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Phuket is Thailand's largest island and the largest city on the island is Phuket City on the southeast coast. Although not many tourists visit the capital, the city is worth a visit, especially for those interested in colonial architecture.
For centuries, Phuket was an important trade center. Initially they mainly conducted business with nearby countries: Malaysia, Siam, Burma and China, but also with India and the Arab world. In the sixteenth century came the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch, British and French. In the nineteenth century, many Chinese settled in the city and they clearly left their mark. The Sino-Portuguese architecture is especially visible along Deebuk Road and Thalang Road. Phuket City also has colorful Chinese temples.
The city's two largest markets are the Chatuchak weekend market and the Chao Fah market near the Wat Nakha temple. They are 'regular' markets for the local inhabitants and – as anywhere in Thailand – you can consume excellent Thai dishes at the many food stalls.
For most people Phuket is about sun, sea and beaches. The best-known and busiest beach is Patong Beach on the west side of the island, at the same latitude as Phuket City. From Patong Beach, long-tail boats depart for the beautiful Freedom Beach. The west side of the island has the best beaches, from Mai Khao in the north to Nai Harn in the south. The breaking waves are higher near the southernmost beaches and so these are the beaches that are mainly of interest to surfers. Kata Beach is hugely popular, but the beach just south of this beach, Katha Noi, is less busy. If you are looking for real peace and quiet, Banana Rock may be right for you. This small and extremely quiet beach is located eight kilometers south of Nai Yang Beach and can only be reached via a steep forest path. The southernmost tip of the island is known as the place to be for enjoying an amazing sunset.
From Phuket, boat trips depart for Phi Phi Island. In fact an incorrect term, as it consists of two islands, Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh. Although quite a few unattractive hotels have emerged on Phi Phi Don, the area, with crystal clear water and coral reefs, remains fantastic for snorkeling and diving. The Surin & Similan Islands are also a popular diving destination.
You should definitely also explore Phuket's hilly interior. It still contains remnants of the tropical rainforest that once covered all of Phuket, in the Khao Phra National Park. This is also where you'll find the Ton Sai waterfall.
Another national park, and one of the best in Thailand, is Khao Sok on the mainland. It is connected with two other national parks as well as the Khlong Saen and Khlong Nakha wildlife sanctuaries. Together these parks form the largest continuous nature reserve of southern Thailand. The wooded mountain ranges are the habitat of for example elephants, leopards, wild oxen, hornbills and gibbons. There are even some tigers, but the changes of seeing them are slim. The flora is also colorful and varied. There are for example two species of Rafflesia, the huge lotus flower that issues a penetrating smell to attract insects. In Khao Sok Park you can spend the night in tree houses! The best time to visit nature parks is during the dry season (December to April) when the trails are not so slippery because of the rain. The Rafflesia blooms in January.
In Phuket City it is not difficult to find a parking space on the streets. This is also the case for the major part of the rest of the island, with the exception of the busiest beaches like Patong. In most places you don't have to pay, but again with the exception of the busiest places where they charge a modest fee for parking your rental car. Most roads on Phuket are paved and in good condition.
Phuket Airport is located in the north, 32 kilometers from Phuket City. You can easily reach the airport by rental car. The island's main road, Thep Kasattri (road number 402), runs past the airport; the exit to the airport is clearly signposted.