places of interest
Phuket Town is the largest settlement. Among the more prominent landmarks are the Government House built over a century ago and used as a set in the movie The Killing Fields, and the original Chartered Bank, the oldest building in Thailand. Early morning to noon is a prime time to visit the central market while outdoor Thai restaurants provide charming vistas of the city.
The Island’s Khao Phra Thaeo National Park is dense with jungle foliage and ideal for elephant trekking. There is a museum in Phuket Town and another in Talang, the latter boasting excellent maps and a large collection of artefacts from the Moluccas.
There are approximately 30 Buddhist temples on the island. Among the most interesting are Wat Chalong, with its gilt statues of two revered monks, Wat Phra Thong with its half-buried Buddha statue, and Wat Phra Nang Sang, which includes some fascinating frescoes and Buddha heads that date back 3,000 years. Phuket also has several Islamic mosques.
Phuket lobster, actually part of the crayfish family, is served everywhere during the high season. Prawns and crabs are boiled, steamed, served with ginger (Chinese style), coriander (Thai style) or coconut cream (Malay style). Especially good is pla yang, fish wrapped in banana leaf and barbecued on the grill.
Fruit includes the purple mangosteen (mang-khud), pineapple (sapparod), the hairy red rambutan (ngor), papaya (mala-khor) and, of course, the coconut (ma-prao-onn). From April to June, the strong-smelling durian is in season. Football-sized and with menacing points on its husk, its odour has been compared to that of strong cheese. Some people, however, consider durian a gourmet treat.
Beside Thailand’s own festivals, Phuket celebrates two major events uniquely its own. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival, which generally takes place in October, coincides with the Chinese calendar’s ninth lunar month. Each year, devotees at the six major Taoist temples abstain from alcohol, meat, sex and drugs. Temple ceremonies, parades and music are daily events. So, too, are fire walking, bladed-ladder climbing, serious body piercing and more.
The annual Phuket King’s Cup Regatta takes place each December. One of Asia’s leading regattas, it enjoys the royal patronage of the King of Thailand. Competitors from all over the world range from world-class sailors to weekend pleasure boaters. The races themselves are held off Phuket’s major beaches and a big run goes out to the Phi Phi Islands and back. Plenty of parties for sailors and landlubbers alike take place during the regatta.
Souvenirs can be found in shops around the island. Seashells and coconut art are plentiful. Nielloware, the black silverware finished with intricate designs, Thai Silk, antiques and pearls of high quality can also be found.