Official population in Phuket is just above 300,000, but the actual number is somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000. This numbers includes those who are registered as living in Phuket. Phuket’ s attraction as a center of economic activity has resulted in many living on the island whose registration is elsewhere. The total population of Phuket varies considerably depending on the time of year.
The most important ethnic group amongst the population of Phuket is the Thais who have moved on to Phuket from their original homes in the mainland thanks to the high economic growth rate for many years.
Coming a close second are the Chinese who migrated to Phuket to work at the tin mines to which Phuket owes much of her industrial fame. Today, the Chinese account for almost 35% of the population of Phuket. The Chinese of Phuket originally came from the Hokkien region of China. They arrived to work the tin mines in the mid 18th century.
As they did elsewhere in South East Asia, they made the transition from providing cheap labor to being merchants. They have assimilated into the Thai culture. Today the descendants of the early Chinese settlers control much of the trade and commerce on Phuket. Some of the earlier tin mine owners have branched out into the tourism sector and controls hotels, golf courses and large real estate projects.
The Muslims who had originally arrived from Malaysia and Indonesia also account largely to the Phuket population. Indonesian-Malayan culture is quite apparent in southern Thailand and also in Phuket. They are mostly concentrated around Surin Beach, Koh Kaew and a few other big villages, they work as rice and rubber farmers. In Phuket, Muslims of Malaysian extraction came largely to work on the rubber plantations.
The Sea Gypsies, called Chao Nam, represents the largest ethnic group of the population in Phuket. The Gypsies were nomadic tribes of people who traveled from coast to coast in search of fish and other natural resources along the eastern part of the Indian Ocean. When the resources of a certain area were exhausted, the group would move on to a different coast, in order to carry out their activities. Consisting of many sub-groups, the Sea Nomads still proudly hold on to their ethnicity and rich heritage even today.
Foreign residents (Farangs)
Phuket is also home to a large number of foreign residents from around the world. Most stay on short term visas and make frequent trips to neighboring countries ever 30 or 90 das. Approximately 30000 foreigners are estimated to live more or less permanently in Phuket – many married with children. There is also a large population of visitors from Europe who stays during the cold winter season in Europa, especially Scandinavians and Germans.
Burmese laborers have since the early 1990s worked in construction, the fishing industry, at plantations and more lately in resorts and as maids in Phuket. Most work illegally, but the Thai government has issued more than 35000 work permits for Burmese in Phuket.
Many have lived here for years and speak Thai fluently.