Discovery of the coconut island off southern Thailand has long been a cause for celebration in the often forgotten south of the country
Newcomers to the area are used to being the first visitors to Thailand’s Phuket peninsula, now a popular holiday destination for Brits, foreign backpackers and Chinese business executives. So it should come as a surprise to almost no one that a spot so familiar has also long been home to a picture-perfect white-sand island on the way to the mainland: Little Phuket.
Discovery of the coconut island off southern Thailand, which appeared in James Bond’s The Beach, is not very surprising. It has been many thousands of years in the making, perhaps even as far back as ancient Greece and China.
The 2km (1.2 mile) long island is of such remarkable natural beauty it earned its name from the Douglas Bader novel.
The petite, isolated location was once associated with alchemy, among other pseudoscience ideas. A gold hoard was found on the island in 1871. A century earlier Phuket locals forged ties with their Chinese co-religionists. According to Chinese legend, Prince Gampi attempted to conjure up the mythical island in order to escape a hundred fierce tigers. The island’s collection of rays was said to have been almost a cure for skin rashes and botulism in those days.
A tourist walks past shops at Baan Oayao on the island of Little Phuket. Photograph: Ayutthaya Post/AFP/Getty Images
Today, the island is famed as the backdrop to much of The Beach, the James Bond film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Ryan Phillippe.
Little Phuket, which lies 7km off the west coast of Phuket, was known as Barratty, the name given by the island’s first inhabitants. Around 2,000 remained on the island until 1938, when the Japanese were defeated and Thailand gained independence from Britain, ending its isolation from foreign influences.
Little Phuket was hugely popular, but since then, other parts of Phuket have grown into must-sees.
Some locals welcome the return of the island, because it means a chance to revive Phuket’s historic village spirit, and calls have been made to turn the island into a small-scale regeneration area for the south of the country. This is something they feel would be welcome because many traditional way of life, such as takoyas – Thai traditional vendors selling handicrafts – are declining.
Happiness Village. This eight-minute walk and scenic beach will give you your first taste of Little Phuket. Photograph: Google Street View
Today, the island is hard to miss on a Phuket tourist website. Despite limited space and serious infrastructure issues, tourists can still hike its sambas to the shore, where there are several palm-fringed islands including two further on-site.
Further north on the island is the Happiness Village area, which also features a banqueting hall, health and wellness centre, and an elaborate English-style market.