George Smith, an old hand from Hong Kong, wrote last week with
the following question "I came to Phuket in 1990 with a view to
buying a property and making it a business base, but was put off the
idea by the lack of basic infrastructure and services. Has Phuket seen
any improvements since then?"
Having lived in Phuket for almost two decades, I can attest to the huge changes that have taken place on the island. Twenty years ago, many beaches were only accessible by earth tracks and telephone calls from the fledgling nippa roofed bungalow resorts were connected by radio link (hello . over can you hear me . over .) to the few land lines then operational in Phuket town.
By the time of your last property inquiry, the island had (in relative terms) made dramatic improvements, most main roads had been paved and phone lines were available (albeit in sufficiently limited numbers to ensure a healthy secondary market). For those residents, myself included who had just got phone lines after 7 years on the waiting list, this was seventh heaven, but I can well appreciate that this was not an adequate situation for someone such as yourself wanting to establish a home and business base. There were still no international schools, fairly limited medical facilities, many areas of the island were still without or requiring indeterminate waits to get phones and power cuts occurred on a regular basis. Curiously, the post office (now hugely understaffed for a service that has grown phenomenally despite the traffic it has lost to the Internet) delivered far more frequently than it does today.
Today the island boasts, four purpose built international hospitals, two major international schools (as well as several foreign language kindergartens), abundant phone lines in most (but still not all) areas of the island, half a dozen Internet Service Providers, Satellite and Cable TV, a full range of professional service companies (ranging from lawyers and accountants through web design and project managers to dot coms and theme park developers), several foreign language newspapers, a growing number of foreign business associations and social clubs, a dozen daily flights to Bangkok, daily direct flights to the major Asian capitals, and weekly direct (some charter) flights to many of the principal capitals of Western Europe, two marinas, four golf courses, vastly improved sporting and recreational facilities, a fast road to the airport, a second bridge off the island, some of Asia's leading resort hotels, department stores, hyper markets and an ever growing range in international cuisine. In short, while still clearly coming from a small town background, Phuket now has all the trappings of a small growing city.
These improvements have not been overlooked, by many expatriates such as yourself who have for some time considered making Phuket a base. The last three years have seen a significant increase in foreigners coming to live and acquire property in Phuket. Who is coming? Those with families taking advantage of the international schooling. Those with service or otherwise mobile businesses that can be largely run remotely through the Internet. Those who are semi retired (but still put in a few hours a day massaging their stock portfolios), but rather do it on a beach or a golf course in a relatively low cost country. Indeed an ever growing and ever broader selection of people from an increasingly multi-cultural international background.
As with any region growing as fast as Phuket, all is not perfect, there are still facilities that are in the throes of a leap frog catch-up game with the ever growing population that they are aiming to supply, but the good news is that as the city planners get better and the developed base grows ever larger, these mismatches become smaller and are corrected more quickly. Yes, I'd say Phuket was certainly worth a second look.