Phuket – the largest island in Thailand; surrounded by smaller islands and extremely close to the mainland. In fact, it’s so close, the northern tip is connected by a bridge. So this is an island you can drive to! It is 48km in length and 21km wide. Phuket is in balmy Andaman Sea waters on Thailand’s Indian Ocean coastline 862 kilometres south of Bangkok.
Phuket’s main industry is tourism – and the locals throw themselves into it with tremendous enthusiasm! Phuket is home to many small entrepreneurs running their own small businesses. From street food to t-shirts to longtail boat trips to the islands, most Phuket locals work in some form for the tourist dollar. Unfortunately, tourist industries also attract scammers and Phuket has it’s fair share of those. The time share touts are the worst of it as they really harass tourists to attend presentations, and they do get rather aggressive when they receive a no.
Arriving in Phuket
People usually arrive in Phuket by air, so they are deposited at the airport in the northern part of the island. Getting to where you need to go can happen in a number of ways. Since the new regulations came into effect, official meter taxis should now be available all over Phuket.
To get a taxi at the airport, ignore all the touts, walk outside to the front of the new international terminal, and you will see the meter taxi counter about 150 metres on your right. Tell the taxi counter where you want to go, pay them the 100B airport fee and they will allocate a driver. Tell the driver you want to go straight to your hotel (no shops, tour desks, travel agents, timeshare, jewellery stores, etc). Airport taxi prices are now fixed and you will be advised the price at the taxi counter … and it’s normal to give the driver any small change (don’t forget that a 20bht note is only about AU 80 cents).
A cab to most popular hotels from the airport will probably cost between 700 and 800 baht depending on location and traffic, and it normally takes 40 minutes to one hour into Patong or Karon/Kata. It may help if you have a Thai translation of your hotel address – (usually available from the hotel website). Note: The official taxi booking desk used to close between 1.00am and 7.30am – It’s not yet known if times have changed under the new regulations. Update Jan 2016 – Metered taxi Airport to Patong –actual cost 705 baht plus 100 baht airport fee. For a cheaper transfer, book ahead through one of the transfer sites shown below… from 550 baht (no airport fee payable).
Don’t take an airport limo, they are usually more expensive and will often stop off at tour agencies, etc, where they may attempt to pressure you into booking tours (or even worse, tell you that your hotel has burned down or is booked out).
Airport shuttle buses are cheaper, but will probably not leave the terminal until they are full (which may take an hour or more) and they are also known for stopping off at hard-sell tour agencies where they will often refuse to proceed until all passengers have alighted and visited the tour counter to receive their dose of hard sell (they will tell you this stop is essential to confirm your hotel booking … not true). They have also been known to drop you a street or two away from your hotel, forcing you to walk the remainder.
If unsure, book a car through your hotel and they will have a driver waiting for you at the airport with a sign displaying your name. It will probably cost 200 to 400 baht more through the hotel. Note: Hotel cars are often on a fixed price contract and some tend to drive very quickly (more jobs per hour, more money). Cabs on the other hand don’t mind slowing down if they are on the meter. If a cab is going too fast just smile and say “cha-cha” (slow down).
GrabTaxi is a free mobile app which enables you to book a taxi, easily select a pick-up point and destination and estimate the cost of the journey. While there are plenty of similar apps available around the world, GrabTaxi is the only one currently in operation in Phuket. All this great transport information is from Jeff Raymond © Jeff Raymond 2009-2017
Where to stay in Phuket
Most tourists stay in Patong, Karon or Kata, sometimes even in Rawai Beach for a quieter time. If you want more of an authentic Thailand experience, Phuket Town has many more traditional buildings, hotels and local shopping areas. Check out our pages devoted to the various towns to see which one is right for you.
Further north is pretty quiet for nightlife, shopping and facilities. It is also closer to the airport so there is some flight noise at the beach resorts near there. The southern part of Phuket is where you will find all the usual facilities – from tour booking shops to 5 star hotels and restaurants. There are lots of accommodation 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.
What to do in Phuket
Water and Beaches
As Phuket is an island, water sports and the beach life are high on the list of things to do. Most people who visit Phuket would also take at least one day trip out to an island. Here you will find snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming etc. There’s so many options for these activities, it’s best to decide what you would like (a cruise, a jet boat, scuba etc) and then look at what’s on offer.
Safety is a very big priority with water activities, so do your homework with selecting an operator to take you to the islands. We have some safe options listed on our “DO” pages for the Phuket towns.
