I had heard it referred to as the "armpit of Thailand." Everyone I knew described it as a veritable cesspool, full of scam artists, garbage, and all the other negative consequences of over-development.
At first, I avoided Phuket due to a lack of money. Then, my pretentiousness and identity as someone who wanted to see "the real Thailand" kept me away. But, an opportunity to go diving in the Andaman Sea brought me to Phuket, and, oddly enough, I ended up really liking the place.
It may not have had the charm of Koh Kood, the climbing of Krabi, or the diving culture of Koh Tao, but Phuket had its own beauty.
There were many more things to do in Phuket than in Koh Chang or even in Krabi, and the beauty of the limestone caves surpassed that of any other beach environment I had been to in southeast Asia.
The diving was not half bad either. The underwater visibility rivaled that of Koh Tao, and I saw more fish than I had ever seen before in three dives. The price (4000 baht for three dives including equipment) was pretty reasonable too.
Sure, I was scammed by taxi drivers, even while speaking Thai, and certain parts of the island are extremely overdeveloped, but, overall, I greatly enjoyed my time in Phuket.
The development of the island has even brought a few benefits; namely, it's probably the only island where one can find high-quality craft beers (overpriced for sure due to the import tax, but better than nothing).
You can find many of the same products in the cities of Bangkok, Pattaya, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, and Chiang Mai, but Phuket is the only island with the same level of options for high-quality Western food and alcohol.
I can't really write a detailed description of the island since I was only there for a couple of days, but I do know that it surprised me.
Dealing with cognitive dissonance forces us to evaluate our own prejudices. Though we should listen to the opinions of others, it is important to challenge our own perceptions and explore new places.
I know that I will never understand, or even begin to understand, every region of Thailand, but I can be willing to go to new places, and, every so often, learn something when I get there.