What to do?
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.
Phuket floats in balmy Andaman Sea waters on Thailand's Indian Ocean coastline, 862 km south of Bangkok.
Phuket formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber, and enjoys 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's logs.
In recent times, Phuket's top earner has been tourism, which has transformed the island into Thailand's wealthiest province. Expect prices to be a bit higher than on the mainland.
The west coast of Phuket was hit severely by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, but almost no evidence of the damage remains.
Phuket enjoys great popularity as a travel destination. Most beaches are on the west coast, with Phuket Town to the southeast and the airport in the north.
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, more dangerous option is rent your own wheels. Hotels generally offer shuttle bus services into Phuket Town, and also have taxi and car hire facilities.
Public transport within Phuket is limited to a radial network connecting Phuket Town to the beach towns. 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 25-40 baht up, depending on distance, and there are no set stops. They pick up and drop off as requested. Most local bus services operate at half-hour intervals and stop at around 18:00.
There is a small public bus network in and around Phuket, serving most neighbourhouds with Phuket Town from 6 AM to 6 PM with 30 minute interval. These blue and pink buses are called ' Songtaew' (two rows) due to the to two rows of seats in the back of the buses, some of them converted from a truck to bus. Fare is around 30 to 40 baht for blue buses (commercial) and 10 baht for pink buses (governmebtal). Tickets are sold by conductor. There are no bus stops, people can board every on safe spots. Tuktuk companies prevent more lines.
Most operate from the local market at Ranong Rd (Talad Sot 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, Cape Panwa (for the aquarium), Mai Khao, and Surin-Kamala. There are no "cross-beach" connections, and travelling, for example, 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 you will immediately be set upon by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. Tourists beware!
Phuket is known for its "taxi Mafia". Taxi prices are heavily inflated and even for short distances of 2 km they easily charge 200 baht. Taxi drivers often block any kind of change that could endanger their easy money, e.g. by literally demolishing local buses, fighting with clients and setting up road blocks. They're usually also well-connected with the police. Be careful.
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 1 km 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. It is recommended you insist your hotels give you a metered taxi phone number and keep on the front desk. Take the taxi meter land line number from the yellow booth right outside of the ground floor of the airport before you depart.
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.
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.
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 has 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 drivers. Be aware that many motorcyclists will drive on the wrong side of the road to cover short distances, and passing on the left is a very common occurrence on Phuket roads. 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. Choose a rental company that doesn't hold your passport as deposit (most of them will) or negotiate a cash deposit, as there is a chance that your passport will mysteriously disappear when you return the rental. If possible, arrange the rental through your hotel—they typically won't hold your passport since they already know who you are and will negotiate the deal with the rental company.
Although both motorcycle/scooter drivers and pillion passengers are required to wear helmets, this rule is mostly ignored by locals, but a farang riding around without one is more likely to be hit with a 300-500 baht fine (seems to be another rip-off for tourists, as the official fine for driving without a helmet is 200 baht) by the police if caught. You must carry a valid driving licence with you, or you'll be slapped with a 500 baht fine. Police can check for motorcycle licences, and not having the correct licence type may result in a fine. Your licence will be confiscated if you're stopped, and returned when you pay the fine at the appropriate police station. There can be police check-points on the way, and regular check-point locations include the northern end of Patong Beach Rd, Chalong Circle, and the north end of Karon Beach. If you do wear a helmet chances of being stopped should be low though.
Renting a car usually costs between 1,000-1,200 baht if you want to go for an economy car 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 Sixt are located within walking distance of the airport (across the road). Bookings can be made on-line for these. Reputable local car rental companies are also present, which are often a little cheaper.
Be careful to check the level of insurance on a hired car, as many local companies say they have full insurance when in fact it is only a very basic level. Motorcycle rental generally includes no insurance, so take extra care if you decide to opt for the motorbike option.
