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Exploring Phuket’s Wild Side

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Phuket’s tropical heat makes it tempting to laze days away on the beach, but those seeking adventure will find plenty of action-packed activities on and around the island.

The warm, clear waters of the Andaman Sea, the island’s lush interior and a growing number of adventure and sports operators all offer plenty of adrenalin-fuelled fun while connecting with nature.  

Surfing and standup paddle boarding: From October through May, when the south-west monsoon brings bigger waves, Phuket is a surfer’s dream – especially off Kata Beach. During the rest of the year, calmer conditions mean smooth, glassy water in the bays, perfect for standup paddle boarding (SUP).

Sailing: Phuket is a great place to learn to sail or hone your sailing skills with lessons and yacht charters available at all the island’s marinas. The Phuket Yacht Club in Chalong hosts regular races and lessons, and its fleet of small dinghies are perfect for kids learning the ropes.  

Scuba diving: A prime launching point for exploring the Andaman’s fascinating sea life, Phuket welcomes divers of all abilities. Several PADI-certified shops around the island offer instruction and day trips to nearby sites including the sapphire waters of the Similan islands. 

Kiteboarding: Kiteboarders should head to Rawai or Nai Yang beaches where colourful kites pull riders at breathtaking speed across the bay. Rentals and lessons are available for learners.  

Wakeboarding: Board riding is not just surfer territory in Phuket. The island has two inland cable wakeboard parks that see everyone from beginners to world champions flying and flipping their way around the course. Try Phuket Wake Park near Patong or Anthem Wake Park in Cherng Talay, not far from Surin and Bang Tao beaches. 

Cycling: Phuket is not big on bike lanes, so two-wheeled explorers may want to try a guided cycling trip rather than navigating their own route. Amazing Bike Tours offers day tours to off-the-beaten-track locations that provide healthy doses of fresh air and beautiful sights. An especially scenic trip takes cyclists to the nearby island of Koh Yao Noi, along peaceful rural roads with magnificent views across Phang Nga Bay. 

Ziplining: Soar like an eagle through the treetops on ziplines that give you a bird’s eye view of Phuket’s jungle landscape.

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Guilt-free Gastronomy: Healthy Eating in Phuket

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Phuket has a bit of a reputation as the place for parties and play. Yet, in line with the global trend to travel in pursuit of health and wellness, it is also emerging as a tropical island getaway to restore the body and mind. Yoga, wellness and detox centres are popping up all over the island and a growing number of restaurants are promoting good health as well as good taste in their quest to attract diners.

Santosa Wellness Centre, found on the hillside overlooking Kata Bay, is one such place offering several mind-body workshops and a restaurant serving creative raw, vegan and vegetarian cuisine. Santosa’s colourfully presented dishes, such as ‘summer rolls’ stuffed with fresh coconut meat and a mix of vegetables, are as eye-catching as they are delicious, and they also offer regular Saturday buffet dinners for healthy grazing with sunset views.

Other leading-edge restaurants attached to wellness centres include Atsumi Raw Café near Rawai Beach (Indonesian gado gado wrap, raw pad thai, smoothies), Divine at Thanyapura Sports Centre in Thalang near the airport (organic gourmet cuisine and biodynamic wines), and Supernatural at Atmanjai Wellness Spa on Friendship Beach (raw vegetable lasagne, power broth soup, raw chocolate mousse).

Though the practice of cleansing and avoiding meat as a way to restore health is gaining wider appeal around the world, it’s not a new concept for many Phuket locals. The annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival dates back nearly 200 years, when members of a visiting Chinese circus troupe fell ill and embarked on a ten-day cleansing rite that included a vegan diet, refraining from sex and alcohol, and performing some rather shocking rituals such as skewering their faces and walking over mounds of fiery hot coals (reportedly adopted from the Hindu festival of Thaipusam).

A number of vegetarian restaurants run year-round, too, with a handful of shops near the Chinese shrines along Ranong Road in Phuket Town serving up fresh and healthful local dishes. One of the best is Ruamjai Vegetarian Restaurant, with a buffet breakfast and lunch that brings in crowds of locals and travellers daily. Just wander in and point to two or three dishes, such as massaman curry or tofu and bean sprout stir-fry, from the large display pots and they’ll put them on a plate of brown rice for you.

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Celebrate the Year of the Rooster Phuket-style

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Head to Phuket to welcome in the Lunar New Year and be refreshed and invigorated in a gorgeous tropical island setting.

Phuket has a long history of migrant arrivals to its shores hoping for a better life, and its large Chinese-Thai communities descended from those long-ago fortune seekers still honour the traditions of their ancestral home. Though Chinese New Year is not a public holiday in Thailand, it’s one of the country’s most vibrant and colourful festivals. This coming year marks the Year of the Rooster, with most events taking place on and around January 28. Together with Bangkok’s Chinatown, Phuket is one of the main centres for Lunar New Year celebrations, with about one-third of its local population of Chinese heritage.

Phuket Town is the heart of the island’s Chinese community, and the streets here come alive with processions, street markets and performances throughout the festival. The Old Town’s colourful Sino-Portuguese buildings are adorned with strings of red lanterns, and families gather to sweep the old year out of their homes, prepare feasts to honour their ancestors and encourage a more auspicious year ahead.

