Thailand’s largest tropical island, Phuket, lies just offshore from the mainland, in the sun-soaked south of the country’s Phang Nga province. Connected to the mainland by two road bridges and to the rest of the world via its small international airport, the island is a fascinating combination of party central, unspoilt hilly interiors and a vast choice of bays and beaches, from deserted to decadent.
Famous for decades as a sun, sea and sand holiday destination, Phuket has an intriguing multi-ethnic history and heritage, including sea-gypsy settlements. Accommodation on the island presents all options, from luxury spas through hotels at all prices, to villas and apartments set in resorts and within a few steps of the azure AndamanSea.
Your preferred location will depend on your holiday needs, with the western shores and Patong town the place for late-night revels and a great selection of water sports. The southeastern beach towns are slightly more offbeat, with ChalongBay a favourite, and totally tropical PhangNgaBay holds mangrove forests, massive cliffs and fishing villages.
The interior of the island is best explored by hire car and is rarely visited by tourists. Here, you’ll find pineapple plantations, mangrove forests, interesting villages and small agricultural communities. Views from the hills in the two national parks, Phra Taew and Sirinat, are quite lovely, and a few scattered resorts give an escape from the tourist scene.
Public transport is limited to sparse local bus routes, even in the tourist hot spots, with taxis, tuk-tuks (motorised rickshaws) and hotel shuttle buses the only alternative to self-drive.
Phuket’s weather is as tropical as its flora, giving hot, humid days and cooler nights year-round. March is the hottest month, with temperatures climbing to 37°C, and the rainy season runs from May through October. Phuket International Airport offers direct international routes including to the UK on a regular and seasonal basis via full-service, low-cost and charter airlines, and domestic flights run to Bangkok and Chiang Mai.