For a bit of island hopping, the longtail boats are a great way to go. Prices must be negotiated and are approximately 500 baht per hour, no more than 1,800 baht per day.
Hitchhiking would be delightful if it weren't for the taxi Mafia. Any car could double as a taxi. Mention at least 3 times that you're not going to pay: "no money". "Free ride". "No taxi". Ask if this is clear to the driver. If the driver later on still insists on money, be sure to move on before they get their corrupt police friends involved.
Phuket is one of Thailand's premier tourist destinations and (basic) English is widely spoken, especially in the beach areas. That said, even a little Thai will draw smiles and can be useful in the less frequented areas of Phuket. There are also a number of Thai language courses on the island for those who wish to take their language skills to the next level.
Phuket is known the world over for its beaches. There is a wide variety of beaches, some calm, some totally ruined by millions of visitors each year. But you can explore the interior of Phuket, a fertile hilly expanse that consists of mangrove forests, fishing villages, rubber and pineapple plantations, small Muslim communities and shrimp farms.
Swimming, snorkelling, diving, yachting, jet-skiing and parasailing are among the more popular activities on the island. Other activities include freediving, windsurfing, kite surfing, wakeboarding, and deep sea fishing. Popular kite surfing locations include Nai Yang in summer and Chalong Bay in winter season. Sea canoeing is a popular activity in Phang Nga Bay, as many grottoes are only accessible by canoe.
Phuket has some decent dive sites. 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, most based near Chalong Bay. The reefs in the area are in a healthy condition with both solid hard corals and colourful 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 abundance of solid coral forests. It is home to Ter Bay where there is an exciting wreck in the depths of 25–35 m. The island south of 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 greater.
Just off Phuket, is the limestone island of Ko Doc Mai that soars vertically from the seabed. It is home to a diverse fish and offers the opportunity to view leopard sharks, moray eels, octopus, and turtles. Phuket can also function as a base for dives further afield, such as Ko Phi Phi. Diving in Phuket's warm clear blue waters is best from mid-Oct-May, when the calm seas and rain-free days make Phuket diving great.
Snuba Diving is the safest and easiest way to try diving on holiday in Phuket. The word Snuba is a portmanteau of "snorkel" and "scuba". The swimmer uses swim fins, a diving mask, weights, and diving regulator as in scuba diving. The air, however, instead of coming from tanks strapped to the diver's back, comes through a long hose from tanks on pontoon rafts on the surface. 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 m. Professional dive guides accompany each group.
Phuket is a leading dive centre in Thailand and has recently become a freediving hotspot. It is the home of the area's only AIDA instructor training centre. Most freediving trips go out with scuba dive boats to well-trafficked dive sites, but some freediving off the beach is also possible. The local operators are usually very happy to find like-minded divers and will happily give pointers.
There are many muay Thai camps on the island offering instruction to visitors. There are courses available for people of different levels of fitness, and those who train hard may be given the option to fight. Chalong Bay and Rawai especially is home to almost a dozen muay Thai gyms. If you're interested in a one day lesson or a six month training stint, it's a good place to look.
Phuket has become a sailing and yachting centre of Thailand and adjacent countries. It's the home of Six the Senses Phuket Raceweek, King's Cup Regatta, Phang Nga Bay Regatta, the Phuket International Boat Show (PIMEX), four marinas, and two yacht clubs: the Ao Chalong Yacht Club (ACYC) and the Phuket Yacht Club (PYC). Well-sheltered anchorages teem with yachts. The marinas are all on the east side of the island, which makes them an ideal starting point to explore the natural wonders of Phang Nga Bay. An entire fleet of traditional junk-rigged boats is berthed there, offering day trips.
Snorkelling can be enjoyed in sheltered bays all around Phuket. It is particularly enjoyable at easily accessible reefs at Patong, Karon and Kata Beaches. Fins, mask, and snorkel can be rented on a daily basis from shops all over the island. Full and half day trips are available to the islands surrounding Phuket. Most popular are Ko Hae, Ko Racha Yai, Ko Khai (a hidden gem in Phang Nga Bay), and Ko Phi Phi. There are many tours available at very cheap rates and speedboats will be filled with up to 65 people. Research your options before signing up for any tour.
