As with most Thai islands, the most common way to get around is to take your life in your hands and hire your own motorbike or to take an overpriced songtaew (a kind of open-backed van). Other options include a handful of taxis, motorbike taxis, local buses (which are cheap hop-on, hop-off songtaews), national buses for longer trips and longtail boats for water crossings.
Putting aside the costs, sightseeing in Phuket is easy. Songtaews and motorbikes are readily available to hire, and will take you wherever you want to go. Otherwise, some minibuses will take you to the more far-flung tourist sights on and off the island. If in doubt, ask a local travel agent for the best travel option.
Phuket is expensive to get around, by Thai standards. Minibuses from the airport cost around THB200, while taxis cost about THB500 for the same journey. Songtaew's tend to charge an extortionate minimum of THB200 for short trips, but unfortunately, a lack of other options means you may have to bite the bullet and stump up the cash or opt for local buses and motorbikes.
All the major international car hire companies have outlets in Phuket, including Avis and Hertz, and motorbikes can be rented on almost every street corner. However, driving in Thailand can be a dangerous endeavour, and road traffic accidents occur alarmingly regularly. Think carefully before you hire a car or motorbike in Phuket, as there are plenty of other travel options available, too.
Getting by in Thailand's most popular tourist spots is easy, even if all you can say is 'hello' and 'thank you' in Thai. Phuket is a tourist hotspot, and many restaurants, bars and travel agencies are geared towards foreigners. That said, a little Thai goes a long way, especially when haggling in Phuket's markets.
Though Phuket certainly has its seedy side, it's worth remembering that Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist nation, and tends to err on the conservative side. That means topless sunbathing for women is most definitely out (even if you see other people doing it). Thai people are very tolerant, but too much skin can offend their sensibilities.
As with anywhere in Thailand, tipping isn't expected. More upmarket restaurants will add a 10% service charge, but more low-key venues will leave it off. Make your own decision on whether the service was worth the extra, and tip accordingly. Poorly compensated service staff will certainly appreciate it. Equally, taxi drivers don't expect a tip, but for those who go above and beyond, why not?
Phuket is well connected with the mainland, so basic healthcare is in abundance. Thailand boasts world-class healthcare and has an excellent infrastructure should the worst happen and you require medical attention. Phuket's main health and safety dangers are motorbike accidents and infected mosquito bites. Be vigilant about your health, and be sensible about your belongings, as opportunists like to prey on tipsy tourists.
Flights leave every few hours from Bangkok to Phuket, just one hour and 20 minutes away. Carriers such as Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways and budget airline Air Asia all make regular trips throughout the day between the destinations. You can also fly in to Surat Thani and travel by land and sea from there.
There are three weekly direct flights from Sydney to Phuket on Jetstar, taking just over nine hours.
Flight can take upwards of 14 hours to Phuket depending on stopovers.
Peak season in Phuket is around Christmas and New Year, when tourists flock in to make the most of the dry season. Flights tend to be at their most expensive during this time, but prices also skyrocket during Thailand's major festivals, when Phuket is considered one of the best locations to celebrate. Book well in advance when travelling at peak times.
A range of airlines including British Airways, Emirates, Qantas and Singapore Airlines fly to Phuket, many of which stopover in nearby cities such as Bangkok. Generally it tends to be cheaper to stopover in Bangkok and then make the short trip from there.
Flights take upwards of 10 hours to Phuket depending on stopovers.
V Australia operates four weekly direct flights to Phuket, which take 6hours, 30 minutes.
Phuket has its own airport, from which there is only one authorised taxi service. Expect to pay around THB500 for a mid-length journey from the airport. If you have a little longer to spare, there are bus services running between the airport and the bus terminal, stopping at a few major landmarks.
For a little reassurance when it comes to safety, companies such as AWD provide luxury transfers from the airport, and from major destinations in the region, including Krabi Town, Surat Thani, Samui and Koh Lak. A personal greeter will meet you and navigate you wherever you'd like to go. Prices start from around THB800 for an airport pick-up.
If you're arriving to Phuket by sea, there are ferries arriving from nearby islands including Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and the mainland area of Krabi several times a day. Trips are fairly comfortable and take about 90 minutes to reach Phuket's Rasada port. From there, you will find numerous options for onward travel.
Coinciding your trip to Phuket with one of the major Thai festivals is certainly worth the effort. Songkran, the water festival in mid-April, is celebrated with a countrywide water fight. Loy Krathong, held in late November is a beautiful festival when lanterns are let off into the night sky, and the vegetarian festival in October is when the island turns into one big, veggie feast.
