Asia > Southeast Asia > Thailand > Southern Thailand > Phuket
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 Town — the administrative centre of the province with the cheapest accommodation,
- Bang Thao — long, very quiet beach
- Cape Panwa — home to Phuket Aquarium
- Chalong Bay — home to Phuket's most popular yacht anchorage and the primary gateway to the islands off Phuket
- Kamala — a quieter beach to the north of Patong
- Karon — the second most-developed beach after Patong, split into Karon Yai and Karon Noi Beaches
- Kata — busy, clean tourist beach with good surf, also includes Kata Noi, its quieter sister
- Laem Sing — small bay with stunning views, between Kamala and Surin Beaches
- Mai Khao — many posh resorts, Thai villages, and restaurants, very quiet and far away from it all
- Nai Thon and Nai Yang — two quiet beaches in Sirinat National Park
- Nai Han — somewhat quieter beach (probably the best) in the south, near Laem Phromthep view point
- Patong — the largest and most popular beach resort known for its nightlife
- Rawai — jumping off point for lots of local islands, popular with locals for eating on the beach
- Surin — an up-and-coming upmarket destination
- Ya Nui — good snorkelling on a shallow reef that juts out from the beach
- Ko Bon — 10 minutes from Rawai, an ideal island for a day of snorkelling and relaxing
- Ko Hae — 15 minutes by speedboat from Chalong Bay, accessible all year
- Ko Maphrao — fishery villages, walking along nature trails, fishing and biking
- Ko Lon — quiet, mostly Muslim island with a few bungalows
- Ko Mai Thon — gorgeous little island with only one (expensive) place to stay
- Ko Racha — two islands (Yai and Noi), popular with scuba divers and a relaxing snorkelling destination
- Ko Sire — sea Gypsy colony, connected to the mainland by a causeway
- Phra Taew National Park — Phuket's last significant virgin rain forest
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.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Phuket is hot and humid throughout the year. The hot season is generally considered to be from Mar to early May. During the summer monsoon season from May-Oct, mornings and afternoons are sunny and clear, but it tends to rain in the evenings and water clarity goes down. Locals consider Nov-Feb the "cool" season, and the weather is quite tolerable. It's comparable to Florida's summer weather in temperature and intensity of rain storms: 25-33 degrees Celsius, scudding clouds, short and thunderous rainfalls in the afternoons and evenings. Surfing is possible off the western beaches.
Phuket is a melange of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims, and even sea gypsies. The majority of the population in the rural areas is Muslim. Outside of the provincial towns, the rural folk speak with a thick Southern dialect which is difficult for even other Thais to understand. The booming tourist economy over the past decade has led to a lot of the youngsters leading lives not dissimilar to those in Bangkok. Altogether, the lifestyle of the urban Thai-Chinese resembles that of their Bangkok brethren.
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 airport is notionally divided into Terminals 1 and 2, with some charter and low-cost operators using the second, but these are only a short distance apart and connected by an air-conditioned walkway.
- Australia - Virgin Australia, Air Asia; Jetstar have direct flights from/to major cities in Australia.
- Belgium- Jetair
- China- Lots of flights incl. from Beijing, Zhengzhou, Guiyang, Guangzhou
- Hong Kong - Thai Airways, Dragonair and Air Asia have non-stop direct flights from Hong Kong to Phuket.
- Indonesia - AirAsia flies from/to Jakarta and Denpasar, Bali, and often this is the cheapest connection between Thailand and Java and more eastern parts of Indonesia (promotional fares are often US$30–50 for a 3 hour flight).
- Korea - Asiana Airlines non-stop services from Seoul with connections from New York.
- Malaysia - AirAsia flies to Kuala Lumpur (KUL), FireFly flies to Penang, using small ATR-Turboprop aircraft, and Malaysia Airlines has flights from/to Kuala Lumpur. Qatar Airways also operates daily flights from Kuala Lumpur.
- Philippines - Cebu Pacific Will be operating 3 times weekly starting on August 2013 from Manila.
- Singapore - SilkAir has 32 flights a week. Low-cost alternatives are Thai AirAsia and Tiger Airways. In addition, Jetstar flies there too.
- Switzerland - Edelweiss Air operates direct flights from Zurich.
There are some charter flights in high season from European and Asian countries such as Sweden, Taiwan, and Japan.
