Phuket Travel Guide

Phuket (ภูเก็ต) , pronounced (roughly) "pu-ged", is Thailand's largest island. It is 48 km in length, 21 km at its widest, and is in Southern Thailand, on the west-facing Andaman Sea coastline, suspended from the southern tip of Phang Nga Province by a pair of short but substantial road bridges.

Patong Beach, Phuket
 
Patong Beach, Phuket


 Cities

Only a few of Phuket's cities are not on the beach.

  • Phuket Town The administrative center of the province, and the island's main population center. Has the cheapest accommodation, but no beaches.
  • Chalong Bay On the east coast, home to Phuket's most popular yacht anchorage and the primary gateway to the islands off Phuket


 Other destinations

Map of Phuket
Map of Phuket


Beaches

The major beaches, alphabetically ordered:

  • Bang Thao (Laguna Beach) long, very quiet beach
  • Cape Panwa home to Phuket Aquarium
  • Kalim Beach a series of small beaches just to the north of Patong
  • Kamala Beach a quieter beach to the north of Patong
  • Karon and Karon Noi Beaches the second most-developed beach after Patong
  • Kata Noi Beach quieter sister of Kata Yai
  • Kata Yai Beach busy, clean tourist beach with good surf
  • Laem Sing small bay with stunning views, between Kamala Beach and Surin Beach
  • Mai Khao (Sai Kaeo) near the airport, very quiet (aside from the planes!) and far away from it all
  • Nai Han and Ao Sen a quiet beach (probably the best) in the south, near Phromthep Cape view point
  • Nai Thon and Nai Yang two quiet beaches in Sirinat National Park
  • Patong Beach the largest beach resort, known for its nightlife
  • Rawai, Mittraphap and Laem Ka set off point for lots of local islands, popular with locals for eating on the beach
  • Surin and Pansea Beach an up-and-coming upmarket destination
  • Ya Nui Beach


 Islands

Sunset at Bon Island
 
Sunset at Bon Island


There are dozens of small islands (ko) between Phuket and Krabi Province in the Phang Nga Bay. The following have accommodation:

  • Ko Bon 10 minutes from Rawai, an ideal island for a day of snorkeling and relaxing.
  • Ko Hae (Coral Island) 15 minutes by speedboat from Chalong Bay, accessible all year.
  • Ko Lon quiet, mostly Muslim island with a few bungalows
  • Ko Mai Thon gorgeous little island with only one (expensive) place to stay
  • Ko Maphrao (Coconut Island)
  • Ko Racha (Ko Raya) consists of two islands (Yai and Noi), popular with scuba divers and a relaxing snorkeling destination.
  • Ko Sire (Ko Si Le) Sea Gypsy colony, connected to the mainland by a causeway
  • Ko Yao two islands halfway to Krabi, with four upmarket resorts


 Understand

Phuket nestles in balmy Andaman Sea waters on Thailand's Indian Ocean coastline 862 kilometres south of Bangkok.

Phuket formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber, and enjoyed a rich and colourful history. The island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, and was frequently mentioned in foreign traders ship logs.

In recent times, though, Phuket's top earner has been tourism, which has transformed the island into Thailand's wealthiest province. The west coast of Phuket was hit severely by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, but almost no evidence of the damage now remains.

Phuket enjoys great popularity as a travel destination. Most beaches are on the west coast, with Phuket Town to the south-east and the airport in the north.

 Climate

Phuket is hot and humid throughout the year. The hot season is generally considered to be from March to early May. During the summer monsoon season from May to October, mornings and afternoons are still sunny and clear, but it tends to rain in the evenings and water clarity goes down. Locals consider November to February the "cool" season, and the weather is quite tolerable, much more so than in the tourism centers around the Gulf coast. It's comparable to Florida's summer weather in temperature and intensity of rain storms: 25-33 deg C, flying clouds, short and thunderous rainfalls in the afternoons and evenings. Surfing is possible off the western beaches.

