In the southern part of the Andaman Sea, Phuket’s stunning beaches, dazzlingly waters, and breath-taking mountains demand exploration. Phuket and its thirty-two smaller islands have a long history of maritime trade, which has helped create the cultural, architectural and culinary diversity enjoyed by residents and visitors today. With some careful planning, a holiday to Phuket, Thailand will be an adventure to remember.
Before arriving in Phuket, it’s best to know some of the basic cultural expectations.
Thai is the official language, but you will find many people who speak English in most tourist areas.
Thais will appreciate your respect for their traditional way of greeting. Press the palms of your hands together, is if praying. This is called ‘wai’ and is initiated by the younger of the two people.
The monarchy, especially the King of Thailand, is held in the highest regard. Even as a visitor, you will be expected to show respect by standing during the Royal Anthem.
If visiting a Buddhist Temple be sure to cover your legs and arms and remove your shoes before entering. Never climb on any image or symbol of Buddha, even for a photo.
In Thailand, feet are considered the lowest part of the body. Do not point them at anyone, including Buddha. If you see a pile of shoes at the door of a shop, be sure to remove yours before entering. The head is the highest part of the body, so never touch anyone’s head without permission.
When to Visit Phuket
Phuket has two major seasons – green and hot. The hot season, from November to April will bring the best weather. December, January and February have the least rainfall and perfect temperatures, about 27 degrees Celsius. It’s also the busiest time, so prices go up and crowds increase at the beaches.
May through October is the green season, when you’ll see monsoon-like rain totals and hot temperatures. However, prices reflect the weather, and you’ll likely get some great deals at hotels, bars and restaurants.
Travelling to Phuket
The Phuket International Airport is the second largest airport in Thailand. Located at the northern side of the island, flights directly to Phuket from many European cities are reasonably priced and frequent.
Visitors from ASEAN and most Western countries do not need a Thai visa if they plan to stay for less than thirty days. Only a passport with at least six months validity is required.
Thai customs permits visitors to bring personal items into the country (so long as they are not illegal in Thailand) without claiming duties. The only limitation is on tobacco and liquor. If you have nothing to declare, you may go directly to the Green Channel.
If you have not already done so before leaving home, it’s best to exchange money at the SUPERRICH inside the airport.
Getting to Your Hotel
If your hotel does not provide shuttles or pick ups, there are ample transport options.
Airport buses run from the airport to the Phuket Town every day. The fee of 100 Baht is a good option if you’re staying in town.
A metered taxi will take you directly to your resort. Be sure to find the yellow “Metered Taxi” sign outside the terminal on the ground floor. The 100 Baht airport tax is legitimate, and will be added to your fee. You will be issued a receipt and assigned a driver. Fees will vary based on your destination and changes in petrol prices. An average trip from the airport to Patong Beach is about 500 Baht.
Car rentals companies are abundant. Legally, you are required to have an International Driving Permit, even if they don’t ask for it.
Motor-Scooter Rentals are fun, but can be dangerous. Be sure to check the legal requirements of a motorcycle license before you rent and also your own travel insurance.
Where to Stay in Phuket
Phuket is a very popular tourist area, and there are a wide variety of accommodation options, from small Bed and Breakfast type hotels to large all-inclusive, beach resorts.
When making your decision, consider hotel amenities. Do they charge for Internet, beach chairs or umbrellas? Is there a pool or just beach access? Do they offer shuttle service from the airport? Is there a spa on the property?
If your answers to these questions are “No,” but you find them important to you, consider other places to get the services. Internet is widely available in cafes, and Thais legendary spas services are convenient everywhere in Phuket. Many spas offer free transport from your hotel to their location.
Most visitors will gravitate toward the Island’s west coast, where impeccable beaches and stunning sunsets wait. You’ll find some of the best snorkelling and diving here. Patong, a popular location, is infamous for its vibrant nightlife, while still being close to the beach.
If you are looking for a quieter, more up-market holiday, the northern side of the island, nearer to the airport might be your spot. Resorts are geared to families or romantic couple getaways. Only twenty minutes north of the airport, Phang Nga offers its spectacular natural beauty, fine restaurants and premier spa experiences, such as Aleenta Phuket.
The south side is a great place for quieter retreats and spa escapes. The beaches aren’t as well suited to swimming, but there are many excellent seafood restaurants thanks to the fishing villages in the area. Here, you’ll also find Phuket’s collection of Buddhist Temples.
Going inland gives tourists a completely different kind of holiday. The mountainous, jungle terrain offers possible visits to wildlife sanctuaries, elephant trekking, monkey habitats.