Several domestic airlines fly here, including Nok Air, Air Asia, Orient Thai. Tickets from Bangkok can cost around 1,300 baht one-way if booked well in advance, or around 2,000-2,500 baht (including taxes) if bought on the day.
Thai Airways flies from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport several times every day, as well as once daily from Chiang Mai (but there are no direct flights in the opposite direction). Additionally, they sell tickets from/to many domestic and international destinations with stopovers in Bangkok, which are usually cheaper (especially international) than if you book separate tickets. Cheapest (non-exchangeable and non-refundable one-way tickets from Bangkok cost 2,320 baht. Worth checking if you book just a few days before flight, as low-cost airlines may cost only 200-300 baht less in this situation, but you get world-famous Thai Airways service, and free on-board meals too.
Air Asia. Fly from Phuket to Chiang Mai direct, twice a day at 10:35 and 19:20, affording an opportunity to combine a beach holiday with experiencing the wildlife and exotic cultures of northern Thailand. From Chiang Mai to Phuket flights depart at 13:00 and 21:45. They fly to two cities in Isaan as well, daily to Udon Thani (handy for a trip into Laos) and four times per week to Ubon Ratchathani.
Bangkok Airways has a monopoly on direct flights between Phuket and U-Tapao (Pattaya/Sattahip) and Ko Samui. They also have 6 daily flights from Bangkok. Fares are usually the same as Thai Airways, but sometimes they have very inexpensive promotional fares as low as 1,390 baht.
Thai Airways International and Bangkok Airways fly to Suvarnabhumi (pronounced: soo-Var-na-phoom), whereas Nok Air and Orient Thai fly to Don Muang Airport. This may be of importance when you have a connecting flight.
Happy Air (Phuket to Ranong, also Bangkok to Ranong) with service to and from both BKK and HKT to Ranong.(Ko Phayam and Ko Chang in the Andaman Sea are 20 min from Ranong Airport by boat).
To get from the airport to your destination, there are several options:
- Starting in mid-2013, there is a private bus service that runs between the airport and Patong and the reverse. There is not yet an English-language website for this service. Times and fares are unclear. There are reportedly signs directing passengers to the curbside bus, but it is not easy to find evidently (Oct 2013).
- Municipal air conditioned airport bus service (daily, 06:30-20:45, every 60-90 min) to Phuket Town bus station costs 85 baht and takes one hour. Local buses run from there and Ranong St Market to all the major beaches until around 18:00 for about 25-40 baht. After getting off a 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 minimart for drinks and snacks. The bus will stop anywhere along its route upon signalling the driver ("bus hiking"). See Airport Bus Phuket.
If you are going to take the municipal airport bus from Phuket to the airport in the afternoon (especially the 16:30 and 17:30 buses) you should allow yourself plenty of time. With dozens of schoolchildren getting on and off during weekdays and/or congested traffic the bus is frequently delayed en route.
- Minibus services (basically door-to-door shared taxis) are a good value. They charge 100-180 baht per seat, and will get you to your destination much faster than the municipal/government buses. To Phuket town 100 baht is typical; to Patong 180 baht; to Kata Beach 180 baht. 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 or overpriced tours on the guise that they are a government agency. You're not obligated to use the hotels they push. Just say you already booked a hotel, and tell them the name. (If you don't yet have a hotel, just say "Holiday Inn"). 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, aka "Taxi Meter" - Turn right as you exit the airport building (ignore the touts) and you'll see a stand at the end of the walkway. 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 600 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 who will take you from the airport to Patong for a 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 or 800 baht to 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 get a Mercedes. It is also likely that your limousine will stop at a travel agent in order to sell you hotel rooms and/or tours. Before you purchase your fare, insist that you do not want to stop at any travel agency along the way. (They will try to legitimise stopping at the travel agency by insisting that "the driver must sign in" or "the driver needs to stop here for directions")
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 baht for a berth in a 2nd class air-con 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 actually 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 detail.
The most reliable buses from Bangkok are the public BKS buses from the Southern Bus Terminal to Phuket. The journey takes 13 hours and costs between 650-950 baht. 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. Richly Travel Center offers a bus leaving at 19:00 from near the Hualampong Train Station inside Bangkok (without having to transfer to the Southern Bus Terminal) for 900 baht. The TAT next door offers the same for around 1,100 baht.
