The one thing that's mandatory in Phuket

There's plenty of fun to be had on Thailand's popular holiday island, but there's one thing that locals expect you to do if you're going to get the most out of your visit.

Swing by the beach
  • Jetstar
  • February 2018

Thailand has long been the ultimate cut-price holiday destination for Aussie travellers—and for good reason. With its white-sand beaches, two-dollar street stir-fries and cheap-as-chips massages, it’s a true tropical paradise that doesn’t cost the earth. Here’s how to make the most of your trip to Phuket by stretching your holiday dollar to the max.

Currency exchange

The worst way to exchange currency is to do it at home before you go—the rates you’ll get in Phuket will be better. Avoid exchanging money at the airport or at hotels; shop around and use a currency conversion website or app such as XE to find out the mid-market rates. The banks in Patong generally offer the most competitive rates. You could also check out the rates offered at the currency exchange booths scattered along Beach Road (Super Rich is a favourite), but they generally offer slightly higher rates.

You may get a better deal by using ATMs and credit or debit card transactions. Check your bank’s international transaction fees, taking into account both the withdrawal fee (likely to be a flat fee) and the currency conversion fee (usually a percentage of the total withdrawal). On top of this, ATM fees in Thailand are high, up to THB 200 (over AUD $7) per withdrawal. Also note that some ATMs have daily limits; Aeon Bank, for instance, maxes out at THB 20,000 per day, though at THB 150 per transaction, their ATM fee is the cheapest.

Many retailers charge fees of THB 150-180 for you to pay with your credit card. You may be offered the choice of paying in your home currency or local currency. Always choose local—your credit card company will give you a better rate.

How to get around

If you’re travelling in a group, hiring a car and driver is an affordable option for unrestricted exploration of the island. At a going rate of around THB 1800 ( AUD $70) for a full day (even less if you can haggle a multi-day deal), it’s a bargain when you consider you’re also getting the driver’s inside knowledge of the best hidden beaches and secret spots.

If you’re going solo or by two, motorbike hire is also easy on the wallet, with full-day hire at about THB 250 (around AUD $10) in high season, less during off-peak. (Make sure your travel insurance covers you for this.)

Phuket’s cheapest transport option is the open-topped blue song taews, public local mini-buses that ferry people between Phuket town and nearby beaches for just THB 15-20 (less than AUD $1). There are no designated bus stops; flag them down or hop off anywhere you like along the route, and pay your fare in cash directly to the driver.

For short distances, you should pay around THB 50 for a five-minute tuk tuk ride, although it can be hard to find a driver who will give you this rate. Make sure to be clear on your destination and agree to a price before you set off.

Fried Hokkien Noodles
Dish fried egg noodles and bean sprouts

Where to eat

Rather than dining in the big resorts alongside other tourists, follow the locals and you’ll enjoy delicious, high quality meals at local prices—the real-deal Thai cuisine rather than the watered-down version made for Western palates at the resorts. Try Thalang Road, the quaint, narrow central street of Phuket’s charming Old Town: look out for daggy décor and places packed with Thai patrons. You can feast on a couple of dishes with rice, salad and beer, and still get change from AUD $20.

Street Food at Night
Open food market at night

Where to shop

Everyone knows about Thailand’s amazing markets, and when you experience them for yourself you won’t be disappointed. Here’s where you can stock up on cheap clothes, trinkets and souvenirs, priced from as little as THB 30 ( AUD $1). Wait until the sun goes down, kick off your shopping spree with a budget dinner from one of the street food vendors, and enjoy the Thai market adventure without the daytime heat.

At the Big Market on Phuket Walking Street you can pick up bargain souvenirs and locally made handicrafts, while Naka Night Market is known for electronics, cheap-and-cheerful fashion and knock-off accessories.

Remember, haggling is mandatory when shopping in Phuket. Don’t be afraid to bargain with a vendor on the price of your desired goodies—they expect customers to negotiate and set their first price accordingly.

Man drinking coconut water on the beach
Enjoy a coconut water on the beach

Drinking in Phuket

The tasty local Thai brews are cheaper than overseas imports, so budget-conscious beer lovers should stick to cans of Singha, Chang or Leo rather than Aussie, American or European brands.

Stock up your bar fridge at the beginning of your holiday with take-aways from 7-Eleven, where small cans of beer cost as little as THB 20 (about AUD $0.80), and bottles of Thai spirits less than AUD $10.

If you’re up for a big night out in Patong, get your timing right. Many of the bars on Bangla Road offer great happy hour deals, any time from around 5pm to 10pm, where you’re looking at bargain prices of around THB 70 for beers and THB 150 for cocktails. Cheers!