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Phuket (pronounced 'Poo-ket') is a large island in the off the Thailand's west coast, in the Andaman Sea. The island is about the size of Singapore, with some 40kms (25 miles) of beaches. Phuket is located about 900 kms south from the nation's capital, Bangkok, and is connected to the mainland by a 100 meter-long causeway.
Phuket's population of 1.6 million people ranks sixth among all provinces in Thailand. The province is the richest in Thailand (on a per capita basis) and second only to Bangkok in real terms.
In the past, the island derived much of its wealth from tin production, which began in Phuket over 500 years ago. The presence of tin attracted European colonial powers such as the Portuguese and British. Many Chinese and Malay workers also came to Phuket as labourers to work in the tin mines. This mix of different cultures has given Phuket a flavour of its own. The influence of the Chinese and Portuguese are still evident in the old town today. There is also a strong muslim community in Phuket, with about 35% of the island's population being muslims of Malay descent.
Along with the incredible beaches, hills and lush jungle, Phuket is a water lover's paradise. The reefs and surrounding islands teem with marine life. There is a host of water activities including scuba diving, yachting, water-skiing, windsurfing, jet-skiing and parasailing on offer. Other attractions are the Phuket Aquarium, the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park and five golf courses, including the prestigious Blue Canyon Country Club.
Phuket is an ideal base from which to explore the Andaman region. Many boats leave Phuket for trips around Phang Nga Bay, with its impossibly sheer limestone outcrops that rise out of the sea, many caves and odd shaped islands. Other popular destinations are Phi Phi Island, Racha Islands and the Similan Islands. The Similans are considered to be among the top ten dive sites in the world.
Phuket is not all about beaches. If you have time, the interior is definitely worth exploring. There are rice paddies, rubber plantations and small slices of Phuket's remaining rainforest. Phuket Town (now renamed Phuket City) is definitely worth checking out. There's plenty of shops and departments stores, as well as a few flea markets as well as some small antique and handicraft shops. Many of the streets are lined with Sino-Portuguese shop houses and houses, a reminder of the island's heritage.
Patong, across the island from Phuket Town, is the noisy nightlife centre of the island with great beaches and facilities. Beaches such as Kata, Karon and Surin are quieter and have a more relaxed feel to them.
One of the best family beaches is Nai harn beach at the southern tip of the island. The best beaches are along the west side, but the wind and waves from the Andaman sea can make them rough at times. Nai Harn on the other hand is a bay sheltered from worst winds and the sea is shallow for a long way out making it suitable for children (supervised of course). Also the beach is quite large, so there is plenty of room, and the restaurants and bars are right at the back under the tree line so getting stuff to eat and drink and enjoying it in the shade is convenient.