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 15-40 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. The bus stop is near the market in the old town. From Bus Terminal 1, 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 100–200 m you will find the local bus stop.
There are two bus terminals in Phuket, one small, old one in town, and one huge modern one 4 km north of town. You can take a 10 baht pink songthaew (leaves every 30 minutes) between the two. There are also 3 regular songthaew lines within Phuket Town, and both bus stations are served by them. There is a very useful big map just outside the bus stations (look where the taxis are waiting at the old bus station, and at the very rear, not towards the entrance, at the new bus station) that displays the three songthaew routes within Phuket town. Fare's 10 baht, last one at 19:00.
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.
Phuket is directly connected to the mainland by the Sarasin Bridge. From Bangkok, take Hwy 4 through Nakhon Pathom, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, through Ranong province’s Kra Buri and Kapoe districts, Phang Nga Province’s Takua Pa and Thai Muang districts and onto Phuket Island. The total distance is 862 km. You may be better off getting to Phuket by public transport and renting a car on the island.
Ferry services connect from Rassada Port in Phuket Town to Ko Phi Phi and to Krabi Province on the mainland twice a day, taking 90 to 120 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.
From the harbour, you could avoid the minibuses and take a 10 baht songthaew to Phuket Town. If it doesn't show up at the bus stop right outside the terminal, you'll have to walk past the gate outside the harbour and along the road, turning left at the first T-junction, about 600 m, then on the main road you can catch a cheap songthaew. There's a picture of all the routes posted just outside the terminal near the bus stop inside the complex. Last one leaves at 19:00.
There are speedboats from/to Ko Racha (45 minutes), Phi Phi (1 - 1.5 hours), the Similan Islands (about 3 hours) and other islands. Boats and yachts can be chartered all year from Phuket at Chalong Bay, Rawai Beach, the Boot Lagoon, the Yacht Haven and Royal Phuket Marina. Boats from Phi Phi and Phang Nga can be found by visiting the local beaches. A search for Phuket speedboat charters will turn up many companies providing inter-island charters and services.
Prices for transfers on board a tour speedboat are typically between 1,500 to 2,500 baht depending on destination. Phi Phi speedboat transfers (no tour) are provided by the Zeavola Resort, which has dedicated speedboats for Phi Phi transfers. Most companies doing Phi Phi speedboat tours will not accommodate transfers that include baggage due to space limitations.
Prices for speedboat charters to/from Phuket range from 3,000 baht to 60,000 baht+ depending on distance/size of boat:
- Coral Island: 3,000-5,000 baht
- Racha Yai Island: 8,000-15,000 baht
- Phi Phi Island: 15,000-25,000 baht
- Phang Nga: 15,000-25,000 baht
- Krabi: 20,000-30,000 baht
- Similans: 30,000-60,000 baht+ (Nov-Apr only. Lower price from Khao Lak, higher price from Phuket)
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.
By songthaew or bus
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.
- Blue line 1814: Phuket town - Kathu - Patong Beach (southbound on Rath-U-Thit 200 Pee Road, northbound on Thaweewong Road)
- Blue line: Phuket town - Hayeak - Rawai -Naiharn
- Blue line: Phuket town - Panwa (Aquarium)
- Blue line 8359: Phuket town - Kata - Karon
- Pink line 1: Phuket town only
- Pink line 2: Phuket town only
- Pink line 3: Phuket town only
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.
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 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.
- Individual listings can be found in Phuket's district articles
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.
Sailing and yachting
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.
Snorkelling trips to Racha & Phi Phi Islands
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 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.
- Individual listings can be found in Phuket's district articles
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:
- Fried or boiled noodle dishes (หมี่ผัดหรือหมี่น้ำแบบต่าง ๆ), usually with pork or chicken, are available at many noodle shops in Phuket Town such as Mi Ton Pho, Mi Sapam, Mi Ao Ke, Mi Hun Pa Chang.
- Khanom Jin (ขนมจีน), a version of noodles eaten 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 shrimp 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 available.
- Individual listings can be found in Phuket's district articles
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.
- Individual listings can be found in Phuket's district articles
There are lots 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). The 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 3,000 baht and up. The best rates are usually found on-line and many hotels offer best rate guarantees when you book direct. Most of the time you will pay more if you walk in and take the rack-rate.
