All the essential info you need for a holiday in Phuket
Phuket is very visitor friendly but it helps to be prepared. Here's what you need to know before visiting Thailand's largest island.
- November 2019
From a heritage of tin-mining to the tourist haven of today, Thailand’s largest island, Phuket opens in new window, has become known as “the Pearl of the Andaman Sea” for its turquoise waters, white sand beaches and lush inland jungle dotted with waterfalls.
But there’s also the romantic Sino-Portugese architecture lining the streets of Old Phuket Town, the 150-foot white marble Big Buddha overlooking the entire province and food galore in this UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy.
So whether you choose the laidback lifestyle or the glitz of nightlife on this luxurious yet affordable paradise, there are just a few things you need to know before you go…
You’re likely to pay more for a flat fare from one of the many taxi or limousine drivers waiting inside the arrivals hall. So walk outside the airport exit doors, turn right and look for the Taxi Meter sign. Or organise transport through your hotel.
A cheaper option is the bus, located to the left outside the Arrival Hall. The Airport Bus opens in new window drivers wear orange uniforms and wait alongside their matching vehicles and for 100 Baht (around $5) will drive you the one-and-a-half hours to the old bus terminal in Phuket Town.
If you’re going directly to the west coast beaches from the airport, the blue and white Smart Bus opens in new window operates from 6 am to 9pm and passes 11 popular stops before terminating at Rawai. You can pay the 170baht ($8) ticket in cash if you have the exact fare or opt for a tap-on, tap-off Rabbit Card opens in new window.
And always check the Australian government Smartraveller website opens in new window for precautions.
Phuket’s tuktuks are great for shorter distances and are more like open-window minivans than the famous three-wheelers native to Bangkok. They’re often more expensive too, so agree on a price with the driver and be specific about your destination. Just try not to argue, as tensions have been known to quickly escalate.
For the experienced motorbike or scooter rider, always wear a helmet if you decide to zip around the island on a rental as the roads can be dangerous and unpredictable and check with your travel insurance as many don’t cover motorbike or scooter accidents.
Otherwise hire cars are available, such as Avis, Hertz and Budget. Find a company that does not hold onto your passport and take before and after photos of the vehicle so you aren’t charged for damage that isn’t yours. An international driver’s license is a good idea for insurance.
Songthaews are easily recognisable blue utes with a cover and a couple of benches on the back for people to sit on. They’re spartan and cheap but drive between Phuket Town and the beaches, not between the beaches. There are no official stops, just flag one down.
Australians, New Zealanders, Japanese and Singaporeans are among the 49 nationalities allowed to stay without a visa for up to 30 days if coming for tourism purposes. Just make sure you have a passport valid for at least six months and it is recommended to also have proof of a return air ticket and available funds of at least 10,000 baht (about AUD $1,000) for a single person or 20,000 baht (about AUD $2,000) for a family. Upon arrival, you’ll still need to pass through immigration, so prepare for lengthy queues in this very busy airport space.
The Thai government can be quite harsh on overstayers, who can be fined, jailed, deported and/or blacklisted from entering the country.
One Thai baht is equal to 100 satang. You can get coins of 25 satang and 50 satang but they are not used much anymore. Baht can be found in coins of 1, 2, 5 and 10 and in banknotes of 20, 50, 100 and 1,000. Money changers and ATMs that accept Visa and Mastercard are available at the airport and widely throughout Phuket. Shop around for the best rate of at the money changers and be aware of your own bank’s international fees when withdrawing cash from machines. Find the latest exchange rate at xe.com opens in new window.
Top tip: Don’t put baht in your back pocket or stand on the Thai currency, least you insult the king by sitting or stepping on his picture. Thailand strictly upholds their interpretation of the law of lese-majesty opens in new window - “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.” So always be respectful and avoid jokes or what could be perceived as snubs with your social media posts, as people have been known to face lengthy jail sentences for defaming the royal family online.
Thai is the official language in Phuket but many locals speak basic English, especially in the tourist areas. So it’s always good to know a couple of words, such as– “sa-wat dee” (which can be used interchangeably for “hello” and “goodbye”) and “khop koon” means “thank you”. To both these phrases you add a “krap” if you are male and a “ka” if you are female e.g. “Khop koon ka”. Point to your destination on a map and ask, “Yoo tee nai...?”, for “where is?” “Gee baht?” means “how much?”
