Known as the Pearl of the Andaman, Phuket derived much of its former glory and its enormous wealth from tin production, which dates back over 500 years. Today, Phuket is the Thailand’s major tourist destination. The surrounding waters contain much varied marine life and the island itself is blessed with lovely seashores and forested hillsides. Approximately 1.75 million Rai (700,000 acres) of the island is forest. Phuket Town also has some wonderful examples of Sino-Portuguese architecture. The dream of escaping to an idyllic tropical island becomes a reality on Phuket; Thailand’s island paradise in the Andaman Sea.
Shaped like an irregular pearl and measuring approximately 21 km wide by 48 km long, the island has excellent roads and infrastructure whilst still retaining most of its original natural beauty. The landscape is one of lush green hills, coconut groves, rubber plantations and a coastline dotted with a dozen or more spectacular beaches.
Unspoilt stretches of fine white sand are found along the entire west coast of the island. Each sun-drenched beach has a character and charm of its own, and is separated from its neighbours by picturesque headlands and backdrops of wooded hills. Lapping the shore are the sparkling warm blue waters of the Andaman Sea which are perfectly safe for swimming for much of the year.
The best time to visit Phuket is during the cool NE monsoon season, from November through to April and May, when humidity is very low and the cool breezes keep things very comfortable.
Location and Boundaries
Phuket is an island connected by bridges to southern Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast. It is situated in the Indian Ocean, lying between 7’45” and 8’15” north latitude, and from 98’15” to 98’40” west longitude.
Phuket, Thailand’s largest island is surrounded by 32 smaller islands that form part of the same administration.
About 70 percent of Phuket is hilly; a western range runs from north to south from which smaller branches derive. The highest peak is Mai Thao Sip Song, or Twelve Canes, at 529 meters, which lies within the boundaries of Tambon Patong, Kathu District. The remaining 30 percent of the island, mainly in the center and south, is formed by low plains. Streams include the Khlong Bang Yai, Tha Jin, Khlong Tha Rua, and Khlong Bang Rong, none of which is large.
The island is divided into three districts: Thalang in the north; Kathu in the west; and Muang in the south.
Thailand’s system of government relies upon a strong central authority, thus the Provincial Governor is a civil servant appointed by the Interior Ministry in Bangkok, as are the Nai Amphoe, or District Chief. The cities of Phuket and Patong have their own city governments, with elected city councils, the leading members of which serve as mayor. There are also elected provincial, district, and sub-district, or Tambon councils. The local police constabulary is part of the Interior Ministry.
The size of Phuket’s population varies considerably depending on the time of year, although the official census shows 255,000 people registered as Phuket residents.
Additionally, the island receives about five million visitors per year and there is a sizable community of seasonal and temporary workers from other parts of Thailand. The ethnic makeup of Phuket is roughly 35 per cent Chinese (14 per cent countrywide) and 35 per cent Muslim (4 per cent countrywide) and the Chao Nam, or sea gypsies. The Chinese population of Phuket originates from the Hokkien region of China. The Chinese arrived to work the tin mines, but as elsewhere in Asia, they made the transition from providing cheap labour to being merchants. They married native Thais and assimilated into Thai culture. Today the descendants of the early Chinese settlers are responsible for much of the trade and commerce on Phuket.
Indonesian-Malaysian culture is quite apparent in southern Thailand. Concentrated mostly around Surin and a few other large towns, they work as rice and rubber farmers. In Phuket, Muslims of Malaysian extraction came largely to work on the rubber plantations.
The Chao Nam or Sea Gypsies are traditionally a nomadic people and there are three Sea Gypsy villages in Phuket. Little is known of their history and traditions as their language is not written. They follow their own religion and are generally darker skinned and heavier with curly black hair. Sea Gypsies are said to have originated in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands between India and Burma.
Phuket’s weather conditions are dominated by monsoon winds that blow year round. It is therefore always warm and hot and not too humid, in fact it is a very pleasant and comfortable climate. There are two distinct seasons, rainy and dry. The rainy season begins in May and lasts till October, during which the monsoon blows from the southwest. During this time it is cooler and it rains regularly, especially during the evening. The dry season is from November through April/ May, when the monsoon comes from the northeast.
Highest average temperatures, at 36ºC, prevail during March and April. Lowest averages occur in December and January, when nightly lows dip to a very pleasant 22ºC.
Phuket has a tropical monsoon climate. It’s warm all year around, but the two periods of March -April and September-October are the hottest. The September-October period is also the wettest.
The best time to visit Phuket is during the cool NE monsoon season, from November through to April and May, when humidity is very low and the cool breezes keep things very comfortable. The average temperature is around 75ºF to 89ºF (24ºC to 32ºC).
The hottest time is from March through May, with temperatures ranging from 80ºF to 95ºF (27ºC to 36ºC). There are frequent short heavy thunder showers in April and May, offering welcome relief from the temperature and humidity. The Thai New Year occurs on April 13th and everyone sprinkles (or throws) cool water on each other. No wonder!
Locals enjoy June, July and August, since the weather is usually fine and our favorite haunts remain uncrowded. The usual pattern is brief but heavy showers, with plenty of sunshine between downpours. Everything is a little less expensive at this time of year, as well. Temperatures range between 70ºF and 90ºF (20ºC to 33ºC).
During September and early October locals start to remember their umbrellas. This makes an ideal time to visit abroad. One consolation for those who remain is that the beaches, restaurants and streets are relatively uncluttered by visitors. And even at this time we still get long intervals of sunshine between the heavy showers. Plenty of low season activities, both water and land-based, are still available on Phuket during this wettest part of the summer season.