There are two sides to tourism on Phuket, and the best temples and parks are away from the resort areas. The island receives plenty of Thai tourists, and they tend to venture away from the resorts to see the historic temples close to Phuket Town.
The Big Buddha is Phuket's newest crowning achievement. It presides with Vegas-style proportions over a popular stretch of coastline and leaves no doubt that tourism has been kind to the local economy. In its shadow are museums and monuments that remember the old way of life in this historic port community.
Phuket's most famous temple rates especially well with domestic tourists, but international tourists who spend the bulk of their time on the opposite (west) coast are unlikely to come across it. It's an active place of worship, decorated with a dazzling array of glass shards that refract the sunlight.
A common reference point and one of the most important monuments on the island, this one pays homage to the two women credited with rallying the island's inhabitants against Burmese invaders in the late 18th century.
Next to the monument, Thalang National Museum is a fascinating archive of life in Phuket before the days of beach chairs and dance clubs. The permanent exhibits explore the island's indigenous cultures, with a special focus on local folk art. Visitors learn a great deal about the island's ancient relationship with India.
Steeped in folklore, this is Phuket's most enchanting temple. It sits south of the airport, removed from the main tourist scene. Legend has it that a Buddha image is hidden under the ground here, and the temple was built up around it.
A 35 square-mile portion of Phuket has been set aside as natural habitat. It's a great escape for tourists who need a day away from the resort scene. Highlights are the nesting leatherback turtles that arrive in the cool season and a massive coral reef less than a mile offshore.
A recent addition to the island, this brilliant white Buddha statue towers 150 feet above a hilltop overlooking Rawai, Kata and Chalong. With a price tag of 30 million baht, this effigy is impossible to miss.
Phuket Zoo is simple but worthwhile, especially for young visitors. It boasts a range of exotic animals and features independent live animal shows starring monkeys, elephants and crocodiles.
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