The island of Phuket is the kind of picture postcard tropical paradise that many people imagine when they dream of a vacation in Thailand. Its popularity with travelers the world over–especially Russians, as of late–has created a fair bit of congestion, both on the beaches and on the roads, and the pace doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon.
Phuket’s overwhelming success is due to the fact that it offers visitors those three magic words that every holiday-maker loves to hear–sun, sea, and sand–and it offers them in abundance. It’s sheer size (it measures 576 sq.km), qualifies it as the largest island in Thailand, and the western “sunset” coast is blessed with endless stretches of gleaming white sand. The island is home to almost 400,000 inhabitants and those that have claimed the island as their own for multiple generations boast a unique culture and heritage–evident in everything from the fiery southern cuisine to the (relatively) peaceful co-existence of native Buddhist and Muslim populations.
For tourists, every whim is catered to. Whether you want to book a room at a high-end luxury resort, or plunk yourself down in a modest guesthouse, there are accommodations of every type dotting the island (according to www.booking.com the island has over 2,3000 hotels). Foodies will appreciate the abundance of culinary choices here–including the fiery southern curries this part of Thailand is known for–and the number of swank restaurants opening month after month is quickly establishing Phuket as a food lover’s paradise. Restaurants such as Acqua in Kalim Bay, The 9th Floor in Patong, and Ka Jok See and Osha Thai in Phuket Town, are all renowned for their amazing fare. Meanwhile, the nightlife scene will be heating up with the upcoming opening of the Cafe del Mar beach club in Kamala.
There’s also plenty going on in Phuket year-round for those who like to plan their trips around special events, such as the King’s Cup Regatta (first week of December), the very first Phuket Food & Wine expo (March 17-19), or the annual Vegetarian Festival (October 20-28).
Finally, getting to Phuket has been made even easier as the recently expanded Phuket International Airport now has two separate terminals, handling a huge amount of international and domestic flights daily—including direct daily flights from Bangkok, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai. For getting around on land taxis are plentiful, but the prices are steep compared to Bangkok (the hour-long trip to Patong from the airport pretty much starts at B800). Motorcycles are available for rent, but be sure to wear your helmet and carry your driver’s license at all times, as police perform random road inspections. There are also local buses and Song Taews (pick-up trucks with bench seating in the back) available, running from Patong and Karon Beach to Phuket Town.