Phuket (or "Koh" Phuket—Koh is "island" in Thai, but this is rarely used because Phuket is so large) is one of the region's economic powerhouses—millions of tourists visit the island every year, enjoying the many delights that are offered in this established resort island. Phuket is a modern, vibrant island with more than 6 million annual visitors, a number that is only increasing year to year. If you've never been to Phuket, you will likely love it; returning visitors will find a new island that eagerly greets its next wave of tourism.
Phuket is linked to the mainland by a causeway, and the rest of the world by an international airport. Its indented coastline and hilly interior make the island seem larger than its 48-km (30-mile) length and 21-km (13-mile) breadth. Before tourism, Phuket was already making fortunes out of tin mining and rubber plantations. After backpackers discovered Phuket in the early 1970s, word quickly spread about its white, sandy beaches and cliff-sheltered coves, its plunging waterfalls and impressive mountains, its cloudless days and fiery sunsets.
Unfortunately, tourism has brought serious problems. Entrepreneurs built massive resorts, first in Patong, then spreading out around the island. Phuket remains plagued by horrendous traffic and overdevelopment, which can take visitors by surprise, but there are also places where you can isolate yourself from the rest of the island. In recent years, the authorities have tried hard to rein in some of the worst excesses of overdevelopment and have, to a certain extent, succeeded in quieter places. However, development still continues apace in Patong and Phuket town.
Even though it may seem like every other business here is a tour operator or dive shop or tailor or jeep rental or pub, there's a lot to love about the island. The beaches are still beautiful, and this remains a top destination for snorkeling and diving (with more than 180 registered dive shops). The island offers some of the most exclusive resorts and spas in the world, yet the food, drink, and accommodations are cheap compared to most visitors' home countries (though Phuket is quite expensive by Thai standards). And direct flights to the island make this a convenient getaway.
When planning your trip, keep in mind that the monsoon season runs from May to October, and swimming on the west side of the coast is not advisable during this time, as the current can be dangerous.
This section starts with Phuket Town, the hub of the island, and is organized counterclockwise from there. It's best to pick one or two choice spots and stick with them. The frazzling travel between destinations can undo any relaxation you enjoyed the previous day.