60 Fascinating Facts About Phuket

Interesting and fun facts about Phuket

Phuket is one of the best-known islands in Thailand and Southeast Asia. So, what exactly is Phuket famous for? In this article, you’ll find a wide range of interesting facts about about Phuket, once called “Junk Ceylon”. Also, read these fun facts about Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.

General Phuket Facts

  • Phuket is pronounced like “poo-ket”.
  • At 543 km2 (210 mi2), Phuket is the largest island in Thailand.
  • It is located in southwestern Thailand, on the west side of the Kra Isthmus, the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula, a thin strip of land connecting Thailand and Malaysia.
  • Phuket Island is about half the size of Maui, or three-quarters the size of Singapore.
  • Phuket province consists of the main island of Phuket plus 32 small islands off the coast. Including all these smaller islands, Phuket province has an area of 576 km2 (222 mi2).
Kata Noi beach with some tourists on it
Kata Noi, one of Phuket’s many famous beaches
  • Phuket is surrounded by the Andaman Sea, which is part of the Indian Ocean.
  • Phuket is especially famous for its golden and white-sand beaches.
  • Around 440,000 people live in Phuket, giving it a population density of 764/km (4th highest of any province in Thailand, not counting Bangkok). This does not count all he tourists and temporary residents.
  • More than 115,000 expats also reside in Phuket (pre-COVID).
A beach side town in Phuket shot from above
A town in Phuket from above
  • Around 20% of Phuket’s permanent inhabitants are Muslim, while the remaining are mostly Buddhist.
  • At least 1 in 3 people in Phuket are of Chinese descent.
A street in Phuket city with motorbikes, showing Sino-Portuguese architecture on both sides.
Sino-Portuguese architecture in Phuket City
  • Sarasin Bridge in northern Phuket connects the island to Phang Nga Province on the mainland.
  • Phuket’s name may come from the Malay word Bukit, which means “hill.”
  • Phuket used to be called Thalang, and its northern area still uses that name. The Portuguese also used to call it Junk Ceylon (junk meaning “ships”, not “trash”).
  • Phuket is mostly mountainous, and its mountains are the southern end of a mountain range that extends north on the Kra Isthmus (mainland).
  • Over half the island is covered with pineapple, palm oil, and rubber plantations.
Row of trees in a Phuket rubber plantation
Rubber plantation on Phuket
  • Phuket has one national park, called Sirinat National Park, in the northwest, which is a nesting ground for sea turtles. It also has a wildlife reserve called Khao Phra Thaeo, which is home to langurs, gibbons, barking deer, and many other species.
  • There are creeks but no major rivers in Phuket.
  • One of the biggest events on the Phuket calendar is the Taoist Vegetarian Festival (Nine Emperor Gods Festival), on the first day of the 9th lunar month. Participants eat vegetarian for nine days and commit ascetic acts such as piercing their skin, climbing ladders of blades, and walking on fire.
People having a parade on the street and stepping on some firecrackers
Stepping on firecrackers during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival
  • Phuket has an average high temperature of 32°C (90°F) and a monsoon (rainy) season from April to November.
  • Phuket has 8 sister cities, including Nice (France), Las Vegan (USA), and Macau (China).
  • Famous Thai badminton players Maneepong Jongjit and Nitchaon Jindapol were born in Phuket.
  • Phuket cuisine combines elements of Malay, Thai, and Chinese food.
Traditional desserts in Phuket
  • Ah-pong, a kind of crispy crepe, are a signature dessert in Phuket.

