Welcome to Phuket
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Phuket (ภูเก็ต) is one of the most popular tourist areas in Thailand – a million tourists arrive here each year. For some visitors this is the only part of Thailand they will ever see; there is enough here to keep them entertained indefinitely. Phuket has it all; from adult nightlife to peaceful beaches. The island has something to offer families as well as the solo traveler; this is why so many people who come to Phuket end up returning again and again. It is also the home to many ex-pats who just couldn’t bring themselves to leave the island.
Phuket is not only the largest island in Thailand but it is also the one that sees the most visitors each year.
This was once an important trading area but in recent times the wealth on the island comes from the pockets of tourists – in fact it is now the richest province in the whole of Thailand because of this. Tourists are the reason for the islands current success and most of the locals appreciate this fact – you can almost always be sure of a welcoming smile.
Arrivals and Departures in Phuket
Phuket International Airport is the third biggest in Thailand after the two main airports in Bangkok. It is possible to fly directly to Phuket from some international destinations in Europe, Australia, and South East Asia although most of these flights only occur during the high season. There are also many domestic flights arriving in Phuket from all parts of Thailand. The airport itself is relatively small considering the amount of flights it deals with. There are many transport options for arrivals to the airport including minibuses, taxis, limos, and the airport bus that goes to the main tourist destinations.
The bus station in Phuket town handles buses from many parts of Thailand. This is a cheap way to travel around the country and the government buses can be quite comfortable – especially the air-conditioned buses (rot air). As well as the government buses you will also find plenty of private buses that will take you to Phuket from other tourist destinations. In places like the Khao San Road you will see a lot of tour shops advertising these VIP buses; they will usually pick you up right from the hotel.
There is a boat service between Phuket and some of the islands in Krabi province (such as Koh Phi Phi) as well as mainland Krabi. This is a nice way to arrive in Phuket and there are a few boats going between the different destinations throughout the day. You can arrange a ticket for this trip in most of the tour shops on Phuket.
Getting Around Phuket
Rent a Car or Motorbike
The roads are generally good throughout most of Phuket, but as with elsewhere in Thailand there are a lot of road accidents. There are plenty of places where you can rent a motorbike and the cost of this is usually quite reasonable. There are also some good options for car rentals; you will usually get a better deal with the smaller shops rather than using the large rental companies.
Seeing the island on the back of a motorbike can be very enjoyable but just make sure you keep safe. Thailand is not the place for inexperienced riders. Riding around in shorts and sandals is taking a huge risk and a good helmet should be used at all times. Many people on holiday develop a feeling of invincibility because they are having such a good time and feel relaxed; this can be a huge mistake for those riding a motorbike – tourists can and do have accidents all the time. It is important to never ride the motorbike if you have been drinking alcohol.
If you are renting a motorbike you need to fully check the equipment before signing anything and handing over your passport. Make sure that any damage to the bike is noted otherwise you could be charged for this when you return the motorbike. You should realize that many of these rental companies make a lot more money from people damaging the bikes than from actually renting them. If you do cause damage the chances are you will be charged top rate for repairs; if you attempt to have the bike repaired yourself then the owner will be notified. This is one more reason to be cautious on the bike and avoid accidents.
A Songthaew is a truck with two benches in the back for passengers to sit and you will find these all over Phuket. The benefits of using this type of transport is that it is reliable, regular, and cheap – it is also a fun way to travel from place to place. You will find Songthaew services that follow predetermined routes but you can also hire these for private use – this is often more cost effective if you are traveling as part of a group. You should also note that some of the public routes are only available throughout the day.
The tuk tuk is the most famous of all Thai transportation options and you will find these whizzing about all over the place on Phuket. A trip in a tuk tuk can be enjoyable and they are often a convenient way to get from A to B – especially on relatively short distances. If you are going to hire a tuk tuk it is important that you negotiate the price before you start the journey.
One of the nicest ways of traveling around Phuket is by boat. You can do this as part of a tour or just a private hire. The two main ports for hiring boats are Chalong Bay and Rawai. You can also organize boat tours from many of the tour shops in places like Patong or Kalama.
Where to Go on Phuket
Patong is where the majority of tourists stay in Phuket. Here you will find most of the go go bars and thousands of businesses devoted to entertaining the tourist and encouraging them to spend money. The nearby beach is fairly decent but this place really comes to life at night when the bars get busy. There are plenty of Patong accommodations and there should be something to suit almost any budget. This is also the best place to go for tour shops and western style restaurants. Most visitors to Phuket will at least spend some of their time in Patong.
