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Top 10 things to know about Phuket for beginners (2019)

The Thaiger

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Top 10 things to know about Phuket for beginners (2019) | The Thaiger
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1. Welcome to Phuket

Phuket is an island and a province. It’s the largest island in Thailand – 48 km north to south, 21 km east to west. It’s about 20% smaller, in area, than Singapore but much less densely populated. Whilst the island nation of Singapore boasts a population of nearly 6 million, Phuket has a permanent population of around 400-450,000 (but varies a lot with the influx of tourists and a workforce that is always changing). Most of Phuket remains jungle and tropical rainforest despite an acceleration of development over the past 20 years.

Unlike some of Thailand’s other popular islands (that are in the Gulf of Thailand), Phuket is located in the Andaman Sea. Phuket is only just an island, linked to the Thai mainland by a 400 metre bridge. The channel beneath is frequently dredged to maintain Phuket’s status as an island. On the other side of Sarasin Bridge is the Province of Phang Nga.

Phuket is 878 km north of the equator.

Top 10 things to know about Phuket for beginners (2019) | News by The Thaiger

2. Basics

The currency used in Phuket is the Thai Baht and the electricity is 220-240 Volts/50 Hz. Thai is the spoken language although, especially with the west coast businesses and tourist zones, you will get away with English.

Top 10 things to know about Phuket for beginners (2019) | News by The Thaiger

There is one international airport but multiple piers along the east coast for the many day trips to nearby islands. Public transport on Phuket is negligible. There are constant attempts to establish better public transport but the attempts are usually foiled by a strong taxi and tuk tuk monopoly that keep the charges higher and, largely, unregulated. On the upside there’s plenty of taxis and tuk tuks on Phuket but be prepared to bargain and agree your price before you get in despite the taxis being legally required to use a meter.

Hiring cars or a motorbike is easy but we would caution anyone keen to move around the island independently to check their travel or health insurance and to hire from a recommended or reputable company. Roads are fairly good and getting around is easy but the traffic can, at times, be very heavy.

3. Religion

Most of the population is Buddhist, like the rest of Thailand but the island also has a significant Muslim population of around 25-30%. Buddhism on Phuket is influenced by the island’s strong trade links and infusion of Chinese traders and workers over the past 400 years. Then you add the local expats and 12-15 million tourists each year and you have a very diverse mix of religions and backgrounds living on the island at any one time. There are hundreds of Buddhist temples around Phuket.

Top 10 things to know about Phuket for beginners (2019) | News by The Thaiger

4. The name

The name Phuket (poo-KET) is derived from a Malay word bukit, which translates as hill. On European shipping charts it was called Junk Ceylon or Junkceylon which derives from Tanjung Salang in Malay, translating as Cape Salang. Later the island was known as Thalang which, before the southern end and west coast became popular after the 1970s, was the island’s commercial and residential hub.

During the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), Phuket was the administrative centre of tin production in the southern provinces. In 1933 Monthon Phuket (มณฑลภูเก็ต) was dissolved and Phuket became a Province. It’s the only island in Thailand which is both an island and a Province.

5. Income

The main source of income in Phuket is tourism, by far. But before the west discovered the island’s pristine west coast beaches in the 1970s, Phuket was know all the way back to the 16th century as a tin-mining hub. (If you drive around Phuket you will see hundreds of small lakes. Most of these are old tin-mines). The island’s tin mining history has been remembered at the Kathu Mining Museum, located on the back road that runs through the hills between Kathu and Koh Keaw. Besides tourism, latex, pineapples, cashew nuts and palm oil are also grown on the island. But, every year, tourism forges ahead as the island’s most reliable income producer.

6. Weather

As a tropical island Phuket is always humid and hot.

Phuket’s weather is fairly reliable. Reliably wet during the monsoon and reliably dry in the dry season. But there are also plenty of variations in the shoulder seasons and, even when it rains, it’s usually brief (and torrential) with lots of sunshine in between.

