The dream of an idyllic escape into a tropical island world becomes a reality on Phuket, Thailand's southern paradise isle. Shaped like an irregular pearl and measuring about 21 kilometres wide by 48 kilometres long, Phuket is Thailand's largest island, a province in its own right. Sparsely populated outside Phuket town, the landscape is one of lush green hills, coconut groves, rubber plantations and a coastline dotted with a dozen spectacular beaches. Unspoilt stretches of fine white sand are found along the entire west coast of the island. Each sun-drenched beach has a character and charm of its own, and is separated from its neighbors by picturesque headlands and backdrops of wooded hills. Lapping the shore are the sparkling warm blue waters of the Andaman Sea.
Located off the southwest coast, just an hour's flight from Bangkok, Phuket is linked to the mainland by a causeway and is thus accessible by road as well as by air. Thai International operates many daily flights from Bangkok, while Phuket has also an international airport and has direct air links with Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Europe. Alternatively there are overnight bus services from Bangkok
The bounty of nature has distinguished Phuket by man's contribution in the form of fine accommodation in all categories. From Thailand's most exclusive and luxurious hotels to bungalows offering simple facilities, there is the style of resort to suit you.
Not only do you have choice in the style of resort, you can also select the location to your liking. With its size and number of beaches, Phuket provides a variety of focal points, each with its own identity.
SIGHTS, SCENES & SPORTS
Whatever their location, virtually all resorts offer a full range of water sports, including, yachting, deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, windsurfing, water-skiing and more. At the more developed beaches there are also dive shops and scuba enthusiasts will find ideal conditions in the clear waters around Phuket which are rich in coral and marine life.
Besides sun, sea and sand, Phuket is a multifaceted destination and offers ample scope for exploring what is a fascinating island. Phuket town is interesting for its surviving examples of old Sino-Portuguese architecture - reminders of the island's long and interesting history - and for its shopping and entertainment possibilities.
Natural scenery includes the splendid forested hill of Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, an area where you can glimpse the last of Phuket's virgin jungle. In addition there are numerous beauty spots, notable among them being Laem Phrom Thep, the island's southernmost point and a favorite place for watching Phuket's famed sunsets.
Among other varied attractions are an aquarium, pearl farms, butterfly garden, and a "Thai Village" where twice daily cultural shows give a splendid insight into the South's traditions. A choice of superb golf courses provide classic sport amid extremely picturesque surroundings.
In Phuket's festive calendar, highlight of the year is the Vegetarian Festival held in October. It is a colorful and thrilling affair lasting nine days and featuring an exciting parade during which devotees perform amazing feats of self- mortification.
Noted for their spell binding natural beauty are the twin Phi Phi Islands, located in Krabi province some 20 kilometres southeast of Phuket and accessible by daily ferry boats. Here are not only splendid beaches, blue sea and a backdrop of lush topical vegetation, but also sheer cliffs rising dramatically hundreds of feet above the water. This is where the birds nests used to make the soup so highly prized by Chinese gourmets are gathered.
Another not-to-be-missed destination is Phang Nga Bay, again included on day tours from Phuket. Here the seascape is made truly fantastic by hundreds of limestone outcrops. Some rise sheer from the water, others are humped or jagged, and all are strange and hauntingly beautiful. A fishing village built entirely on stilts over the sea and a mangrove-shrouded river estuary add to Phang Nga's stunning vistas.
Further away are the Similan islands which lie to the north of Phuket and are especially popular with scuba divers. Other more isolated islands can be visited on yacht charters which are readily available in Phuket.
On the mainland, Krabi province offers further scope for beach exploration.The area is noted for its splendid beaches and superb natural beauty. At present Krabi is less developed than Phuket, although ample accommodation is available.
Further south is Tarutao National Park, comprised of 51 mountainous islands, while north of Phuket lies Ranong, a hot springs health spa.
Resort hotels generally offer shuttle bus services into Phuket town, and also have taxi and car hire facilities. Jeeps and motorbikes can be hired from various shops in Phuket and at the main beaches. Mini taxis are plentiful in town. Boats to Phi Phi and other offshore islands depart from various points (mostly Makham Pier, Chalong Bay and Rawai Beach) and arrangements are easily made through your hotel travel counter, where you can also book tour excursions to Phang Nga and elsewhere.
DINING & ENTERTAINMENT
Most of the resort hotels have excellent seafood restaurants, while outside there is ample choice at any number of good and inexpensive places.
For entertainment, most resort hotels have their own nightclubs, usually with live music, while Patong Beach and Phuket town offer restaurant, bars and nightclubs. Among Phuket's best shopping buys are beachwear, cotton clothing and batik. Night life and shopping there are, though Phuket's greatest pleasure lies in the joy of a beautiful island world.