Just an hour’s flight from Bangkok, Thailand’s largest island reigns over its Andaman Sea archipelago with lush, green rain forested peaks and plateaus of rice paddy fields. Set in the southwest of Thailand, Phuket joins the mainland with a causeway at its northern tip across the Chong Pak Phra channel. The western stretch of rocky headlands shelter paradise beaches – hedonistic Patong Beach is the hub, while upmarket Bang Tao Beach and bohemian Karon Beach lie to the north and south. Orange-robed monks walk the streets of bustling capital Phuket City in the southeast.
Lush rainforest merges into white sands on Emerald Beach, a secluded haven near fun-loving Patong Beach, which draws parasailers and jet skiers to its two kilometres stretch. Follow the tree-lined trail or arrive by long tail boat to see clear waters lap on secret Banana Rock Beach, just north of Bang Tao. Nocturnal sea turtles bury their eggs below pale sands on southern Karon Beach, where fine Thai painters and sculptors sell their wares from beachside bars and huts.
The neon strip of Patong’s Soi Bagla hosts candid cabaret shows and alfresco bars pouring Mekhong rice whiskey, while the low-key Club Rio serves drinks to guests on its bamboo sofas. Hop in a tuk-tuk rickshaw and mingle with local workers in tiny cafes around Yaowarat Road in Phuket City. Here, Mae Porn restaurant serves up fried rice and green curry for a small handful of Baht notes.
Spy tree snakes and wild boar on trails through north Phuket’s hilly interior at Khao Phra Thaeo reserve. Duck under virgin rainforest canopies on your way to the cooling cascades of Bang Pae waterfall. Nearby see the agile residents swing past the jungle viewing platform at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre. Children love watching native creepy-crawlies hop between leafy tropical plants at Phuket Butterfly Garden, north of Phuket City.
On holidays in Phuket you can snorkel in the tropical aquarium around the reef off the coast of northwestern Nai Yang beach. Or hop in a dive boat to Dok Mai island just east of Phuket to share the warm waters with white tips and stingray at Shark Point dive site. Glide over the Chalong hills on an elephant tour on a Siam Safari with views as far as exotic Phi Phi island to the east. Paddle in a bamboo raft down the Sok River through jungle past limestone cliffs and lush rubber plantations in the Khao Sok reserve in the middle of the island.