of long sandy beaches is punctuated by sheer rocky headlands, and the trend on all the beaches is upmarket, with very few budget possibilities.
As mainstream resorts go, however, those on Phuket are just about the best in Thailand, offering a huge range of water-sports and magnificent diving facilities to make the most of the clear and sparkling sea. As with the rest of the Andaman coast, the sea is at its least inviting during the monsoon, from June to October, when Phuket's west-coast beaches in particular become quite rough and windswept. Remoter parts of the island are still attractive, however, particularly the interior: a fertile, hilly expanse dominated by rubber and pineapple plantations and interspersed with wild tropical vegetation. Many inland neighborhoods are clustered round the local mosque-35% of Phuketians are Muslim, and there are said to be more mosques on the island then Buddhist temples and though the atmosphere is generally as easy-going as elsewhere in Thailand, it's especially important to dress with some modesty when not in the main resorts and to not sunbathe topless on any of the beaches.
Phuket's capital, Muang Phuket or Phuket town, is on the southeast coast, 42km south of the Sarasin Bridge linking the island to the mainland. Most people pass straight through the town on their way to the beaches on the west coast, where three big resorts corner the bulk of the trade: high-rise Ao Patong, the most developed and expensive, with an increasing seedy nightlife; the nicer, if unexceptional, Ao Karon and adjacent Ao Kata, the smallest and least spoilt of the trio. If you 're really looking for peace and quiet you should turn instead to some of the beaches on the far northwest coast, such as the seventeen-kilometer-long national park beach of Hat Mai Khao, its more developed neighbor Hat Nai yang or the delightful little bays of Hat Nai Thon and Hat Kamala. Most of the other west-coast beaches have been taken over by upmarket hotels, specifically Hat Nai Harn, Ao Pensea and Ao Bang Tao. In complete contrast, the south and east coast hold one of Thailand's largest seafaring chao lay communities but the beaches along these shores have nothing to offer tourists, having been polluted and generally disfigured by the island's tin-mining industry.
Getting Around Phuket City
Getting around Phuket is easy enough. There are plenty of transport options but Phuket does have a reputation in Thailand for having the most expensive transport system in the country. However, for visitors from the west the transport costs will still seem reasonable. For many people, the trip from the airport is their first experience of transport in Phuket. Unfortunately it is often a bad experience. There are two companies that pay for the concession to run the taxi service from the airport. And of course that means they charge extra to their passengers. Their cheapest option is a shared minibus which will cost 100-200 baht. This will take longer than a taxi as they wait until they have sold all the seats before they leave and it will then go around the hotels of every passenger. An air-con taxi (they call a limousine) to Patong will cost around 550 baht.
Did you know about Phuket City!
Phuket (Thai: ภูเก็ต; formerly known as Tha-Laang or Talang, or Junk Ceylon in Western sources, a distortion of the Malay Tanjung Salang, "Cape Salang") is one of the southern provinces (changwat) of Thailand. Neighbouring provinces are (from north clockwise) Phang Nga and Krabi, but as Phuket is an island there are no land boundaries.
Getting to Phuket island
Quiet a few airlines operate direct international flights to Phuket, so if you're starting your Thailand trip in the south, it may be worth flying straight here or via another Asian city rather than having to make connections via Bangkok. Given that bus journeys from Bangkok are so long and tedious, you might want to consider taking a domestic flight from the capital or elsewhere to Phuket. Thai Airways runs sixteen flights a day between Phuket and Bangkok (1hr 25min) and also links the island with Hat Yai; Bangkok Airways also runs a few Phuket-Bangkok shuttles and has flights to Pattaya and Ko Samui, and there is a daily seaplane service from Phuket Airport to Ko Phi Phi run by Blue Water Air.