The island of Phuket has long been misunderstood. Firstly, the ‘h’ is silent. And secondly, Phuket doesn’t feel like an island at all. It’s so huge (49km long, the biggest in Thailand) that you rarely feel surrounded by water, which is probably why Ko (‘island’) was dropped from its name. Branded the ‘pearl of the Andaman’, this is Thailand’s original flavour of tailor-made fun in the sun.
Phuket’s sin city of Patong is the biggest town and busiest beach. It’s the ultimate gong show where beachaholics sizzle off their hangovers and go-go girls play ping pong…without paddles. But there’s space for all kinds here. Phuket Town has morphed into an artsy, culturally rich capital, while Rawai on the island’s southern tip remains blissfully laid-back, despite development. The twin west-coast beaches of Kata and Karon reel in holidaymakers who like their trips easy. An upmarket twist awaits along Hat Surin and Ao Bang Thao, while, further north, things quieten down as you thread through Sirinat National Park and Khao Phra Thaew reserve.
Ultimately, the island’s affinity for luxury far outshines its other stereotypes. Jet-setters swing through in droves, getting pummelled during swanky spa sessions and sipping sundowners at fashion-forward nightspots or on rented yachts. And you don’t have to be an heiress to tap into Phuket’s style-packed to-do list. With deep-sea diving, high-end dining, luxury shopping, fabulous white beaches and some of Thailand’s swankiest hotels at your fingertips, you might forget to leave.
Friendly and fun loving, exotic and tropical, cultured and historic, Thailand radiates a golden hue from its glittering temples and tropical beaches through to the ever-comforting Thai smile.
A Bountiful Table
Adored around the world, Thai cuisine expresses fundamental aspects of Thai culture: it is generous, warm, refreshing and relaxed. Each Thai dish relies on fresh, local ingredients – pungent lemongrass, searing chillies and plump seafood. A varied national menu is built around the four fundamental flavours: spicy, sweet, salty and sour. Roving appetites go on eating tours of Bangkok noodle shacks, seafood pavilions in Phuket and Burmese market stalls in Mae Sot. Cooking classes reveal the simplicity behind the seemingly complicated dishes and mastering the market is an important survival skill.
Fields & Forests
In between the cluttered cities and towns is the rural heartland, which is a mix of rice paddies, tropical forests and squat villages tied to the agricultural clock. In the north, the forests and fields bump up against toothy blue mountains decorated with silvery waterfalls. In the south, scraggy limestone cliffs poke out of the cultivated landscape like prehistoric skyscrapers. The usually arid northeast emits an emerald hue during the rainy season when tender green rice shoots carpet the landscape.
The celestial world is a close confidant in this Buddhist nation, and religious devotion is colourful and ubiquitous. Gleaming temples and golden Buddhas frame both the rural and modern landscape. Ancient banyan trees are ceremoniously wrapped in sacred cloth to honour the resident spirits, fortune-bringing shrines decorate humble homes as well as monumental malls, while garland-festooned dashboards ward off traffic accidents. Visitors can join the conversation through meditation retreats in Chiang Mai, religious festivals in northeastern Thailand, underground cave shrines in Kanchanaburi and Phetchaburi and hilltop temples in northern Thailand.
Sand Between your Toes
With a long coastline (actually, two coastlines) and jungle-topped islands anchored in azure waters, Thailand is a tropical getaway for the hedonist and the hermit, the prince and the pauper. This paradise offers a varied menu: playing in the gentle surf of Ko Lipe, diving with whale sharks off Ko Tao, scaling the sea cliffs of Krabi, kiteboarding in Hua Hin, partying on Ko Phi Phi, recuperating at a health resort on Ko Samui and feasting on the beach wherever sand meets sea.