Phuket, Thailand – Paradise Island
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Phuket is one of the southern provinces (changwat) of Thailand. Neighbouring provinces are (from north clockwise) Phang Nga and Krabi, but as Phuket is an island there are no land boundaries.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, approximately the size of Singapore. The island is connected to mainland Thailand by a bridge. It is situated off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. The region has an area of approximately 570sq. km. and is made up of 1 large and 39 small islands. Phuket formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber. The island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, and was frequently mentioned in foreign trader’s ship logs. The region now derives much of its income from tourism.
The name Phuket (of which the ph sound is an aspirated p) is apparently derived from the word bukit (Jawi: بوكيت) in Malay which means hill, as this is what the island appears like from a distance. The region was formerly referred to as “Thalang,” derived from the old Malay “Telong” (Jawi: تلوڠ) which means “Cape.” The northern district of the province, which was the location of the old capital, still uses this name.
As with most of Thailand, the majority of the population is Buddhist, but there is a significant number of Muslims (30%) in Phuket, mainly descendants of the island’s original sea-dwelling people. Among the Muslims, many are of Malay descent. People of Chinese ancestry make up an even larger populace, many of whom having descended from tin miners who migrated to Phuket during the 19th century. Peranakans, known as “Phuket Babas” in the local tongue, constitute a fair share of members Chinese community, particularly among those who have family ties with the Peranakans of Penang and Malacca.
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.
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. Songthaews are the cheapest mode of transportation for travel from town to town.
- Hat Patong (หาดป่าตอง) 15 kilometres from town, Patong is Phuket’s most developed beach which offers numerous leisure, sporting, shopping and recreational options along its 3-kilometre long crescent bay. Windsurfing, snorkelling, sailing, swimming and sunbathing number among the many popular daytime activities. Patong is equally well known for its vibrant nightlife, among which seafood restaurants feature prominently.
- Laem Phromthep (แหลมพรหมเทพ) Phromthep Cape is a headland forming the extreme south end of Phuket. “Phrom” is Thai for the Hindu term, “Brahma,” signifying purity, and “Thep” means ‘God.’ Local villagers used to refer to the cape as “Laem Chao”, or the God’s Cape, and it was an easily recognizable landmark for the early seafarers traveling up the Malay Peninsula from the sub-continent.
- Hat Karon (หาดกะรน) The second largest of Phuket’s tourist beaches, some 20 kilometres from town. Large resort complexes line the road behind of the shoreline, but the long, broad beach itself has no development. The sand is very white, and squeaks audibly when walked upon. There are plenty of restaurants and tourist stores right across the street from the beach. The southern point has a fine coral reef stretching toward Kata and Bu Island. There is also its sister beach Karon Noi.
- View Point (จุดชมวิว) This is located mid-point between Nai Han and Kata beaches. The scenic Kata Noi, Kata and Karon beaches, and Ko Pu Island can be viewed from this point.
- Wat Chalong (วัดฉลองหรือวัดไชยธาราราม) This is where stands the cast statue of Luang Pho Cham, who helped the people of Phuket put down the Angyee, or Chinese Coolie Rebellion, in 1876 during the reign of Rama V. There are also statues of Luang Pho Chuang, and Luang Pho Cham, abbots of the temple during later times.
- Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Conservation Development and Extension Centre (สถานีพัฒนาและส่งเสริมการอนุรักษ์สัตว์ป่าเขาพระแทว) Its duty is to promote, distribute and wildlife within Khao Phra Thaeo wildlife park. The park is full of virgin forest and also actively conserves a number of wild animals; they would otherwise be extinct in Phuket. It is a center for study of the environment and the forest vegetation is spectacular. Giant trees supported by huge buttresses are thick with creepers and climbers of every description.
Events and Festivals
- Thao Thep Krasattri and Thao Si Sunthon Fair (งานท้าวเทพกระษัตรี – ท้าวศรีสุนทร) is held on March 13 every year to commemorate the two great heroines who rallied the Thalang people to repel Burmese invaders.
- Vegetarian Festival (เทศกาลกินเจ(กินผัก-เจี๊ยะฉ่าย)) is held on the first day of the 9th lunar month (end Sept or early October). Phuket islanders of Chinese ancestry commit themselves to a 9-day vegetarian diet, a form of purification believed to help make the forthcoming year “trouble-free”. The festival is marked by several ascetic displays, including fire-walking and ascending sharp-bladed ladders.
- Phuket King’s Cup Regatta (งานแข่งเรือใบชิงถ้วยพระราชทาน) is held in December. The Kata Beach Resort hosts international yachtsmen, largely from neighbouring countries who compete in the Kata Beach area for royal trophies.
- Laguna Phuket Triathlon (ลากูน่าภูเก็ตไตรกีฬา) is held in each December. The triathlon (a 1,800 – metre swim, a 5.5 -kilometre bike race and a 12-kilometre run and a 6 –kilometre fun run) attracts many athletes from all over the world.
- Phuket Travel Fair (เทศกาลเปิดฤดูการท่องเที่ยวจังหวัดภูเก็ต), starting from November 1, is usually called the Patong Carnival, from the place where celebrations occur. Colourful parades, sports events, and a beauty competition for foreign tourists are major activities.
- Chao Le (Sea Gypsy) Boat Floating Festival (งานประเพณีลอยเรือชาวเล) falls during the middle of the sixth and eleventh lunar months yearly. The sea gypsy villages at Rawai and Sapam hold their ceremonies on the 13th; Ko Si-re celebrates on the 14th; and Laem La (east of the bridge on Phuket’s northern tip) on the 15th. Ceremonies, which centre around the setting adrift of small boats similar to the Thai festival of Loi Krathong, are held at night and their purpose is to drive away evil and bring good luck.
- Fried or Boiled Noodle Dishes (หมี่ผัดหรือหมี่น้ำแบบต่าง ๆ), usually with pork or chicken, are available at many noodle shops in the town such as Mi Ton Pho, Mi Sapam, Mi Ao Ke, Mi Hun Pa Chang, and etc.
- Khanom Jeen (ขนมจีน), a version of noodles taken at breakfast, usually served with a spicy curry sauce and fresh vegetables.
- Nam Phrik Kung Siap (น้ำพริกกุ้งเสียบ) is a mixture of dried chili and smoked shrimps taken with various fresh vegetables.
- Cashew nuts and pineapples are rarely grown in Phuket but are available all year round. The nuts are available dried, fried or coated.
- Pad Kanaa Moo Grob is a dish with sauteed leafy green (similar to kale) and crispy pork.
- Kao Man Gai is a simple dish of chicken and rice (usually infused with padanus leaves) that is sold at many small stands.
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