Made up of 33 islands, Phuket covers an area of 570 square kilometers (354 square miles) and has a population of about 322,000 residents. Phuket Island, the largest, is linked to the mainland by a bridge. The country's main source of income is tourism, though agriculture also plays a key role. The island is divided into three districts: Talang in the north, Kathu in the west, and Muang in the south.
This area provides a less expensive alternative to the west coast beach resorts. Phuket Town is the administrative center of the island and offers a multitude of affordable accommodation, shopping, and eating. The older quarters of town are dotted with 19th century buildings that are distinguished by their distinctive Sino-Portuguese architectural style. From the summit of Rang Hill (Khao Rang) in the northwest, there are views of Makham Bay, the offshore islands, and a bird's eye view of the town. Within this district there are also tons of things to see, including Phuket Aquarium , the Phuket Butterfly Garden and Aquarium and the Phuket Orchid Garden and Thai Village .
To the east lies Siray Island , home to Phuket's largest settlement of Sea Gypsies. About eight kilometers (five miles) south is Chalong Bay , Phuket's principal boat anchorage and the island's largest bay, which has a number of renowned seafood restaurants. At the northern end is Phuket Zoo and nearby Rawai Beach . To the southwest is the Phuket Sea Shell Museum , Laem Ka Beach, a Sea Gypsy village, restaurants, shops, hotels, fishing, and charter boats.
The prominent southern extremity of the island, Prom Thep Cape , is a great place to enjoy a stunning sunset. Just to the north is Nai Harn Beach , popular for swimming and as a yacht anchorage i n the dry season. The wide, curving Kata Beach also has ideal waters for swimming and snorkeling among the coral reefs. There are numerous accommodation options, restaurants, bars, and clubs, and a regular daylight bus service runs to Phuket Town and the other beach resorts. Karon Beach is the second largest of Phuket's principal tourist beaches and is a popular destination for tourists. Between Kata and Karon there is the crowd-pleasing Dino Park Mini Golf .
Within the Muang District a number of islands can be found, including Mai Ton Island, with its natural environment, white beaches, and clear waters. Kaew Island is small, but has a fine beach and incredible coral in the surrounding water. One of the main attractions on the island is the giant Buddha statue at Wat Phra Kaew. Lohn Island is large and mountainous, while Coral Island , is part of a marine reserve that draws travelers with its many hotels, restaurants and a variety of water sports. Raya Island is actually two islands that have crystal clear waters and excellent diving and fishing.
Renowned in this district is Patong Beach , the lively shopping and evening entertainment district that transformed a quiet fishing village into a bustling town in a short period of time. From bars to live music to discos, plus cuisine from all over the world available in its restaurants, every possible pass time imaginable can be found here. Not to be overlooked is the fine bay and four kilometer (2.5 mile) stretch of beach that promises excellent swimming, snorkeling and more.
Among the major attractions in the vicinity are Phuket Water-Ski Cableways , Kathu Waterfall, Loch Palm Golf Club and Tarzan Jungle Bungee Jump . In Patong, the famous Phuket Simon's Group's Cabaret Transvestite Show is a worthwhile after-dinner stop. Nearby is the Patong Go-Kart Speedway and to the south is the Phuket Country Club Golf Course .
At the northern end of Patong Beach is the wilder, undeveloped Kalim Beach , an adventurous stop for travelers looking to get away from the crowds. Further north lies Kamala Beach , a Muslim fishing village, with a beautiful two kilometer (1.25 mile) stretch of beach where buffalo herds often cool off in the afternoons by the sea. There are plenty of hotel options here and numerous traditional seafood restaurants. Nearby is Phuket FantaSea , Thailand's most popular water sports center.
Covering the northern half of the island, this district has a number of attractions, including Thalang National Museum , which has a display of ancient artifacts and exhibits relating to the famous 1785 Battle of Thalang. Nearby is the imposing Two Heroines Monument , erected in commemoration of the sisters who lead the people into battle during an invasion from Burma long ago. Also in the area is Wat Phra Tong , home of the golden statue of Buddha that emerged from the earth many years ago.
Some of the most picturesque scenery in this area can be observed at the Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Sanctuary , which covers 22 square kilometers of virgin rain forest and waterfalls that serves as one of Phuket's major fresh water sources. The Ton Sai and Bang Pae sites of the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project are also nearby.
