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Top Ten things to know about Phuket for beginners

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

- The Thaiger

If you have story ideas, a restaurant to review, an event to cover or an issue to discuss, contact The Thaiger editorial staff.

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National

Singapore Airlines back on top. Thai Airways in 10th place.

The Thaiger

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PHOTO: Flyer Talk

Singapore Airlines is back on top after a decade held out of the top airline position by middle-eastern competition. It’s their fourth win since the Skytrax World Airline awards started back in 2001.

The island nation’s national carrier was named Airline of the Year at the 2018 Skytrax World Airline awards. Singapore Airlines was last top of the list in 2008. This year it forced out last year’s top honours winner, Qatar Airways, into second place.

Yeoh Phee Teik, Singapore Airlines’s senior vice president of customer experience, said “We’re very ecstatic.”

The airline  also claimed best airline in Asia, best first class and best first class seat.

Asian airlines made a return to the winner’s list this year with ANA All Nippon Airways receiving third place, Taiwan’s EVA Air in 5th position, Cathay Pacific in 6th, Hainan Airlines in 7th, Garuda Airlines in 9th (an extraordinary achievement considering their reputation only a decade ago) and Thai Airways in 10th place.

Singapore’s victory marked a resurgence in Asian carriers in the annual UK-based aviation industry review. Skytrax began its awards in 2001 and is recognised for its fairness due to passengers voting in all categories. Aside from a win by Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific back in 2014, all past seven years have all gone to middle east based airlines.

“We’re glad that our work has been recognised and our customers have voted for us to be the world’s best,” said Yeoh.

Garuda Airlines, which has turned its service around since the early days of Skytrax, when it was banned from flying into European airspace, was presented with the prize for best cabin staff along with its 9th place overall.

Not one US airline picked up a single award.

Locally Air Asia picked up an award for Best low coast airline – Asia, Thai Airways won the award for best airline catering in Economy Class (The Thaiger thinks the voters weren’t flying on the same flight when Thaiger experienced the economy class ‘food’) and Bangkok Ailines won Best Regional Airline – Asia.

The top 10 world’s best airlines for 2018
1. Singapore Airlines
2. Qatar Airways
3. ANA All Nippon Airways
4. Emirates
5. EVA Air
6. Cathay Pacific
7. Lufthansa
8. Hainan Airlines
9. Garuda Indonesia
10. Thai Airways

Best airlines by global region
Northern Europe – Finnair
Western Europe – Lufthansa
Eastern Europe – Aeroflot Russian Airlines
Africa – Ethiopian Airlines
Australia / Pacific – Qantas Airlines
Central Asia / India – Air Astana
China – Hainan Airlines
Central America / Caribbean – Copa Airlines
South America – Avianca
North America– Air Canada
Asia – Singapore Airlines
Middle East – Qatar Airways
Europe – Lufthansa

Best low-cost airlines
Africa – Mango
Australia & Pacific – Jetstar Airways
Asia – AirAsia
Central Asia / India – Indigo
China – West Air
South America – Sky Airline
North America – WestJet
Middle East – Flynas
Europe – Norwegian

Best airline catering
Economy – Thai Airways
Premium economy – Aeroflot Russian Airlines
Business – Austrian Airlines
First class – Air France

Best airline seats
Economy – Japan Airlines
Premium economy – Air New Zealand
Business – Qatar Airways
First class – Singapore Airlines

Best regional airlines
Africa – Royal Air Maroc
Asia – Bangkok Airways
South America – Azul Brazilian Airlines
Central Asia / India – Azerbaijan Airlines
Europe – Aegean Airlines

Best airline lounges
First class – Qatar Airways
Airline alliance lounge – Star Alliance Los Angeles
Independent airport lounge – Plaza Premium Heathrow Terminal Two
First class lounge dining – Air France
Airline lounge spa facility – Thai Awards

Best airlines staff service by global region
Africa – South African Airways
Australia / Pacific – Qantas Airways
Central Asia / India – Vistara
China – Hainan Airlines
Central America / Caribbean – Copa Airlines
South America – Azul Brazilian Airlines
Asia – ANA All Nippon Airways
Middle East – Emirates
Europe – Austrian Airlines

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Thai Life

World’s Top Ten off-grid hotel stays

The Thaiger

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…according to booking website Hotels.com

Want to go ‘off the grid’? Escape from the bustling markets, show-pieces and tourist traps around the world? Some of these places don’t even have wi-fi.

Hotels.com has launched a new Hideaway Hotels category to help you escape 21st century life for a break The booking website has seen a 60% spike in guests leaving reviews of places they’ve raved about, specialising in off-grid getaways.

“Thanks to our 25 million guest reviews, we’ve seen a huge uplift in desire to escape the city and head for the hills – in some cases, quite literally! Going ‘off-grid’ seems to be a trend many guests are positively highlighting more and more in their reviews,” said Johan Svanstrom, president for the Hotels.com.

Desert Nights

UAE – Anantara Qasr al Sarab Desert – Hotels.com review rating: 9.6 out of 10

Sit back, relax and enjoy peace and quiet in the desert. A hotel nestled among spectacular sand dunes, Anantara Qasr al Sarab Desert is the quintessential “middle of nowhere” hotel. Shoes off, toes in the sand, this breathtaking luxury hotel with spa and safari offers plenty of space to unwind.

Icey Tundra

Sweden – Icehotel – Hotels.com review rating: 8.6 out of 10

This epic location is just the spot to rug up and take a moment frozen in time. There are endless opportunities to chill and hopefully enjoy the stunning Northern Lights. There is a selection of warm and cold room types available, including the Art Suites, each individually hand carved and kept between 5 and 8 degrees Celsius. Take something warm to wear.