Agencies sell all-inclusive day trips from all over Phuket. Prices for group tours range from 1,400-3,900 baht. Quality and safety seem to correlate with prices paid. The lower-end speedboat tours take approximately 30-35 passengers per 2-engine speedboat and 50-60+ passengers on 3-engine speedboats. Very cheap tours take over 100 people in a speedboat. The higher-end tours take approx 15 to 18 passengers on 2-engine speedboats. Insist on knowing the exact number of guests that will be on the boat. Keep in mind that tour desks will tell you anything to get your money, as they receive up to 65% commissions from the lower-end tours. It is always best to contact the dive company directly to ensure that you are getting what you pay for.
The more people on the boat, the longer it takes to get on and off at each stop, thus lowering the amount of time you get to spend off the boat. A packed boat is not very fun or safe when there are large waves.
Private companies providing small group tours are few (currently only 3). Full day tour prices range from 3,200-3,900 baht (no discounts are offered. Can only be booked direct). The tours include stops at all the major sights, higher quality lunches (from picnic to seaside sit-down restaurant meals), full sets of snorkelling gear, minibus transport, fresh tropical fruits, snacks & drinks on board, foreign owner/guide, small groups, attention to safety, and national park fee. Prices vary based on services, amenities and extras are provided.
Phuket Town is a source of cultured pearls, niello ware, pewter ware, ornaments and dried seafood. Specialist shops dealing in souvenir products can be found on Ratsada, Phang Nga, Montri, Yaowarat, and Tilok-U-Thit Rd, in Phuket Town, Thepkasattri Rd, north of town and at the beach centres of Patong, Kata, Karon, and Rawai.
Phuket's larger beaches are ravaged by ravenous hordes of 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 take them to a dry cleaner. Choose your own fabrics (you can buy them on 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.
There is a night market that opens from Th-Su, a couple of traffic lights past the Central Festival shopping mall. You can buy many things from clothes to jewellery to sunglasses. A great place to visit during your stay.
A small store without a name in Latin letters can be found on Ranong street opposite the market hall and 7-Eleven West of the small roundabout. Standard commodities can be bought there in large quantities (e.g. 12 pack of mosquito repellent, 3 pack of SPF50 sun screen, 5 pack of shower gel) for a discount.
Food in Phuket is surprisingly cosmopolitan, especially in Patong, as many foreigners have set up shop to cater to their fellow travellers. All the usual Thai favourites 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:
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 available.
Phuket has a vibrant nightlife, second only to Pattaya among Thailand's beach resorts. Patong's is by far the busiest of the lot. There are plenty of other bars, discos, clubs and activities catering to every taste, from pastor to sex-tourist.
It was too hot to stay on Karon Beach, so we decided to take a walk in the shade along the waterfront. There's Buddha monument on that hill. This is a view back. Here's the shade finally! This is a bridge. We bought few baby bananas (1 piece=0.30USD, as of 2016). Ice-cream! These are the...
After visiting Kata Beach, it started raining and we decided to go to Karon Beach. We went there by bus. We paid 35 baht=1 USD (as of 2016). Despite the rain, we were swimming. The beach was deserted. Usually...
We arrived at Kata Beach at about 11 a.m. Well, it was cloudy. It was not far from the beach. Here's the beach. Somebody's hovering... We were swimming enough. In the afternoon people leave the beach, and the birds...
There were tidal waves on the beach near our hotel so we decided to go to another beach, studying the island on our way. We went to the Kata and Karon beaches. We ordered taxi. It cost $36 (as...
We decided to go to Lampi Waterfall , which is part of the National Park . The entrance fee was about $2.80 (as of 2016). We crossed the bridge to the other bank of the river. There's the...