Staying in Phuket Town isn’t a great option, unless you are looking for a dorm room. It is costly to get to the beaches and, besides some market shopping, there’s not much to do.
Things to Do
Phuket is known for its amazing, white sand beaches, but each one is different. Some are large, others smaller. Some are better for surfing, while others are great for a party. Your own preferences will determine which you love best. Buses run from towns to the beaches. Take note: you can’t go from beach to beach via bus without returning first to the town. There are numerous, small and hidden beaches on the island. Be sure to ask your hotel staffers for recommendations, and your resort may even have it’s own private beach.
All major beaches have equipment and instruction for diving. Always observe the red flag warning signs. Weather and season can cause dangerous riptides.
If you are looking for a relaxed, family friendly beach, Kata Beach is for you. On the west coast, you’ll find lots of activities and restaurants. It tends to be crowded and a bit pricier than the other beaches.
Patong beach is the most well known destination in Phuket. Here, you can find and do anything. It’s a wild ride, where the party lasts all day and night. There’s great food and the bars are always crowded. Not interested in the party? There’s lots of shopping and the crystal-clear waters make it worth at least one visit.
Tours are a popular way to see the sights on Phuket. There are numerous companies with widely varying prices and quality of service. If a certain activity is a must-see for you, it is recommended that you book ahead or get your hotel to book. If your itinerary is flexible, consider waiting until you arrive on the Island to book your tour. You’re likely to get a better deal, but seats might sell out.
Phang Nga Bay
Infamously known as “James Bond Island” in Phang Nga Bay, this is a popular tourist stop, so plan ahead. Boat-tours leave from northern Phuket and will take you to see the jutting limestone block featured in the 007 movie, “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Tours often incorporate the exploration of caves and lagoons via a canoe or kayak. Be sure to visit Ko Pannyi Island to see the stilted fishing village built over the water. Many tours will include food and sunset views. Tour guides expect to be tipped.
Phi Phi Islands
A ferry ride from Phuket Town will take you to some of the most stunning islands imaginable. You can go for the day trip or spend a few nights at one of the island’s hotels.
Phuket Big Buddha
On Mount Nagakerd, near Karon is the Big Buddha. With a height of 45 meters, you can’t miss it. Made of concrete and jade marble, a visit is free. With a 360-degree panoramic of southern Phuket, the views alone are worth the trip. Women must cover their shoulders and legs, and scarfs are provided. Watch out for the monkeys; if you don’t pay close attention they will snatch your food.
Clubs and Nightlife and Theme Parks
Near Kamala Beach, this family friendly theme park is also an evening theatre performance of elephants, acrobats, and pyrotechnics. There are many animal exhibits, a floating village and much shopping to engage in before the show. Be sure to get a park map so you don’t miss anything. The buffet dinner–broken into three sections of Hindu, Muslim, and International food–is extravagant. Ask for drink prices before you order. There’s no bargaining on ticket prices, and shows tend fill up each night.
Many come to Soi Bangla in Patong to party. Most bars and clubs have drink specials and large outdoor seating spaces, so you’ll find it is fun to move around often. Touts will try to get you into the bars offering drink deals, especially the GoGo clubs. If this isn’t for you, just keep walking. There are many restaurants and lots of shopping too.
The best shopping in Phuket will be in the night markets. Be sure to visit Phuket Old Town Market where you’ll find tchotchkes, tourist items and lots of cheap sunglasses. You’ll also find small stalls of locally made goods and wonderful food.
If you are in Patong, the Plaza Market, also open in the evenings, will be for you.
Restaurants in Phuket
There is a wide variety of cuisine in Phuket. The choice is yours. Thanks to an ethnically diverse population, cultural cuisine is quite good. Tipping your local servers is appreciated, simply round up your bill. Upmarket restaurants will expect a 10-15 percent gratuity added to the bill.
Street food tends to be safe and good. As with any vendor, take notice of the cooking area and make a reasonable choice.
Staying In Phang Nga
Phang Nga, home to the infamous James Bond Island is a wonderful day trip from Phuket. However, you may be looking for a more relaxed and laid back holiday. Phang Nga is the perfect location to call your temporary home.
There’s no shortage of long beaches and beautiful national parks to explore. World class diving and snorkelling trips are abundant. Or spend a day exploring some of the world’s oldest rain forests via bikes. You can book an Echo-friendly tour to Khao Lake, where you can ride and feed elephants, visit a sea-turtle conservation area and view the many mystical waterfalls.
Phang Nga has many luxury and budget hotel options, including the Aleenta Phuket. The beautiful beachfront, private-villa haven is perfect for couples and families looking for a relaxing holiday.
Phuket, Thailand is a stunning paradise, where you can find a magical escape to fit any budget and desire.