Phuket is the largest island in Thailand, located some 860 kilometres south of Bangkok in the tropical Andaman Sea on the western coast of southern Thailand. The island is sizeable at around 570 square kilometres, which does not include the 39 surrounding islands in the province. From top to bottom it’s around 48 kilometres in length, and 21 kilometres wide, but it’s easily explored by road and still manages to feel like an island despite its size. Most of the island, around 70 percent, comprises small mountains and hills while the rest is mainly plains and flatlands. There are some moderately sized peaks around the island which contribute to its varied landscape, and allow activities such as jungle treks and hiking trails. Surprisingly, there are no real rivers but there are numerous brooks, creeks and small streams.
Dozens of small and beautiful islands surround Phuket, which can easily be visited independently by boat or with an organised tour. Prime examples are Koh Pu on the southwest side, Koh Bon and Koh Lon in the south, and Maphrao and Rang Yai islands on the east coast. Further afield are the Similan Islands to the northwest which are renowned as a diver’s paradise with world class dive sites, and the ever-popular Koh Phi Phi to the southeast. Besides the splendid islands nearby, there is a protected area called the Sirinath National Park which covers the northwestern coast and some impressive and idyllic beaches such as Mai Khao and Nai Yang, where sea turtles are occasionally known to lay their eggs. On the mainland just north of Phuket is the province of Phang Nga, and to the east is Krabi.
Tropical Monsoon Climate
Due to its geographical location, Phuket has a tropical climate which is consistently hot all year round with temperature highs that rarely dip below 30 degrees Celsius. Visitors might not always appreciate such hot weather but there are some cooler periods especially when the rains fall, which leads to less humid and more bearable conditions. There are essentially two monsoon periods but the dry season is typically between November and April, and the rainy season lasts from May to October. The maximum rainfall occurs in May, September and October, with September usually being the wettest month. Floods seem to occur every year in Phuket, with local roads blocked and businesses suffering the inconvenience of soaked premises. However, it’s usually quite a temporary situation and things get back to normal rather quickly.
Administration and Population
Phuket is the wealthiest province in Thailand and the income from tourism is huge and growing. There are also substantial revenues generated from rubber and palm oil plantations. Phuket is split into three administrative districts or “amphoe”, namely Phuket, Kathu and Thalang. Phuket Town is the region’s capital and enjoys city status, and is where much of the non-tourist trade and commerce takes place. It’s a slight shame that many visitors never visit Phuket Town or much of the varied inland region, instead preferring to base themselves at the main tourist areas along the western coast. This is hardly a surprise and those areas are worth enough, but there are also many interesting places in the island’s interior. Patong Beach is certainly the busiest and liveliest spot and is where the majority of nightlife and activities are found, but other popular areas include Karon, Kata, Kata Noi, Nai Harn, and Rawai. Further north Kamala, Laem Singh, Surin and Bangtao are favourite destinations for anybody who wants to get away from the crowds, and enjoy a more relaxed and informal atmosphere.
Phuket is home to an estimated population of around 500,000 people, made up mainly of Thai Buddhists, but roughly 30 percent of the populace are Muslims, as evident by the mosques, halal cuisine, and traditional attire in which they can be seen. Many of the Muslim residents originated in Malaysia and migrated north in recent centuries for trade and commerce. Additionally, there are significant numbers of Hokkien Chinese who are mainly descended from the early tin miners, as well as an abundance of Burmese, Cambodian and Laotian workers on the island mainly in the construction or tourism industries. It’s estimated that around 20 percent of residents in Phuket are foreigners, but the figures are rarely accurate and with the influx of tourists these figures temporarily swell to even higher seasonal numbers. The longer term foreigner visitors in Phuket tend to be business owners, retirees seeking a good life, or those that own properties and come to the island for several months each year.