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Phuket lies off the west coast of Southern Thailand in the Andaman Sea, approximately 890km from Bangkok. It is Thailand?s largest island at 550sq km, roughly the same size as Singapore, and is surrounded by many smaller islands that add a further 70 sq km to its total land area. Phuket is separated from the mainland by the Chong Pak Phra channel at its northernmost point, where a causeway connects the island to the mainland.


Phuket is quite hilly. There are a few peaks above 500m, the highest being Mai Tao Sipsong at 529m. Many of these are covered in lush jungle. The lowlands consist of rice paddies, plantations of rubber, pineapple and coconut as well as the only significant area of rainforest remaining on the island, which is now protected as Khao Phra Thaeo Park.

The most beautiful beaches are found on the West coast, separated by rocky coves and headlands. The east coast comprises limestone shoals with only a few sandy beaches while spectacular limestone islands adorn the horizon. Coral gardens full of exotic marine life dot the emerald waters surrounding the island, although sadly much of Phuket's coral has been disappearing due to environmental pressures and human activities.

The residents of Phuket comprise Thais who have migrated from the mainland, ethnic Chinese, Malays, and Chao Leh or ?sea-gypsies? who are the original inhabitants of Phuket.

According to the census, Thai-Buddhists account for 71% of the population, with Malays (24%) and Chao Leh (4%) making up the remainder. The figure for Thai-Buddhists also includes the Chinese who are almost completely assimilated. Some estimates put the percentage of ethnic Chinese at around 35%. The vast majority of the population resides in or around Phuket City and Patong Beach, creating a population distribution along an east-west axis.

The National Statistical Office of Thailand?s most recent census conducted in 2000 shows Phuket to have a population of 250,000. In reality, this figure is likely to be quite a lot higher as this data does not take into account those who live and work in Phuket, but are registered as being resident elsewhere, a fairly common occurrence. Together with this are the seasonal workers, and visitors of which there are a significant number all year round. Taking this into account, some estimates have calculated a figure as high as 500,000 during peak periods.

Phuket has the second highest per capita income of any province in Thailand outside of Bangkok. Tourism has dominated the island?s economy for the past two decades. Each year, over 3 million visitors arrive to enjoy Phuket?s natural splendor and many amenities.

For much of its history, Phuket?s economy was based on tin mining. Since the fall in the demand for tin in the 1980s and restrictions placed upon tin dredging to protect the coastal waters, the industry?s importance has greatly declined.

The main religion on Phuket, as in the rest of Thailand, is Theravada Buddhism. Theravada, literally the "Doctrine of the Elders", is the name of the school of Buddhism that draws its scriptural inspiration from the Pali Canon, or Tipitaka, which scholars generally accept as the oldest record of the Buddha's teachings.

Many people in Phuket also practice Daoism, usually together with Buddhism. This is due to the large number of Chinese immigrants who came to work in the tin mines during the 19th century. Several Chinese shrines can be found around Phuket City. During the Vegetarian Festival these are a hive of activity.

Thai Muslims make up approximately 35% of Phuket?s population, and many are still concentrated in the area around Surin Beach where the migrant Malays originally settled. Despite the smaller number of Muslims, mosques actually outnumber Buddhist wats on the island.

The Chao Leh practice their own form of animism, the belief in the existence of individual spirits that inhabit natural objects and phenomena.

Phuket is Thailand?s only island province and is also the country's smallest province in terms of area.

Phuket City is the administrative centre, though it is still commonly referred to as Phuket Town. It received city status in 2004.

The island is divided into three administrative districts or amphoe; Thalang, to the north, Kathu to the west and Muang in the south.

The provincial governor and district chiefs are appointed by the central government in Bangkok. Phuket and Patong city councils are elected as well as the city mayors. Provincial, district and sub-district councils are also elected.

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