Top 10 things to know about Phuket for beginners (2019) | News by The Thaiger

The dry season runs from December to April and the monsoon season from May to November. The wettest months, statistically, are May and September. Tourists flock to the island during the dry season when top temperatures range between 31 – 35 (it gets hotter as the dry season months pass), with light winds from the north east.

During the monsoon season the winds swing around to the south west providing rideable surf along some of the west coast beaches. It can also be quite dangerous for inexperienced swimmers so, please, always obey the red flag warnings along the patrolled beaches. Temperatures usually peak at 31 during monsoon season and get down to 20-22 in the evenings.

Consider all this as a guide only as there’s always plenty of variation. But you will never need to pack a coat or warm weather clothes when visiting Phuket.

7. Beaches

Depending on how you count them, there are 36 unique beaches on Phuket. The island’s best known and iconic sandy beaches are along the west coast – Nai Harn, Patong, Karon, Kata, Kamala, Surin, Bang Tao, Nai Harn and Nai Thon, Nai Yang and Mai Khao up north. The western beaches are fully exposed to the Andaman Sea kicking up some rideable surf in during the annual south-west monsoon.

The east coast is largely mangroves in the north and smaller rocky beaches in the south. But there are a few hidden gems including Laem Ka in Rawai and Ao Yon in Cape Panwa. The east coast looks back towards Krabi and Phang Nga Bay and provides postcard views of the many islands dotted in the waters between Phuket and the mainland.

Top 10 things to know about Phuket for beginners (2019) | News by The Thaiger

8. Main towns

The main commercial centre is Phuket Town. There have been attempts to get the media and locals to refer to it as Phuket City but, well, it’s really just a big town and will likely remain being called Phuket Town. The wider commercial and administrative hub of Phuket, in the centre of the island’s east coast, is built around the older Old Phuket Town.

Two hundred years ago, when Phuket was a bustling hub of trade with many Chinese and international sea-farers passing through, it must have been a bustling port of sailors, traders, miners and locals keen to extract money from them all. By all accounts it was a rough place to live with a busy red light district. These early trading days have left a heritage of sino-portuguese shop houses. Before the 1980s these old shop-houses were in serious need of repair.

Now streets like Thalang, Dibuk, Yowarat and Phang Nga roads are a collection of restored buildings, funky cafés, boutiques, art galleries, book shops and boutique hotels. The area has become a worthy tourist magnet deserving of your time when visiting the island.

Top 10 things to know about Phuket for beginners (2019) | News by The Thaiger

The other main hub is Patong Beach. On the opposite side of the island to Phuket Town, Patong continues to grow and rebrand itself. Once a quiet haven for back-packers it’s now a much bigger haven for back-packers, along with international hotels, 5 star resorts, world-class restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. There are much better beaches on the island of Phuket but no visit to Phuket is complete without a night in Patong. It’s international famous, or infamous, for its colourful and (sometimes) raunchy nightlife.

The main residential areas of Phuket include Kathu, Chalong, Rawai, Cherngtalay, Kamala and Thalang. Whilst the west coast mainly attracts the tourists, the locals live in the south, east, central and northern sections of the island. There is an increasing trend for the island’s attractions and accommodation centres to move inland from the beaches as number of tourism businesses grow and diversify.

9. Events and Festivals

Songkran is on April 13 and celebrates the start of the Thai New Year. It may have started out as a respectful cleansing of the Buddha images in temples but has descended into a water-pistol war zone with roads lined with people throwing water an anyone driving by. If it sounds mad, it is. If you’re in Bangla Road in Patong it keeps going for three or more days. NB. Songkran is not the time to drive your motorbike around Phuket in an Armani suit.

Top 10 things to know about Phuket for beginners (2019) | News by The Thaiger

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival occurs during October, depending on the Chinese lunar calendar each year. It’s a unique, jaw-dropping festival of parades, piercings, fireworks and markets full of vegetarian food. Almost impossible to describe, so we’ll invite you to discover it yourself.

Loy Krathong is in November each year and is celebrated by releasing little (usually hand-made) rafts made of banana leaves, incense and flowers. Just about any waterway on the island becomes a location for families to launch krathongs.