Hat Kamala (hat/หาด in Thai means beach) can be found north of Patong and is another popular resort area. This is actually one of the most beautiful beaches on the island and long enough so that it never feels too overcrowded. This area tends to attract mostly families and couples and people who just want to get a bit of peace and tranquility. This area was once just a quite Muslim village but in recent years there has been a lot of development in the area. As well as the beach you will also find shops, bars, restaurants, and lots of resorts.
Phuket Town (Meung Phuket) can be found near the southeast of the island. Although it is referred to as a town it has recently been awarded city status; this is where most of the inhabitants on the island live. This is a busy commercial and administrative area and the main concern is not tourism; although there is plenty here for tourists to enjoy. A trip to Phuket city is well worth it if you have the time. There is plenty of Thai style entertainment during the day and night and plenty of interesting buildings as well. If you intend to drive a car or ride a motorbike here just be aware that it can get really busy. The main hospitals in Phuket are situated here in the city.
Kata beach (หาดกะตะ) is actually divided into two separate beaches; Kata Yai and Kata Noi (‘yai’ means big in Thai and ‘noi’ means small). Here you will find some nice resorts as well as a shopping and entertainment area. The waters lapping this beach are crystal clear and it is easy to imagine that you have arrived in paradise. Kata Beach is another good choice for families and those who want a peaceful time.
Chalong Bay is a picturesque area but there is not really that much to do here other than admire the view or catch a boat. This is not a suitable place for swimming. There are a few nice restaurants overlooking the bay though that makes a trip here worthwhile. If you go on a diving tour during your stay then you will more than likely leave from Chalong Bay.
Had Mai Khao
Had Mai Khao is near to the airport and it is a lovely spot where you can sometimes find that you have the beach all to yourself. This is the longest beach on the island and part of its charm is that it isn’t covered in resorts – there are only a few to choose from. If you want to get away from the tourist hotspots then Mai Khao Beach would be a good choice.
Rawai is another quite beach that can be found right on the southern tip of Phuket. As well as the beach there is also a nice village and port. This area is very popular with Thai tourists but foreigners often miss out on it. This is a shame because Rawai is a nice spot and well worth a visit. As well as the beach you will also find a small museum.
Nai Harn is not far from Rawai and is a beautifully secluded spot right beside a stunning lagoon. There is also an interesting temple nearby which is worth visiting. Those who make the journey down to this part of the island are unlikely to be disappointed.
Things to Do in Phuket
There are many scuba diving operators on Phuket; in fact there are more operators here than anywhere else in Thailand. There are some highly praised dive sites nearby that will appeal to experienced as well as first-time divers. The marine life here can be impressive with the best diving probably at Racha Yai where there is plenty of coral. If you have never been underwater before then you can go on an introductory dive or complete your Open Water training over a few days. Another option for the inexperienced is SNUBA diving; this is a safe and easy way to go underwater without the need to carry too much diving equipment.
The national sport of Thailand is Muay Thai and there are regular matches held on Phuket. There is a big Muay Thai stadium in Patong on Thanon Sai Namyen and there are fights here about twice a week. If you are not happy just looking at Muay Thai you can also learn this fighting style during your trip. There are a few training camps on Phuket and they have experience teaching foreigners of all levels and experience.
Learn Thai Cooking
One of the things that visitors miss when they return to their home countries is the delicious Thai food they have experienced during their trip. If you learn Thai cooking you will be able to recreate these dishes once you return home. This is a fun activity and you learn all about the Thai ingredients and how to put them together; best of all you also get to eat what you make. There are a number of Thai cooking schools available on Phuket; you will see them advertised everywhere. One of the most well known is the class offered at the Holiday Inn Resort near Patong Beach.
Visit the Punchline Comedy Club
If you are in need of a good laugh then you should drop by to the Punchline Comedy Club. There are regular shows here and you can find this club at the Holiday Inn at Patong. The Punchline Comedy Club is a venue for comedians from all over the world. You will see their events advertised in all the main tourist areas.
Complete a TEFL Course
A lot of visitors to Phuket find that they just don’t want to leave at the end of their trip – some have found a nice local girl who they want to spend the rest of their lives with. One option is to get a job teaching English and to do this you need an academic degree and a TEFL course. You will find a number of places offering these courses in Phuket and if you are determined not to leave Thailand then this is one option.
