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The Heroines Monument roundabout marks the heart of Phuket

Secret Phuket: A Users' Guide for VIP Visitors

Tuesday, July 14, 2009
What to See, Do's and Don'ts on Phuket

How To Say It Please use the pronunciation Poo-ket without fail, especially within the hearing of Phuket airport Immigration officers. Anything else is likely to get you arrested.

Modern History Phuket came to international attention with the 2004 tsunami. The big wave killed far greater numbers of people in other places, but on Phuket and the surrounding coast and islands, many of those killed were tourists. As a result, people in more than 40 nations felt sympathy and gave with extra generosity, and the island has been a well-known tourist destination in its own right since.

Environment The region contains some of the world's most beautiful beaches and coral reefs, including the Similan Islands, highly regarded as a dive destination. Until the economic downturn, the growing mass of visitor numbers was tarnishing the quality of the tourism experience as well as the beaches and reefs themselves. Overfishing and illegal fishing continues. Lack of a long-term green-zone strategy means the island's coast is rapidly becoming built out, with resorts frequently claiming public beaches as their own. Some delightful island communities still exist but under constant threat from developers. Turtles, dolphins and dugongs are disappearing.

The People Phuket is a melting-pot mix of local families, migrating Thais from other parts who have come looking for work, sea gypsies, Burmese laborers, tourists from all over the world, and expat residents who tend in some cases to be unhappy in Paradise and constantly complaining. Burmese were once blamed for all crime but it has become obvious that Thais and expats also commit their share. Away from the heavily populated centres, home to the touts and the tourist traps, the generosity and the tolerance of the majority of residents becomes easier to recognise and enjoy. Thais are the most hospitable people in the world. About one third of Phuket's registered citizens are Muslim. The island is peppered with mosques and Buddhist temples.

Places to See This is low season, now being more commonly referred to as Summer, yet none of Phuket's beaches are exactly crowded. Each beach has a distinct character and you are bound to find one that delights. Swim only where the lifeguards suggest, though, if you can find a lifeguard. More remote stretches of sand in Phang Nga and Krabi retain greater natural beauty these days, but with fewer activities in the evenings, beyond the larger resorts. A trip to a nearby reef is still possible but the water is murkier and the risks of dangerous squalls are greater. Come back and do it properly between November and April. On the island, the Buddhist temple at Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha are highlights.

Politics Phuket is a bastion of the Democrat Party, which now runs the country without popular voter support. It is also the place where the yellow shirt protesters invented the airport invasion, taking over Phuket airport three months before the main airports in Bangkok were hijacked. The so-called yellow shirts have since adopted green and yellow as the colors of their own fledgling political party. There is no truth in the rumor that requests have been made to make all the lights at Phuket traffic intersections go from green, to yellow, then to mauve instead of red.

Day Trips Go to Phi Phi to see how mass tourism conflicts with natural beauty. The island is small but overpopulated and it has a problem disposing of its own waste. While the karsts of Phang Nga Bay are dramatic and memorable, so are the crowds of boats and people, especially at Maya Bay, near Phi Phi. The stilt houses over the water at Panyee set a better example, with villagers now disposing of their trash sensibly instead of simply throwing it into the sea.

Nightlife, Shopping Patong's Soi Bangla remains the place to see but the night's activities are divided into layers. Go between 8pm and 10pm and you will find tourist families enjoying the fun of gawking at lady boy katoeys and guessing. Between 10pm and midnight, the beer bars usually boom. From midnight to 2am, the sex trade becomes more obvious. Best not to go there after 2am. Talk of five-way or six-way, as in the nuclear disarmament talks, will bring strange looks. The opening of the Jungceylon mall in Patong and a large Central outlet near Phuket City provide shopping attractions that did not exist on the island until relatively recently. Pirate CDs and movies are usually available in Patong, except when there are Asean meetings.

Traps to Avoid Tuk-tuks are the number one gripe for tourists because of extortionate pricing, even for short trips. Phuket's public transport is third-world thanks to a jobs-for-the-boys approach. Ripped-off once or twice, tourists seldom return. But local authorities lack the courage to implement changes. Jet-ski scams, ATM fees, sidewalk suit salesmen and time-share touts are also on the list of pet hates for tourists. Never attempt to souvenir any item for fun, including beer mats, and never lose your cool with a policeman or an Immigration official, no matter what. A temper tantrum can lead straight to a cell.

Culture, Food Westerners who come for the climate rather than what Thailand has to offer have brought the worst aspects of their homelands with them: the franchises. The result is that Phuket is gradually become much like any suburb in any first-world city. However, away from the familiar logos there are still delightful fishing villages to wander through and enjoyable traditional aspects of Phuket culture to experience, most notably the food. Phuket City dining is best for consistent value and taste, along with restaurants by the sea in Chalong or at Laem Hin for fish, crab, squid and shellfish.

Recent Reviews, Best Restaurants

Oasis on the Sea Restaurant, Kata Beach
Photo Album Hoops of seaside hues, canvas and cushions and an afternoon of rolling white caps make for an escape to, well, an oasis, out of the blue. The food is pretty good, too.
Oasis on the Sea Restaurant, Kata Beach

Phuket's Best Big Bunch for Sunday Brunch
Brunch of Fives Forget dinner or supper. Sunday on Phuket is all about the brunch. It often seems a particular island creation and it has followers who swear it's the only meal they need all week.
Phuket's Best Big Bunch for Sunday Brunch

Nangyon Restaurant, Greenview Resort, Kuraburi
Photo Album Western food can be found between Khao Lak and Ranong at the Greenview, one of the most pleasant hideaways in the hills away from the sea along the Andaman coast.
Nangyon Restaurant, Greenview Resort, Kuraburi

Yui Restaurant, Beach Road, Patong
Photo Album In Patong prices are generally more expensive, which is probably why the outdoor roadside eating strip at the Muslim cemetery attracts a large following.
Yui Restaurant, Beach Road, Patong

China Inn Cafe & Restaurant, Phuket Town
Photo Album Classic restaurants abound in Phuket City and it's definitely worth the trek across from Patong, Kata or Karon, or down from Surin or Bang Tao, to experience the difference.
China Inn Cafe & Restaurant, Phuket Town

Phuketwan Restaurant of the Year 2008 Award
After dining out at a large number of Phuket restaurants for 12 months, we have cast our votes for the Phuketwan Restaurant of the Year.With a rumble of stomachs rather than a drum roll, here it is.
Phuketwan Restaurant of the Year 2008 Award

Kan Eang 2 Restaurant, Chalong Bay
Dining in Phuket often means having to choose between good service and quality or good value. Kan Eang 2 seems to have found the right blend in delivering a great dining experience on all fronts.
Kan Eang 2 Restaurant, Chalong Bay

2007: Restaurant of the Year Award
Phuket City is renown for good Thai food but the Restaurant of the Year for 2007 adds its own special touches and is consistent in quality as well as having a sense of culinary adventure.
2007: Restaurant of the Year Award

Dibuk Restaurant, Phuket City
This is one of those ''Should we tell them all about this place or should we keep it as our little secret'' moments. You are hungry, you say? Looking for good French or Thai food? OK then . . .
Dibuk Restaurant, Phuket City

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If you don't mind... my blog shows plenty of out of the way places in Phuket as well as some better known places. I started the blog in 2006 to show people what exists outside of the main beaches. Phuket has so much more than sand, McDonalds and bargirls! My highlight of the year is the vegetarian festival. Unmissable.

Cheers
Jamie
"Jamie's Phuket"

Posted by Jamie Monk on July 16, 2009 10:53


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