Jet skis are a known problem in Phuket for a variety of reasons. Don’t end up as a tourism statistic – be careful and avoid jet skis if you can. There”s plenty of other high action activities which are safer than the questionable jet ski operators on some of the beaches.
Plenty of options for some shopping when you visit Phuket. There’s the usual shopping malls, and the traditional markets. You can buy just about anything in Phuket; just like in Bangkok. The prices tend to be a bit higher because it’s Phuket! Check out the shopping pages on each town page.
Markets are virtually everywhere you go. The big weekend market is in Phuket Town. It’s the biggest one in Phuket and attracts a huge crowd. So, what can you buy when you visit Phuket?
The markets are swarming with fake brand name beach gear. T-shirts, tank tops, beach towels, caps, shoes, shorts and beach dresses. Thailand is trying to clean up the fake products industry but there’s so much of it. Handbags are another popular item and there’s bag vendors everywhere in Phuket. Sunglasses are also common, and the prices are really low….the problem is that they break the minute you wear them!
The best buys are the more traditional batik-style beach clothing – sarongs, tops, skirts, shorts, dresses. The fabric is light and cool cotton; just perfect for the humidity of Thailand. These items can be found much cheaper than the fake brand products. The vendors ask more for the brand names.
Stock up on traditional beach gear for a fraction of the price you will pay back home. Phuket does have some traditional silk products, but not as much as in the north of Thailand. Ifyou are looking for quality fabric, you would be better off searching in Bangkok.
Fabric quality is a problem if you don’t know what you are looking for. A lot of fabrics will be labeled silk but they are not silk. Probably just a cotton blend which is much cheaper than silk. Nevertheless, there’s beautiful patterns and colours available and the prices are really good for traditional style fabrics made into clothing and homewares.
And while we are on the subject of fabrics, a visit to Phuket will leave you with nightmares of people stepping out in front you saying “ÿou want a suit?”. Tailors are everywhere! All the streets in every town. It is very difficult to separate the reputable tailor from the dreadful tailor – unless you have a recommendation from someone who has purchased before. Just be wary of anyone who offers silk fabric for a very cheap price.
Find someone who has a reasonable price and offers multiple fittings. Avoid the tailors who will deliver to your hotel just before you leave. Chances are that great fabric you selected was switched out for a cheaper one and you are stuck with a badly made suit and no time to fix it because you have a taxi waiting to go to the airport. Don’t be one of these people! Order early when you first arrive, and get multiple fittings in the shop. Take a look on tripadvisor for reviews on good tailors.
Department stores exist in the shopping malls. Invariably they have a sale on so there could be bargains. I decided to buy a genuine Guess bag from a reputable department store. Not long after I came back home and started using the bag, the outer layer of presumably vinyl broke apart in small pieces and fell off! I cannot imagine that Guess would sell bags of this poor quality. I suspect they are switched with fakes in the store. Even though I paid $AUD120 for this bag, I am fairly sure it was a fake. I don’t bother with items like this anymore. I would rather buy handmade no-name items that are more traditionally Thai. These brand items can be purchased at home for a reasonable price – and the quality will be real. Learned my lesson there! I will visit Phuket and leave without bags!
There is so much to do in Phuket that I doubt you will fit it all into your time there – unless you have a lot of time! The cabaret shows are good. Simons Cabaret in Patong is cheap to see and a fun night out. They are careful to make the show family-friendly too.
There’s also Fantasea. The children will love this place. It is questionable when it comes to the animals being used here. If you are against animal acts, please don’t go. They do have elephant rides and there’s tigers behind glass. Each to their own. We personally do not approve of animals being treated like this. It’s a shame that Fantasea do this as the rest of the park is wonderful. The show is really good. The only bad part is the food buffet. There’s further information in the “Do” section for Kamala.
Just outside Patong is Tiger Kingdom. This is almost the same as the Chiang Mai Tiger Kingdom. It wasn’t a nice place up north, I can assume this one is the same. Again, make your own decision to visit. Even without these couple of places, there is still alot of activity to undertake in Phuket. Big Buddha, Cape Promthrep, Island daytrips, Phuket Aquarium, Shooting Range, Bowling, Water park….the list goes on. You won’t be bored here.
Riding Around Phuket
The same can be said for motorbikes. Unless you are very experienced, it’s not a good idea to hire a motorbike. The roads are very dangerous and there’s lots of drivers who speed and do not take much care at all. Let someone else drive you and it will be much safer. Try a safer ATV tour if you like adrenalin rushes. There’s operators who are very responsible and keep maintained vehicles. They are not run on the busy roads so the chance of an accident with another vehicle is much smaller. The operators also make sure helmets are worn.
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