Phuket Diving Holidays
Phuket Island Travel Information
Thailand's most popular beach destination Phuket is also known as 'The Pearl of the South'. It is located in the Andaman Sea just a short hours plane ride south of Bangkok.
Phuket has plenty to offer the holiday maker: exquisite beaches, turquoise-blue waters, warmth and sunshine, top-quality resorts and hotels, Thai and international cuisine, coral reefs, scuba diving and Liveaboards, water sports and ornate temples. It is an island and is Thailand's largest at 21 km wide and 48 km long. Driving from one end to the other takes around 1½ hours.
Although some areas of the island have become quite built up there is plenty of action and nightlife to be found. Other parts of the island remain quiet and unspoilt and it is still a beautiful place. For great scuba diving it is still the best place to be in Thailand.
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How to Get There
Phuket Island is situated in the south of Thailand off the Thai - Myanmar - Malay Peninsula in the Andaman Sea. Its international airport has direct flights to/from several main destinations: Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong, and Bangkok in Thailand. Flights from Bangkok with Air Asia (www.AirAsia.com), Thai Airways (www.ThaiAir.com) and Bangkok Airways (www.BangkokAir.com) run daily almost every hour. Journey time is around 1 hour and a return flight costs around US$ 150.
The airport is located in the north of the island about 40 km from Patong Beach. The journey takes around 45 minutes in a taxi. We can arrange transfer for you at a cost of approximately US$ 20 each way.
Alternatively there are daily bus and train services between Bangkok and Phuket. This is a more affordable way of travelling but takes time at around 12 hours.
Where to Stay
There is plenty of choice for where to stay in Phuket from basic guesthouses to 5 star international beach resorts. Whatever your budget you are bound to find what you are looking for.
Our affiliated hotel reservation agents Agoda.com have a wide range of different accommodations in Phuket. Have a look at the choices on their website and then once you've made your decision you can book with your credit card:
Their site offers a 'Low Price Guarantee' which means you are ensured of getting the best value for money whatever your choice. They also have an on-line chat service in case you have any questions.
Phuket's has a tropical climate which means it is warm all year long and there is plenty of sunshine. The tourist high season runs from November to April. Peak season is December and January which are the busiest months. Accommodation can be more expensive at this time and the dive sites can be crowded particularly the Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock. Diving charters are often fully booked.
We recommend you visit from February to April even as a non-diver as there a fewer tourists and you can find better value accommodation. The sea is at its calmest and Phuket's dive sites have fewer visitors. This is also the time that you are most likely to encounter a whale shark or manta ray whether on a day dive trip or a Liveaboard cruise.
The northeast monsoon prevails from November into March/April bringing great beach weather with blue skies and light breezes. The island averages 26 sunny days a month at this time.
From May to October the southwest monsoon brings rain and winds to southern Thailand's west coast. The rain is intermittent with just the odd shower although there can be rainy days. Phuket still averages 20 sunny days per month in the rainy season.
The seas can be choppy at times during this season and diving trip boat rides from Phuket can be rough. The waves are great for surfing and a growing number of surfers and water sports enthusiasts are attracted to the Andaman coast at this time of year. However swimmers should take care especially if there are rip tides present.
The hottest weather on the island occurs between April and May when the temperatures average in the early 30°C's with the odd rain shower cooling things down slightly. It is also hot from September through October but the frequent rainfall provides a drop in temperature.
Patong Beach was just a small island village up until relatively recently. Today it is a bustling holiday resort and Phuket's most famous beach destination. It's also here that you can find Dive The World's PADI 5 star centre.
Patong is situated 15 kilometres west of Phuket Town and is spread out over 3 kilometres, one of its biggest attractions is its oval-shaped bay and white sandy beach fringed by lush tropical hills.
Patong attracts visitors from all over the World creating a very cosmopolitan atmosphere. As one of the most developed beach destinations in South East Asia, the town area behind the beach is solidly built up with many hotels and services such as shops, restaurants, banks and tour agencies. The town is also the main departure point for Phuket liveaboard trips.
Accommodation ranges from luxurious international hotels to simple guesthouses and apartments. Patong is also the main centre for Phuket nightlife with many bars, clubs, live music venues and go-go bars. The busiest and most popular area centres on Soi Bangla which is closed to traffic at night.
The beach is the focal point during the day. As a public beach the whole strip is open to visitors with no closed areas for any of the resorts. Beach chairs and umbrellas can be hired form local vendors for a small fee. There are other services available on the beach such as Thai massage, beverages, snacks, ice creams and hair braiding. There is also a wide-range of water sports available including jet skiing and parasailing perfect for those adrenaline junkies!
At the south end of the beach it is possible to hire a private long tail boat to visit neighbouring beaches such as Freedom beach or just simply to enjoy the tropical island scenery.
Kata & Karon Beaches
Karon Beach is located just 10 minutes drive south of Patong but has a very different atmosphere. This exquisite stretch of pure white sand is 4 kilometres long and rarely crowded even during the busy tourist season making it a more suitable destination for a quieter holiday.
