PHUKET: Founded more than 20 years ago by well known local doctor Prasit Koysiripong, Phuket Butterfly Garden and Insect World was the first tourist attraction of its kind on the island and is still thriving today. Six years ago Dr Prasitís son-in-law Jaipet Hatthakham and his wife took over the business and have been steadily improving it to keep pace with the many other attractions that have sprouted up around the island in the last two decades.
"I was working in a hotel and my wife and I saw this business as a good opportunity to work with nature and the environment," says Jaipet.
After walking through the peaceful garden, replete with fish pond, scores of orchids and of course, thousands of brilliantly colored butterflies fluttering silently through the air, I have to agree that it must be a one of the most relaxing places to work I have ever seen.
"Our main attraction is the butterflies, we have around 20 species. All the butterflies you see here we have bred," he adds.
This hands-on approach to breeding means visitors can get a real understanding of the butterfly life-cycle. In fact students are the biggest visitors to the garden, with school groups from around the island visiting regularly.
"The majority of guests are European, and the local visitors are mostly school children, who come almost everyday."
Because of this, the butterfly garden is fantastic place to bring young children and expose them to the natural world, while providing a strong educational element. The first section visitors pass through is the insect museum, which is filled with informative exhibits detailing the evolution of insects and features extensive displays of preserved beetle, butterfly and other insect specimens all with informative plaques in both English and Thai. There are plenty of live specimens here as well and they are not for the faint-hearted. You can get up close to several types of scorpions, giant tarantulas and cockroaches, stick insects and all manner of creepy crawlies.
After that, itís on to the garden itself, which is a real delight for both young and old, and especially for keen photographers, as there is no shortage of beautiful, bright butterflies to capture. Although some patience is required as your subjects are prone to flitter back and forth with little regard for where you aim your lens. However, if you are lucky, you might get a butterfly to land on you, making for a perfect photo opportunity.
Inside the garden there are the breeding stations where you can witness butterflies emerging from their pupae and resting as their wings dry before taking to the air. Every butterfly you see in the garden has been bred on-site. Some staff members have been here more than ten years developing their expertise and are more than happy to explain the process to inquisitive visitors.
"The breeding section is very popular, because you can really get up close and photograph the insects. This is great because you canít usually get so close to them in the wild," says Jaipet.
Breeding the butterflies on-site has become increasingly difficult since the early days of the garden, when plants used by the caterpillars and butterflies for food and breeding were easily sourced from nearby.
"The breeding part is the most challenging, because each butterfly needs a specific plant. It is becoming harder to find the correct plants. We used to find them close by, but now we have to go more then 25 kilometers to find them."
This shortage has led Jaipet to set up a nursery in Mai Kao to increase the supply of appropriate plants but the fledgling project is going slowly due to the difficulty of getting fresh water to the site.
Nevertheless the breeding station is filled with hundreds of pupae in various stages of development. Some are just simple curled leaves sealed with silk; others are shiny, shell-like, rainbow-colored jewels.
After leaving the garden, visitors pass through a display on traditional Thai silk-making and can learn about the various processes involved in turning silkworm pupae into the much sought after silk products Thailand is famous for.
The final stop on the tour is the recently renovated Pimís Bistro and Cafe (named after Jaipetís daughter) where you can sit and enjoy a meal or a drink. There is great coffee and all the favorites including juicy burgers, pastas and of course, ice-cream.
So if youíre looking for a great place to bring your kids for a fun and and educational day out, then Phuket Butterfly Garden and Insect World should be at the top of your list.Keep checking our Lifestyle pages for the latest happenings across Phuket. Alternatively, join our Facebook fan page or follow us on Twitter. This article first appeared in the October 5-11 issue of the hard-copy Phuket Gazette newspaper, now on sale at newsstands throughout the island. Digital subscribers may download the full issue, this week and every week, by clicking here.