Destination Guide : Phuket, Thailand #2

At one point on the drive between the airport and Phuket town, the Heroine's Monument dominates the road. The two female figures, swords drawn, commemorate the successful defence of the island in 1785 against the invading Burmese led by these two brave ladies, Chan and Mook.

Phuket town can be enjoyed comfortably on foot, and one pleasant spot to begin your meandering (early morning is best) is Khao Rang, the hill above the town, which affords excellent panoramic views, plus gives a good idea of the general layout before you descend to explore.

Interesting sights in the town itself include the 200 year old Taoist temple of Put Jaw, and the adjoining Jui Tui Temple dedicated to a vegetarian god, and centre of many festivities during Phuket's famous Vegetarian Festival.

Also worth visiting is the shrine of Sanjao Sam San, devoted to the safety to boats and all those at sea. Many of the town's old colonial style buildings are absorbing, as is the Phuket Provincial Court, and Government House, the latter doubling as the French Embassy in Phnom Penh in the film The Killing Fields.

Nature lovers should not miss out on a visit to the 22 square kilometers of virgin forest that make up the Khao Phra Taeo Wildlife Park, a spectacularly verdant home to many rare plants, birds and animals and declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1969. There is a small waterfall at the park headquarters and marked trails assist trekkers discover the jungle magic. Mangrove swamps are one interesting aspect of Sirinat National Park located at Phuket's northern tip, covering 90 square kilometres, and rich in flora and fauna. Sapan Hin is an area of parkland and sporting facilities sporting a monument to Captain Edward Thomas Miles, who brought the first tin dredger to Phuket in 1909.

Thalang National Museum contains interesting artefacts and exhibits from Phuket's history, worth visiting to glimpse the island's past. Wat Chalong, dedicated to two revered monks, is the largest and perhaps arguably the most photogenic of the island's temples. Wat Phra Nang Sang is the island's oldest temple dating back over 200 years, and contains a number of interesting relics, statues and murals, including Thailand's longest Lai Tong an accordion-like religious manuscript. Wat Pra Tong encloses a curious half buried statue of Buddha made of gold, but still encased in the plaster used to conceal it from the invading Burmese.

Phuket Sea Shell Museum near Rawai beach houses a huge and fascinating display of over 2000 species, including many rarities, and is reputedly one of the world's best collections. The Thai Village and Orchid Farm has dozens of rare orchid species and puts on two cultural shows a day.

Phuket Zoo is home to over 3000 animals from all over the world, including 600 species of birds. The exhibits include an aquarium and a 'nocturnal house' the latter devoted to insects, beasties and other creatures that may bump into you in the night. Phuket Butterfly Garden & Aquarium boasts a wide range of magnificent butterflies, interesting insects, and fascinating aquatic life.

The Marine Biological Research Centre located at Cape Panwa rewards visitors with a memorable close up of more than a hundred sea creatures. The Pearl Farm on Naga Island opposite Phuket town offers an opportunity to learn the methods of culturing these lovely treasures.

For sports enthusiasts, Phuket offers a huge choice of activities, including 4 top-class golf courses one of which, the championship Blue Canyon Country Club, was the venue for the Johnnie Walker Classic Tournament, in 1994 and 1998. Amongst the long list of sports, there is Rock-Climbing, Elephant Trekking, Mountain Biking, Go-Cart Racing, Mini Golf, Horse Riding, Shooting, Paintball, Bowling, Thai Boxing, and Bungy Jumping, to mention a few.