Thailand's only island province is connected to the mainland by the new Thep Krasettree Causeway. Known as the "Pearl of Thailand," Phuket offers pristine beaches, lush vegetation, traditional villages and seascapes of huge limestone pillars that rise above the turquoise waters of Phang-Nga Bay. With a land area of 215 square miles, Phuket Island is about the same size as Singapore and Thailand's largest island. Arab and Indian navigators have called here since around the end of the 9th century, while the first Europeans arrived in the 16th century.
Apart from tourism, much of the province's wealth derives from tin production, which started back in the 1500s. In fact,this industry generated much wealth enabling Phuket Town to have the first paved roads and cars in all of Thailand. Even today, Phuket remains the center of tin production in the country, with rubber, coconut and seafood adding to the island's prosperity. Much of the revenue is reinvested to further develop Phuket.
With a culture all its own, it combines Chinese and Portuguese influences with that ofthe indigenous ocean-going people. Phuket Town is the island's capital located in the southeast. It was built in the middle of the last century to replace the earlier capital of Thalang, which was destroyed by the Burmese in 1800. The architecture features the attractive Sino-Portuguese style which is reflected in the spacious residences built by wealthy Chinese tin barons as testimony to their success.
The majority of visitors come because of the glorious beaches, especially those on the west coast. Patong Beach is about a 45-minute drive from the port and offers a wide selection of watersports. Although the influx of tourists each year exceeds the local population by far, the island seems big enough to absorb the large numbers and, at the same time, maintain a semblance of tradition and great charm – in fact, Phuket still casts its spell on all who come to its shores.