In a nutshell
An absolute magnet for tourism, Phuket is the island many people think of when Thailand comes to mind. Of course, stepping foot on Phuket doesn’t necessarily give the impression of an island, as it’s absolutely huge.
Why go to Phuket
Most travellers to this part of the country only see a small glimpse of what Phuket has to offer, which has given it somewhat of a bad name. Patong Beach is where most of the action’s at, but many visitors don’t see this as a good thing. We happen to agree. Sure, the conveniences and amenities surrounding the area might be appealing, but with so much tourist traffic, year after year, it’s become overrun with shady operations, dirty establishments, and hoards of careless partiers. Our advice is to broaden your horizon and look outside of Patong.
If you’re willing to go a bit further afield, you’ll discover much more of Phuket than would otherwise be possible. World class diving, snorkelling, island tours, swimming, surfing, free diving, sailing, and more can be had here. Add to that some of the most beautiful and relaxing beaches in the region and incredibly friendly locals; you’ll certainly have enough options to fill your entire trip.
Of course, if you are looking for a high class, party-centred vacation that’ll likely leave more than just your bank account looking a little tired, Phuket has that for you, too.
When to go to Phuket
This giant island has dry and wet seasons, but no matter what time of year you visit, it’s going to be pretty hot.
Locals claim there’s a cool season, but we’ve yet to experience a true bout of cool weather, so plan for shorts and tank tops no matter what time of year. November to February is technically the high season, but we don’t think you should limit your trip to those months.
June, July, and August make up most of the rainy season. The good news is, rainfall and storms don’t last for too long. If you don’t mind spending a small portion of your day indoors (perhaps a short break from the beach), you’ll benefit from cheaper hotel prices and fewer beach goers vying for the best spots.
Where to stay in Phuket
Since Phuket is so large, it’s easiest to break the island up into regions when planning your trip. The western part of Phuket encompasses a majority of sights, beaches, hotels, and things to do, while the southeast, and central sections both offer slightly different experiences. There are also a number of smaller islands along the coastline; many can be visited on day trips.
The west coast is where you’ll find the lively Patong Beach. You won’t be far from any number of luxurious resorts to rest your head here. In the southeast, you’ll be met with slightly fewer crowds and somewhat quieter beaches. Expect hotel prices to reflect that, although they’ll still be higher than much of the mainland. The interior section of Phuket sees far fewer visitors. Phuket town has some accommodation options much cheaper than the beach areas.
Where to eat in Phuket
Unlike much of Thailand, you’ll likely find yourself spending significantly more on dining here. Expect to pay the price when it comes to food, especially if you’re staying near Patong or any of the other tourist hot spots.
That being said, there are some budget eats out there if you’re willing to do a bit of exploring. Simply take a stroll away from the crowds, hotels, and packed beaches, and local food on the cheap won’t be so elusive after all.
The easiest place to find an affordable meal is in Phuket Town, which will be far less crowded than the nearby resort beaches.
How to get around Phuket
Much like everything else in Phuket, getting around the island isn’t nearly as cheap or easy as it is across the rest of Thailand. Since most beach goers are spending week-long holidays splurging at resorts, taxis and tuk-tuks boost their prices to match, so be ready to pay a premium.
If you’re just going from your hotel to the beach, check to see if they have a shuttle - many do.
Some travellers opt to hire a motorbike for their stay. While it does come in handy to have your own two wheels, traffic and driving in Phuket tends to be crazy and dangerous, which many foreigners aren’t used to.
The cheapest ways to get around are either on the back of a certified motorbike taxi or on a shared songthaew but their local version in the form of huge trucks ply the route between Phuket Town and beaches with no routes connecting beaches.
How to get to and from Phuket
Due to the island’s popularity, you won’t have trouble traveling to and from Phuket from pretty much anywhere in the world. Its own international airport operates a multitude of flights daily. Travellers come in from all over the globe, often connecting through neighbouring countries, and even more frequently, through Bangkok.
If you’re flying in from Bangkok, expect relatively cheap one-way prices. In fact, even if you’re traveling from outside of Thailand, it can sometimes be cheaper to get to Bangkok and then book onward travel to Phuket through a budget airline. We’ve seen direct flights from Bangkok (DMK) to Phuket City – and from Phuket to Bangkok, too – with AirAsia for slightly over THB1000. With the trip lasting under an hour and a half, we think it’s a great option to consider.
Train travellers might be disappointed, as there’s no direct service all the way into Phuket. The best way to travel via rail is to take a train going from Bangkok to Surat Thani and then continue from Surat Thani to Phuket by bus.
Train tickets cost an average of THB700 for a second class sleeper, and the connecting bus from Surat Thani to Phuket will run about THB220. The train journey will take 8.5 to 9 hours, and the following bus ride will last closer to 4 hours. Phantip bus company runs frequently from Surat Thani to Phuket. While this option is great for those who don’t mind a long trip overland, flights are much quicker for around the same price.
An easier overland option is to take a night bus from Bangkok straight to Phuket. Multiple private bus companies like Phuket Travel Tour, Phuket Central Tour, and Bus Express operate this route. The trip lasts between 13 to 14 hours on an air conditioned bus with overnight and daytime options available. These buses are relatively comfortable, although after a 14 hour ride, you’ll be ready to get off. The seats recline and movies are sometimes shown. Tickets run from THB640 all the way up to THB1000 for the nicer buses.
Unless you love traveling on ground, our best advice is to take one of AirAsia's quick, short-haul flights from Bangkok into Phuket.
Is Phuket safe?
Much of the danger in Phuket lies in the water; be alert to any red flag warnings indicating unsafe swimming conditions, as drowning is an unfortunately common occurrence.
Otherwise, be on the lookout for pickpockets and scams.
Women traveling alone should be careful walking at night as well as taking taxis, as reports of assault have been made.