The Kingdom of Thailand
Thailand, an independent country in the middle of Southeast Asia, is an eclectic mix of 21st-century development with deep roots in a 700-year-old culture – all combined with a happy-go-lucky way of looking at life.
Tourism in Thailand
One of the most popular tourism destinations in Asia, Thailand welcomes more than 5,000,000 visitors each year who come to enjoy a huge range of attractions, including ancient temples, beautiful white sandy beaches, idyllic deserted islands, raucous nightlife, rainforests, elephant trekking, white water rafting, yachting, golfing, scuba diving and more. Such is Thailand’s appeal that regular return tourists and part-time residents make up a large part of the tourist numbers.
Phuket and the Andaman Sea
Stretching from Indian waters in the west to the southern tip of Malaysia in the east, the Andaman Sea is one of the world’s most beautiful oceans – a delight of white sand beaches, swaying palms and crystal clear waters. While the whole western coast of Thailand faces the Andaman Sea, it’s Phuket that is rightly called ‘The Pearl of the Andaman’ – and it’s Phuket that has become Thailand’s most popular beach tourism destination by far.
Phi phi Island
Phi phi Down
Phuket boasts a tremendous number of attractions – things to see and experience. From national parks, both forested and marine, museums, cultural and religious places of interest, the island and the surrounding area is a region truly to discover.
Viewpoints, the aquarium, the Kathu (tin) Mining Museum, Wat Chalong, Khao Sok National Park, theatrical performances and more make Phuket an area of astounding things to see and view. Be sure to check out Old Phuket Town, take in a cabaret style show, and head to the beach…
Wat Chalong – Phuket
A popular attraction amongst tourists as well as a place locals go to worship, Wat Chalong is one of the most impressive and revered places of worship in the area and has played an important role in the island’s history. Be sure not to miss the annual Wat Chalong Fair held at Chinese New Year.
Watts are sacred places for Buddhists and most Thai people follow this religion. Of the 29 Buddhist temples in Phuket, Wat Chalong is the most well-known due to its history and that the fact that it is the most ornately decorated.
It is thought that the original Wat Chalong was built during the reign of King Rama II (1809-1842). Since its relocation, it has been renovated and augmented. The temple contains several structures and halls. One of the halls features a gilt-covered statue of the famous and revered Luang Poh Cham statues of Luang Poh Chuang and Luang Poh Glen, all ex-abbots of the temple. The Grand Pagoda is decorated with wall paintings depicting the Buddha’s life story and features various Buddha images. The air-conditioned ‘exhibition home’ of Luang Poh Cham contains lifelike human-sized wax models of Luang Poh Cham, Luang Poh Chuang, Luang Poh Glen, and Luang Pu Thuad along with antique Thai furniture, and Benjarong (Thai porcelain designed in five colors).
Wat Chalong is associated with three revered monks of Luang Pro Chaem and Luang Pho Chuang who were herbal doctors and setters of bones. The monks, particularly Luang Pho Chae, helped the people of Phuket put down the Ahngyee (Chinese Coolie) Rebellion in 1876 during the reign of Rama V. Luang Pho Chae encouraged the people to stay and fight and subsequently put down the rebellion. To show appreciation, the King bestowed upon Luang Po Cham the title of Phra Kru West Wongsacharn. Buddhist Thais stick gold leaf to these images as a part of paying respect.
Phuket’s main beaches
The island’s northernmost and most recently ”opened” beach destination is Mai Khao, which at 11km is the longest beach on the island. As it’s located in Sirinath Marine National Park, development remains low key. The beach is ideal for beachcombers and ironically, plane spotters, as it stretches from the end of the runway of Phuket International Airport.
To the south of the airport, the casuarina-fringed beach of Nai Yang is popular with tourists and locals alike; there’s loads of shade courtesy of the trees, providing cool areas for picnics, complete with a selection of local food vendors supply snacks to those who didn’t pack their own lunchboxes.
A little-known beach south of Nai Yang, Nai Thon Beach is a long and wide sandy strip that is divided in two by a small rock formation. It is well shaded by tall trees. There are several small restaurants, beach loungers and umbrellas for sunbathing and relaxing.
