The popular island also boasts attractions nature lovers will enjoy
Dubbed the ''Pearl of the Andaman'' for its scenic natural beauty and pristine beaches, Phuket is Thailand's largest island and easily the most popular. Visitors can hope to be entertained and enriched by a wealth of travel experiences lying in wait there.
On a recent trip to this premier island destination, we drew up our own itinerary and after sampling our options settled for a marine national park, an aquarium and places of worship held in esteem by the locals.
Our tour began in a sunny afternoon. Having taken the main highway from town, we veered off onto a dusty track that wove past verdant green landscape flanked by palms, paddies and rubber plantations. Buffaloes grazed the fields. Occasionally they were spotted lazing in murky ponds or pools of water by the roadside.
Nai Yang Beach was our first stop in the marine national park. Compared to similar parks elsewhere in the country, the one is more accessible, but it can't be spoken in the same breath as Similan and Surin islands that pull in divers and tourists with their abundant underwater treasures.
But still, modest slow-paced ambience and pleasing natural settings make the park worthy of visit, particularly for somebody trying to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. It attracts whole families arriving for picnic or to enjoy a dip in the sea.
The marine habitat here, compared to its more famous neighbours, is relatively unspoiled while the sea this time of year, which is end of the monsoon season, is usually all smooth and at peace with itself.
The sound of waves gently lapping the shore and stately casuarina trees swinging in the wind is nice antidote for frayed nerves. Actually, the profusion of casuarina trees gracing Nai Yang Beach is in itself a sight to behold. The beach strip extends to the northern tip of Phuket, while to its south is the marine park that includes some coastal hills.
One of the park's major attractions is a project dealing with the conservation of sea turtles whose number has declined considerably in recent years due to encroachment on their habitat by humans.
Our next stop was an aquarium with a nature trail. It is part of Phuket Marine Biological Center on the tip of Cape Panwa. The aquarium educates and entertains visitors with its numerous exhibits of marine life, their habitat and about environmental and conservation issues. Everyone's favourite seemed to be a walk through a tunnel tank which offers a close view of exotic marine creatures such as sharks and sting rays. We left the place with a better understanding and awareness of our marine and coastal resources, the need to conserve and help make them sustainable.
From the aquarium we moved to the spiritual side of Phuket, visiting the iconic Big Buddha, a gigantic all-white jade statue weighing 135 tons, locally known as Phraphutthaming Mongkhol-akenagakhiri Buddha, followed by Wat Chalong which sits in a beautifully landscaped garden and boasts a wax museum housing the statues of its former abbots, Luang Pho Chaem and Luang Pho Chuang.
The tour ended at the temple of Put Jaw, a Taoist shrine about 200 years old built in honour of Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy.
For more information
Sirinat Marine National Park: http://web2.dnp.go.th/parkreserve/asp/style1/default.asp?npid=90&lg=1
Big Buddha: www.mingmongkolphuket.com/background-en.php.
Phuket Aquarium: www.phuketaquarium.org.
More info: http://www.bangkokpost.com/travel/localtrips/204694