Phuket – a dream destination
Posted by• November 29, 2011
Thailand is a fascinating and exotic country to explore. Thailand is a destination with over 14 million visitors per year sampling its irresistible combination of breathtaking natural beauty, inspiring temples, outstanding hospitality and superb cuisine. One of the premier tourist destinations in Thailand is Phuket.
What comes into the mind of travellers when we talk about sea, sun and sand? Phuket must definitely be one of the answers. Especially when we think about the island in which there is plenty of accommodation and all kinds of facilities. In addition, a number of various activities can also be found in this island. Phuket is located approximately 862 kilometres south of Bangkok. There are only two seasons in a year the green season ( May to October) and the hot season (November to April). Phuket is divided into 3 adminstrative districts: namely, amphoe Mueng, Amphoe Thaland and Amphoe Kathu.
Phuket features a dizzying array of accommodation options ranging from luxury hotels to family friendly beach resorts, secluded island villas to budget hotels. With so many types of accommodation available in Phuket, you may actually have a challenging time trying to decide which is the best to suit your needs; it may be helpful to learn about the attractions near each of the beaches in Phuket and then narrow your search once you have a couple different beaches in mind.
As the most popular island destination in Thailand, Phuket has numerous options for traveling to the island and getting around once you arrive. Both domestic and international airlines service Phuket Airport with direct flights from numerous destinations in Thailand and around Asia. Once on the island, the size of Phuket makes a rental car arguably the best option, though there are various modes of transportation if you do not wish to drive.
As one of the premier tourist destinations in Thailand, Phuket has innumerable activities to participate in, ensuring that visitors with any interest will find something to keep them entertained on their Phuket holiday. The most popular activities on Phuket are: Cruising and Sailing, Cultural Exploration, Ecotourism, Golf, Medical Tourism, Meditation, Air Activities, Land Activities, Water Activities, Spa and Wellness.
If you’re looking for the stereotypical palm-lined white-sand beaches featured in those doorstop holiday brochures then Phuket is for you. The West Coast is generally where to find the best beaches whereas the eastern side of Phuket features mud flats at low tide.
The troika of Patong, Karon and Kata beaches is where the majority of holidaymakers stay and play but there are many more coastal gems to enjoy. From the open spaces of Mai Khao Beach to the fun-filled, restaurant-lined Laem Singh there is something for everyone here, especially if you have your own transportation with which to explore the island.
Patong Beach – Patong is crazy, full on, eclectic, brash and, according to your personal tastes, either heaven or hell. By day, the beach is a mish-mash of hawkers, sun beds, jet-skis, paragliders, water toys and tanning bodies. By night the streets are alive with shoppers and fun seekers and the bars noisy and riotous.
Karon Beach – Karon is a long, banana-shaped beach with squeaky white sand, little shade and a lot of space in which to spread yourself out in. The area is much more spacious than sometimes overcrowded Patong which lies some three kilometres away over Karon Hill and the general atmosphere a lot less frantic. Nightlife, too, is like a more gentile version of Patong’s with a main street and side ‘sois’ lined with restaurants, bars and guesthouses. There is a shopping bazaar along the beach road and lots of shopping opportunities in Karon centre. Karon is a good, centrally located beach to stay.
Kata Beach – Kata Beach could win a beauty contest. Palm lined with a small island offshore, it is ideal for watersports – especially surfing from May to October. There are numerous shopping alleys and the main street is lined with outlets selling just about everything from Thai textiles to snorkels. As regards nightlife; Kata features an ‘entertainment plaza’ with a veritable maze of bars, some girlie some not.
Bang Tao Beach – Bang Tao is a long (six kilometre) beach and is home to the large Laguna Complex. Deserted and spacious in its northern part, this is where to go if you seek seaside solitude. Further south, the beach’s hotels tend to stamp their mark on it, in that their sun loungers are for the exclusive use of hotel guests but on the other hand hotel satellite businesses such as masseuses and restaurants are there for all.
Kamala Beach – Kamala Beach lies north of Patong over a spectacular hill and life there is much mellower than in Party Town. Restaurants and shops line the atmospheric village’s beachside roads, and the main north-south thoroughfare also features bars. Like many West Coast beaches, swimming can be dangerous at times from May to November at Kamala so care should be taken, although surfing is good at the northern end of the beach.
Attractions in Phuket
For many, the first glimpse of Thailand through the taxi’s windows on the ride from the airport to their accommodation is a cultural eye-opener. First-time visitors are fascinated by the sights, sounds and exotic smells of Phuket and can’t get enough. Yet there is more to see as the island has beautiful Buddhist temples, stunning cabaret shows and magnificent sunsets as well as that most welcoming of sights – the Thai smile. If there is one accessory that is essential when visiting Phuket it is a camera in order to capture as many images a possible of this fascinating and rewarding place.