Chinese New Year and the Old Phuket Festival are usually during February each year and celebrate the island’s rich and deep Chinese heritage. Be prepared for lots of excellent street food and fireworks.

10. Topography

Phuket is an island of hills (indeed it was once called bukit which means hill in Malay). Very broadly, there is a range of hills that run down the centre, closer to the west coast, with wider expanses of flat lands on the east side.

The highest points in Phuket are Radar Hill overlooking Patong at 513 metres, and the nearby unnamed hill on the northern side of the road that runs over the hills into Patong. It overlooks Kamala on one side and the Kathu valley on the other and reaches 543 metres. You can drive most of the way up Radar Hill but there’s a military installation at the top. The other hill you can probably hike all the way up to the top but there’s no well-trodden path and you’d need some local advice, a backpack with lots of water and some good walking shoes.

There are a few small but pretty waterfalls on the island – Ton Sai and Bang Pae between Paklok and Thalang to the east and the Kathu Waterfall in the centre. With a distinct wet and dry season on the island you’ll obviously get the best photos in the wet season.

Top 10 things to know about Phuket for beginners (2019) | News by The Thaiger

Some of the hills have their own unique attractions including the Big Buddha overlooking Kata and Karon beaches on one side and Chalong on the other. There’s also Khao Rang (Rang Hill) with restaurants and a specially constructed viewing point. Khao To Sae (Monkey Hill) rises above Phuket Town and is a great place to see the local macaques but DON’T feed or approach the monkeys as they can be quite clever at parting you from your iPhone or expensive camera and have been known to be aggressive at times.

Down south is the southern-most Laem Promthep (Cape Promthep) where tourists flock to watch the sunset each night (we can promise you that you will see exactly the same sunset anywhere along the west coast of the islands if you want to avoid the crowds and tourist buses). It’s also an excellent location during the day.

This is just the start of your exploration of Phuket. We look forward to seeing you on the island soon.

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Economy

70% of Phuket’s tourism businesses are closed, many for good

Caitlin Ashworth

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70% of Phuket’s tourism businesses are closed, many for good | The Thaiger
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Most tourism businesses in Phuket have closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and they probably won’t be up and running again until foreign tourists are let back in Thailand. Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew says around 70% of tourism businesses have closed, most of them just temporarily, but some have shut down permanently. But the statistics are not quite that simple, with the east side of the island, largely inhabited by locals with the central business district of Phuket Town and some of the more popular expat towns, doing far better than the tourist magnets of the west coast. The Thaiger estimates that on the west coast the number would exceed 90%.

Before the pandemic, tourism to Phuket brought in 450 billion baht a year with 400 billion baht from foreign visitors while the other 50 billion baht was from domestic tourists. Thailand has been trying to increase domestic tourism to help revive the industry after the pandemic. Phuket’s governor says it helps, but not enough.

“Their visits can help solve some of our economic problems, but they cannot replace the need of foreign tourists.”

66.8% of tourism businesses in Phuket have closed temporarily while 2.8% have closed permanently, according to data by the Digital Economy Promotion Agency. (Again the percentage along the west coast is MUCH higher – just take a drive through Paton, Kat, Karon). Phuket’s governor is trying figure out how to recover the economy. And fast.

“By the end of September, the number of businesses to be closed will increase up to 70% for sure.”

While many businesses are closed, the governor says Phuket is “almost 100% ready to welcome foreign tourists.” The governor says he can’t give an answer to when foreign tourists will arrive in Phuket, but he claims they’ve “prepared every step,” from checking in at the airport to hotel quarantine. They’re just going to install some new temperature check machines at the Phuket International Airport and review the procedures for welcoming the tourists.

“We have to work and prepare carefully to welcome foreign tourists… We have to gradually open our door to welcome small groups of people first, in order to test our system, and then open for bigger groups.”

At the moment, only 3 venues in Phuket have been approved to operate as alternative state quarantine facilities. Anantara Phuket Suites & Villas has 100 rooms available, Anantara Mai Khao Phuket has 36 villas and Trisara resort has 15 villas. All are 5 star venues with a commensurate 5 star cost.

