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Koh Khai Nog Island

Phuket Travel Guide | Villa Rental | Get Around | Accommodation | Restaurants | Transportation | Sightseeing

► Overview

The name "Phuket" is derived from the Malay word "Bukit" (meaning hill); true to the name, lush, green hills dominate much of the island's interior. There are still some rubber plantations and relics of the island's tin mining operations remaining. Most folks head west to the beaches; Phuket's are some of the best in Thailand. The best way to see the island is by taking an (albeit utterly hair-raising) drive around the cliff roads, a totally touristy "elephant safari" into the jungle, or opt for an unforgettable sea kayak tour with John Gray, whose guided trips visit incredible offshore caves and limestone hong (literally "rooms" -- hidden lagoons with sheer walls that become accessible at low tide). In dry season, Phuket is at its best: you'll get long sandy beaches, warm water, and excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. It also boasts some of the best seafood in Thailand. Sure, its prices are more than a tad overblown, but for well-heeled fun-seekers who want to be at the heart of the action, Phuket is a fabulous choice. Phuket does, however, have a downside: Tracts of hideous overdevelopment have spawned unsightly concrete bunkers patronized by budget tour groups from Asia, Russia, and Europe. Areas such as Patong, with its seedy commercial strip and sleazy nightlife, can be a bit much for families or single women travelers in search of tranquillity, but with the arrival of a swish shopping mall, JungCeylon, and the adjoining Millennium Phuket Resort, plus upmarket diners such as The Boathouse on Kata Beach, things, at last, are looking up.

If escape at any cost is what you need, Phuket has heaps of elegant resorts designed for tropical solitude; a good number, such as the Banyan Tree, offer private villas and pools. Evason Phuket even offers a honeymoon villa on its own island, Ko Bon. Expect superlative facilities with levels of service beyond those in Europe. But with prices here way above those even in Bangkok, it's not ideal for those on a tight budget. If you need to keep costs down, consider the Eastern Gulf islands or lesser known atolls in Phang Nga Bay, or go south to more reasonable Trang. Even after over 5 years, the impact of the 2004 tsunami, which struck a devastating blow to the resorts along Thailand's west coast, including Phuket, and across the now up-and-coming region of Khao Lak, cannot be glossed over. Today, most resorts are back to full capacity; many in fact used the disaster as an opportunity to renovate and upgrade. Khao Lak is fast becoming the "next" Phuket, whereas Phi Phi is still struggling to go upmarket. While some may feel put off about visiting this region, tourism is still the mainstay of the economy. Without support from travelers, Thais in this region simply have no chance to get back on their feet.

► Sightseeing

If Phuket is your only destination in Thailand, you'll certainly want to get to some of the Muslim fishing villages, small rural temples, and Phuket Town. Outdoor activities top the list of things to do, and there's something for everyone. More or less in the center of the island, the Heroines' Monument is a good place to get a taste of local history. It was erected in honor of two women who rallied the troops and saved the town from an attack by the Burmese in 1785. Locals frequently arrive to make offerings and prostrate themselves before the monument, making it more than a simple statue. Thalang National Museum just off Highway 402 beside the Heroines' Monument exhibits Phuket's indigenous cultures, the history of Thai settlements on Phuket, and crafts from the southern Thai regions as well as a 9th-century statue of the Hindu deity Vishnu -- evidence of early Indian merchants visiting the burgeoning kingdom. There are a few Buddhist temples on the island that are notable: The most unique is Wat Phra Thong (open from 06:00 - 18:00), along Highway 402, in Thalang, just south of the airport. Years ago, a boy fell ill and dropped dead after tying his buffalo to a post sticking out of the ground. It was later discovered that the post was actually the top of a huge Buddha image that was buried under the earth. Numerous attempts to dig out the post failed -- during one attempt in 1785, workers were chased off by hornets. Everyone took all this failure to mean that the Buddha image wanted to just stay put, so they covered the "post" with a plaster image of The Buddha's head and shoulders and built a temple around it. The most famous temple among Thai visitors here is Wat Chalong (daily 06:00 - 18:00). Chalong was the first resort on Phuket, back when the Thais first started coming to the island for vacations. Nowadays, the discovery of better beaches on the west side of the island has driven most tourists away from this area, but the temple still remains the center of Buddhist worship. The temple is on the Chaofa West Road, about 8km (5 miles) south of Phuket Town.