Many Chinese Taoist shrines around Phuket Town including the beautifully restored Sang Tham shrine and the large Jui Tui shrine will be bustling with merry-makers and Thalang, Dibuk and Romannee roads will be closed to traffic in the evenings and transformed into walking street markets.

To learn more about Phuket’s bonds with China, be sure to visit the Thai Hua Museum on Krabi Road with its excellent displays and photos tracing the journey and traditions of its Chinese community from the island’s heady tin mining days of the 1800s to the present.

Chinese New Year festivities also provide a good opportunity to explore the town’s new street art, which covers the walls of several buildings. Throughout 2016, graffiti artists from Thailand and around the world, including the whimsical Alex Face of Bangkok, were invited to unleash their spray-painting talents at numerous locations around town, adding even more colour and eye-catching images to the pastel-toned historic streets.

wat-chalong-fairAnother highly anticipated event during Chinese New Year in Phuket is the annual Wat Chalong Fair, a pulsating ten-day festival with local food, open-air markets, music and games at the island’s largest Buddhist temple, about eight kilometres south of Phuket Town.

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Phuket King’s Cup Regatta 2016

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With its dreamy sailing waters including the karst island-studded Phang Nga Bay and the Similan islands, Phuket has long been a leisure-yachting haven. But for sailors seeking a more challenging day out, Thailand’s largest island offers plenty of racing action as well.

The Phuket King’s Cup Regatta, held every year in early December, is one of Asia’s best known and biggest sailing events. This prestigious race was first held in 1987 in honour of His Majesty the King of Thailand. Every year since the first celebration, it has attracted a mix of sailors with a competitive spirit, from royals to the Royal Thai Navy to expat yachtsmen who join races worldwide.

Now part of the Asian Yachting Circuit, the King’s Cup includes several competition classes and brings in hundreds of yacht owners and crew from around the world. But more than just a sailing race, the King’s Cup is also one of Phuket’s most-anticipated social events, with glittering parties held each evening and a chance for local and international sailors to mingle and explore the island beyond the regatta circuit. Those not joining the race are encouraged to at least make a sunset visit to Kata Beach during King’s Cup, where most of the regatta’s yachts are moored after a day of racing. It’s a picture-perfect sight!

Phuket Raceweek is a newer regatta, held every July in what are considered more challenging conditions than those of the calmer, fair-weather month of December. Sponsored by the Cape Panwa Hotel, races are held off Phuket’s picturesque east coast over four days, with gala events each night at the resort’s gorgeous beachfront location.

6-1200x700Local yacht design skills are on full display at Raceweek, with one of the most popular divisions being the single-design Firefly 850 Sports Class – a fleet of sleek racing catamarans designed and built in Phuket. Another one-design class making a comeback in 2016 is the Platu class, a monohull design that’s popular among the Pattaya and Phuket sailing crowd. Championship titles in the IRC 1, 2 and Cruising, Multihull and Bareboat Charter classes are all up for grabs, with yacht charters available for those without their own boats on Phuket looking to join in the action.

Chinese New Year brings another week of sail races, with the Phang Nga Bay Regatta taking place each year around the Lunar New Year month.

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thailand i love you

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Phuket has long attracted travellers seeking a tropical beach escape, but as Thailand’s largest island with a rich history, dining and marine scene, there’s much more to see and do beyond lazing on the sands. From vibrant nightlife to spectacular seascapes to beautifully restored Old Town streets, an island holiday on Phuket can unwind in some delightfully surprising ways.

But first, the beaches.

Kamala Beach, on the central west coast, is one of Phuket’s quintessential postcard-picture beaches, its soft sands and shallow waters are among the island’s best places for all ages to swim, surf and sunbathe. Hints of its fishing village past remain with traditional long-tail boats gliding across the calm bay, while a string of casual restaurants lining the sands offer seafood barbecues and breezy spots for watching the sun go down.

The smaller Surin Beach is another fine sunset spot, with its beach clubs and seafront restaurants serving up creative cocktails along with the sea views. Hemmed in by two lush headlands, Surin’s fine sands and swaying palm trees add a tropical idyll that invites you to linger, whether indulging in the beach club scene or not. Nearby Laem Singh is a small cove found between Kamala and Surin reached via a steep path, where silken sands and colourful snorkelling sites await.

With its position along an ancient Andaman Sea trading route, Phuket has attracted seafarers for centuries, though these days superyachts and cruise vessels are more likely to be spotted on the horizon than merchant ships. Whether you get there by private yacht charter, or by kayak for venturing deeper into its hidden caves and lagoons, no visit to Phuket is complete without exploring the magnificent Phang Nga Bay with its tall limestone karst islands.

The Similan Island archipelago west of Phuket is a protected marine wonderland for divers and snorkellers, while Racha and Coral Islands are an easy day-trip from Phuket, brimming with sea life for snorkelling and white-sand beaches for relaxing.

Phuket’s interior is looking more urban these days, but discovering its traditional rural side and jungly bits is simply a matter of straying off the island’s main roads. Walk a path through towering bamboo and giant leafy tropical plants of the protected Khao Phra Thaew National Park up to Bang Pae waterfall, or cool down in the stream.

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