Phuket is one of the sourthern provinces and the biggest island in Thailand, located in the Andaman Sea of southern Thailand.Neighbouring provinces are (from north clockwise) Phang Nga and Krabi, but as Phuket is an island it has no land boundaries. Phuket, which is somewhat smaller than the size of Singapore, is Thailand’s largest island. The island is connected to mainland Thailand by two bridges. It is situated off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. Phuket formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber, and enjoys a rich and colorful history. The island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, and was frequently mentioned in foreign ship logs of Portuguese, French, Dutch and English traders. The region now derives much of its income from tourism. The island is mostly mountainous with a mountain range in the west of the island from the north to the south.
Phuket’s topology is exceptional with 70 percent of its area covered with mountains which stretch from north to south and the remaining 30 percent being plains located in the central and eastern parts of the island. It has a total of 9 brooks and creeks but does not have any major rivers. It is estimated that if all its 39 other small islands are included, Phuket Province will cover an area of 576 square kilometres. Forest, rubber and palm oil plantations cover 60% of the island.
Phuket population was 249,446 in 2000, rising to 525,018 in the 2010 decennial census, the highest growth rate of all provinces nationwide at 7.4% annual, some 600,000 people reside in Phuket currently, among them migrants, international expats, Thais registered in other provinces and locals. The registered population, however, includes only Thais, and the end of 2012 was 360,905 people.
Phuket is divided into three districts (Mueang Phuket, Kathu, Thalang) which are further subdivided into 17 subdistricts and 103 villages. Phuket is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and even sea gypsies. The majority of the population in the rural areas is Muslim. Outside of the provincial town, the rural folk speak with a thick Southern dialect which is difficult for even other Thais to understand. The provincial town’s economy having boomed over the past decade has led to a lot of the youngsters leading similar lives to those in Bangkok. Altogether, the lifestyle of the urban Thai-Chinese resembles that of Bangkokians.
Phuket has a tropical climate, more specifically a tropical monsoon climate, with a dry season from November to April and a rainy season from May to October. Average temperatures are consistent year-round. Average highs range from 29 °C (84 °F) to 33 °C (91 °F); average lows range from 23 °C (73 °F) to 26 °C (79 °F). The hot season is generally considered to be from March to early May.
The Phuket International Airport is located in the north of the island. There are many scheduled flights and chartered flights from domestics and other countries in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America landing in Phuket. The airport commenced a 5.7 billion baht (US$185.7 million) expansion in September 2012, scheduled for completion in April 2015. The airport will increase its annual handling capacity from 6.5 million to 12.5 million passengers, and add a new international terminal.
There is no rail-line to Phuket, but the trains do run to nearby Surat Thani. Songthaews (passenger pick-up vehicles) are a common mode of transport on Phuket. Phuket’s songthaews are larger than those found in other areas of Thailand. They travel between the town and beaches. There are also conventional bus services and motorbike taxis. The latter are found in large numbers in the main town and at Patong Beach. The traditional Tuk-tuks have been replaced by small vans, mostly red or some are yellow or green. Songthaews are the cheapest mode of transportation for travel from town to town.
In modern times, Phuket’s economy rests on two pillars: rubber tree plantations (making Thailand the biggest producer of rubber in the world) and tourism. In recent times, Phuket’s top earner has been tourism, which has transformed the island into Thailand’s wealthiest province with a thriving diving industry attracting thousands of divers each year. Since the 1980s, the sandy beaches on the western coast of the island have been heavily developed into tourist centers, with Patong, Karon and Kata being the most popular ones. Since the 2004 Tsunami, all damaged buildings and attractions have been restored. Phuket is currently going through an intensive period of leisure urbanization with many new hotels, apartments and houses under construction. In July 2005, Phuket was voted one of the World’s Top 5 retirement destinations by the acclaimed Fortune Magazine. There are thousands of expatriates living in Phuket, many of them retirees.
One of the most popular (and overcrowded) tourist areas on Phuket is Patong Beach on the central western coast, perhaps owing to the easy access to its wide and long beach. Most of Phuket’s nightlife and its cheap shopping is located in Patong, and the area has become increasingly developed. Patong means “the forest filled with banana leaves” in Thai. Other popular beaches are located south of Patong. In a counterclockwise direction these include Karon Beach, Kata Beach, Kata Noi Beach, and around the southern tip of the island, Nai Harn Beach and Rawai. To the north of Patong are Kamala Beach, Surin Beach and Bang Tao Beach. These areas are generally much less developed than Patong, and sought out by individuals, families and other groups with a preference for more relaxed and less crowded environs than Patong. There are many islands to the southeast, including Bon Island, just a short boat trip away. There are several coral islands to the south of Phuket, the Similan Islands lie to the north west, and Phi Phi Islands to the south east. Islanders engage in a lively tourist trade, catering to snorkellers and scuba divers.