There are some top-quality hotels and resorts located here all within walking distance from the beach and with superb views over the bay. Karon also boasts a wide-range of restaurants to suit all budgets.
From November to April the sea is flat calm and very safe but from May to October there can be strong undertows and huge waves so look out for warning flags and take care. The big waves attract surfers at this time of year and at the southern end of the beach you'll find the most surf activity and surfboards for rent.
Kata Beach and Kata Noi are both quiet beaches located south of Karon. The beautiful beach and pristine water along with plenty of good accommodation and amenities are the attraction here.
Off the north end of the beach is a small island called Koh Puu, which has an interesting coral reef that offers plenty of marine life sightings.
Other quality beaches are Nai Harn and Yanui further south of Kata and Kamala, Surin and Laem Sing to the north of Patong. These beaches are all great destinations particularly if you don't want the bustle of Phuket's main resort.
Sightseeing and Adventure
There is plenty to keep you occupied on Phuket Island so if you are looking for a little more action than lazing on the beach or by the pool, check out the activities below.
Whizz around the bay on a jet ski for an adrenaline rush and a great view back to the beach with its lush green hilly backdrop. Paraglide high above the beach taking in the view as you are towed by a speedboat. Snorkel on one of the west coasts pretty coral reefs and observe the colourful local marine life.
Take a boat ride to Krabi or Phang Nga Bay. Here you can paddle a sea canoe through the hidden caves in the hollow island pillars of limestone, known as hongs. These caves were used as hideouts and refuges by the notorious South China Sea's pirates.
Shop-til-you-drop from the busy shops and stalls selling souvenirs and convincing copies of designer-goods.
For sports lovers there is golf and lawn bowling. You could even try your hand at rifle shooting at one of the shooting ranges.
You can take a boat out sailing or big game fishing. Or how about river rafting or trekking? And for those seeking the ultimate adrenaline rush, how about bungee jumping?
Phuket has something for everyone to do and there is lots of sightseeing too that won't cost you much; all you need is a map and transport.
If you head south of Patong to the hills overlooking Kata Noi beach stop at the viewpoint for breathtaking views of Kata and Karon beaches. Continue further south again to Promthep Cape which provides more gorgeous views and is arguably the best place on the island to watch the spectacular tropical sunset from.
You could then head up to the Big Buddha - one of Phuket's most popular tourist sights. The stunning marble-clad statue is 50m high, set on top of a hill and visible form many of the island's areas. The views from up there are breathtaking and take in almost the entire island. From here head along the Phuket road and stop off at Wat Chalong, Phuket's most famous and beautifully ornate Buddhist temple. Here you'll marvel at the best of Thai culture with its amazingly colourful architecture.
Head north from Phuket town towards the airport and then turn right at the Heroines Monument for the gibbon sanctuary and Bang Pae waterfall. Drive back along the west coast through Bang Tao, Surin and Kamala where most of the Phuket Muslim population live in small communities.
However, if you've done all that or would like to see more of Southern Thailand then you can easily hire transport or take a tour to one of the neighbouring provinces. You can get away from it all and go wildlife game spotting from a lakeside hideout, or go elephant trekking through the tropical jungle in one of Thailand's national parks.
Thailand is home to the rare and the special. The world's smallest species of bear, the Malaysian sun bear is an endangered species due to Asia's demand for its medicinal bile; however it can still be found in one or two of the national parks. Or the world's largest, heaviest and stinkiest flower, the rare Rafflesia. It's bloom can grow to over 1m in diameter. Then there is the wild tiger which still precariously survives on a few isolated islands in the Thai wilderness.
If you want to escape the bustle and commercialism of Phuket there is much, much more to Thailand - you just need to venture a little further afield! You could find yourself marvelling at the pristine, unspoilt landscapes or discovering simple rural life, unchanged for generations.
Dining Out & Nightlife
Patong Beach offers a wide variety of restaurants all within a small area so you are bound to find something to suit your taste without having to search far. There are some great places to eat, just decide what you fancy and you will find it. From local food to international cuisine including Italian, French, German, Indian, Scandinavian, Japanese and Korean.
All Phuket's nightlife is centred in Patong. One of the most popular and busiest areas is Soi Bangla where there are over 200 bars, pubs and go-go bars alone. There are also scores of native and very friendly 'bar girls' in attendance. If it's your first visit you may wonder why there are so many attractive ladies working in the drinking establishments but they are not actually bar staff, they offer more than just drinks...
After a day's diving, sightseeing or relaxing on the beach, many people enjoy visiting in these lively places to meet others and party on into the night. Connect 4, Backgammon or Jenga are popular games played in these bars as well as banging a nail into a log with a hammer. This can be quite funny as it's not as easy as it looks but the bar girls are brilliant at it. The larger bars provide pool tables, dart boards and table football. Patong has several night clubs too as well as popular live music establishments.
Families and couples might prefer dining out and having a drink on one of the quieter beaches, although there are quieter places in Patong to be found too, away from Bangla Road.
