BY: Deepika Shetty
PHUKET has so many attractions that it is hard to provide a complete list of them, says Mr Arnaud Girodon, general manager of boutique hotel Indigo Pearl, which is on Nai Yang Beach on the north-west coast of Phuket.
Originally from Rodez in the south of France, the 33-year-old was based in Dubai from 1999 to 2006, where he opened and developed the award-winning Buddha Bar and Blue Elephant, a restaurant offering Thai cuisine.
His move to Thailand two years ago was prompted by his love for the sun, sea and sand as well as the warmth and generosity of the Thais.
"It was the people, culture and climate that drew me here. And they are what keeps me here," he says.
Here are his tips on how to make the most of your visit to Phuket:
Discover the great outdoors
"Phuket has the incredible advantage of being able to provide fairly secluded, tropical, beach-front areas that are close to modern shopping and nightlife," says Mr Girodon.
To get things going, he suggests heading out to nearby islands such as Phi Phi and Similan. You can try snorkelling, diving, swimming or walking on the white sandy beaches on these islands.
Those who are more adventurous should try water rafting, quad biking in the jungle and sea kayaking in the caves.
If you are not into any of these things, explore the natural beauty of the island on foot. Go for a day trek, but do make sure you have your sunscreen and drinking water handy.
No visit to Phuket is complete without a visit to its beaches.
While Patong Beach is a popular tourist spot because of its shopping, nightlife and wide, long stretch of sand, other beaches such as Karon, Kata, Kamala, Surin, Nai Yang `and Nai Harn are also worth a visit.
Many people prefer these beaches as they are far less crowded than Patong.
Visit the temples
There are numerous temples in Phuket, some dating back to the 14th century. To reach some of them, you need to climb steps or trek through the jungle.
A good starting point, says Mr Girodon, is the Wat Prathong in Thalang. It is famous for a half-buried golden Buddha statue called Luang Poh Prathong.
Another famous temple in Thalang is Wat Phranang Sang, which means a temple built by a queen. Built over 500 years ago, this temple is believed to be the oldest in Phuket.
Browse for books
"You will also find several Sino-Portuguese houses in Phuket, some of which are close to 100 years old," says Mr Girodon.
One of his favourite pastimes is visiting old bookshops in these houses. "They have old second-hand books from all over the world. These bookshops can be found in various parts of Phuket and are a great draw for book lovers. I once picked up a fairly rare French title called La Peau De Chagrin by Honore De Balzac, for around $6," he says.
|"They have old second-hand books from all over the world" -- Mr Arnaud Girodon on the bookshops in Phuket's old Sino-Portuguese houses.
Mr Girodon says: "In Phuket, virtually every cuisine of the world is represented, but why come here if you do not wish to enjoy Thai cuisine?"
For a casual experience, he recommends a floating restaurant called Bang Oeed in the middle of the sea located in the bay of Phuket Town. Here, you find live fish kept in very large nets in the sea.
There are about 20 nets from which you can pick your fish. Once you've made your choice, the chef cooks it in front of you.
For a more sophisticated environment, try the Black Ginger restaurant located on top of a natural rainwater lake along Nai Yang Beach. Apart from traditional Thai dishes, you can also order some local Phuket dishes such as beau thod or deep-fried vegetables with prawns, o-tao or stir-fried oyster with flour and egg, and hor mok, a fish dish cooked in banana leaves.
For dessert, try the Thai coconut waffles with lime pumpkin custard.
Choices range from big stores such as Central, Carrefour, Tesco and Big C to very small local shops scattered around the streets of Phuket Town or Patong.
"From luxury brands to clothes to furniture, you can get everything here. My personal favourite is a local clothes shopping street located at the back of Patong, where you can get real bargains for casual wear," says Mr Girodon.
If you have a little more time, do catch the traditional Phuket dances and shows on the history of the island. One of the best shows is at the Phuket Fantasea theatre.
This article was first published in Life!, The Straits Times on July 22, 2008.