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 from Koh Phi Phi
Enjoying quite a strategic location in the bay of Phang Nga, half way between Phuket and Krabi, the pristine Phi Phi islands also serve as a convenient base for your onward travel to other islands and destinations of the Andaman Sea and coast.
The major boat activity on Koh Phi Phi is found in Ao Ton Sai on the bigger Phi Phi Don, though smaller shuttle boats may pick up their passengers from the northern Laem Thong beach (in this case you will need to change to the main boat at Ao Ton Sai).
Tip: The Andaman Sea is a part of the Indian Ocean, and the choppy waters are not a rare case. It means that you’d better take all the necessary medicine in advance if you are prone to seasickness and that boats may be cancelled due to high waves.
There are at least four daily boats plying the route between Koh Phi Phi and the largest of all the Thai islands, Phuket. In Phuket boats from Koh Phi Phi moor at Tha Rassada pier, which is located southeast from Phuket Town. There are minibuses meeting arriving passengers at the pier. Expect to pay about THB 100 per seat for Phuket Town.
The fastest service from Koh Phi Phi to Phuket is offered by Chao Koh Group. Their boats have air-conditioned cabins and are fully equipped with life vests for all the passengers. The trip from Ton Sai pier to Rassada pier takes 1¾ hrs and costs THB 600. There are two departures a day at 9am and 2pm.
Andaman Wave Master offers equal service from Koh Phi Phi to Phuket and arrangers a shuttle boat to pick up passengers at Laem Thong beach at 7.30am and 1.30pm for their main boats from Ao Ton Sai at 9am and 2.30pm. Tickets cost THB 750 from Ton Sai and THB 800 from Laem Thong. Laem Thong–Ton Sai leg takes about an hour, and the sea journey to Phuket from Ton Sai lasts about two hours. Note that for the high season the company sometimes adds the third boat leaving Koh Phi Phi (Ton Sai) at 11.00. Check in advance if it is available for your dates. As a rule, there is no shuttle boat from Laem Thong for this departure, so arrange accordingly.
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 THB 200 and THB 300. 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 THB 1200 per day, but in low season rates sometimes fall below THB 800. 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.
Which beach on Phuket?
With the military putsch of 2014 great changes came for Phuket beaches. Sun loungers and umbrellas were prohibited, and quite a considerable number of bars, restaurants and other venues which were found encroaching on public beaches, had been literally levelled to ground. Though the declared aim of this holy war was to return the island its natural beauty, the results are considered by many quite controversial. A new zoning has been introduced, where some commercial activity, as well as rental umbrellas and mats are now permitted. Well, yes, you have to admit that the beaches do look nicer, but hey, the chances to hide from that scorching sun while enjoying your beach holiday by the seaside are nearly non-existent.
Here is a list of some of Phuket beaches to start your explorations with.
Beautiful but seedy Patong beach is a solid proof of the burden which package tourism is.
Kata with its bustling restaurants and cafes welcomes tourists of all ages and tastes.
Add a touch of glamour to Kata – that is what Karon beach is about.
Long sweeping Kamala retains its small-town charm, but rapidly developing resorts will most probably wipe it out very soon.
Stylish and stunning, Surin beach inspires. 5 stars, no less.
Tip: Red flags on Phuket beaches are not decorations – do not disregard their warning. There are yearly drownings on Phuket – both due to high waves, which often come during May–October monsoon period, and to the treacherous rip currents. The best strategy is to stay out of the sea: use your hotel pool instead. If you do venture into the sea and get caught by a rip current, do not panic and do not struggle with the current. Let it carry you away from the shore instead. When the rip current weakens (normally no more that 300m from the shore, often less), get out of the stream and head back.
Many of the Thai beaches are notorious for the jet ski scams with jet ski operators demanding considerable amounts of money from tourists for ‘damaged’ jet skis. The authorities declare that now the situation is under control, but it is still better to think twice before renting. Watch out for the jet skis while swimming, too.