There exists an amazing variety and selection of shopping opportunities on Phuket, especially in Patong. You can buy pretty much anything you can get in Bangkok and more. From shoes and clothes, souvenirs, art, perfume, mobile phones, computer software and designer label products and their copies.
Soi's Permpong II and III in Patong Beach are good examples of tiny streets resembling bazaars lined with a range of stalls selling a variety of goods. Thai handicrafts from all over Thailand can be found in Patong.
There are various tailor shops that can create for you that perfect-fitting suit, shirt or dress, often in just 24 hours and at very affordable prices.
Thai silk has become world famous with its various different weaving and dyeing styles depending on the region and ethnic culture. You can buy readymade quality silk goods or have a tailor make your own outfit.
Phuket found wealth with its tin mines and it's possible to buy locally produced items of pewter. The island is also a source of pearls which you can find at rock-bottom prices.
Artistic good such as wood carvings, Buddha statues and images, pottery, porcelain, paintings and other decorative items are plentiful in Patong. You can also buy authentic antiques, a large choice of superior, indoor and outdoor bronze ware, statues and teakwood furniture here, as well as on the airport road north of Phuket town and on the road to Patong.
Silver, gold and jade items, coloured gems and diamonds and very finely finished jewellery products come from a highly sophisticated The Thai gem and jewellery industry is very sophisticated and quality is high. You can buy silver, gold, precious gems and diamonds and most reputable shops will give you a certificate of authenticity and value with your purchase.
Phuket Island has for centuries been a port of call on the ancient sea lanes from the Middle East, India and the West for trade with China. Phang Nga Bay always provided a refuge for ship captains sheltering from monsoon storms and hiding places for pirates.
The local Sea Gypsies (Chao Leh) tribes who descend from Polynesia and have inhabited the islands of the South for many centuries. A balance was established between them, the Thai speaking tin miners and famers who settled from the North and the seafaring nomads and pirates. Long ago a narrow strip of land joined Phuket to the mainland but now it is joined only by the Sarasin Bridge.
In the 16th century at the time of Ayutthaya the Portuguese and Dutch arrived, later followed by the British while the Burmese invaded 4 times. In 1785 a 5-week long Burmese invasion was thwarted by the 2 sisters Chan and Mook. The islands governor had just died and the people were without a leader. Realising they were outnumbered, the sisters persuaded all the women on the island to dress up as men leading the Burmese into thinking the island was too well defended to take control of. The sisters became national heroines and are now immortalised in a huge statue located on a roundabout on the airport road.
The Burmese returned 24 years later and succeeded in seizing Thalang wand burning it to the ground which was then the main town of Phuket Island. The town was rebuilt further south and the name changed to Phuket which comes from the Malay word for hill (bukit) and became the capital of the island.
Over the last 100 years, Phuket gained economic importance from in mining and rubber plantations. However these days mining has been replaced by tourism. Farming is still and important part of the commercial economy thanks to the rich soil with plantations of pineapples, cashews, coconuts and rubber and others. Prawn farming is also significant on the east and south coasts.
The rise of tourism has seen the construction industry boom here with new hotels, housing estates shopping centres and roads.
The Local People
Official island records show a local population of around 200,000 inhabitants, but the total number of people living in Phuket is closer to 500,000. The 2 main population centres are located on opposite sides of the island; Phuket Town the capital on the east coast and Patong Beach, the main tourist centre on the west coast.
Local residents are Thais nationals who migrated from the mainland, Chinese who came to work in the tin mines, Muslims of Malaysian descent that came to work in the rubber plantations and the Chao Leh or sea gypsies, one of the earliest groups to inhabit Phuket.
The Chinese represent around 35% of the islands population and are different descendants than those who settled in Bangkok and other regions of Thailand, as they arrived mainly from the Hokkien region of China as did those now living in Singapore and Malaysia. The Chinese have now become fully integrated into the society and many of them are business owners responsible for a large part of trade. Their influence is obvious in many areas with restaurants and temples. The annual Chinese Vegetarian Festival takes place in October and is a major Phuket tourist attraction.
Southern Thailand's culture has been greatly influenced by Indonesian and Malayan culture and is apparent in the language, art, and religion. Around a third of Phuket's Thai population are Muslims living mostly around Surin north of Patong and working as rice and rubber farmers.
Public transport does exist in Phuket in the form of small public open-air buses but they are a little thin on the ground, only run form the beach resorts to Phuket town and don't follow any set timetable. Tuk-tuks, the Thai mini taxi, is the most common way to get around Phuket. Tuk-tuks operate in all the beach and touristy areas. In the main areas such as Patong, set prices have now been established for certain distances and should be advertised, however away from the busiest areas you may need to negotiate.
If you want to do lots of sightseeing a more economical and flexible way to get around is to hire a motor scooter, car or jeep but not all have adequate insurance. Bicycles and mountain bikes can be rented in Patong and Phuket Town.
If you'd like to explore the turquoise blue Andaman waters and beautiful beaches of Phuket Island, then click below to check your options now for:
It's a go idea to book ahead to avoid limited choice and possible disappointment! Reservations by returning customers are often made well in advance to ensure they get the best Phuket dive opportunities.
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