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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket (ภูเก็ต),[1] pronounced "Poo-get", is Thailand's largest island and also its second smallest province. It is 48 km in length, 21 km at its widest, and is located 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 Town is the administrative centre of Phuket Province, and the island's main population centre.

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.

2004 tsunami

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 is hot and humid throughout the year. The high season is generally considered to be from November to May. During the summer monsoon season, mornings and afternoons are still sunny and clear, but it tends to rain in the evenings and water clarity goes down. Locals consider May to October 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.


  • Phuket Vegetarian Festival - an annual event held during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It is believed that the vegetarian festival and its accompanying sacred rituals bestow good fortune upon those who religiously observe this rite. During this time, local residents of Chinese ancestry strictly observe a 10-day vegetarian or vegan diet for the purposes of spiritual cleansing and merit-making. Sacred rituals are performed at various Chinese shrines and temples and aesthetic displays such as walking barefooted over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs are performed by entranced devotees known as "Ma Song".

Phuket is one of Thailand's premier tourist destinations and (basic) English is very widely spoken, especially in the beach areas. That said, even a little Thai will draw smiles and can be useful in the less touristed areas of Phuket Town.


Particularly in the monsoon season, there are strong currents on many of the beaches and drownings are a depressingly common occurrence. Heed the warning flags on popular beaches and play it safe if off the beaten track. It is important to note that, while many tourists who flock to the beaches of Phuket are European, nudity is viewed as highly offensive to Thais. It is very rude to go topless to beaches. Thais are generally non-confrontational, but it is always best to be respectful while treading on another's home country.

The major beaches from north to south are:

  • Bang Tao - long, very quiet beach
  • Surin Beach - an up-and-coming destination
  • Laem Singh Beach - small bay with stunning views, between Kamala Beach and Surin Beach
  • Kamala Beach - a quieter beach to the north of Patong
  • Patong Beach - the largest beach resort, known for its nightlife
  • Karon Beach - a quieter beach to the south of Patong
  • Kata Yai Beach - busy, clean tourist beach with good surf
  • Kata Noi Beach - quieter sister of Kata Yai
  • Ao Chalong - home to Phuket's most popular yacht anchorage
  • Rawai Beach - set off point for lots of local islands, popular with locals for eating on the beach

Get in

The island has an international airport and is also directly connected to the mainland by a bridge, so it's possible to arrive by air, road, or sea.

By plane

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.


The compact Phuket International Airport (IATA: HKT) (ICAO: VTSP) is located in the north of the island, and is Thailand's second largest hub.

International departure tax is 700 baht payable in cash (there are several ATMs at the airport). Departure tax for domestic flights is included in the ticket.

Airport transfers

  • Metered (yellow) taxis (available outside the car park gates) cost 300+ baht
  • Minibus services (basically door-to-door share taxis) charge 100-200 baht per seat. One realworld example is from airport to Chalong to 6 persons was 1100 baht and there was not possibility to lower it easily.
  • Airport shuttle bus service (6:30-20:30, every 30 minutes) to Phuket Town bus station costs 52 baht; local buses run from there to all the major beaches until around 18:00

Domestic flights

Several domestic discount airlines fly here, including Air Asia and Nok Air - tickets from Bangkok can cost under 1000 baht one-way if booked well in advance, or around 2000 baht (including taxes) if bought on the day. Air Asia would be the best deal if you are flying from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket. Bookings can be made online and checking in etc. procedure is really without any hassles. Don't expect too see much of a service on the plane but it's good enough for the price paid.

Bangkok Airways has a monopoly on direct flights between Phuket and U-Tapao (Pattaya / Sattahip) and Ko Samui.

Destination Air Shuttle offers direct seaplane transfers (some of which operate seasonally) between Phuket and Ko Lanta, Ko Phi Phi, Krabi, Ranong, Trang, the Similan Islands, and other popular Andaman coast destinations.

International flights

Other low cost direct connections include Hong Kong, Jakarta, Macao, and Seoul.

By train

The nearest train station is about 5 hours away, at Surat Thani, so a few local people and tourist travel to Phuket by train.

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 those from the Southern (Sai Tai Mai) Bus Terminal. There are 2 private bus companies, Phuket Travel Tour and Phuket Central Tour and the government firm, Transport Co,Ltd. 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.

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 boats to Ko Racha (2 hours), the Similan Islands (9+ hours) and other islands in the high season only. Boats and yachts can be chartered at Chalong Pier, the Boot Lagoon and the Yacht Haven.

It's possible to visit Phuket by cruise ship. For cruises from Singapore, try Star Cruises.

Get around

Phuket is a large island and you need some form of transport to get around.