 Culture

Phuket is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and even sea gypsies. The majority of the population in the rural areas is Muslim. Outside of the provincial town, the rural folk speak with a thick Southern dialect which is difficult for even other Thais to understand. The provincial towns economy having boomed over the past decade has led to a lot of the youngsters leading similar lives to those in Bangkok. Altogether, the lifestyle of the urban Thai-Chinese resembles that of Bangkokians.

 Saving Face

In Thailand, like most of Asia, it is important to save face. This is something that is very gracious but can be very annoying to most westerners. Saving face is more important than anything. Getting mad or angry at someone does not bode well for you and it is likely to get you nowhere. Stay calm, relax and take a deep breath. Smile and don't get angry. 

 Get in


 By plane

The compact Phuket International Airport (IATA: HKT) (ICAO: VTSP) is in the north of the island, and is Thailand's second largest hub, second only to Bangkok. There are very frequent flights to/from Bangkok as well as direct flights to many other airports in the region, including Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and direct charters to Europe and Australia in the high season.

 Airport Transport

To get from the airport to your destination, there are several options:

  • Municipal a/c Airport Bus service (every day 6:30-20:45, every 60-90 minutes) to Phuket Town bus station costs 85 baht and takes one hour. Local buses run from there and Ranong Street Market to all the major beaches until around 18:00 for about 30-40 THB. To and from Patong and Kathu the best transfer point is at the Surakul Stadium. After getting off the respective bus just cross the street and wait for the continuing bus there. It is a very convenient and comfortable spot, with no touts or hustlers, plenty of shade and a mini mart for drinks and snacks. -- The bus will stop anywhere along its route upon signalling the driver ("bus hiking"). A very informative website is here: www.airportbusphuket.com.
  • Minibus services (basically door-to-door share taxis) are a good value. They charge 150-250 baht per seat, and will get you to your destination much faster than the municipal/government buses. To Patong 150 is typical; to Kata Beach, 180. When you get off the plane, don't dally, because when the minibuses fill up, they leave. If you miss the first group of them, you may have to wait until the next plane comes in, because they don't leave until they're full. Note that the minibuses will stop at a travel agent about halfway to Patong. They'll ask everyone to get out (you don't have to) and then they'll ask you where you're staying, and they'll try to sell you a hotel. You're NOT obligated to use the hotels they push. Just say you already booked a hotel, and tell them the name. They will inform the driver, and he/she will drop you off at the hotel. This is a little annoying, but it's over in 10 minutes, and you're on your way again. Any travel agent can arrange a minibus ride for the way back to the airport.
  • Metered (yellow) taxis - Turn right as you exit the airport building (ignore the touts) and you'll see a stand at the end of the walkway. You tell your destination to the staff at the stand and they will give you a paper with the taxi driver number for you to keep in case you need to report a problem. Fares to destinations in Phuket cost around 400 baht and up. The rate is what is displayed by the meter plus 100-baht airport fee. The meter will start with a 50 baht display. You may stumble upon a freelance taxi driver that will take you from the Airport to Patong for the flat fee of 450 baht. If the driver is pleasant, you may wish to ask for his mobile number for the return trip later. The same driver can take you from Patong to Phuket Town for 350 to 400 baht.
  • Limousine (blue) taxis from the airport are expensive, costing 600-700 baht to Patong Beach or Bt800 Phuket Town. The airport co-op booth tucked away towards the back is a little cheaper than the competition. Despite the name, most "limousines" are Toyota Camrys with leather seats, though you may be lucky and get a Mercedes.

Departure tax is now included in the ticket price. The airport is notionally divided into Terminal 1 and 2, with some charter and low-cost operators using the second, but these are only a few hundred meters apart and connected by an air-conditioned walkway.

 By train

There are no direct train services to Phuket. But many trains leave from Bangkok central station going south all the way to Singapore. The most comfortable are the sleeper trains (~685 THB for a berth in a 2nd class a/c car. Travellers by train must get off at Phun Phin railway station in Surat Thani province and continue for another 5 hours by regular bus to Phuket. Do not buy the bus ticket until you actally see the bus and can make sure it is not standing room only as it picks up passengers at the popular Ko Samui ferry. If full wait for the next one. See Surat Thani for more details.