Phuket Big Buddha – is one of the island’s most important and revered landmarks. The huge image sits on top of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata and at 45 metres high it is easily seen from far away. The lofty site offers the best 360-degree views of the island. Easily reachable via a six-kilometre road leading from Phuket’s main artery, it’s a must-visit island destination.
Phuket Buddhist Temples (Wats) – Most of Phuket’s population is Thai-Buddhist and there are close to 40 Buddhist Temples (or ‘wat’ in Thai) located all over the island. Some wats are quite new but some have a long history going back more than 100 years or even longer. Such places include Wat Pra-nang Sang and Wat Srisoonthorn in Thalang, Wat Karon and the most famous wat in Phuket, Wat Chalong. Besides admiring their beautiful architectural features, visitors will also learn from just a short visit about the strong connection between wats and the island’s everyday life; an experience not to be missed.
- Wat Prathong – Wat Prathong (Wat Pra Phud) is famous for a half-buried golden Buddha statue called Luang Poh Prathong (Golden Buddha) in its grounds. The temple’s other moniker, Wat Pra Phud, means ‘Temple of the protruding Buddha’. Not a very big temple, but agreable to visit with its several buildings and colorful features. The main attraction at Wat Prathong is the half-buried golden Buddha image which is said to be ‘untouchable’ in that every person who has tried to dig it out is reported to have been cursed. There is also a reclining gilded Buddha that is listed as one of the attractions in the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s ‘Unseen Thailand’ programs. Opening Hours: 08:00 – 17:30 Daily.
- Wat Suwan Khiri Khet – Wat Suwan Khiri Khet (Wat Karon), the only temple in Karon Beach, was founded in 1895 and has been recently renovated. Small but attractive, it is easily accessible from Karon by walk and worth a visit, and a photo. The main building is ‘guarded by two large, emerald green nagas (serpents) and the interior of the building’s walls, doors and window panels depict the life of Buddha, including his ‘Ten Lives’ and him struggling with evil prior to his enlightenment. The smaller building houses two Ramayana images ‘guarding’ a beautiful black sapphire Buddha image. Opening Hours: The temple is open for public daily by request, but park is always open.
Wat Chalong – Chalong temple is the pride of Phuket. A long legendary history is still told to hundred thousands of visitors invited to the temple all year-round along with the Phuket locals’ courage in the war of Phuket Angyee (Chinese Secret Society) delivered among generations of the locals. Wat Chalong has been extending a warm welcome to visitors for over a century. Locals come to pray and Westerners come to learn something about Buddhism. The temple is open from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon.
- Poh Than Jao Wat is one of the more important Buddhist statues in Wat Chalong. It is located in the westerly old hall of the temple, with two statues of an elderly gentleman called Ta Khee-lek (grandpa Khee-lek), a famous local who won many lotteries after consulting the Poh Than Jao Wat statue. Another statue in this hall is called Nonsi.
- The Grand Pagoda dominating the temple contains a splinter of Lord Buddha’s bone. The pagoda is decorated with wall paintings depicting the Buddha’s life story and also features various Buddha images. Take your time in the pagoda; it is a breezy, cool location and one which is very popular with visitors to the temple.
- Loudly Showing Gratitude – When you visit Wat Chalong, you may be startled by the sound of firecrackers. You will see people hanging strings of Chinese firecrackers in beehive-shaped “ovens” near the wat’s sermon hall, then igniting them. Although this is unusual in other wats around Thailand, it is a common occurrence in Wat Chalong.
- Do’s and Don’ts – Wats in general are sacred places for local people, so it is wise for the visitor to watch and emulate the way Thais behave inside temples. For example, you will see that people are careful not to stand over, or otherwise position themselves higher than any Buddha images except when pasting gold leaf to them – which in any case happens only in some wats, not in most. Even through Thailand can sometimes be very warm, it is inappropriate to go into a wat – a place of worship – wearing clothes that reveal one’s shoulders, chest, belly or legs.
Chinese Shrines in Phuket – huket has a large percentage of Chinese residents descended from those who emigrated from southern China a few centuries ago to work in the tin mine business as coolies. These people brought with them their rich culture and traditions and these influences are evident in the number of Chinese temples and shrines around the island. Red and yellow are the main colours used and animals such as dragons, lions and monkeys are also important symbols, seen around Chinese temples and shrines.
- Bang Neow Shrine – known also as Tao Buang Keng and Thep Rasi Foundation Shrine, is another beautiful place of worship in Phuket Town. The shrine has an elegant interior design with many lovely colour printings on the walls recounting stories from Chinese literature. The dragon, an important Chinese legendary creature, is represented well here as you will see them everywhere not only in the paintings but beautifully carved and lifelike on the shrine’s supporting columns. Opening Hours: Daily from 08:30 – 22:00.
