Phuket


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Phuket, which is approximately the size of Singapore, is Thailand's largest island. The island is connected to mainland Thailand by two bridges. It is situated off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. Phuket formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber, and enjoyed a rich and colorful history. The island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, and was frequently mentioned in foreign ship logs of Portuguese, French, Dutch and English traders. The region now derives much of its income from tourism


2004 Tsunami
On December 26, 2004, Phuket and other nearby areas on Thailand's western coast suffered extensive damage when they were struck by the Boxing Day tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The waves destroyed several highly populated areas in the region, killing as many as 5,300 people nationwide, and tens of thousands more throughout the wider Asian region. As many as 250 people were reported dead in Phuket including foreign tourists and as many as a thousand unreported deaths of illegal Burmese workers building new beach resorts in the Khao Lak area. Almost all the major beaches on the west coast, especially Kamala, Patong, Karon and Kata, sustained major damage, with some damage also being caused to resorts and villages on the island's southern beaches.
By February 2005 many damaged and most undamaged resorts were back in business, and throughout 2005 life slowly returned to normal for the people of Phuket. Following strenuous recovery programs, there is no remaining tsunami damage other than at the most remote beaches.

Economy
Tin mining has been a major source of income for the island since the 16th century. Chinese businessmen and Chinese workers were employed in the mines. Most were Hokkien Chinese, and their influence on Phuket culture and cuisine can still be felt today. With falling tin prices, the mining has now all but ceased. In modern times, Phuket's economy rests on two pillars: rubber tree plantations (making Thailand the biggest producer of rubber in the world) and tourism, with a thriving diving industry attracting thousands of divers each year.
Since the 1980s, the sandy beaches on the western coast of the island have been heavily developed into tourist centers, with Patong, Karon and Kata being the most popular ones. Since the 2004 Tsunami, all damaged buildings and attractions have been restored. Phuket is currently going through an intensive period of leisure urbanization with many new hotels, apartments and houses under construction. In July 2005, Phuket was voted one of the World's Top 5 retirement destinations by the acclaimed Fortune Magazine. There are thousands of expatriates living in Phuket, many of them retirees. A favourite spot for them is Phuket Beach, as it is very convenient. Costs in Phuket have shot up over the past decade, making it one of Thailand's more expensive retirement destinations.[$]

Beaches
The major beaches, alphabetically ordered:
" Bang Thao (Laguna Beach) - long, very quiet beach
" Cape Panwa - home to Phuket Aquarium
" Kalim Beach - a series of small beaches just to the north of Patong
" Kamala Beach - a quieter beach to the north of Patong
" Karon and Karon Noi Beaches - the second most-developed beach after Patong
" Kata Noi Beach - quieter sister of Kata Yai
" Kata Yai Beach - busy, clean tourist beach with good surf
" Laem Sing - small bay with stunning views, between Kamala Beach and Surin Beach
" Mai Khao (Sai Kaeo) - near the airport, very quiet (aside from the planes!) and far away from it all
" Nai Han and Ao Sen - a quiet beach (probably the best) in the south, near Phromthep Cape view point
" Nai Thon and Nai Yang - two quiet beaches in Sirinat National Park
" Patong Beach - the largest beach resort, known for its nightlife
" Rawai, Mittraphap and Laem Ka - set off point for lots of local islands, popular with locals for eating on the beach
" Surin and Pansea Beach - an up-and-coming upmarket destination
" Ya Nui Beach

Islands

There are dozens of small islands between Phuket and Krabi Province in the Phang Nga Bay. The following have accommodation:
" Ko Bon - 10 minutes from Rawai, an ideal island for a day of snorkeling and relaxing.
" Ko Hae (Coral Island) - 15 minutes by speedboat from Chalong Bay, accessible all year.
" Ko Lon - quiet, mostly Muslim island with a few bungalows
" Ko Mai Thon - gorgeous little island with only one (expensive) place to stay
" Ko Maphrao (Coconut Island)
" Ko Racha (Ko Raya) - consists of two islands (Yai and Noi), popular with scuba divers and a relaxing snorkeling destination.
" Ko Sire (Ko Si Le) - Sea Gypsy colony, connected to the mainland by a causeway
" Ko Yao - two islands halfway to Krabi, with four upmarket resorts

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