weekend away - Phuket
Written by Dan White
Commonly described as the ‘Pearl of the South’, Phuket offers some of the finest beaches in Asia, spectacular limestone towers, a sophisticated hospitality industry, and excellent opportunities for golf, sailing, snorkelling, and diving.
Nestled in balmy Andaman waters, Phuket is the largest of Thailand’s many beautiful islands. The coastline is a series of pristine white-sand beaches lined with palm trees. They face an almost luminous clear blue sea dotted with dramatic limestone outcrops rearing out of the water. The interior is both mountainous and verdant with a slightly wild feel to it.
Originally called ‘Junk Ceylon’ – a corruption of the Malay words ‘Jang Si Lang’ – the earliest recorded documentation of Phuket’s existence was in the works of the 3rd-century Greek geographer Ptolemy.
These days Phuket is certainly a place to party, but if you want a quiet, deserted getaway disturbed by nothing more than the sound of the sea and the cry of the gecko, you have that too. It has some of the best diving and snorkelling in Asia, and is also famous for yachting, windsurfing, and every other kind of water sport. Phuket boasts three state-of-the-art marinas – the Royal Phuket Marina, the Boat Lagoon, and the Yacht Haven Marina.
The historical centre of the island is Phuket Town. It is an atmospheric place with a very Chinese feel. The vast majority of the island’s population emigrated from southern China in the 19th-century to work in the tin mines. Its pretty colonnaded streets are a wonderful example of Sino-Portuguese architecture.
The most developed beach is Patong. Here the seafront is lined with restaurants, hotels, and bars, and the partying goes on late into the night. Even though it is a brash place by night, the beach is pure white sand and, during the day, as good a place as any to swim or relax with a book. It is also the best place on the island to find international cuisine.
If you want to be close to the action, but not in it, the surrounding beaches of Kamala, Karon, Kata, and Surin are a lot quieter. Quite a bit farther north are Bang Tao and Nai Thon. You can also explore the mountainous interior. There are some great viewpoints from which you can see the island and the surrounding Andaman Sea spread out before you. Laem Phromthep in the south is a wonderful place to watch the sunset, as is Khao Rang nearer the city.
The JW Marriott Resort and Spa Perhaps the ultimate getaway destination is the JW Marriott Resort and Spa in the north of the island near the airport. This is, in effect, its own self-contained luxury village, the centrepiece of which is the most beautiful infinity pool in Thailand. It seems to stretch to the ocean horizon. The hotel itself is built in an airy colonial style and exquisitely appointed.
Diving and Snorkelling
Diving and snorkelling around Phuket is simply unbeatable. Two hours offshore is the island of Ao Phang-Nga with its limestone rock formations and clear warm waters. Four hours from Phuket are the world-famous Similan Islands. The nine islands are part of a national park, so the marine life is protected. Over 108 varieties of reef fish alone have been logged.