There are no two ways about it; Phang Nga Bay is a must-visit. You've seen in the postcards the dramatic limestone cliffs emerging from bright blue waters; now see it for yourself. Book in for a day's snorkeling on a boat ride from the north of the island, and explore Thailand's natural wonders, including James Bond Island and Koh Panyee.
Easy to reach and instantly recognisable; one of Phuket's most popular attractions is the Big Buddha, a huge statue sat on the hills between Chalong and Kata. At 45m tall, it's easy to spot from a fair distance across the island. As well as making for some great photo opportunities, the view from the Buddha itself offers some spectacular vistas too.
Phuket Town is no buzzing city, but its lack of vibrancy is more than made up for with sleepy charm. Away from the seedy side of Phuket life, this small town is where colonial Portuguese architecture meets Chinese influence in the pretty heart of Phuket. Take the day to wander around cute boutiques and a selection of laidback cafes and high-end restaurants.
If you're looking to impress, you can't go far wrong with Da Maurizio. This romantic, beachside restaurant makes Thailand Tatler's best restaurant guide year in, year out. Traditional Italian cuisine made from imported ingredients against a backdrop of white sand beaches makes for a winning combination. 223/2 Prabaramee Rd., Patong, Kathu Phuket 076 344 079
A rundown old building-turned quirky cafe, China Inn Cafe is decorated with stunning Chinese antiques, textiles and artifacts. A nod to Phuket's strong Chinese history, it's also a local institution; not only offering up tasty Thai, but selling the furniture you sit on as you chow down. Book a verandah table in advance to make the most of the sea views. 20 Thalang Road, Phuket Town
Another consistent favourite in 'best restaurant' guides is Baan Rim Pa. Thai cuisine at its most regal, this restaurant has won awards with the Asian Miele Restaurant Guide and numerous Awards of Excellence with Wine Spectator. As well as food and drink to make the fussiest foodie happy, it also has beach views to die for. 223 Prabaramee Rd, Pathong, Kathu 076 340 789
Phuket boasts dozens of chic, modern eateries for those who don't need to check the prices on the wine list. At the other end of the scale, there is delicious street food to try. Bang in the middle is Raya, a great Thai restaurant – so great, it's where the locals hang out. What better confirmation of its authenticity could you want? New Dibuk Road (east-bound), Phuket Town
Away from the go-go bars of Patong, bars such as Club Rio offer a more refined drinking backdrop. Chow down food, sink a few beers and play a few games of pool before you hit the dance floor. While Club Rio isn't the destination for party animals, at least you won't get bothered by bar girls. 53 Bangla Rd, Patong, A. Kathu Phuket 076 340 490
Not as large as Rawai's other late night venue, Icon, Laguna has its own charm. Small and comfortable, even on quiet nights it feels packed and busy. If you're looking for a place to dance the night away, Laguna is a great spot to get down and sweaty to the latest dance hits. Rawai beachfront
International DJs and a relaxing cushioned lounge area make StereoLab one of the island's best venues to drink in peace. Prices are a little on the high side for drinks, but it's worth the expense to enjoy the party atmosphere of Patong with a like-minded party crowd. Surin Beach South, Front Beach Walk 089 218 0162
One of Phuket's most popular venues for delicious food and refined drinks overlooking the sea, is Joe's Downstairs. Sophisticated decor, spectacular ocean views and a Wine Spectator award-winning wine list, this bar is in an entirely different league to Phuket's more famous nightlife scene. 223/3 Prabaramee Road, Patong Beach 076 618 245
After a morning on the beach, explore Phuket's history with a wander around Old Phuket, the provincial capital that's been heavily influenced by its Sino-Portuguese history. If your feet aren't aching yet, take a trip to Chalong to snap photos of the island's proudest feature: the 45m high big Buddha, which surveys the island from its perch. An evening watching a Simon ladyboy cabaret show is not to be missed.
Feeling active? Enrol in a half-day Muay Thai class at one of Chalong's many Muay Thai schools. Pick up a few techniques of this traditional sport before treating yourself to a well deserved sundowner – and perhaps a spot of clubbing – at one of Chalong's numerous – and fairly classy - beach bars.
Take a whole day to explore Phuket's surrounding islands, by booking a boat trip from the north of Phuket. A reputable company will provide you with drinks and lunch as well as a decent snorkel to help you get closer to Thailand's underwater scene. After a long, active day, head to Kathu to enjoy the sea from a different angle; the table of one of Phuket's five star dining options.
Why not end your stay on a relaxed note? Start with a traditional Thai massage then hit the beach for some time in the sun. End with drinks and dinner at colourful Patong.
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