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Phuket Architecture and the Evolution of Luxury Design

in Destinations by
Thai architecture Phuket hillside Villa Minh

Before Phuket, Thailand earned its reputation as a world-class beach holiday destination, for centuries it called to fortune-seekers, workers and traders from Asia, Arabia and Europe. This interesting convergence of cultures is reflected in the island’s architecture. We take a look at how luxury villa design has evolved in Phuket over the last 150 years or so.

SINO-COLONIAL ELEGANCE

Baan Chinpracha Historic Mansion in Phuket by Opal HoPHUKET TOWN OLD GOVERNOR’S RESIDENCE

Back in Phuket’s booming tin-mining days in the late 1800s to early 1900s, the island’s emerging wealthy class built luxury mansions of Sino-Colonial design, in a fashion that reflected the tastes of the tin-mine barons of the time, who were largely descendants of Hokkien Chinese immigrants with family ties stretching from Phuket to Penang, Malacca and Singapore.

A handful of these mansions still stand today in Phuket Town, including the old governor’s residence, now home to the Blue Elephant restaurant (pictured above), and next door Baan Chinpracha mansion (below), which is now part family home, part museum.

Baan Chinpracha Historic Thai Architecture by Jinjoo ShinINSIDE BAAN CHINPRACHA MANSION

European influences are seen in the homes’ elaborate porticos (arched windows and doorways), neo-classical pillars and Italian marble floor tiles with intricate designs. Thick walls and inner courtyards helped protect the mansions’ residents from the sweltering heat, and air circulated through rows of elegantly arched louvered windows. 

These luxury villas of the past were largely found in the island’s interior near Phuket’s commercial centres – all the fabulous beaches lining its coast were not considered desirable places to live for anyone but fisher-folk. But once travellers discovered the beaches and tourism replaced tin mining as the economic driving force in the 1980s, visions of luxury living shifted to the coastlines.

QUINTESSENTIALLY THAI

Amanpuri PhuketAMANPURI PHUKET (IMAGE FROM TRIPADVISOR)

In 1988, a coconut plantation on a headland near Surin Beach became home to the Amanpuri, an exclusive resort built to a level of luxury unheard of at the time on Phuket. Designed by architect Edward Tuttle as a collection of elegant pavilions spilling over the hillside, it was a ground-breaking style that came about after his extensive travels around Thailand.

Historic city of Ayutthaya by UNESCOCITY OF AYUTTHAYA (IMAGE BY UNESCO)

His main inspiration was the ancient Ayutthaya architecture of central Thailand (above),

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Phuket it is. Where to exactly?

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Phuket beaches

Well, I thought I’d leave that up to you. In terms of “which beach is best” you couldn’t say, and the same is true of the villas. All of the rentals with Elite Havens are to the max. Fully staffed, swimming pools, massages on order, if you catch my drift. A real treat for everyone, Carol and the girls will go bananas.

Malaiwana Estate is spotless, right above Nai Thon Beach, everything we need right there, resort amenities, grocery service and personal chefs. Kata Beach is another good one for kids, and over there Villa Amanzi is way cool. Fitness centre and tennis just next door. More in the heart of the action are the villas around Surin Beach and Kamala Beach. Surfing for Greg. Shopping for Marsha. Some good spots to boogie. Or we can veg out on Phuket’s east coast and go boating. Our boys sure are looking forward to snorkelling trips with Peter and Bobby.

Remember Phuket is a relatively small island, so all these villas along the coast are close enough to the Phuket airport, sightseeing and the links. Any questions, you ought to contact the Villa Specialists at Elite Havens, and they’ll sort you out.

Looking forward to it, Mike!

Phuket beach villas map

Credits
Elite Havens PHUKET BEACH VILLAS
Amazing Thailand TOURISM AUTHORITY OF THAILAND
Trip Advisor PHUKET ACTIVITIES
Conde Nast Traveller PHUKET BEACH GUIDE

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Top Five Phuket Day Trips

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Phuket Thailand Elephants

Phuket’s golden sands, warm seas and sensational sunsets have long lured visitors from around the world, but there’s a lot more to this tropical island paradise than the beautiful beaches that fringe it’s shores, glittering temples, majestic wildlife, breathtaking seascapes, underwater wonders and a fascinating cultural heritage are yours to discover.

