Phuket Island's History, Culture and People
People of Phuket
Official Phuket records show a local population of around 200,000 inhabitants. It is quite possibly more due to Phuket's transient population. The two main population centers are on opposite sides of the island. On the east coast is Phuket Town, the capital and on the west coast is Patong Beach, Phuket's center of tourism.
The residents of Phuket are Thais and Chinese who migrated from the mainland to work in tin mines, Malaysian Muslims who came to work in the rubber plantations and the Chao Ley or sea gypsies, one of the earliest groups to inhabit Phuket.
The Chinese make up around 35% of the island's population. They are different from the people who settled in Bangkok and other regions of Thailand, as they arrived mainly from the Hokkien region of China the same as the people now living in Singapore and Malaysia.
As elsewhere in Asia, many of the Chinese have now become fully integrated into Thai society and many of them own businesses both large and small. They are responsible for a large part of the trade volume on Phuket and their influence is visible in many places such as the Chinese temples on Phuket or the annual Chinese Vegetarian Festival in October, a major tourist attraction of Phuket.
The influence of the Indonesian and Malayan culture is also apparent in the ethnic makeup, language, art and religion of southern Thailand. About one third of the Thai's living on Phuket are Muslims. Concentrated mostly around Bang Tao and a few other big villages, they work as rice and rubber farmers. In addition to the Thai and Malay languages, many also speak "Yawi", an ancient dialect of the Malayan language.
The most significant event in the history of Phuket was the attack by the Burmese in 1785 after king Taksin had fought them back. Sir Francis Light, a British East India Company captain passing the island, sent word to the local administration that Burmese forces were preparing for an attack.
Kunying Jan, the wife of the recently deceased governor, and her sister Mook then assembled forces. After one month of siege the Burmese had to turn back on March 13, 1785, and the two women became local heroines, receiving the honorary names Thao Thep Kasatri and Thao Sri Sunthon from King Rama I.
During the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) Phuket became the administrative center of the tin-producing southern provinces. In 1933 the Monthon Phuket was dissolved and Phuket became a province by itself.
Old names of the island include Ko Thalang, and Junk Ceylon, an English corruption of the Malay Tanjung Salang (Cape Salang).
The island is mostly mountainous with a mountain range in the west of the island from the north to the south. The mountains of Phuket form the southern end of a mountain chain, which ranges for 440 km from the Kra Isthmus.
The highest elevation of the whole Phuket chain is the Khao Phra Mi with an elevation of 1138 m, however the highest elevation on the island itself is Mai Tha Sip Song (Twelve Canes), at 529 m above sea level. 70% of the island is covered by forest. The western coast has many white sandy beaches, while on the east coast the beaches are more muddy with mangroves.
Journey around the Island along the west coast road and get great views of Phuket's most famous beaches such as, Bang Tao, Kamala, Patong, Karon, Kata, Nai harn and Rawai. A nice end to the day would be seeing the sunset at Cape Promthep on the island's extreme southwest point. The Cape offers a superb view of the Andaman sea and offshore islands.
Coming in towards Phuket Town from Rawai, turn right at the roundabout and visit the Chalong Pier where you can see hundreds of yachts and boats in the protected waters of Chalng Bay. If you turn left at the roundabout you could visit the most revered temple in Phuket, Wat Chalong.
Ten minutes drive further from the temple will take you to the mega shopping center area on the outskirts of Phuket Town, the main shopping complexes are Tesco-Lotus, Big C and Central, but there are many more that seem to pop up overnight. Turning right in this area will take you to Phuket Town.
Phuket Town is the bustling business centre of Phuket and has a wonderful mixture of new and old influences. Chino Portuguese architecture is evident in the landmark buildings as you walk down Thalang Rd towards the center of town. The local government is now undertaking a restoration project to bring many of the se buildings back to their former glory.
If you're in the mood for some respite from the mid day sun, then a visit to Khao Rang Hill is in order. From here the view is outstanding.
Cool Shady trees provide shelter from the sun allowing you to gaze out at the sprawling metropolis of Phuket. You can see the whole Town, tranquil Ma'dam Bay and the turquoise, turtle-shaped island in the distance.
Up north along Thep Kasatri road is the Heroines monument. Here you can learn the great history of Chan and Mook. These two heroines are famous for saving Phuket from a Burmese invasion in 1785.
Further up from the monument is the Ton Sai waterfall and just a few kilometers away is Bang Pae waterfall. These beautiful falls are surrounded by orchids and exotic birds in the Khao Phra Taew National Park. It is also where you will find Phuket's Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre.
Taking day trips from Phuket is an absolute must when visiting this Asian tropical paradise. Within a few hours drive or boat ride are a number of world class landscape attractions including the famous Phi Phi islands, the jaw-dropping Pha Nga Bay, exclusive diving off the Similan islands, the Khao Lak coast and the amazing karst-scapes of Krabi.
There are lush forested national parks, curious fishing villages, fantastic waterfalls, azure waters, private little islands, exclusive beaches and pristine mangroves to seek out.
Phuket is undoubtedly Thailand’s most popular and best developed island, a world class, jet-set destination that has gone very upmarket in recent decades. If you’re heading for Phuket for your next vacation you’ll invariably find yourself based at one of the half-dozen gorgeous bays that line the West Coast. From here you can either hire a car or take tours on Phuket to any one of a dozen different day trip destinations.
For starters exploring the island itself is highly recommended. There are so many beautiful and exciting eaches. The best are clustered towards the south from Kamala, past popular Patong, and onwards to the sweeping Karon and posh Kata.
Each of these is worth stopping at for a few hours to work on your tan or pick up a piquant spicy Thai papaya salad for lunch. Keep going south and you’ll end up at the undeveloped Nai Harn beach, and avoid the crowds. All the Phuket beaches have their own special character.
You can read more aboutPhuket's Beaches here
It takes a full hour to drive to the North of the island, which has escaped the rampant tourism development and the mangroves of the east coast offer an altogether different idea of the island.
Phi Phi Island
But the best scenery is offshore, and number one on all itineraries is a trip to Phi Phi Island. This remarkable craggy butterfly-shaped island, featured in the blockbuster The Beach and Tsunami tragedy, never disappoints. There are actually several islands, and most trips stop off for a snorkeling adventure en-route.
Packed lunch is usually served once you reach Phi Phi Ley’s paradise-like Maya bay. Since no one but park rangers and campers are allowed to stay overnight, you’ll have this pristine beaches all to yourself, unlike Phuket, Phi Phi Don is more dramatic and was frightfully overdeveloped before the tsunami washed it all away.
The resorts are found on a small sandwich of coconut palms between two pretty bays, with towering karst cliffs all around. It's so beautiful on Phi Phi Island that you won't want to catch your tour boat back to Phuket!
You can read more about Phi Phi island guide
You can read more information about Phang Nga here
You can read more about Krabi here