 By bus

Buses to mainland destinations including Bangkok, Chumphon, Hat Yai, Krabi, Phang Nga, Ranong, Satun, Sungai Kolok and Surat Thani use the BKS terminal off Thanon Phang Nga in Phuket Town.

The most reliable buses from Bangkok are the public BKS  buses from the Southern Bus Terminal to Phuket. The journey takes 13 hours. There are also some private bus companies, Phuket Travel Tour, Phuket Central Tour and Phuket Travel Service . Khao San Road operations have a bad reputation for theft, often turn out to include a "surprise" transfer to a minibus at Surat Thani, and are best avoided.

From Phuket bus terminal to your final destination, you can take a motorcycle taxi, tuk-tuk, meter-taxi, or bus. A motorcycle taxi into Phuket Town will be about 10-20 baht; to most beaches 100-200 baht (negotiable).

A local bus to one of the main beaches will cost around 15-30 baht. It's not unusual for the tuk-tuk drivers at the bus terminal to tell arriving travellers that the local bus service has finished, even though it hasn't. If you are of the hiking/backpacking type, the local bus station, which will take you to Patong Beach is about twenty minutes away. When exiting the bus terminal, make a right onto Phang-Nga Rd. Continue down Phang-Nga until it terminates at Yaowarat Rd., then turn left. Within a few steps you will see a roundabout. Once at the roundabout, keep right. By keeping right, you will find Ranong Rd. Within 100 to 200 meters you will find the local bus stop.

Before exiting the Phuket bus terminal, grab a free Phuket map from the information window. While supplies may always not be on hand, the map is a great way to get your bearing before jumping-off.

 By car

Phuket is directly connected to the mainland by the Thao Thepkasattri Bridge. From Bangkok, take Highway 4 through Nakhon Pathom, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, thence through Ranong provinces Kra Buri and Kapoe districts, Phang-nga provinces Takua Pa and Thai Muang districts and onto Phuket island. The total distance is 862km.

 By boat

Ferry services connect from Rassada Port in Phuket Town to Ko Phi Phi and on to Krabi on the mainland twice a day, taking 90 minutes and costing 350/650 baht one-way/return, for each leg. It's usually a pleasant ride, but can be rather bumpy when it's windy.

There are also speedboats to Ko Racha (2 hours), the Similan Islands (about 3 hours) and other islands in the high season only.( Cost 2200-1900 ). Boats and yachts can be chartered at Chalong Bay, the Boot Lagoon, the Yacht Haven and Royal Phuket Marina.


 

 Get around

Phuket-style tuk-tuk
Phuket-style tuk-tuk


Phuket is a large island and you need some form of transport to get around. Public transport is very limited and taxis and tuk-tuks are the only practical means, Another, but quite dangerous option is rent your own wheels.

Hotels generally offer shuttle bus services into Phuket Town, and also have taxi and car hire facilities. Jeeps and motorbikes can be hired from various shops in Phuket and at the main beaches. Taxis are plentiful in town. Tel: 0 7635 1347, 0 7635 1349 for more information.

People traveling with babies can rent baby gear locally and don't necessarily have to bring baby equipment such as strollers on the plane. One of the companies offering this service is called Phuket Baby Rentals. 

In Town:

No public buses, but there are Songthaew which operate a communal service. Just tell your destination to the driver. In town journeys cost 20-30 baht.

From Town to Beaches:

There are local-bus services between town and tourist beaches. Local buses leave for the beaches at the market on Ranong Road at half-hour intervals until 6 p.m. After that, you must hire a taxi. Bus fares range from 25-35 baht.

 By Songthaew or bus

Public transport within Phuket is limited to a radial network connecting Phuket Town to the beaches. There are a few full-size buses, but most lines are operated with songthaews, basically converted pick-up trucks serving as buses. The fare is 25-35 baht up on distance, and there are no set stops - they pick up and drop off as requested. Most local bus services stop at around 18:00.

