With its entire west coast studded with coves and beaches of soft white sand, Phuket is one of the world's premier tropical vacation destinations. Set in the Andaman Sea, an hour's flight south of Bangkok, it is Thailand's largest island, 48 kilometres long and 21 kilometres at its widest point. Topographical variety is provided by forested inland hills and valleys variegated with rubber, coconut and pineapple plantations. Culturally, the island has in its long history been a melting pot, and today it offers an intriguing mix of Thai, Chinese and Muslim traditions.
Sightseeing: Lying on the beach, getting an enviable tan is Phuket's main attraction, yet there is plenty more to do and see. There are excellent facilities for water sports, especially scuba diving and yachting, while on land golf is a top choice, with Phuket boasting a number of championship-standard courses. Excursions around the island offer various cultural sights, including two majestic temples, Wat Chalong and Wat Phra Thong, and several well-preserved mansions built in distinctive Sino-Portuguese style by entrepreneurs who made fortunes out of tin mining in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Away from the beach, scenes vary from Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, the island's last surviving corner of rainforest, to Phuket Town, which is fascinating both for its history and its shopping and dining options.
Shopping: Shops and street stalls selling souvenirs, handicrafts, clothing and similar buys are to be found at the main beach centres, Patong being the largest. Serious shoppers, however, will want to head for Phuket Town, where there are traditional markets, department stores and stylish boutiques. Among the best buys are Thai silk, batik and other textiles, antiques, objets d'art, contemporary home decor items, handicrafts such as pewterware and bronzeware, as well as carvings in stone and wood.
Eating: Phuket is renowned for its seafood specialties, although the whole gamut of dining options is available, ranging from Thai and Chinese to upmarket Italian and
other European restaurants. Leading resort hotels boast good specialty restaurants and specialise in both Eastern and Western fare, while there is a surprising selection of quality restaurants at the major beach destinations and in Phuket Town.
Getting around: The easiest way to get around, between beaches as well as to and from Phuket Town, is by song taew pick-up trucks, which ply the major routes, Tuk tuks are also widely available, while cars. jeeps and motorcycles are readily for hire.