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Phuket has a population of 200,000. The main centers of population are on opposite sides of the island. Phuket Town, with a population of about 63,000, is located on the east side and Patong Beach, whose population varies widely depending on the time of year, is located on the west side.

The residents are Thais who migrated from the mainland, Chinese who arrived to work the tin mines, Muslims of Malaysian extraction -- many of who come to work the rubber plantations -- and Chao Nam or sea gypsies -- who may have occupied the area for a millennium or more.

The Chinese now comprise 35 percent of the island’s population. They differ from those who settled in Bangkok and many other areas ofDining Out in Phuket? click here Thailand in that they came from the Hokkien region of China, as did those who settled in Singapore and Malaysia. As elsewhere in Asia, many of the Chinese have made the transition from providing cheap labor to being merchants. The Chinese have inter-married with native Thais and have largely been assimilated into Thai culture. Today the descendants of the early Chinese settlers are responsible for much of the trade and commerce that take place on the island.

The influence of Indonesian-Malayan culture is still apparent today in the ethnic makeup, language, art, and religion of the southern Thais. About 35% of the Thais living on Phuket are Muslims. Concentrated mostly around Surin and a few other big villages, they work as rice and rubber farmers. In addition to Thai and Malay languages many also speak ‘Yawi’, an ancient dialect of the Malayan language.

One of the most interesting groups of people who have lived on Phuket are the (or Sea Gypsies), traditionally a nomadic peoples who traveled from cove to cove, staying until the fish and other resources were depleted. They then moved on, allowing the cove to re-establish its former ecological balance before returning to repeat the cycle. Their history and cultural lifestyles are hard to trace as they do not have a written language. Sea gypsies are said to have originated in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands between India and Burma. They are generally darker skinned and heavier with curly black hair. They speak their own language and follow their own animistic religion.

Sea Gypsies consist of three groups. The Mokens still prefer their ancestral sea nomad-style of living and are commonly found occupying the islands north of Phuket. The Orung Laut and the Moklens have settled on coastal areas. There are three Sea Gypsy villages in Phuket. The one located at Rawai is thought to be the oldest and is visited by busloads of tourists everyday. Another village is located 8km north of Phuket Town at Sapam Coast, and a third village is located on Siray Island which is accessible by bridge from Phuket Town.

The Monarchy

The King, Queen and the Royal Family are genuinely respected by the Thais. Most homes and businesses, have one or more photographs of the King or the royal family prominently displayed. Showing any form of disrespect to the Royal Family will not be appreciated by the Thais and could cause you serious problems. If you attend a cinema during your stay, when the portrait of the King is shown on the screen during the national anthem you are expected to rise and remain standing for the duration.
Social Customs

Thailand is known as the "Land of Smiles", and for its tolerance and hospitality. The simple rule is that if you smile people will like you. A smile is an easy way to say ‘thank you" and can also be used to ‘excuse yourself’ for small inconveniences. A smile is the proper response to acknowledge the wai or greetings of small children, and with hotel and restaurant staff. Most of us were raised with the "Golden Rule" and that will work for you as well in Thailand as it does at home. Nevertheless, we will provide you with a short list of things that you should know to help you overcome any ‘culture shock’ you may encounter.

1. If you are invited into a Thai home, you are expected to remove your footwear before entering the door.
2. It is considered disrespectful for anyone to put his feet on the table while sitting. When seated make sure your feet are not pointed at anyone as this is offensive to Thais.
3. Thais regard the head as the highest (purest) part of the body, so refrain from touching or patting the head in a friendly gesture because it is considered impolite.
4. It is not proper to lose one’s temper or show exasperation during a misunderstanding. "Jai yen", or a "cool heart" the Thais believe will solve the problem.

Visiting a temple

Phuket Information and Travel Guide - visiting a TempleIs one of the more interesting cultural activities for visitors during their stay in Thailand. Visitors are welcome and discreet photographs may be taken. Shoes must be taken off before entering a temple, wearing shorts or other revealing clothing is frowned upon.

Monks are the most important people in Thai society and must be treated with respect at all times. A monk’s vow of chastity prohibits him from touching or being touched by a woman. Women are usually advised to smile and slightly bow when encountering a monk and maintain enough distance to prevent any contact with the monk or his robes.

Temple fairs are held during the cool season (November through early March) to raise money for temple maintenance. They are great fun. There is a carnival atmosphere lots of good food and a chance to see normal Thai people enjoying themselves.

Try the local Phuket's flavours! click hereIf you get up early (sunrise) for a walk, you are likely to encounter monks making their rounds for offering of food. Monks carrying a bowl will be approached by Thais (usually women) who will offer food to the monks (merit making). Thailand is a Buddhist country and this ritual can be seen every day all over the country.

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