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Phuket

Thailand’s Social Security Office forced to explain investment in Sri Panwa Phuket Resort trust fund

Maya Taylor

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Thailand’s Social Security Office forced to explain investment in Sri Panwa Phuket Resort trust fund | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Sri Panwa Phuket Resort - Sri Panwa Phuket

The Social Security Office, a department under the direction of Thailand’s Ministry of Labour, is being asked to explain its investment in the trust fund of Phuket’s Sri Panwa Phuket Resort. The demand comes as members of the opposition and political activists call for an investigation into the property’s land rights. The owner of Sri Panwa Phuket, Vorasit Issara, has been condemned online recently, with his property attracting multiple negative reviews, after he criticised anti-government protest leader, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul.

Thai PBS World reports that the Civil Society for State Welfare is calling on the SSO to clarify its investment in the Sri Panwa Hospitality Real Estate Investment Trust, thought to be worth around 500 million baht. Nimit Thian-udom says that, while the SSO’s investment does not break any laws, the board must explain the reasons behind the investment decision and clarify the return on that investment. In addition, he says the SSO should attach more importance to good governance when choosing where to invest.

The call for clarity is echoed by opposition MP Chirayu Huangsap, from the Pheu Thai Party, who calls on the Labour Minister to explain the investment. He adds that any discrepancies will be reported to both the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission.

The land rights of the luxury Sri Panwa Phuket resort, which sits on prime land atop Phuket’s Cape Panwa, overlooking the south-eastern tip of the island, are also being called into question. Veera Somkwamkid, from the People’s Network Against Corruption, says he is looking into the property’s land rights and will pass his findings to the Department of Special Investigations.

For his part, the Labour Minister, Somsak Thepsuthin, says he doesn’t know if the property has been legally built, saying it’s up to the DSI to investigate and that a complaint does not need to be filed in order for them to do so.

Meanwhile, review site Tripadvisor has had to suspend reviews for the Sri Panwa resort, as anti-government netizens exact their revenge on the proprietor by posting negative feedback on the property.

“Due to a recent event that has attracted media attention and has caused an influx of review submissions that do not describe a first-hand experience, we have temporarily suspended publishing new reviews for this listing.”

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Thailand

Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chachoengsao join UNESCO’s learning cities

Caitlin Ashworth

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Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chachoengsao join UNESCO’s learning cities | The Thaiger
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3 cities in Thailand recently joined UNESCO’s membership of so called “learning cities” which are said to promote “lifelong learning” and sustainable development. Chachoengsao, Chiang Mai and Phuket joined the UNESCO’s Global Network of Learning Cities. Altogether, 55 cities from 27 countries, adding up to 230 cities in 64 countries around the world, according to UNESCO.

“These cities are outstanding examples of how lifelong learning can become a reality at local level. They have proven that effective lifelong learning policies and practices can support the development of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and contribute to the 2030 Agenda.”

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning David Atchoarena says the recent new members have shown that they can make “lifelong learning a reality,” even after enduring the pandemic.

“With unprecedented urgency, the Covid-19-19 pandemic has underlined the necessity to build more resilient education systems for the future. With more than half of humanity living in urban areas, cities must be at the centre of this undertaking.”

David says he hopes it will inspire other cities in Thailand to follow.

“I very much hope that we will see many other cities from Thailand joining the network and working on providing lifelong learning opportunities for all to ensure a sustainable and peaceful future.”

The mayor of Chachoengsao, Kolayuth Chaisang, says his goal is to provide “effective education, thoroughly and equally to all citizens.” According to the Bangkok Post, the city is a key urban centre both economically and culturally.

The mayor of Chiang Mai, Tussanai Buranupakorn, says he wants to revitalise the city, while also maintaining the cultural significance. The city has a number of educational institutes, which goes along with UNESCO’s learning city principles.

Phuket is a hub of sustainable creativity, according to the Bangkok Post. The mayor of Phuket, Somjai Suwansupana, says he wants to preserve the city’s “identity, local wisdom assets and the charm of our multiculturalism.”

SOURCES: UNESCO |Bangkok Post

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