Insider's guide to the best of Greater Phuket
1. Big Buddha
Although his recently-implanted glistening black eyes now gleam over southern Phuket, the 45-meter white jade Big Buddha statue has a smile that spreads happiness. Mee kwam suk, the Thais call it. Tourists of every religion and some with next to none climb the six kilometers from Chalong in their hundreds every day. Very few come away disappointed with the gigantic statue or the views, which from 380 meters up are fabulous. Wisely, this all-white icon has his back turned on wicked Patong. The Big Bud to many, to the Thais he's simply the Phraphutthamingmongkhol-akenagakhiri Buddha.
How to get there: It can be seen from Chalong Circle, but head north towards Phuket City for about a kilometer before taking a road to the left that goes straight to the top. More here
2. Nai Yang Beach
Get off the holiday flight and be in the surf at a Phuket beach within six minutes and 30 seconds. We know, we've done it. The beach is Nai Yang, and it's often overlooked as visitors race past to the delights of more popular spots further south. Why waste time? Nai Yang beach is also backed by a collection of thatch and sand restaurants, of the kind that have been concreted over elsewhere. We particularly like Mr Kobi's Bar & Restaurant for its food and fun. Among the many signs, ''Broken English Spoken Here.'' The roads here actually divert around the trees. Tucked away a little is the more luxurious and impressively industro-arty Indigo Pearl resort.
How to get there: Catch a flight to Phuket. Instead of turning left off the road leading south from the airport, go straight on for a few meters, then turn right. More here at Indigo Pearl
3. Ao Sane Beach
One of the cutest patches of sand on the planet. To get to Ao Sane, visitors have to drive through and under a resort at the north end of Nai Harn beach. Ao Sane is perhaps a little rocky at low tide but there are corals offshore, a small restaurant right on the edge and a few beach bungalows where guests can still hear the roar of surf on rocks day and night. Getting there makes the short trip a curious Alice in Wonderland adventure. The reason that the road goes through the resort harks back to a land dispute and a court decision that public access must be permitted to all beaches in Thailand.
How to get there: At Nai Harn beach, towards the southernmost point of the island, smile at the security attendant at the gates of the resort and continue on through, going left and under the building rather than right, to the foyer. More here
4. Koh Sireh Sea Gypsies
Visitors are welcome at the Koh Sireh Sea Gypsy village. The small island (Koh Sireh) is attached to Phuket by a road bridge that runs east of Phuket City. Phuket's sea gypsy communities mostly fish for a living, and retain their distinct way of life despite the villas going up not far away. They have been known especially on Saturdays, though, to break out the whisky and dance with tourists to the beat of a jukebox.
The Koh Sireh Buddhist temple nearby, high on a hilltop, provides great views out over the island and the restaurants on Koh Sireh have yet to suffer massive inflation. On the way to Koh Sireh there's a mangrove viewpoint at which monkeys can be fed. (Hum along to ''Do You Know the Way to Koh Sireh, da da-dada da da da da . . . '')
5. Old Phuket Town
Power poles are a pox on Phuket. Telephone links, cable wiring, every kind of unsightly connection dangles above ground in black tangles that have spoiled a zillion tourist snapshots. Now on Thalang Road and Soi Romanee, two of the quaintest streets in the historic Old Phuket Town, the lines have been buried underground. Shuttered traders' homes and walkways can be viewed and enjoyed the way they should be for the first time in many decades. Great for a wander. When the aromas from the ancient herbalist hit you, stick your head in the door.
How to get there: Phuket City is the island's administrative heart on the east coast, and Old Phuket Town is at the centre of the capital. More here
6. Koh Lon
Just a 15-minute ride from the southern pier at Chalong, Lon island has retained its balance with nature while Phuket showed a preference for development. A homestay among the Muslim villagers who maintain their lifestyle here produces romantic beach walks and a sense of the beauty of the region that attracted the first tourists 40 years ago. Deer inhabit the glades and small crocodiles guard the lagoons. Muslim village morning coffee puts pep in your day. Although Buddhists are the majority, Phuket's population is up to one third Muslim and more than 50 mosques dot the island.
How to get there: Koh Lon lies a longtail boat ride from Rawai, across a short strip of sea. Bookings can be made through the local Tourism and Sport department office.
7. White Sand Beach Restaurant and Bungalow
This restaurant was one of the first to reopen in Khao Lak after the 2004 tsunami. Today visitors can sprawl on chairs in the open or under salas on a broad stretch of white Andaman sand. Sunsets do happen elsewhere, but seldom are they seen across sand this brilliant and a sea so blue it sometimes seems to glow. The food is Thai. Need we say more? You'll pay a whole lot less than at the five-star boutique resort next door. Some afternoons and evenings are so beautiful it may even be worth the 90-minute drive from Phuket.
How to get there: Go through Khao Lak township and head for Cape Pakarang. White Sands is alongside the award-winning The Sarojin, and both are signposted.
8. SALA Phuket
Phuket's northern beach, Mai Khao, has been winning plaudits for the quality of its resorts. Small yet substantial, SALA Phuket tricks the eye and piques the imagination, offering shapes and perspectives that make this destination a quirky designer's delight.
Plonk the bathroom outdoors, beside the swimming pool in the private villa. Make the spa a womb for comfort and internal relaxation. Celebrate the beauty of the rubber tree. No wonder they prefer the name in capital letters ... seldom are the standard curves and corners of a resort so stimulating. More at Salaresorts.com
9. Natural Restaurant
If you had two hours on Phuket, where to eat? Somewhere by the beach, if you are hungry for a sea view. But if you want good Thai food in a radically different environment, pull up a chair at the Natural Restaurant in Phuket City. Wrapped around a couple of trees by a couple who couldn't bear to cut them down, Thammachart (Natural) provides leafy glades among the branches, each one stuffed with a mixture of old television sets, sewing machine treadles, hanging orchids and undergrowth. Tarzan and Jane would love it. Hard to find but worth every bend and bite.
How to get there: Call +66 (0)76 224287 or +66 (0)76 214037 for help or head for Juitui Chinese Temple in Phuket City, near the fresh market, and turn down the oneway road beside it. Natural has a large sign on the left. More at Natural Restaurant
10. JW Marriott Khao Lak
Wiped out in 2004 by the big tsunami wave, this resort took its time coming back. Over the past five years, mostly as rubble, it has been a Novotel, a Sofitel, a Kempinski, a Rixos, and an independent Cher Fah. Now Marriott has wisely signed on for 30 years. This rambling resort is being described, quite rightly, as a ''Hidden Treasure.'' Nature has been both cruel and kind to a resort that offers Thai hospitality, incredible beauty and dollops of luxury in equal proportions. With a three-kilometre meandering pool, water still sweeps through the place.
How to get there: Turn left at Phuket airport and stick to the coast road. The drive will take you about 80 minutes. More at Marriott.com
For more on Thailand's largest island, read: "Phuket post-tsunami: A second wave of greed?"