Jungle Life

Bali – Four Seasons Resort Sayan – Hotels.com review ratings: 9.4 out of 10

For those seeking a romantic off-the-beaten-track getaway, this resort is a well-hidden gem, rising out of the rice fields above the Ayung River. The 60 guestroom retreat is surrounded by the lush hillside and fragrant gardens of Sayan, offering guests a spiritual epicentre. Feet up – it’s time to enjoy the exquisite views and pure luxury.

Cave Dwelling

Turkey – Gamirasu Cave  – Hotels.com review rating: 9.8 out of 10

This hotel is hidden among the beautiful and rugged Cappadocia region in Turkey. The cave rooms are guaranteed to ensure guests avoid a rocky holiday. This quirky hotel offers the ultimate luxury, both underground and off the beaten path.

Treehouse

Thailand – Keemala – Hotels.com review ratings: 9.2 out of 10

This truly remarkable property is a tranquil wonderland set spectacularly above the island rainforest canopy but just minutes from Kamala, a small town north of Patong along Phuket’s sandy west coast. The 38 guestroom resort offers free-standing baths, yoga classes and a poolside bar. The stunning Birds Nest villas even offer private infinity pools in the sky! This is remote luxury at its finest (but not TOO remote).

Private Island

Florida, USA – Little Palm Island resort and spa – Hotels.com review rating: 9.8 out of 10

The Little Palm Island Resort and Spa proves the adage that good things come in small packages. An exclusive resort with only 30 guest rooms, it offers spectacular water front views with a private beach, luxurious spa and 5-star restaurant. No holiday will be the same, so guests can enjoy the secluded island and be sure to brag to friends about a truly offgrid vacation in Florida sun.

Mountain to Sea Resort

St Lucia – Jade Mountain Resort – Hotels.com review rating: 10.0 out of 10

Overlooking 600 acres of beach, this Caribbean resort is one of the most mesmerising hotels in the world. The resort features a full-service spa, fitness facilities, tennis courts and an infinity pool. Some suites even come with their own pool overlooking the mountains. Its iconic location provides guests with an exclusive sanctuary.

Ranch Life

California – Calistoga Ranch – Hotels.com review rating: 9.6 out of 10

Fantasise about taking a dip in a private canyon in the Napa Valley? Dreams do come true at Calistoga Ranch. The resort offers a true taste of secluded luxury, with private lakes, rolling hills and lush forests. Pull up a sun lounger and sip on some wine to celebrate a supreme holiday.

Rural Retreat

Chile – Remota Hotel – Hotels.com review rating: 9.0 out of 10

Hidden in Chilean Patagonia, the world epicentre of natural beauty, guests can enjoy breathtaking views of this remote paradise. The hotel offers a marina, spa, pool, garden and library. Guests can use this stunning hotel as a base to explore the nearby native forests, islets, ice fields and glaciers.

Silo Stay

New Zealand – Silostay Little River – Hotels.com review ratings: 9.6 out of 10

Go against the grain by holidaying in the quaint town of Little River, New Zealand. Located in the land known as the long white cloud, the refurbished grain silos bring a unique, extraordinary and peaceful experience. This innovative, ecofriendly accommodation is the only one of its kind in the world.

 

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Entertainment

Water Park Wars – Phuket wettest battlefield

The Thaiger

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by Xinyi Liang-Pholsena of ttgasia.com

ttgasia.com is reporting that the water park battle in Phuket is getting very intense as new players enter the marketplace. Among them Blue Tree Phuket, poised to open its doors early 2019 as an upscale family entertainment and lifestyle complex.

The sprawling 22.5ha development, located around Cherngtalay, is the result of a joint venture comprising unnamed Thai and international partners, who see opportunity in the family-oriented attractions sector by pumping investment upwards of US$40 million into the project.

“Pattaya has two water parks, Hua Hin has three water parks, but Phuket has just small water parks. There’s been a clear demand for inland entertainment alternatives for some time now,” said Michael Ayling, general manager of Blue Tree Phuket. He was speaking to TTG Asia about the upcoming project in an exclusive interview ahead of its pre-launch in August.

“Blue Tree will offer an immersive lifestyle experience that combines the fun of water sports, family activities, retail and relaxation in one strategically located destination that will cater precisely to this demand,” he added.

Facilities within the 11ha first phase, which opens to the public at the start of 2019, includes a water and entertainment park, a four-storey vertical Beach Club, Fitness Zone, Kid’s Club, restaurants and food outlets, and multiple retail spaces.

The complex’s centrepiece – the 17,000 square metre man-made Blue Tree Lagoon – is flanked by artificial beaches and offers an experiential aquatic playground for families, with spaces ranging from a splash zone for young kids to adrenaline-driven activities such as Slip N Fly water slides and cliff jumping.

Ayling envisions Blue Tree to be an “accessible destination” that will appeal to “middle class Thai families and Amanpuri guests” alike. Admission fees will be kept “affordable” with a pay-and-use concept, while full access to all activities will be priced at around 1,000 baht.

Acknowledging the competition upcoming water parks like Vana Nava Phuket and Kata Water Park will bring – both of which are currently in development – Ayling thinks there is still “a lot of space for competition” in Phuket. “We will likely have the (water park) market to ourselves for a few years,” he commented.

“Blue Tree Phuket will also suit the seasonality of the destination and make a great low-season product,” he added, referring to the island’s monsoon months from May to October when the seas experience rougher surf and strong currents.

When asked about the absence of accommodation at Blue Tree Phuket, Ayling stated: “Do we need a 120-room hotel when we have 12,000 rooms in the (Cherngtalay) vicinity already? Phuket’s hotel scene is very competitive, but what isn’t competitive is entertainment.”

STORY: ttgasia.com

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