Clear waters and idyllic beaches of Samui, complimented with lush tropical greenery, enchant. Colourful local markets, fancy jewellery shops and rocking night venues make you wish to stay forever. Take a breath: yes, Thai islands have much more to offer. Change the coast and explore the treasures, wonders and surprises which the largest of the Thai islands is rich in. Go West – well, southwest, – go to Phuket!
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 Samui
Both Phuket and Koh Samui are an exceptionally popular destination for travellers, and as such, travelling from the islands of the Gulf to the Andaman Coast and vice versa is straightforward and affordable.
Be ready, though, that being the largest island in Thailand, Phuket sometimes does not feel as an island at all – especially when you come after some island-hopping over the Gulf. Even getting to Phuket 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 beach.
From Samui to Phuket via ferry + bus
Travelling from Samui to Phuket is easy and relatively quick, taking into consideration the distance which you have to cover. But depending on the way you travel, your journey can take anywhere from 7 hrs to literally the whole day. To ensure a seamless and confortable trip, it is a good idea to opt for a joint ferry + bus ticket offered by Lomprayah or Phantip 1970.
The most expensive and the fastest way to get from Koh Samui to Phuket is by a joint ferry + bus ticket offered by Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran at THB 700. There are two daily departures from Nathon Pier on Koh Samui at 8am and 12.45pm. Each ferry takes about 1½ hour to arrive to Donsak pier near Suratthani, where passengers transfer to the bus heading to Phuket. The whole journey normally takes from seven to 7½ hours. In Phuket buses arrive to Lomprayah’s office in Phuket Town. Note that with the departure at 12.45pm you will reach Phuket at around 9pm. So it is advisable to book your stay beforehand to avoid cruising the streets late at night as many places close reception desk at that time. Chances to find some sort of accommodation are high even during the busiest periods but you may not get what you want.
The cheapest package travel from Samui to Phuket is operated by Phantip 1970. The company is the main budget operator between Phuket and Samui and offers quite a comfortable journey at a reasonable price (THB 450 per person). To get from Samui to the mainland, Phantip 1970 uses Seatran Discovery ferries and picks up passengers from an hour and a half to two hours prior to the departure of the ferry at 7.30am for the 9am ferry and at 9.30am for the 11.30am ferry. The trip to Donsak lasts about 1½ hour, and the rest of your journey is done by bus. Phantip 1970 provides standard AC buses with a toilet onboard. Buses make at least one pit stop for a meal at a gas station with a number of forecourt shops. Normally the buses are ok, though some unexpected unpleasant surprises (e.g. an older back-up bus instead of the usual one) do sometimes happen. The company declares that transit time from Samui to Phuket is 7½ hours, but there have been reports of delays up to two hours, so be ready to arrive later than expected. The pro is that you sometimes can negotiate with the driver and get off the bus right at your destination without going to the bus terminal, which actually saves you some time and money.
From Koh Samui to Phuket by separate ferry and bus trips
You can also get from Koh Samui to Suratthani (from THB 250 to THB 450) all by yourself and then take a bus from Suratthani to Phuket. The trip lasts about 4½ hrs and costs THB 250-280 per person with Phantip 1970. Pricewise it does not make much sense, but can be considered an option if you are going to make a stopover in Suratthani itself before heading down to Phuket. There are also governmental buses plying the same route. Though cheaper, they are considerably slower as they pick up passengers during the route or even sometimes detour to Krabi on their way to Phuket.
Note: The government obliges all the interprovincial operators to pick up passengers on their way on Saturday and Sunday. If you are travelling during the weekend, be ready for a longer trip.
Island hopping from Phuket
Though Phuket may lack 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 Phi-PhiDuring the peak season there are 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 LipeFerries 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 you are prone to seasickness, get the necessary medicine at hand.
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 2000 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 1200 THB 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
They say that Phuket is too developed, too commercial, too touristy? Well, yes; but it still offers a stunning variety of beaches to every taste. Here are some ideas on which beach to check first depending on your requirements and expectations.
The busiest, the seediest, and one of the most beautiful bays, Patong ushered in the package tourism era on the island. Find here all the best and the worst things of a popular seaside resort town – lady bars and cheapest Thai food included.
Glamorous and chilled out Karon beach is undeniably more beautiful – and so is the vacationing crowd. There are both modest local cafes and more exquisite seafood restaurants, relatively cheap rooms and chic resorts.
Kamala beach is the only beach on the island with a walking path lined with souvenir shops, tour agencies and restaurants. Very relaxed and tranquil, it draws in a varied crowd of families, couples and long-stayers.
For a long time the rich, royal and famous have been choosing Surin beach and for a good reason. There is a green park separating the beach from the resort hotels, thanks to which Surin beach is especially picturesque.
The southern Hat Nai Han, southwest Hat Kata, western Hat Kamala and Hat Bang Tao are suitable for a family vacation with kids. The waters are shallow, and there are plenty of beach restaurants nearby and beach activities on offer.