Most operate from the local market (Talad Sod or Ban San); those to major beaches go via Phuket Town bus terminal. The main lines connect to Patong, Kata-Karon, Chalong Bay, Rawai-Nai Han beach, Panwa (Aquarium), Mai Khao, and Surin-Kamala. There are very few "cross-beach" connections, and eg. traveling from Surin to Patong (15 min by taxi) requires an hour-long detour via Phuket Town.

Upon your return, though, often the bus will drop you off not at the main terminal but at a bus stop somewhere in the middle of Phuket town, where travelers will immediately be set upon by the rip-off tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. Tourist beware!

 By taxi

Phuket has three types of taxi - millions (or so it seems) of small songthaew-style minivans (usually bright red, occasionally bright yellow) called Tuk Tuks, a much smaller number of conventional sedan-style taxis (yellow and red, with a "TAXI-METER" sign on top), and random indistinguishable vehicles that serve as unofficial taxis.

The minivans are universally referred to as tuk-tuks (even though they have four wheels, not three). They have no meter, and their drivers are notoriously mercenary, so always agree a price beforehand and do bargain hard. Short hops around town shouldn't cost more than 40 baht, but good luck getting from Patong to Phuket Town for under 400 baht. Tuk-Tuks should be avoided whenever possible, these are run by what locals call the "Thai Mafia" and charge you 200 baht for less than 1km runs.

Metered taxis are a much better option when available, being safer, more comfortable, and usually cheaper than tuk-tuks. However, they're often hard to find, and during peak periods their drivers will also ignore the meter and demand flat fares. You can arrange one by telephone on 0-76-232157.

Finally, many beaches have little shacks with "TAXI" signs, sometimes unofficially supported by a hotel, offering quick transport at high prices. They are usually pricier than the tuk-tuks, with most fares exceeding 500 baht, but they are usually air-conditioned and more comfortable.

 By motorbike taxi

There are also motorbike taxis (motosai). While you should never hop on the back of just anyone's motorbike, motorbike taxi drivers wear bright numbered vests and are usually the cheapest way to go. However, these are more dangerous than a Tuk Tuk, for obvious reasons, and are not comfortable for long trips. However, if you just need to get around town, they are a great way to go.

 By car or bike

Renting a car or motorbike to explore the island on your own is a cost-effective way of getting off the beaten track. However, given the driving habits of most locals and the resulting carnage on Phuket's roads every year, the risks do demand careful consideration. Driving habits are Thai style ignoring all the rules and keeping going at all costs, not much worse than Naples, but like there it keeps traffic moving. Traffic lights have just made things worse in the last few years.

Due to the geography of the island with its winding hilly roads and poor vision, Phuket certainly gets more than its fair share of accidents. In fact, the death and injury statistics are more than high. More than 10,000 people are injured and over 250 killed every year in road accidents in Phuket. Nine out of ten accidents involve motorbikes.

Drive very defensively at first and watch what the locals do. Of course, it helps if you are accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, which in itself could be enough to distract some North American or European drivers. Driving under the influence of alcohol is both illegal and dangerous, and driving at night also increases the risk of accidents even if you're sober, many others aren't.

Motorcycle and scooter rentals start at around 200 baht/day, coming down to 150 baht/day for rentals of a week or more. There is a theoretical crash helmet requirement, widely ignored by locals, but farang riding around without one will be taxed 300-500 baht by the police for their stupidity. You must also have a driving license with you, or you'll be slapped with a 500 baht fine. There can be police check-points on the way so do keep an eye or two out on them. If you do wear a helmet chances of being stopped should be low though.

Renting a car usually costs between 1000-1200 baht if you want to go for an ecomonical one like a Toyota Vios (stay away from the jeeps). Several rental companies are located in and around the airport. Avis is located within the airport while Hertz, National and six are located walking distance outside the airport (across the road). Bookings can be made online for these. Reputable local car rental companies, which are often a little cheaper, include:

  • Be careful to check the level of insurance on a hire car, as many local companies say they have 'full' insurance when in fact it is only a very basic level.