Sea Gypsies or Chao Ley, are considered the indigenous people of Phuket. This minority group used to shift around the region, living off subsistence fishing, but commercial fishing interests and shoreline encroachment increasingly threaten their livelihoods. Related to the Malaysian Orang Laut people and the southern Thai Sakai tribes, Phuket and Phang Nga's Sea Gypsies form a few small settlements on Phuket island: one on Ko Siray (aka Ko Sire), east of Phuket Town, and another at Rawai Beach, just south of Chalong Bay. The villages are simple seashore shacks, with vendors selling souvenir shells. It's quite educational to visit these people and their disappearing culture; sadly, however, thanks to too many tourist handouts, be prepared also for pestering, dollar-hungry children. Sirinath National Marine Park 90 sq. km (35 sq. miles) of protected land and sea (mostly the latter) in the northwest corner of the island, offers a peaceful retreat from the rest of the island's tourism madness. There are two fantastic reasons to make the journey out to the park. The first is for Phuket's largest coral reef in shallow water, only 1,000m (3280 ft.) from the shore. The second is for the rare chance of spotting the endangered Olive Ridley turtles that once came to nest every year between November and February. The Park headquarters s a very short hop from Phuket Airport off Highway 402. At bars, restaurants, and guesthouses around Thailand, but particularly on Phuket, caged or drugged Lar Gibbons provide a dubious form of entertainment to tourists, many of whom are completely ignorant of the abuse these endangered creatures endure. These fragile primates are poached as pets when young, and caged until they are mature -- and become aggressive. At this point they are sold to a bar, dressed in children's clothes, and fed amphetamines to stay awake at night (when they are normally asleep). Imprisoned by their owners by day, by night, they are fed a diet of cigarettes and whisky -- all in the name of "entertaining" the tourists. Some visitors unwittingly exacerbate the problem by paying to have their photo taken with a captive gibbon; some simple advice is-don't do it. Many gibbons develop psychological problems and become extremely menacing, which is when the owners want to get rid of them.

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project off Highway 4027, at the Bang Pae waterfall, in the northeastern corner of the island cares for mistreated gibbons, and volunteers are always welcome. Guides offer tours of the facility, open daily from 10:00 to 16:00. Admission is free, but donations are expected (ask for a receipt). The Phuket Aquarium at the Phuket Marine Biological Center (51 Moo 8, Sakdidet Rd.), seeks to educate the public about local marine life and nature preservation. There's also a science and nature trail along the adjoining coast. Most of the signs throughout are in Thai but it is still worth a trip. It's open daily 08:30 to 16:30, and admission is 100B for adults, 50B for children. Phuket Butterfly Garden & Insect World Soi Phaneung, Yaowarat Road, Tambon Rasada, Phuket Town breeds hundreds of gorgeous butterflies in a large enclosed garden. There are plenty of chances for photos. It's open daily from 09:00 to 17:00; adult admission is 300B, and children from 4 to 10 pay 150B. You'd never think seashells were fascinating until you visit the Phuket Shell Museum (12/2 Moo 2, Viset Rd., Rawai Beach, just south of Chalong Bay; admission 200B adults, 100B for kids). Billed as "the largest shell museum in the world," it's actually not the quantity that amazes, but the quality; don't miss the world's biggest golden pearl. As always, the gift shop sells a range of tempting high-quality shell products; however, these days, any eco-savvy traveler will be well aware that the retail shell industry is depriving a sea creature of a home, and that such countries as Australia actively prohibit their import. The museum is open daily from 08:00 to 18:00



Monday, May 17, 2021