- Kathu Shrine - Kathu Shrine has shared a long history with Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival and is known as the original home of the festival. Rumor has it that a Chinese opera from mainland China came to town and without any particular reasons, members of this group started to fall ill. After a while they realised that they had forgotten to carry on with their important traditional vegetarian diet. Finally, they held a vegetarian diet ceremony at their temporary opera house at Kathu and within no time all the sickness and problems amazingly disappeared. Guests are welcome to visit the shrine as long as they don’t disturb a private hall, home of a deity that is named as the ‘chairman’ of the festival. It’s a small chamber that has beautiful decorative yellow curtains drawn at all times and with a big sign (in Chinese) above its entrance. You’ll know when you see it. Not even the Kathu villagers know what it looks like inside as only a few chosen people are allowed to enter, so don’t feel bad about it! Opening Hours: Daily.
- Kiew Tien Keng Shrine – This stunning shrine located in a superb location at Saphanhin Park, Kiew Tien Keng must be one of the most beautiful places of worship in Phuket. There are artistic images of various deities on the altars and quite a few life-size statues here and there. Among them is a silver statue of Ji Gong who probably is the most non-traditional monk in all Chinese folklore. Not only did he eat meat and drank, his image was also projected as a smiling monk who wore nothing but beggar-like clothes and always holding a torn bamboo hand fan as well as carrying funny stuff with him (the one presented here has a chicken on one knee, you can’t miss it.) Legend has it that he was a talented medicine man with a big heart therefore he was a hero for the poor. Opening Hours: Daily.
- Samkong Shrine – Nobody knows exactly when this shrine was built. All that is known is that a well-to-do family donated a plot of land together with images of some Taoist deities to start it off. Since then the shrine has been a major part of Samkong villagers’ lives especially when someone fell ill or needed some advice to improve their health. Nowadays, many people still come here to pray for good health. Some of them bring along traditional medicine from local shops and pray for the deity to bless it before using. Visiting the shrine is free; however donations supporting shrine renovations and charities are appreciated. Opening Hours: Daily.
- Tha Rua Shrine – If you go in or out of town using Thepkrasattri Road (Phuket’s main artery) you will notice an elegant Taoist Shrine located near the Heroines’ Monument. This is Tha Rua Shrine, the fourth-oldest on the island. Once a tiny shrine it has now relocated to a much bigger plot of land right near the original site and features many striking carved dragons, traditional Chinese paintings plus an outstanding red-gold-and-green colour theme. The Tha Rua Shrine is no doubt the largest and probably the best-looking shrine in Phuket. Opening Hours: Daily 06:00 – 18:00. Opening hours are extended on special days including during the popular Vegetarian Festival when the shrine opens its gates 24 hours a day.
Shopping in Phuket
Street markets, designer shops, huge malls and mom & pop stores – they’re all here selling everything from antiques just a few weeks old to genuine gems to fake designer clothes to the real thing. It can get confusing at times but ultimately the quality inspector is you. One of the prerequisites of coming to Thailand is to arrive with empty suitcases, or even buy your suitcases here. Expect to bargain, always keep a calm attitude and a smile on your face and you will come out a winner. Buying several items at the same time is another good way to lower the price.
- What to Buy - Phuket is a shopaholic’s paradise! The island has a great variety of shopping, from bustling open-air village food markets, noisy night markets, street stalls and local shops to western style department stores and upmarket specialist shops. Generally speaking, there are two main favourite catagories on shoppers’ lists: designer clothes/accessories and pirated movies, CD’s and computer games. For the average mortal these are about as easy to come across in Phuket as a hamburger in MacDonald’s. However, if you are looking for good quality watches prices are lower than in the west. Fake ‘antiques’ are plentiful but just don’t go paying real antique prices for them. To sum up: the sky is the limit when shopping in Phuket.
- Where to Shop – There are four main shopping malls in Phuket: Jungceylon in Patong and over the hill, Big C, Tesco Lotus and Central Festival just outside Phuket Town. Of these, Jungceylon and Central Festival have the widest choices. Patong has a bazaar-like feel to it with its many street stalls. Many visitors find it overbearing but the tougher, more experienced shopper/haggler can find some worthwhile items at reasonable prices along Patong’s streets. Even beachgoers in their sun loungers cannot escape the ambulant sarong, batik and bedcover-sellers so take some cash along with you if you are on the lookout for a beach bargain.
It’s not all naughty in Phuket and there’s a lot more to do than getting down and dirty along Patong’s Bangla Road, however much fun it can be as a one-off. Nights under tropical starry skies tend to take on a magical quality and dining out al fresco enjoying balmy sea breezes is a definitely holiday enhancer. Phuket’s two Las Vegas-style shows, FantaSea and Simon Cabaret, are both a barrel of laughs for very different reasons while ‘Hong by Starlight’ sea cave exploration trips are simply unforgettable.
Phuket – a dream destination
Hotels in Phuket