 By boat

For a bit of island hopping the longtail boats are a great way to do so. Prices must be negotiated and are app. 500 Baht per hour or no more than 1,800 Baht per day.


 

 See

Phuket offers a variety of attractions to its visitors:

  • Phuket Aquarium: Located at Cape Panwa, this tropical aquarium offers a variety of fish and corals.
  • Crocodile Farm: Watch the staff at Chana Charoen Road tame crocodiles and alligators right in front of you.
  • FantaSea: This is referred to as the Disney Land of South East Asia. It's the ultimate in night entertainment on Phuket.
  • Butterfly Farm: home to 40 native species of butterflies.
  • Chalong Temple: Visit the ancient temple of Phuket's monks that helped the people during Chinese rebellion.
  • Waterfalls: Explore the biggest waterfalls in Thailand, especially in the rainy season. The largest measures 10 meters and just 22 kilometers outside Phuket.


 Do


 Watersports

Scuba diving, snorkeling, SNUBA, yachting, jet-skiing and parasailing are the most popular activities on the island. Most dive sites are off nearby islands, but distances are fairly short and there are dozens of dive shops and boats to cater to your needs, mostly based near Chalong Pier. In addition there are good snorkeling locations located off several of the most popular beaches. Seek local information regarding riptides, currents, and safe snorkeling areas.

Sailing and Yachting

Phuket has become the sailing and yachting center of Thailand and adjacent countries. It's home of Six Senses Phuket Raceweek, King's Cup Regatta , Phang Nga Bay Regatta , the Phuket International Boat Show (PIMEX), 4 marinas, two yacht clubs - Ao Chalong Yacht Club (ACYC)  and Phuket Yacht Club (PYC)  and some well sheltered anchorages which are teeming with yachts. The marinas are all located at the eastern side of the island which makes them an ideal starting point to explore the nature wonders of the Phang Nga Bay. An entire fleet of traditional junk rigged boats is located there, offering day trips. But as well real sailing yachts are on offer for this. Phuket has sailing yachts of virtually every size and for all budgets on offer to explore the surrounding beautiful islands on a yacht charter. Sailing Thailand Island Cruises  operates a wide array of sailing catamarans from budget to luxury, most of them located in Chalong Bay. SweetDreamers  also offer many different sailing cruises from Chalong Bay in South East of Phuket. Small sailing craft like Hobie Cats and Lasers are available at most of the tourist hot spots on the west side, e.g. Patong and Kata.

Diving

Phuket Island has some decent dive sites and the largest diving center in Thailand. The reefs around the area are in a healthy condition with both solid and colorfully soft corals. There is also an abundance of marine life. Most of the dive locations are suitable for all levels of divers but there are also some that are quite deep.

The most well-known dive site in the Phuket area is Racha Yai with its sloping rocky reefs and its plenitude of solid coral forests. There is also Ter Bay where there is an exciting wreck in the depths of 25-35 meters. The area south Racha Yai, Racha Noi, is a haven for experienced divers as the depths are greater and the currents stronger. The overall topography is strikingly different from Racha Yai with huge granite boulders. The diving in Racha Noi compared to Racha Yai is definitely more challenging but the rewards are far greater.

Just off Phuket, is the limestone island of Koh Doc Mai that soars vertically from the sea-bed. It is home to a diversity of fish and offers the opportunity to view leopard sharks, moray eels, octopus and turtles. Further afield, most particularly around the ever popular Phi Phi Islands in neighboring Krabi province, some 2 hours east of Phuket, and the Similan Islands, in Phang-nga province, some 110km northwest of Phuket, and the Raya Islands, 1-3 hours due south of Phuket, depending on the type of boat. Diving in Phukets warm clear blue waters is best from mid-October to May, when the calm seas and rain free days make Phuket diving a truly unique experience.

SNUBA

Snuba diving is the safest and easiest way to try diving on holiday in Phuket. Popular in Hawaii, the Carribean, Mexico, and Japan, Snuba gives an introduction into the world of diving. No certification required, children 8+, just like scuba diving except easier. SNUBA trips go to most Phuket dive sites. No heavy equipment to wear, no long classes, maximum depth of 7 meters, professional dive guides accompany each group.

