The ever-increasing official population of Phuket is now over 350,000 (Jun 2011). However, this only includes those registered as permanently resident in Phuket. In addition, there is a large transient population. Many Thais come from other provinces to take advantage of the work opportunities in Phuket on a temporary or semi-permanent basis. The high season population is probably over 700,000 with some estimates claiming it is over a million.. The main population centre is Phuket Town with 70,000 people. The other main population centers are Patong, Karon, Kata, Nai Harn, Rawai, Chalong, Kamala, Surin, Thalang and Kathu.
The main population groups are Thai Buddhists (71%), Muslims mostly of Malay descent (24%) and Sea Gypsies (4%). Around 30% of the population is of Chinese descent from migrants who originally came to work in the tin mines. They are fully integrated into Phuket society. They speak Thai, have inter-married with Thais and are Buddhist although many of them also practice Daoism. They originally came as cheap labour but their diligent work ethic has made many of these families affluent members of Phuket society.
The Sea Gypsies are the oldest inhabitants of the island. Originally nomadic fisherman, they have their own language and religion. There are three Sea Gypsy villages in Phuket. One at Rawai, one at Koh Sirey and one at Sapham Coast.
There is also a large population of Burmese people working in Phuket. There is a lot of building work taking place in Phuket and the Burmese provide a cheap and willing workforce. It is estimated there may be as many as 100,000 Burmese people working in Phuket but these can only be rough estimates as the majority of the Burmese workforce are not registered.
Thai people are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality and the people of Phuket are no exception. The warm welcome is genuine and they really do want you to enjoy their country. Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles and for good reason. They smile easily and if you do the same, it will get you a long way with them. The Thai word sanook (fun) is an integral part of Thai culture and whatever they are doing they like it to be 'sanook'.
It has to be said that some Thai people in the tourism industry have become rather cynical. While plainly everybody in the tourism industry is looking to make money from tourists, most will do so with good service and fair prices. However, there are some who have come to view tourists as easy money and who will overcharge for their services or goods, or be aggressive with their sales pitch. Tuk-tuk drivers, tailor shops and beachfront stallholders are the worst offenders.