Beaches on the west coast include Surin Beach and another fabulous sunset location, Laem Sing Beach , which is small but picturesque, with outcrops of huge granite boulders. Bang Tao Beach is mostly occupied by the massive resort development of Laguna Phuket. It is also home to the Banyan Tree Golf Club and Banyan Tree Spa . Nearby is the Phuket Laguna Riding Club and the Canal Village Shopping Center , which houses over 50 shops and restaurants.
North of Bang Tao, near the airport is Sirinat National Park , which stretches to the island's northern-most tip and includes the 13 kilometer (8 mile) Nai Yang Beach. Often referred to as 'Airport Beach', this is where giant sea turtles can be seen and the National Park offices are located.
Wherever you are in Phuket, there are limitless opportunities to immerse yourself in local culture and tradition. There is more than enough opportunity to relax and enjoy the beautiful beaches and unique environment.
Apart from being one of the world's leading rice growers, Thailand is blessed with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables; rarely does one see either canned or frozen ingredients being used in Thai cuisine. Phuket is famous for the crabs, oysters, prawns, lobster, squid and variety of fish that are caught daily from the surrounding waters of the Andaman Sea.
Part of the fun of traveling is to experience the local delicacies and methods of preparation. In Phuket, a typical breakfast dish is Khanom Chin —Thai rice noodles with a curry soup made from minced fish or shrimp. Fried noodles such as Mi Hokkien with fresh shrimp, pork, shellfish and green cabbage are very traditional, as are Mi Sapam with seafood and gravy or and Kaeng Luang —sour curry with fish.
Some of the best dining locations to be found on the island are in Phuket Town , Chalong Bay and Patong Beach .
Fortuna Pavilion , at the Metropole Hotel , offers a delicious dim sum selection for lunch and one of the best Chinese a la carte selections. Their Metropole Cafe also provides a hugely popular lunch buffet comprising a vast array of Thai dishes prepared in the manner of the many regions of Thailand. In the evening, you will not be disappointed with the delicious offerings at the atmospheric and popular Ka Jok See . Or, try Shintaro , which is, in all probability, the area's least expensive Japanese restaurant and offers alfresco dining. If you are after something more European, La Gaetana offers tasty Italian fare.
Chalong Bay, Rawai Beach & Nai Harn
Some of the island's best seafood is to be found in this area and many people head for Kan Eang's , which is known for outstanding fish dishes. Klaus and Mouse has a large following of German patrons and the Regatta Restaurant at The Royal Meridien Yacht Club on Nai Harn Beach is a must for celebrations and special occasions. The informal Don's Cafe at Rawai Beach is said to serve the island's best spareribs, their unique flavor coming from the mesquite wood burnt amongst the charcoals on the barbecue. Also at Rawai Beach, a number of eateries offer seating on mats at the water's edge and serve such simple dishes as grilled chicken or the catch of the day.
Kata offers a number of eating opportunities, including the upmarket Mom Tri's Boathouse Wine and Grill and the less formal Gung Cafe .
Along the beach strip from Kata, there are some excellent restaurants and lively open-air bars, including Sala Thai, On the Rock, and Long Beach Terrace , where you can sit and enjoy a stunning sunset over the water, and Old Siam , which features classical dance on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Where you choose to dine here is really a question of what type of cuisine or ambience you prefer on any particular night. Among the mass of restaurants are Sam's , said by many to be the island's best steak house, Otowa and Rengaya, two excellent Japanese outlets, and Da Maurizio , a great Italian restaurant. A new kid on the block is It's Alive! with an innovative seafood menu. For a fusion of East meets West, there is Sala Bua , which also boasts a romantic ocean-side setting. Baan Rim Pa offers traditional Thai cuisine while the Royal Kitchen serves Cantonese food. The Viking Grill Garden offers a Scandinavian family buffet and Le Galion is a creperie with an interior that many say is the most interesting on the island.
Interesting pubs in the area include the Safari Club & Disco , Molly Malone's Irish Pub and the Irish Bar .
Kamala & Surin Beaches
For a memorable dining experience, a visit to FantaSea , the ultimate cultural theme park, includes the hugely popular Golden Kinnaree buffet that seats up to 4000 people. Other popular establishments include the Toto Restaurant and Old Siam Nakalay, which serves traditional Thai cuisine in an authentic, tropical garden setting.
Whichever restaurant you choose to eat in or watering hole to drink in, mealtime in Phuket is an unforgettable experience. Balmy sea breezes are conducive to outdoor dining, and there is nothing more pleasant than savoring a delicious meal, complemented by a good wine, augmented by pacific sea views or lush tropical gardens.