Facts about Tourism in Phuket

  • Along with rubber, tourism is the backbone of the Phuket economy.
  • Phuket received around 10 million visitors per year (pre-COVID) and is said to have the most visitors per square mile in the world.
A tourist looking at souvenirs in a night market in Phuket city
Tourists at a night market in Phuket City
  • The number of people on Phuket more than doubles during the tourist high season.
  • Tourists spent more than US$14 billion in Phuket in 2019, accounting for 90% of the money spent on the island. 
  • Estimates of the number of hotel rooms available on Phuket range from 40,000 to over 90,000.
  • Many famous celebrities have visited Phuket, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Tommy Lee Jones, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton, Tyra Banks, Lady Gaga, Mick Jagger, and Snoop Dog.
Kata Noi beach in southern Phuket, with people on the beach and a resort in the background
A typical tourist resort beach in Phuket
  • Most of Phuket’s famous beaches are on the west and south coasts, as the east coast tends to be muddy.
  • Patong Beach on the west coast is Phuket’s most popular tourist center. It is known for its nightlife, including go-go bars and prostitution.
  • Patong means “forest filled with banana leaves” in Thai.
Patong, Phuket resorts on the coast at night
Resorts in Patong
  • Other popular beaches south of Patong include Karon Beach, Kata Beach, Kata Noi Beach, Nai Han Beach, and Rawai. Beaches to the north include Kamala Beach, Surin Beach, and Bang Tao Beach.
  • Wat Chalong is the largest and most important of Phuket’s 30+ Buddhist temples. It dates to 1837.
Front of a main hall at Wat Chalong
Wat Chalong is the largest temple in Phuket
  • The Phuket Big Buddha is the third tallest statue in Thailand (45m/148 ft), after the Great Buddha of Thailand in Ang Thong province and Luangpho Yai in Roi Et province.
  • The Big Buddha stands atop Nakkerd Hill near Chalong in southern Phuket and can be seen from various points around the island.
Phuket Big Buddha statue
Phuket Big Buddha is the 3rd largest in Thailand.
  • Phuket has a rum distillery called Chalong Bay Rum. They use traditional French distillation techniques on local Thai sugar cane.
  • Phuket is very close to famous islands in Krabi and Phang Nga Province, such as Ko Phi Phi, made popular by the film The Beach, and Khao Phing Kan (James Bond Island), respectively.
Bottles of rum and cane sugar syrup
Rum and cane sugar syrup from Chalong Bay Rum
  • Films partially shot or set in Phuket include Good Morning Vietnam, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and Heaven and Earth.

Historical Facts about Phuket

  • Phuket was first inhabited around the 1st century BCE.
  • The island has been part of various Tai states over time. In the 16th century, it was incorporated into the Ayutthaya kingdom.
Shopfronts in Phuket City displaying colonial Sino-Portuguese architecture
Colonial architecture in Phuket City
  • The Portuguese explorer Fernão Mendes Pinto was the first European to mention Phuket in around 1545.
  • Phuket became a major trading stop for ships traveling between India, Southeast Asia, and China.
  • In the 1600s, various European powers competed to buy tin from Phuket, with the French being the most successful.
  • As tin traders took over coastal areas, the island’s native inhabitants were pushed inland.
  • Like the rest of Thailand, Phuket was never colonized by European powers, although they were very interested in it.
A traditional wooden fishing boat parked by a stone wall
A traditional fishing boat in Phuket
  • When the Burmese attacked Phuket in 1785, two local sisters helped to fend them off. Today they are considered heroines, and there is a monument of them on Highway 402. They are also on the seal of Phuket.
  • Phuket officially became a province of Thailand in 1933.
  • The Indian Ocean tsunami heavily impacted Phuket on December 26, 2004. Around 250 people died on the island.
  • In 2019, Phuket began preparing an application for the Phuket Old Town to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A sign warning of tsunamis in Phuket
Phuket was devastated by the 2004 tsunami.
  • In April 2020, Thailand closed its doors to tourists. The economy of Phuket was devastated, with numerous hotels and other tourist-focused businesses closing. Formerly bustling beaches and resort towns were reported as empty.
  • Phuket was part of a sandbox program to open up Thailand. Under this program, tourists were allowed to enter and stay in its hotels for seven nights before being allowed to travel freely in the country.
  • The Phuket Light Rail Transit, or Phuket Tram, is currently under construction. The tram will have 24 stations and connect Phang Nga province with Phuket City. The tram is expected to start running by 2026.

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