By bus

From Phuket Town there are frequent bus services to the other part of the island such as Patong Beach, Kata-Karon beach, Chalong Bay, Rawai-Naihan beach, Seaport-Aquarium, Mai Khaw beach, Surin-Kammala beach. The fare is 15-30 baht up on distance, by both full-size buses and by songthaews. Most operate from the central market (Talad Sod or Ban San); those to major beaches go via Phuket Town bus terminal. There are no set stops - they pick up and drop off as requested. Most local bus services stop at around 18:00.

By taxi

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

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 200 baht.

For longer distances the metered taxis are generally a better bet, so do your bit to break the iron grip of the minitaxi mafia and patronize them if you can. You can hail one by telephone on 076-232157.

There are also motorbike taxis. 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, it is important to note that these are slightly 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

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. Major risk factors are driving at night, and drunk-driving mostly by foreigners and that no one wears a helmet.

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.

Motorcycle and scooter rentals start at around 150 baht/day, coming down to 100 baht/day for rentals of a week or more. There is a crash helmet requirement but no one wears one. A family of four (with two toddlers) on a bike will only share one helmet that the father wears but does not close it. You are hardly see police but supposedly Phuket police conducts spot checks at which a driving licence must be produced. Don't bother with an international licence. The current on-the-spot fine for not carrying a licence is 300 baht and then you continue ...

Renting a car usually costs between 800-1000 baht if you want to go for an ecomonical one like a toyota vios or a jeep. Several rental companies are located in and around airport. Avis is located within the airport while Hertz, National and sixt are located walkable distance outside the airport (across the road). Bookings can be made online for these. More options would be local car rentals like Sutin Car Rentals, airportrental, phuketcarrental. Rates are a little better without any other hassles. Driving around isn't that bad if you stay in and around the highways. No parking problems as such. The main highway Rt. 402 streches across phuket and connects all the major beaches like Patang, Surin, Mai Kao and the sunset point.

Driving in Phuket can be a little crazy compared to most western nations, and congestion is limited to Phuket Town and the main stretches of Patong Beach. 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 detract some North American or European drivers. Also be careful to check the level of insurance on a hire car, many local companies say they have 'full' insurance when in fact it is only a very basic level. Braun car rentals, Phuket, Pure and Via Car Rentals are reputable.


Phuket might not have the historical sites that Bangkok and Chiang Mai have, but it does have a few. Most visitors spend their time at the beaches and in the bars.

  • Phuket Town retains some interesting examples of Sino-Portuguese architecture, which reflect the town's past as an important trading post.
  • Wat Chalong is a beautiful Buddhist temple located on the southern end of the island.
  • The most heavily-hyped attraction is the Phuket Fantasea show at Kamala Beach, a self-proclaimed "cultural theme park", but comparisons to Disneyland are exaggerated at best.


Elephant riding

This is a good way to support the remaining domesticated elephants of Thailand and their mahout, is fairly cheap, and can be an interesting new experience. The elephants are well trained, and you can tip the mahout by giving the money to the elephant who will hand it to the mahout with its trunk.

Animal sanctuary

Visit the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project by the beautiful Bang Pae waterfall. They have a visitor centre manned by Western volunteers and English speaking Thai staff who will talk to you about the project. Talks are free, but please support the project by buying a souvenir, sponsoring a gibbon or giving a donation. Don't have your photo taken with a captive gibbon in Phuket or on the beaches.

Golf - see also: Golf in Thailand - Phuket section and Golf

The golf courses of Phuket are of international standard. Each one has its own particular challenges and scenic splendour that only Phuket can offer. Discount green fee are available by booking through Phuket golf booking agencies.

Muay Thai training (Thai kick-boxing):

Experience the sensese of Thai Spa:


Scuba diving, 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.

Other Activities

In Phuket, where everything happens for fun and adventure, you live life to the fullest with such a great variety of activities the paradise has to offer. Just besides the popular activities such as diving and snorkeling, golfing, Muay Thai, sailing and sport fishing, there are a bunch of other "must do while in Phuket" activities.


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 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.


There is a glut of rooms in hotels of all sizes and classifications, serviced (catered) apartment complexes (so-called 'mansions') and homestays. It's a buyers' market even in high season (Nov-May), with air-con room rates starting at under 500 baht, and 2-3 bedroom furnished houses available for 7000-10000 baht/month. For budget accommodation, the best rates are usually those negotiated in person.

1 comment:

NNHH said...

This article features everything you need to know from Phuket.

Phuket is the best Thailand golf destination for year round golf as the golf courses are well maintained in both winter and summer months. Several of the Phuket golf courses are of PGA standard. For more information please visit:

Greetings from Thailand!

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