5 Reasons to Love Phuket
Published 30 March 2016
The Thai island of Phuket has developed something of a notorious reputation over the years, largely due to its hectic nightlife scene. It’s often seen as a haven for hedonism, and a place that parties hard. But this is an unfair and unrepresentative view; there is so much more to love about the island beyond the night clubs, as Frankie Thompson argues in this post.
There are some places that carry with them the burden of reputation. Be it good or bad, justly so or unfairly attached, some places cannot shrug off what they are believed to be. Of course, some places are as bad as you hear (and some are even worse), but for various reasons – not least because I’ve spent over three months living there during my travels – I now know Phuket is not one of them, and these are my five reasons why Phuket is well worth visiting as part of a round the world trip.
More than just beaches
Connected to the mainland by bridge, Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and yet still manages to keep an island feel. This is largely to do with tourism being its main source of income and so a holiday island atmosphere is a must. That doesn’t mean the island is sleepy; it’s not. From wake boarding to go-karting, scuba-diving to jungle-trekking, playing golf to learning how to cook Thai food, you’ll struggle to get bored in Phuket.
Phuket is also home to a number of festivals throughout the year. Indulge in delicious vegetarian food for the 9-day vegetarian restaurant in autumn or learn about the history and culture of Phuket’s sea gypsy community during their Chao Le boat floating festival, celebrated most notably in the south. Arguably the most important day on Phuket is the 13th March, which celebrates the two sisters who led local people against the invading Burmese in the late 1700s.
Rarely does anyone associate Phuket with natural beauty and lush landscapes, yet that is exactly what most of the island is made up of. If stunning sunsets on golden sand beaches aren’t impressive enough for you then head inland to find one of the many trekking routes that take in the waterfalls and natural beauty of Phuket’s National Parks. From the impressive Tom Sai waterfalls to the wildlife of Khao Phra Thaeo’s virgin rainforest, you can easily fill weeks of time on Phuket by getting lost (hopefully not literally!) in nature.
Even if you don’t fall in love with Phuket, it’s hard not to fall in love with at least one of the islands that surround it. While the likes of Koh Phi Phi and “James Bond Island” run a similar risk of being tourist traps, the sleepy Koh Yao islands offer a real insight into what traditional southern Thailand looks like with families still living off the rubber plantations and fishing industry that once sustained the whole province. An hour south of Phuket is Koh Racha an idyllic island with bright white sand beaches and the clearest water I’ve ever swum in; don’t forget your snorkel!
Fascinating history and culture
Southern Thailand is home to the majority of Thailand’s Muslim and Sea Gypsy populations and Phuket is one of the best places where you can see these communities interact together, influencing local food and customs (head to Bang Tao street markets for some delicious examples of this).
Phuket Old Town is home to some of the best examples of colonial housing in Thailand, which serves as an insightful reminder of the island’s rich history as an export/import hub for tin and spice merchants. However, one of Phuket’s most poignant periods of history is its recovery from the 2004 tsunami; almost every family from coastal villages on the west lost somebody they loved and many had to rebuild businesses from scratch. It’s testament to Phuket’s tenacity and strength of character that they did this with considerable grace and success.
Well connected to South East Asia
To some “getting off the beaten track” is the aim of the game when it comes to travel in Southeast Asia. However, others don’t mind being connected to the Internet, shops and an international airport every now and again. Phuket is one of these places where you can have all of these things and still have the option to spend most of your day lying on a beach planning where to go next as the airport provides connections to Thailand, Malaysia and beyond.
Expert tip: Head to the north west of the island to discover the quietest and most authentic beaches. Nai Yang, Nai Thon and the northern tip of Layan Beach are my favourites.