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Thailand's largest island sits just off the west coast of the mainland, in the glittering Andaman Sea. Thailand was never colonized, but international trade brought Europeans to Phuket (pronounced poo-ket) in the 17th century: The island was rich in tin, which lured Dutch, French, English and Portuguese traders. Their influence is best seen in the architecture of Old Phuket Town, where former mansions have become hotels, restaurants, cafés and shops.
A major Phuket landmark, the Big Buddha, sits high on a mountain with knockout views of the coastline. A trip to the Chalong Highlands also yields great views—along with short elephant treks.
Phuket offers both cultural attractions and natural beauty. The island is a tropical paradise, with gorgeous white-sand beaches and warm, crystal-clear waters where visitors come to swim, snorkel and scuba dive. One of the prettiest places to take a dip is Phang Nga Bay. An island in the bay, Khao Phing Kan, became known as James Bond Island after it served as a film location for scenes from The Man with the Golden Gun.