The relatively deserted Layan Beach sits at the northern end of Bang Tao Bay. While Layman is relatively deserted, Bang Tao Beach itself couldn’t be more different. This once-active major tin mining lagoon has been converted into one of the top destination resorts on the island.
Surin Beach remains a favorite with locals and visitors. To the north are a number of the top of the range accommodations on the island, including the exclusive Amanpuri and Surin (formerly The Chedi) resorts, while behind the beach in the hills, multi-million dollar villa complexes look out over the ocean.
Following the hilly coastline south is Kamala Beach, where variety starts to step up a notch. Although badly damaged in the 2004 tsunami, things are back to normal and you’ll find all manner of tourist amenities along the beachfront. During the daytime, the area is relatively quiet, but during the cooler evening hours, the narrow streets become a hive of activity as the restaurants and bars start to fill up. There’s a good selection of moderately priced accommodation around the beach area which is complemented by a series of luxury resort complexes immediately south, along with the cape.
Going south from Kamala, along with a winding hillside road, is what locals call Phuket’s Golden Mile. Here is where the first ‘serious money’ villa developments took off. At the end of the Golden Mile (although you have to backtrack to Kamala and take the inland road to get there) are Nakalay Bay and then Kalim. Home to one of the island’s most famous restaurants, Baan Rim Pa, Kalim Bay is developing as a lower cost resort alternative with close access to, but quieter than, Phuket’s ‘Big Mango’, Patong Beach.
With its brash nightlife and partying atmosphere Patong Beach is ideal for those seeking fun and adventure, both during the day and after dark, and is really kitted out to take care of tourists. There’s a huge shopping complex (Jungceylon) selling many recognizable brands of clothing and fast food along with numerous restaurants. More shops, restaurants, fast food outlets, coffee shops and tailors fill the beachfront road (and pretty much every other road in Patong), occasionally punctuated by a number of hotels and resorts.
The 5km long Karon Beach, south of Patong, has facilities concentrated at either end and a steadily increasing presence of hotels, restaurants, bars and shops behind its beach road.
Kata’s beach road is a quiet affair that you can easily miss – simply because there is absolutely nothing on it but the frontage of one of Kata’s first resorts, Club Med.
Kata Noi, south over a steep hill and the favorite of the island’s surfers, was until recently one of Phuket’s sleepier destinations with just one resort hotel and a few independent bars, shops, and restaurants.
Aside from having one large and a couple of smaller resorts at its northern end, Nai Harn is a quiet place to enjoy relaxing on the beach in some of Phuket’s most beautiful surroundings.
Tucked away just west of the main Nai Harn beach is Ao Sane, home to a couple of resorts – one a real ‘cheapy’, the other ”up there’ price-wise – and a couple of the nicest little beaches on the island, sharing Nai Harn Bay with the main beach, but invisible from it. To get there, drive through the security entrance to the classy The Naiharn, Phuket through the car park, under the hotel building and through the hotel’s service area until you reach a rough single track road. Yes, really! They built this hotel over and on a public road. A spectacular drive (but best avoided at night), the rough winding road will eventually take you to the beach.
Rawai Beach was the first beach on Phuket to gear up for tourism. Strange, then, that Rawai is not a swimming beach.
The beach road was (and still is) a favorite with local Thais who you’ll find sitting on the ground at ‘temporary’ low tables behind the sea wall enjoying some of the best seafood on the Island while gazing out over the islands dotted around Chalong Bay.
Recently, along with the environs of Nai Harn, Rawai has become a favorite place for expatriates and regular visitors, who prefer the slower pace of southern Phuket life – not to mention the vast choice of great restaurants and pubs/bars in the area.
Chalong Bay is not really a beach destination, yet its main function is as a place with protected moorings for yachts and as a departure point for tourist and dive trip boats, although it is also home the island’s major yacht club – Phuket Yacht Club.
Across the bay from Chalong are the beaches of Ao Yon and Cape Panwa. Ao Yon is still a sleepy, all-time beach (actually two beaches with a headland between). Going around the headland is Phuket’s last beach going north – Cape Panwa