Here are the five essential Phuket day trips.

#1 Phang Nga Bay

James Bond Island Phuket

JAMES BOND ISLAND – IMAGE CREDIT: TINGGLY.COM

Beckoning just off Phuket’s east coast, this sheltered bay is perfect for a luxury yacht charter or a sea kayaking trip. Glide past towering limestone karsts, visit the Panyee floating village, or paddle through caves to find hidden lagoons of ethereal beauty. In the middle of Phang Nga Bay is James Bond Island, whose steep rocky pinnacle jutting out of the emerald water has become the iconic image of Phuket and the Andaman region. A busy spot at times but a breathtaking sight nonetheless. 

#2 Big Buddha

Phuket Big Buddha

Travel to Phuket’s southeastern interior to find two of the island’s most sacred sites. Wat Chalong is a 200-year-old Buddhist temple of golden-spired marble pagodas with red-tiled roofs. At the heart of the temple is the 61-metre Phramahathat Chedi, a glimmering three-storey stupa that houses a sacred bone fragment believed to trace back to the Lord Buddha. Climb to the top level to enjoy views of the surrounding hills and the Big Buddha, an imposing 45-metre statue in pure white marble. The views extend across much of the island’s south and to the sea beyond. Entry is free for both Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha but donations are welcome. And make sure to dress modestly when visiting these religious sites.

 

#3 Elephant Sanctuary

Elephants in Thailand

IMAGE CREDIT: PHUKET ELEPHANT SANCTUARY

Elephants are highly revered in Thai culture but sadly their diminishing habitats across Southeast Asia and popular use as tourist attractions have led to their abuse and exploitation. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, opened in late 2016, offers an alternative to visitors who want to see these majestic giants without contributing to their mistreatment. Adjacent to Khao Phra Theao National Park, the sanctuary is open for half-day visits to observe the elephants in their natural environment (3,000 baht for adult entry,

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Snorkelling Phuket’s Underwater Eden

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Snorkelling Phi Phi Islands Phuket

Phuket is well known for its sea, sand and sunsets, but those who venture into the blue beyond the beach will discover another island delight: snorkelling.

The Andaman Sea is rich with tropical sea life and dotted with idyllic islands, and a short boat journey from Phuket will bring you to several fascinating underwater sites. Here’s a brief guide to some of the best snorkelling sites around Phuket and how to get there.

Though it’s certainly no longer the untouched paradise portrayed in Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie ‘The Beach’, the Phi Phi island archipelago, with beaches of glittering white sands framed by dramatically steep cliffs, is still a wondrous sight.

When snorkelling Phi Phi island, the depths reveal sites teeming with colourful fish, especially among the fertile reefs near the uninhabited Bamboo island. Found about an hour’s boat ride to the east of Phuket, Phi Phi is best visited during the calmer months of December through March.

Sea Turtle Khai Island KHAI ISLAND – IMAGE CREDIT: EMOTIONTRAVEL.CO.TH

Just 15 minutes away from Phuket’s southwest coast lies the tiny Coral island, with two beaches and a resident family of hornbills to visit between snorkelling sessions. Thirty minutes further are the Raya islands with shallow reefs ideal for exploration by snorkel. Raya Yai, with just a few resorts and no cars, has some spectacular beaches for relaxing breaks in between snorkel outings.

Young explorers will love the Khai islands, a trio of tiny isles of sand and rock that resemble eggs (‘khai’ in Thai) floating in the water. Khai Nok, Khai Nui and Khai Nai are easily accessible and ideal for snorkelling with kids, just 20 minutes east of Phuket and surrounded with clear shallow waters and fertile reefs. Young children need only stand in the shallows to spot at least a few fishes. It does get busy here at times so try to come outside of peak visiting hours for a more peaceful trip. 

Snorkelling Similan Islands SNORKELLING THE SIMILAN ISLANDS – IMAGE CREDIT: ORIGINALDIVING.COM

The diamond in the crown of the Phuket snorkelling experience is the Similans, a stunning nine-island archipelago with crystal clear waters and an incredible variety of reefs and marine life. It’s a bit of a hike to get there: an hour’s drive north to Tablamu pier on the mainland, followed by an hour on the boat,

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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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