If you come into contact with the real police, phone 1155 to talk to the Tourist Police opens in new window. They’re a group of locals and volunteers who speak good English and will often translate the conversation for you.
Thailand is famous for stir-fried Pad Thai, but here in Phuket – the UNESCO Creative City of gastronomy – you’ll be spoilt for choice and flavour. The fusion of Portugese, Chinese, Indian and Malay with local oceanic and countryside flavours among others, means you’ll be feasting on seafood, farm-fresh vegetables, noodles and curries with hints of sweet, spicy and satay cooked from family secret recipes sold at street stalls, restaurants and bistros. Try Tom Yam Goong soup, Hokkien noodles, Massaman Curry, Gaeng Kheaw Wan Gai (Green Curry Chicken) or the sweet Thai Roti Pancake.
Traditionally, Thai food is eaten with a fork and spoon. Hold the fork in your left hand and use it to push food onto the spoon in your right. The fork doesn’t go in your mouth.
Customs and etiquette
Earn the respect of the locals by observing their culture. Therefore, don’t point at people, instead lift your chin in the person’s direction. Take your shoes off when entering a home and place them at the door. Don’t touch a person’s head as it’s considered the most sacred part of the human body. Do not point your feet at anyone and definitely not at a Buddha statue. Before entering a temple, dress respectfully by covering up with shorts or skirts that hit at least to the knee and wear modest tops with no disrespectful slogans. The left hand is considered unclean, so use your right to hand over money or objects to people. And, as mentioned before, always show respect to the monarchy.
The weather in Phuket can vary greatly from beautiful one day to torrential the next but generally the island has two seasons: dry or monsoonal. Strong winds over the Indian Ocean bring the downpours from about May to November, with torrential rains peaking in September-October. Thie wet season is also the time to be wary of rough surf and strong currents by heeding red flags flapping on west coast beaches. Tourist season hits in the drier November to April months, bringing with it higher prices for accommodation, goods and activities. Year-round top temperatures rarely drop under 30C or lows fall below 20C. The hottest months from April to May are perfect for cooling off in Phuket’s tropical turquoise waters or resort pools.
Pack swimming wear and casual clothes suitable for a tropical climate but there’s bargains aplenty in Phuket. Shop for cheap sarongs, singlets, sandals or shorts from markets such as Phuket Town Weekend Market or night markets Chillva or Lumduan. For pricier threads, head to shopping centres Central Festival Phuket or Jungceylon Shopping Mall in the resort town of Patong.
The national dress, introduced during the mid-20th century by Queen Sirikit, is worn for special occasions. It is shortened to “Chut Thai” from “Chut Thai Phra Ratcha Niyom”, meaning, “Thai dress that has been royally endorsed”. For women, it consists of eight variations of the tubular skirt, shawl and a top. Men have one formal outfit, called a “suea phraratchathan” (royally bestowed shirt) that consists of a high-collared button-down top, sash and suit pants. Rent a traditional outfit from Baba Closet Phuket opens in new window or buy a modern version of the Chut Thai from Peranakan Phuket Boutique opens in new window or Pha Thoong Noong Dai opens in new window.
Thailand is hooked-up to the 4G network and while free Wi-fi is often available, connection is not always guaranteed and can become congested in a country with a population approaching 70 million people. An option is to buy a local Thai SIM card if your phone is not locked, the main internet service providers are AIS, True Move and DTAC. Or book a Phuket Pocket Wifi opens in new window – just pick it up and drop it off at the airport before you leave. And to prevent bill shock when you get home, disable data roaming on your phone as soon as you arrive at the airport.
You’ll definitely need a plug adapter for Phuket, where socket types A, B, C, F and O are found across Thailand, in comparison to Australia’s single three-pronged I type. Both countries are 50HZ and there is only a small difference between Thailand’s 220 volts to Australia’s 230. If you have room in the suitcase for an item bulkier than a single plug converter, then buy an all-in-one international adapter which you can reuse for holidays to other countries.