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Phuket Island, Thailand
Phuket Island, Thailand (Image by pen_ash from Pixabay )

Phuket Island, Thailand

Thailand's largest and arguably most popular island, Phuket, lies in the Andaman Sea, off the west coast of southern Thailand, and is a province in its own right. In December 2004 the island was devastated by the tsunami that hit so much of Asia, and many coastal resorts and villages suffered terribly. Fortunately, Phuket is a wealthy province, and today, thanks to a major re-building programme, the island is back in business, and visitors are unlikely to see any noticeable damage.

Phuket is largely mountainous, its highest point being Mai Thao Sip Song at 529 m, and much of it is forested. From the 16th century until relatively recently, tin mining was important to the economy, and the culture of the Chinese workers has informed that of Phuket. Other influences include Portuguese and Islam - some 35 per cent of the population are Muslims. 

Phuket has been known as a holiday island since the 1980s, and its beaches sprout new resorts, restaurants and dive operations with every passing year. Most of the best beaches - huge swathes of white sand, or little sheltered coves - are on the west coast, but those towards the northern tip are much less visited. Patong, the most popular, is very highly developed, and Phuket City is awash with tourists shopping and partying the night away.

The island's interior is worth exploring, with rubber plantations, rice field and fruit groves providing employment for islanders who live traditionally, a world away from the international tourism scene. Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, just 20 km from Phuket City, is a must - its hills and valleys are covered with tropical rainforest, and it contains a Lar gibbon rehabilitation centre. These charming creatures are endangered, and this project is important to their survival.