  • ALOHA SNUBA Thailand SNUBA dive tours Phuket, Thailand 

Swimming

This can be enjoyed throughout the year, and is mostly safe. However, during the rainy season storms this can be very dangerous. Look for posted signs and flags indicating conditions for safe swimming; if the red flag is flying, do not go swimming in the ocean!

Windsurfing

Boards may be rented by the hour, half day, full day, or week at most major beaches. Tuition is available free.

Deep Sea Fishing

Daily tours are available, making early morning departures and late afternoon returns, mostly to lesser islands to fish for Red Snappers, Rainbow Runners and other game fish.

Sea Canoeing

This form of eco-tourism is available in several forms, as popular one-day tours, or more extended tours involving overnight camping on island beaches, and occurs principally in the neighboring Phang-nga Bay and Krabi province, where mangrove swamps and island grottoes are accessible only by canoe.

 Buy

Phuket is the source of cultured pearls, nielloware, pewterware, ornaments and dried seafood. Specialist shops dealing in souvenir products can be found on Ratsada, Phang-nga, Montri, Yaowarat, and Tilok-U-thit roads, in Phuket Town, Thepkasattri Road, north of town and at the beach centres of Patong, Kata, Karon and Rawai.

Phuket's larger beaches are ravaged by ravenous hordes of touting tailors, who are certainly cheap, but will screw you over if they can for example, suits done in 24 hours are usually just glued together and will fall apart the first time you bring them to a dry cleaner. Choose your own fabrics (you can buy them at Thalang Rd in Phuket Town), insist on multiple fittings and check the quality of work carefully. It makes little difference which tailor shop you choose, since they're all just sales fronts for a few central sweatshops.

There are two giant shopping malls in Phuket: Central Festival, at the northwest edge of Phuket Town, and Jungceylon, in Patong.

 Eat

Individual listings can be found in Phuket's district articles

Food in Phuket is surprisingly cosmopolitan, especially in Patong Beach, as many foreigners have set up shop to cater to their fellow travellers. All the usual Thai favorites are of course still available, with a particular emphasis on seafood. See the individual town articles for detailed listings.

Phuket has its own style of preparation and cooking. Some interesting local dishes include:

  • Fried or Boiled Noodle Dishes (หมี่ผัดหรือหมี่น้ำแบบต่าง ๆ), usually with pork or chicken, are available at many noodle shops in the town such as Mi Ton Pho, Mi Sapam, Mi Ao Ke, Mi Hun Pa Chang, and etc.
  • Khanom Jin (ขนมจีน), a version of noodles taken at breakfast, usually served with a spicy curry sauce and fresh vegetables.
  • Nam Phrik Kung Siap (น้ำพริกกุ้งเสียบ) is a mixture of dried chili and smoked shrimps eaten with various fresh vegetables.

Cashew nuts and pineapples are grown in Phuket and available all year round. The nuts are available dried, fried or coated. Phuket pineapples are some of the most delectable, sweet and firm.


 

 Drink

Individual listings can be found in Phuket's district articles

Phuket has a busy nightlife, second only to Pattaya among Thailand's beach resorts. Patong Beach is by far the busiest, and seediest, of the lot, but in addition to go-go bars there are also plenty of other bars, discos and clubs.

 

 Sleep

Individual listings can be found in Phuket's district articles

There are lot's of options available in Phuket. But for the more popular hotels and resorts in the better locations you should book at least a couple months in advance during high season (Nov-May). Cheapest air con room rates start at around 1,000 baht in beach locations or 500 baht away from the beach, with proper resorts starting just under 100 USD and going right up. Best rates are usually found online by searching and many hotels offer best rate guarantees when you book direct. Most of the time you will pay more if you walk in.

For long term residence 2-3 bedroom furnished houses available for 7000-10000 baht/month/up (only available far from the beach). In addition, luxury villas can be rented at a range of prices, depending on the season and the location and size. Anywhere from $300-2,000 USD per night with deep discounts available for monthly or longer terms.