Pure white sands, aquamarine waters and limestone cliffs await travelers who visit Thailand's southwestern island of Phuket. Surrounded by the Andaman Sea and about an hour by plane from Bangkok, this island is a little piece of paradise, which comes with a relatively low price tag for everything from its accommodations to spa treatments and boat tours. But along with its tropical appeal, Phuket beckons to travelers wanting to experience its flavorful cuisine (think: lemongrass, lime leaves, chillies) and its rich culture, heavily influenced by its reigning religion: Buddhism.
And although the island's beaches and tourism operators have bounced back from the 2004 tsunami, which hammered its western coast and tragically claimed thousands of lives, it remembers the past with memorials and a better warning system, should the area once again come under threat.
From white sand beaches and breathtaking boat excursions to relaxing spa treatments and tours of Buddhist sites, such as Big Buddha and Wat Chalong Temple, there is a range of diverse things to do in Phuket. The only tricky thing is carefully planning your itinerary to ensure you're getting ample time at each attraction. Plus, if you're an animal lover, you'll also want to visit the rescued cats and dogs at the Soi Dog Foundation.
The best time to visit Phuket is between November and April when weather conditions are ideal for beach activities, such as swimming and boating. The six months between May and October are monsoon season, and although accommodation prices are much lower this time of year, the water conditions can be dangerous.
The best way to get around Phuket is by tuk-tuk, though occasionally you might have to rely on another mode of travel, such as a taxi or rental car, if you want to travel beyond the town in which you're basing your vacation. Not only is a tuk-tuk (a small yellow or red truck) the most atmospheric of all transportation options, it's also one of the most convenient – they're absolutely everywhere. Still, they can be expensive for trips outside of town, and a metered taxi, songthaew or rental car might be a better option.
To reach Phuket, most travelers fly into Phuket International Airport (HKT), which is located at the island's northern end. Most of the accommodations are congregated in the south around Patong, Kata, Karon and Phuket Town. Travelers should check if their hotel offers an airport shuttle, and if not, they can hop in an airport bus, which takes travelers to Phuket Town. A taxi is probably the easiest and most efficient way to traverse the distance between the airport and accommodations. Although there are vans and minibus operators that offer rides from the airport to these southern locations, it can be hard to decipher which ones are reputable. If your hotel does not offer a shuttle service, ask if the concierge can recommend any reputable van or minibus operators.