Treat Yourself to a Spa
If you fancy a bit of pampering then you will have no trouble finding a spa on Phuket. These venues are dedicated to relaxation and generally making people feel good. Treatments include such things as massage, aromatherapy, facial scrubs, and manicures. There are a number of different spa options available depending on your budget.
A Night on the Town
The main party area in Phuket is Patong but you will also find a lot of nightlife elsewhere on the island. For the best night out though you will probably want to hit this main tourist area – Bangla Road is the place to go for adult entertainment. As well as being renowned for go go bars you will also find plenty of western style and traditional Thai bars to choose from as well. If you want to experience partying on the beach then you will find this in any of the main tourist areas.
Many single male visitors end up hooking up with Thai women that they meet in one of the local bars. This subtle form of prostitution is tolerated in Thailand and most hotels in Patong and resorts have no problems with guests bringing back women to their rooms. These arrangements can work out well for both parties; the man gets a sexual partner for the duration of the trip and the woman makes some money. In some instances this business transaction can turn into something more meaningful, but there are frequent stories of men getting seriously ripped off as a result of one of these encounters. It is important that anyone who chooses to get involved in this type of arrangement is aware of the risks.
Visit the Nearby Islands
There are a dozen islands around Phuket and these are recommended as a fun day out. Some of the islands like Ko Bon and Ko Racha are ideal for snorkeling or swimming. If you want to stay on one of these remote islands then you will find accommodation on Koh Lon, Koh Mai Ton, and Koh Yao – just be warned that room rates can be very high on some of these islands. If you are interested in visiting these islands you will usually find boats going from Chalong or Rawai port – depending on which island you wish to travel to.
If you enjoy fishing then you will find plenty of tours available on the island. These boats will take you out for a few hours deep sea fishing. The local waters are teeming with marine life so you should be sure of catching something.
Visit Phuket Fantasea
Fantasea is touted as Phuket’s number one cultural theme park. This enormous complex is devoted to the culture and history of the people of Thailand. This is a fascinating place and as well as things to look at you will get to enjoy the best of Thai food and have plenty of opportunity to stock up on souvenirs. The park doesn’t actually open until the evenings but you can stay there until almost midnight. The highlight of the trip is the buffet dinner followed by an impressive show that lasts about an hour an hour and a half. Phuket Fantasea is well put together and well worth visiting if you have the time. You will find the theme park right beside Kalama beach.
A Trip to Phuket Aquarium
Phuket Aquarium can be found at Ao Makham on the southern tip of the island. It has a 10 meter underground glass tunnel where you can really get to experience the marine life close up. The aquarium is situated in a beautiful part of the island and you will likely want to explore the locality afterwards. The aquarium has a few interactive displays and you should know a lot more about the local marine life by the time you finish. Phuket Aquarium is currently working to bring improved facilities including a kid’s cave and a theater.
Go Play Golf
There are some excellent golf courses on Phuket and for some visitors to the island this is the highlight of the whole trip. These courses tend to be reasonably priced and they are always willing to put out the welcome mat for new visitors. If you want to escape the heat then it is best to get a round in during the early morning or late afternoon; although this will tend to be when the courses are at their busiest. You will find courses spread out all over the island including; the Blue Canyon Country Club, Phuket Country Club, Loch Palm Golf Club, and Lagunna Golf Club. As well as golf courses you will also find a number of golf ranges on the island. You will be able to hire any equipment you need.
Splash Jungle Waterpark
If you are looking for a fun thing to do with the kids then Splash Jungle Waterpark might be a good choice. This was designed by some of the same people who helped create Disneyland so you know you can expect high standards. The park is full of waterslides and every other fun water activity imaginable. You will find Splash Jungle Waterpark near to Had Mai Khao (not far from the airport).
Visit the Local Temples
The percentage of the population that is Buddhist on Phuket is less than elsewhere in the country but you wouldn’t know it by the number of temples. There are many of these to explore on the island and a visit to a wat (temple) is almost always a rewarding experience. These are very welcoming places but it is not respectful to visit a temple in skimpy clothes or swimming costumes – Thai people usually won’t complain about this but they are often offended by it. One of the nicest temples on the island is Wat Chalong.