If you want to send mail, post offices and parcel services are widely available. In Phuket Town, there is a post office at the corner of Phang Nga Rd and Montri Rd. In Patong, there is one at the appropriately named Soi Post Office, a side-street of Thavee Wong Rd (near Molly Malone's).
You can usually pick up a free Thai SIM card at the airport in the baggage claim area. Look around for a booth or a kiosk.
The area code for Phuket is 076. Dial the 0 if you're calling from within Thailand.
Pay phones are uncommon, as most Thais have mobile phones. Phuket has very good mobile phone coverage, albeit over slower 2G/2.5G GSM networks. Pay-as-you-go SIM cards can be purchased for a few hundred baht, and local call charges range from 1 to 3 baht per minute depending on the package. You can also pre-purchase a Thai SIM card online.
Mobile Internet is available from all providers, with True Move offering 3G access from a limited network of base stations on the east coast, including Patong, Kata, and Karon. All other networks offer EDGE and/or GPRS access, so don't expect fast Internet connections on your mobile device. For email and basic surfing GPRS speeds are normally fine, but access to websites hosted outside Thailand can be slow.
Unlike many Western countries, Thai networks bill mobile Internet usage by duration rather than bandwidth, with PAYG users paying around 1 baht per minute. Most networks have PAYG monthly unlimited GPRS deals for around 750 baht, and you can easily purchase a SIM and the Internet package at one of the numerous phone shops around Phuket.
There is a wide array of international newspapers and magazines at some bookstores in Phuket Town and Patong. You can also follow local English radio through the website of Phuket FM Radio and on 91.5 FM.
Particularly in the summer monsoon season, there are strong currents on many of the beaches and drownings are a depressingly common occurrence. Four tourists died during a single 3-day stretch in Jun 2009. Heed the warning flags on popular beaches and play it safe if off the beaten track.
Crime as of late has definitely increased in the Phuket area among farangs (Westerners) and you should keep this in mind and be vigilant of anyone who wants to befriend you or trick you into gambling (which is illegal) or anything else you consider out of the ordinary. Katoeys (ladyboys) are notorious for pick-pocketing as you walk around the tourist areas at night. Also muggings do take place on a regular basis. Avoid walking down unlit sois; stick to the main roads. If something looks/sounds too good to be true, it surely is.
Tourist police can be contacted locally by dialing 1155. They have a good basic understanding of English (many are farangs), so if you're in trouble these people should be contacted first. Thai police speak hardly any English and normally take the side of the locals even if at fault. Always insist on the Tourist Police if you have any run-in with the Thai Police. Use only metered taxis and ask hotels to call, take down driver license plate and taxi license number before you get in. You can use the receipt from a taxi to complain to police or find lost property, so take a receipt and license numbers.
Tap water should be regarded as non-potable. Liquids from sealed bottles nearly always are, and should be used wherever possible, for example, when brushing your teeth. Bars and restaurants universally purchase ice made from purified water.
- Bangkok Hospital Phuket (โรงพยาบาลกรุงเทพภูเก็ต), ☏ 1719, .
- Mission Hospital (โรงพยาบาลมิชชั่น), ☏ , fax: . Emergency call 076 237227.
- Patong-Kathu Hospital (โรงพยาบาลป่าตอง-กะทู้), ☏ , fax: . Emergency call 076 340444.
- Phuket International Hospital or Siriroj Hospital (โรงพยาบาลศิริโรจน์), ☏ , fax: .
- Thalang Hospital (โรงพยาบาลถลาง), ☏ , .
- Vachira Phuket Hospital (โรงพยาบาลวชิระภูเก็ต), ☏ 1669, , fax: .
- Ao Nang — 3 hours by ferry, the top beach destination in Krabi province
- Ao Phang Nga National Park — famous for its limestone cliffs, caves, mangroves, fishing villages and James Bond Island
- Khao Lak — family-oriented resort region for those looking for peace, quiet, and nature
- Khao Sok National Park — one of the most beautiful wildlife reserves in Thailand
- Ko Phi Phi — parts of The Beach were filmed at this stunningly beautiful location
- Ko Lanta — another laid-back island destination that is gaining more popularity
- Ko Phayam — arguably Thailand's most beautiful small island 20 min by boat from Ranong
- Ko Yao — one of the last islands in the region that is not over-developed
- Similan Islands — national park consisting of nine small islands, hugely popular among divers due to its underwater scenery