Love it or hate it: the Pearl of the Andaman is too developed, too commercialized, too trendy and, well, sometimes – too expensive. Yet its sandy beaches, fashionable spas, outstanding diving sites and high-class dining venues continue to lure hordes of tourists from literally every corner of the world. There are endless opportunities for going on an adventure – from snorkelling or surfing to yachting and kayaking, and if you wish to taste the real cosmopolitan flavour of the island, spend a bit of time exploring streets of Phuket Town clogged with coffee shops and art galleries, hip affordable guesthouses and stately Sino-Portuguese mansions. Be ready to pay more for food, lodging and transport than in any other Thai resort city or island, relax and just enjoy your experience.
Getting to Phuket
Being the largest island in Thailand, Phuket sometimes does not feel as an island at all: even getting there from the mainland does not require any sea travel. The 700m Saphan Thepkasattri linked the northernmost tip of Phuket to Phang Nga Province on the mainland in 2011. It runs parallel to a smaller Saphan Sarasin which was built in 1967 to replace the ferry connection with the island and now serves as a pedestrian bridge.
From Bangkok to Phuket by bus
Buses from Bangkok to Phuket leave from the Southern bus terminal, Sai Tai Mai. It is located on Phutthamonthon Sai Road in Thonburi district on the western side of the Chao Phraya River and is easily accessible by taxi. The route is served by a number of companies, including Phuket Travel and Bus Express. You can choose between express buses (THB660-THB690) and plusher VIP24 ones (THB1000). In VIP24 there are 3 seats per row, which means more space for your legs and elbows. All buses provide snacks, air-conditioning and blankets and make several pit stops along the route at large gas stations with convenience stores, cafes and toilets. There are early morning buses at 6.30am and 6.40am and a wide choice of afternoon and evening departures from 2.30pm to 9.30pm. All of them cover the distance between Bangkok and Phuket in about 13 hours. There are buses from the Northern bus terminal in Bangkok, Morchit, too.
Buses from Bangkok arrive to the recently constructed Bus Station 2 Bo-Ko-So Terminal which is located some four km to the north of the centre in Phuket Town. The terminal also serves buses from/to many of the Thai southern cities.
Tip: During the peak season it is highly recommended to book tickets in advance.
From Bangkok to Phuket by train
There are no direct trains from Bangkok to Phuket, the nearest transfer point being Suratthani. Trains from Bangkok to Suratthani leave from Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok, easily accessible from the MRT subway. By far the most convenient train is the night one #85 departing at 7.30pm and arriving in Suratthani at 7.10am, but you have many other options, as well. You can choose the 1st or the 2nd class sleeper, both of which are air-conditioned and provide enough privacy and comfort for an overnight journey. The price is approximately THB1550 and THB1000 correspondingly.
Suratthani train station is located in the town of Phun Phin, some 15 km away. From there, buses leave regularly both for Suratthani and other southern destinations, including Phuket. You can plan your combination journey by yourself or opt for a train+bus joint ticket. If you book a joint train+bus ticket from Bangkok to Phuket, you can catch a 7.45am standard air-con Phantip Travel bus to Phuket (THB 250, almost 4 hrs).
Note that a combination train+bus journey from Bangkok to Phuket takes longer than a direct bus from the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok (15½ hrs compared to 13 hours), but you can sleep with more comfort while travelling by railway. Both 1st (THB1550) and 2nd class (THB1000) AC carts give you enough privacy, so a longer journey may proof a better choice at the end of the day.
Island hopping from Phuket
Though Phuket sometimes lacks that typical island atmosphere, it still provides a good chance to taste some of the other ‘real’ islands. Just choose your destination and start your island hopping.
From Phuket to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao
Lomprayah offers combined bus+ high-speed ferry service from Phuket to the islands of the Gulf. The whole journey takes 6½ hrs to Koh Samui, 7½ hrs to Koh Phangan and 8¾ hrs to Koh Tao.
From Phuket to Koh Phi-Phi
During the peak season there is between 5 and 6 ferries a day linking Phuket to the pristine island of Phi Phi. Though it gets more and more developed nowadays, the scenery fortunately remains just breath-taking.
From Phuket to Koh Lanta, the Trang islands and Koh Lipe
Ferries going from Phuket to Koh Lanta, the Trang islands and Koh Lipe connect through Koh Phi-Phi. Get ready to jump from one boat to another which is sometimes a bit of a nervous experience.
**Tip: If your are prone to seasickness, get the necessary medicine at hand.
Want something different? Visit Phang Nga and Khao Lak
Lush jungles and impressive karst formations of the mainland and spectacular islands dotting pristine sea waters, secret caves and beautiful beaches without that excessive glamour of Phuket but with enough facilities to feel comfortable during your holiday are awaiting you in Phang Nga province. If you want fewer people on the beach, head to Khao Lak, which also serves as a great base for further inland explorations.
Lignite bus company operates buses both to Phang Nga Town and Khao Lak from the Southern bus terminal in Bangkok. There are night Express, VIP and VIP24 buses to Phang Nga – all departing around 7pm; tickets cost from THB600 to THB970 depending on the type of the bus you choose. Note that the express bus of Lignite at 6.40pm goes directly to Phang Nga and does not call to Khao Lak. For Khao Lak use the VIP and VIP24 which leave at 7.05pm. Travel time is about 10¼ hours.
You can also get to Khao Lak directly from Phuket Airport. PGS company offers a Toyota Camry for 3 pax at THB1920 from Phuket Airport to Khao Lak. Transit time is about two hours and the rate is all-inclusive.
Getting around in Phuket
Phuket taxis are notorious for their hefty rates. The public transport is limited and has a form of huge trucks. They cruise between Phuket Town and the beaches which is terribly inconvenient as in most cases you need to connect through Phuket Town to go from one beach to another, and the journey eventually takes you hours.
Motorbikes and Scooters are a good way to get around. The majority of the rental shops will require your passport which they keep until you bring the rented vehicle back. Cases when the rental shops would insist on reimbursing ‘damage’ to their scooters are not unheard of; so check carefully what you rent and make photos of any scratches you find before you commit. The daily rate for a scooter is about THB200-THB300. There are also bigger bikes available for rent.
Renting a car is a good option which gives you both freedom and safety. A car can usually be hired for around THB1200 per day, but in low season rates sometimes fall below THB800. Cheap car rental companies can be found in Thanon Rasada. As a rule, local companies offer better rates, but you can sometimes find online promotions when booking with global operators.