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Phuket is one of the region's economic powerhouses—millions of tourists visit the island every year, enjoying the many delights that are offered in this established resort island. Phuket is a modern, vibrant island with more than 6 million annual visitors, a number that is only increasing year-to-year. If you've never been to Phuket, you will likely love it; returning visitors will find a new island that eagerly greets its next wave of tourism.

Koh Phuket is linked to the mainland by a causeway, and the rest of the world by an international airport. Its indented coastline and hilly interior make the island seem larger than its 48-km (30-mile) length and 21-km (13-mile) breadth. Before tourism, Koh Phuket was already making fortunes out of tin mining and rubber plantations. Then backpackers discovered Koh Phuket in the early 1970s. Word quickly spread about its white, sandy beaches and cliff-sheltered coves, its plunging waterfalls and impressive mountains, its cloudless days and fiery sunsets.

This love of Phuket has brought serious problems. Entrepreneurs built massive resorts, first in Patong, then spreading out around the island. Before the tsunami there was no easy way to navigate the island, which was plagued by horrendous traffic and overdevelopment. Some would say Phuket was being loved to death. Now visitors may be taken aback in some parts by ongoing overdevelopment, but there are also places where you can isolate yourself from the rest of the island.

Even though it may seem like every other business here is a tour operator or dive shop or tailor or jeep rental or pub, there's a lot to love about the island. The beaches are still beautiful, and this remains a top destination for snorkeling and diving (with more than 180 registered dive shops). The island offers some of the most exclusive resorts and spas in the world, yet the food, drink, and accommodations are cheap compared to most visitors' home countries (though Phuket is quite expensive by Thai standards). And direct flights to the island make this a convenient getaway.

When planning your trip, keep in mind that the monsoon season runs from May to October, and swimming on the west side of the coast is not advisable during this time, as the current can be dangerous.

This section starts with Phuket Town, the hub of the island, and is organized counterclockwise from there. It's best to pick one or two choice spots and stick with them. The frazzling travel between destinations can undo any relaxation you enjoyed the previous day.

  • Phuket Town

    Though few tourists linger here, Phuket Town, the provincial capital, is one of the more culturally interesting... Read More
  • Nai Harn

    Less busy than other nearby beaches and more popular among locals, Nai Harn offers a small but interesting choice... Read More
  • Kata Beach

    Popular for its stunning white-sand beach with turquoise waters, and especially appealing to families for its serene... Read More
  • Chalong

    The waters in horseshoe-shape Chalong Bay are usually calm, as the entrance is guarded by Koh Lone and Koh Hae.... Read More
  • Pansea, Surin and Laem Sing Beaches

    South of Bang Thao is a jagged shoreline with little inlets. Once secluded, these areas are developing quickly... Read More
  • Kamala Beach

    Unlike the more upscale enclaves to the north, Kamala Beach has some reasonably priced accommodations that attract... Read More
  • Patong

    You'd hardly believe it today, but Patong was once the island's most remote beach, completely cut off by the surrounding... Read More
  • Karon Beach

    Just south of Patong lie Karon Beach and its smaller northern counterpart, Karon Noi. Bunches of hotels, restaurants,... Read More