Simon Cabaret Show
The Simon Cabaret show is one of the best Kathoey (ladyboy) shows in Thailand. This is a fun show with plenty of color and extravaganza – this will be a night you never forget. Even the most heterosexual man will be swept away by the beauty of the performers. The show itself covers a range of themes from celebrities to world cultures. You can find the Simon Cabaret Show at Patpong Beach.
Thai massage is part of traditional Thai medicine and is not only for relaxation but also for treating various ailments. Most hotels offer massage and you will also see massage parlors all over the island; there are also freelance masseuses who walk the beaches offering this treatment. It is also possible to attend a class where you can learn how to actually perform the technique; a useful skill to take away with you from Phuket.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival
If you happen to be on Phuket at the right time of year then you will get to enjoy the vegetarian festival. It occurs in the ninth Chinese lunar month so the exact dates change every year; the festival lasts for about 10 days. The vegetarian festival is a Buddhist celebration where people try to refrain from things like eating meat or drinking alcohol. This festival occurs all over Thailand but nowhere else celebrates it as well as Phuket. As well as plenty of vegetarian food there are also lots of fun activities and events during this time.
Off the Beaten Track in Phuket
Hat Nui (หาดนุ้ย) is probably the most remote beach on the whole of Phuket. It can be difficult to get to because it is only accessible by a dirt road. A visit to Hat Nui is highly recommended though and you are sure to feel that you have gotten off the beaten track. You will find Hat Nui in between Nai Harn and Kata; at the southern tip of the island.
Gibbon Rehabilitation Center
The aim of the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center is to return these amazing animals back to the wild; it is run by volunteers from all around the world. Visitors are always welcome and some of the stories you hear about how these animals have been treated you are sure to leave feeling thankful for the centers existence. You can help keep this place open by making a donation or making a purchase from their souvenir shop. You will find the Gibbon Rehabilitation center in the Khao Phra Thaew Royal Wildlife and Forest Reserve.
Emergencies on Phuket
Considering the popularity of this destination it is fair to say that crime is relatively rare; although it does happen. In the majority of instances where crime has occurred there has been alcohol involved; people are less cautious and more likely to find themselves in difficult situations when they are inebriated. A lot of crime can be prevented if people are cautious and avoid any type of confrontation.
There have been instances where tourists have come into conflict with the locals; this type of situation can turn serious and should be avoided at all costs. Thai people generally are easygoing but tempers can flare if they feel that they have ‘lost face’. Confrontations can quickly get out of control and the tourist might suddenly find that they are in conflict with a mob of men. These violent situations can almost always be avoided if tourists refrain from arguing or making physical threats against the local Thais; what might be considered assertiveness in western countries can be very counterproductive in Thailand.
It is important to note that illegal drug use is taken very seriously in Thailand and tourists who indulge in this activity during their trip are taking a huge risk. It is not unknown for the Thai police to dress up as civilians and then offer drugs for sale only to arrest those who decide to purchase.
If you are a victim of crime then it is generally recommended that you deal exclusively with the tourist police. This branch of the Royal Thai police force is trained to deal with foreigners and there will always be translators available. The Thai government is very aware of the importance of tourism and they take protection of visitors seriously. If you want to contract the tourist police in an emergency you can just dial 1155.
There are a number of private and government hospitals on Phuket. Most of these will have doctors who speak at least some English; although this will be less likely in the government hospitals. Bangkok Hospital Phuket has a good reputation and offers a full range of surgical as well as medical services (+66 (0) 7625 4425 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +66 (0) 7625 4425 end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +66 (0) 7625 4425 end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +66 (0) 7625 4425 end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +66 (0) 7625 4425 end_of_the_skype_highlighting) – this hospital can be found in Phuket City. There is also Phuket International Hospital that is a good choice for acute care – also in Phuket City. If you need emergency assistance you can contact them on 076-210935. The main government hospital is Vachira Phuket Hospital (076 361 234).
Highlights of Phuket
- An afternoon spent relaxing on Kata beach; one of the most beautiful and laid back places on the island.
- A visit to Phuket Fantasea where you will get to see one of the most interesting theme parks in Thailand – you also get to eat some great food.
- A night on the town in Patong; one of the best places to party in the whole of Thailand.
Where to Next?
- Krabi Province is nearby to Phuket and here you will find some of the most beautiful beaches and islands in Thailand.
- Surat Thani Province is on the opposite coast but here you will find some of the other great Thailand islands such as Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao.
- If you want to see a completely different side of Thailand then you should go to the north of the country and visit Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai.