Transportation - Get In
The compact Phuket International Airport is in the northwest of the island, and is Thailand's second largest hub, second only to Bangkok.
There are very frequent flights to/from Bangkok as well as direct flights to many other airports in the region, including Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and direct charters to Europe and Australia in the high season.
The airport is notionally divided into Terminals 1 and 2, with some charter and low-cost operators using the second, but these are only a short distance apart and connected by an air-conditioned walkway.
- Australia - Virgin Australia, Air Asia; Jetstar have direct flights from/to major cities in Australia.
- Belgium- Jetair
- China- Lots of flights incl. from Beijing, Zhengzhou, Guiyang, Guangzhou, and Sanya.
- Germany - Air Berlin has non-stop flights to Berlin and Munich.
- Hong Kong - Thai Airways, Dragonair and Air Asia have non-stop direct flights from Hong Kong to Phuket.
- Indonesia - AirAsia flies from/to Jakarta and Denpasar, Bali, and often this is the cheapest connection between Thailand and Java and more eastern parts of Indonesia (promotional fares are often US$30–50 for a 3 hour flight).
- Korea - Asiana Airlines non-stop services from Seoul with connections from New York.
- Malaysia - AirAsia flies to Kuala Lumpur (KUL), FireFly flies to Penang, using small ATR-Turboprop aircraft, and Malaysia Airlines has flights from/to Kuala Lumpur. Qatar Airways also operates daily flights from Kuala Lumpur.
- Philippines - Cebu Pacific Will be operating 3 times weekly starting on August 2013 from Manila.
- Qatar - Qatar Airways operates direct daily flights from/to Doha, which transit in Kuala Lumpur.
- Singapore - SilkAir has 32 flights a week. Low-cost alternatives are Thai AirAsia and Tiger Airways. In addition, Jetstar flies there too.
- Taipei, Taiwan - China Airlines Non-stop direct flights from Taipei to Phuket.
- Switzerland - Edelweiss Air operates direct flights from Zurich.
Other low cost direct connections include India, Macau, Seoul and Busan
There are some charter flights in high season from European and Asian countries such as Sweden, Taiwan, and Japan.
Several domestic airlines fly here, including Nok Air, Air Asia, Orient Thai. Tickets from Bangkok can cost around 1,300 baht one-way if booked well in advance, or around 2,000-2,500 baht (including taxes) if bought on the day.
Thai Airways flies from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport several times every day, as well as once daily from Chiang Mai (but there are no direct flights in the opposite direction). Additionally, they sell tickets from/to many domestic and international destinations with stopovers in Bangkok, which are usually cheaper (especially international) than if you book separate tickets. Cheapest (non-exchangeable and non-refundable one-way tickets from Bangkok cost 2,320 baht. Worth checking if you book just a few days before flight, as low-cost airlines may cost only 200-300 baht less in this situation, but you get world-famous Thai Airways service, and free on-board meals too.
Air Asia. Fly from Phuket to Chiang Mai direct, twice a day at 10:35 and 19:20, affording an opportunity to combine a beach holiday with experiencing the wildlife and exotic cultures of northern Thailand. From Chiang Mai to Phuket flights depart at 13:00 and 21:45. They fly to two cities in Isaan as well, daily to Udon Thani (handy for a trip into Laos) and four times per week to Ubon Ratchathani.
Bangkok Airways has a monopoly on direct flights between Phuket and U-Tapao (Pattaya/Sattahip) and Ko Samui. They also have 6 daily flights from Bangkok. Fares are usually the same as Thai Airways, but sometimes they have very inexpensive promotional fares as low as 1,390 baht.
Thai Airways International and Bangkok Airways fly to Suvarnabhumi (pronounced: soo-Var-na-phoom), whereas Nok Air and Orient Thai fly to Don Muang Airport. This may be of importance when you have a connecting flight.
Happy Air (Phuket to Ranong, also Bangkok to Ranong) with service to and from both BKK and HKT to Ranong.(Ko Phayam and Ko Chang in the Andaman Sea are 20 min from Ranong Airport by boat).
To get from the airport to your destination, there are several options:
- Starting in mid-2013, there is a private bus service that runs between the airport and Patong and the reverse. There is not yet an English-language website for this service. Times and fares are unclear. There are reportedly signs directing passengers to the curbside bus, but it is not easy to find evidently (Oct 2013).
- Municipal air conditioned airport bus service (daily, 06:30-20:45, every 60-90 min) to Phuket Town bus station costs 85 baht and takes one hour. Local buses run from there and Ranong St Market to all the major beaches until around 18:00 for about 25-40 baht. After getting off a bus just cross the street and wait for the continuing bus there. It is a very convenient and comfortable spot, with no touts or hustlers, plenty of shade and a minimart for drinks and snacks. The bus will stop anywhere along its route upon signalling the driver ("bus hiking"). See Airport Bus Phuket.
If you are going to take the municipal airport bus from Phuket to the airport in the afternoon (especially the 16:30 and 17:30 buses) you should allow yourself plenty of time. With dozens of schoolchildren getting on and off during weekdays and/or congested traffic the bus is frequently delayed en route.
- Minibus services (basically door-to-door shared taxis) are a good value. They charge 100-180 baht per seat, and will get you to your destination much faster than the municipal/government buses. To Phuket town 100 baht is typical; to Patong 180 baht; to Kata Beach 180 baht. When you get off the plane, don't dally, because when the minibuses fill up, they leave. If you miss the first group of them, you may have to wait until the next plane comes in, because they don't leave until they're full. Note that the minibuses will stop at a travel agent about halfway to Patong. They'll ask everyone to get out (you don't have to) and then they'll ask you where you're staying, and they'll try to sell you a hotel or overpriced tours on the guise that they are a government agency. You're not obligated to use the hotels they push. Just say you already booked a hotel, and tell them the name. (If you don't yet have a hotel, just say "Holiday Inn"). They will inform the driver, and he/she will drop you off at the hotel. This is a little annoying, but it's over in 10 minutes, and you're on your way again. Any travel agent can arrange a minibus ride for the way back to the airport.
- Metered (yellow) taxis, aka "Taxi Meter" - Turn right as you exit the airport building (ignore the touts) and you'll see a stand at the end of the walkway. Tell your destination to the staff at the stand and they will give you a paper with the taxi driver number for you to keep in case you need to report a problem. Fares to destinations in Phuket cost around 600 baht and up. The rate is what is displayed by the meter plus 100-baht airport fee. The meter will start with a 50 baht display. You may stumble upon a freelance taxi driver who will take you from the airport to Patong for a flat fee of 450 baht. If the driver is pleasant, you may wish to ask for his mobile number for the return trip later. The same driver can take you from Patong to Phuket Town for 350 to 400 baht.
- Limousine (blue) taxis from the airport are expensive, costing 600-700 baht to Patong or 800 baht to Phuket Town. The airport co-op booth tucked away towards the back is a little cheaper than the competition. Despite the name, most "limousines" are Toyota Camrys with leather seats, though you may get a Mercedes. It is also likely that your limousine will stop at a travel agent in order to sell you hotel rooms and/or tours. Before you purchase your fare, insist that you do not want to stop at any travel agency along the way. (They will try to legitimise stopping at the travel agency by insisting that "the driver must sign in" or "the driver needs to stop here for directions")
There are no direct train services to Phuket. But many trains leave from Bangkok central station going south all the way to Singapore. The most comfortable are the sleeper trains (~685 baht for a berth in a 2nd class air-con car. Travellers by train must get off at Phun Phin railway station in Surat Thani Province and continue for another 5 hours by regular bus to Phuket. Do not buy the bus ticket until you actually see the bus and can make sure it is not standing room only, as it picks up passengers at the popular Ko Samui ferry. If full, wait for the next one.
Buses to mainland destinations including Bangkok, Chumphon, Hat Yai,Krabi, Phang Nga, Ranong, Satun, Sungai Kolok and Surat Thani use the BKS terminal off Phang Nga Rd in Phuket Town.
The most reliable buses from Bangkok are the public BKS buses from the Southern Bus Terminal to Phuket. The journey takes 13 hours and costs between 650-950 baht. There are also some private bus companies, Phuket Travel Tour, Phuket Central Tour, and Phuket Travel Service .Khao San Road operations have a bad reputation for theft, often turn out to include a "surprise" transfer to a minibus at Surat Thani, and are best avoided. Richly Travel Center offers a bus leaving at 19:00 from near the Hualampong Train Station inside Bangkok (without having to transfer to the Southern Bus Terminal) for 900 baht. The TAT next door offers the same for around 1,100 baht.
From Phuket bus terminal to your final destination, you can take a motorcycle taxi, tuk-tuk, meter-taxi, or bus. A motorcycle taxi into Phuket Town will be about 10-20 baht; to most beaches 100-200 baht (negotiable).
A local bus to one of the main beaches will cost around 15-40 baht. It's not unusual for the tuk-tuk drivers at the bus terminal to tell arriving travellers that the local bus service has finished, even though it hasn't. The bus stop is near the market in the old town. From Bus Terminal 1, make a right onto Phang Nga Rd. Continue down Phang Nga until it terminates at Yaowarat Rd, then turn left. Within a few steps you will see a roundabout. Once at the roundabout, keep right. By keeping right, you will find Ranong Rd. Within 100–200 m you will find the local bus stop.
There are two bus terminals in Phuket, one small, old one in town, and one huge modern one 4 km north of town. You can take a 10 baht pink songthaew (leaves every 30 minutes) between the two. There are also 3 regular songthaew lines within Phuket Town, and both bus stations are served by them. There is a very useful big map just outside the bus stations (look where the taxis are waiting at the old bus station, and at the very rear, not towards the entrance, at the new bus station) that displays the three songthaew routes within Phuket town. Fare's 10 baht, last one at 19:00.
Before exiting the Phuket bus terminal, grab a free Phuket map from the information window. While supplies may always not be on hand, the map is a great way to get your bearing before jumping-off.
Phuket is directly connected to the mainland by the Sarasin Bridge. From Bangkok, take Hwy 4 through Nakhon Pathom, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, through Ranong province’s Kra Buri and Kapoe districts, Phang Nga Province’s Takua Pa and Thai Muang districts and onto Phuket Island. The total distance is 862 km. You may be better off getting to Phuket by public transport and renting a car on the island.
Ferry services connect from Rassada Port in Phuket Town to Ko Phi Phi and to Krabi Province on the mainland twice a day, taking 90 to 120 minutes and costing 350/650 baht one-way/return, for each leg. It's usually a pleasant ride, but can be rather bumpy when it's windy.
From the harbour, you could avoid the minibuses and take a 10 baht songthaew to Phuket Town. If it doesn't show up at the bus stop right outside the terminal, you'll have to walk past the gate outside the harbour and along the road, turning left at the first T-junction, about 600 m, then on the main road you can catch a cheap songthaew. There's a picture of all the routes posted just outside the terminal near the bus stop inside the complex. Last one leaves at 19:00.
There are speedboats from/to Ko Racha (45 minutes), Phi Phi (1 - 1.5 hours), the Similan Islands (about 3 hours) and other islands. Boats and yachts can be chartered all year from Phuket at Chalong Bay, Rawai Beach, the Boot Lagoon, the Yacht Haven and Royal Phuket Marina. Boats from Phi Phi and Phang Nga can be found by visiting the local beaches. A search for Phuket speedboat charters will turn up many companies providing inter-island charters and services.
Prices for transfers on board a tour speedboat are typically between 1,500 to 2,500 baht depending on destination. Phi Phi speedboat transfers (no tour) are provided by the Zeavola Resort, which has dedicated speedboats for Phi Phi transfers. Most companies doing Phi Phi speedboat tours will not accommodate transfers that include baggage due to space limitations.
Prices for speedboat charters to/from Phuket range from 3,000 baht to 60,000 baht+ depending on distance/size of boat:
- Coral Island: 3,000-5,000 baht
- Racha Yai Island: 8,000-15,000 baht
- Phi Phi Island: 15,000-25,000 baht
- Phang Nga: 15,000-25,000 baht
- Krabi: 20,000-30,000 baht
- Similans: 30,000-60,000 baht+ (Nov-Apr only. Lower price from Khao Lak, higher price from Phuket)
It's possible to visit Phuket by cruise ship. For cruises from Singapore, try Star Cruises
Transportation - Get Around
Phuket is a large island and you need some form of transport to get around. Public transport is very limited and taxis and tuk-tuks are the only practical means. Another, more dangerous option is rent your own wheels. Hotels generally offer shuttle bus services into Phuket Town, and also have taxi and car hire facilities.
By songthaew or bus
Public transport within Phuket is limited to a radial network connecting Phuket Town to the beach towns. There are a few full-size buses, but most lines are operated with songthaews, basically converted pick-up trucks serving as buses. The fare is 25-40 baht up, depending on distance, and there are no set stops. They pick up and drop off as requested. Most local bus services operate at half-hour intervals and stop at around 18:00.
There is a small public bus network in and around Phuket, serving most neighbourhouds with Phuket Town from 6 AM to 6 PM with 30 minute interval. These blue and pink buses are called ' Songtaew' (two rows) due to the to two rows of seats in the back of the buses, some of them converted from a truck to bus. Fare is around 30 to 40 baht for blue buses (commercial) and 10 baht for pink buses (governmebtal). Tickets are sold by conductor. There are no bus stops, people can board every on safe spots. Tuktuk companies prevent more lines.
- Blue line 1814: Phuket town - Kathu - Patong Beach (southbound on Rath-U-Thit 200 Pee Road, northbound on Thaweewong Road)
- Blue line: Phuket town - Hayeak - Rawai -Naiharn
- Blue line: Phuket town - Panwa (Aquarium)
- Blue line 8359: Phuket town - Kata - Karon
- Pink line 1: Phuket town only
- Pink line 2: Phuket town only
- Pink line 3: Phuket town only
Most operate from the local market at Ranong Rd (Talad Sot or Ban San). Those to major beaches go via Phuket Town bus terminal. The main lines connect to Patong, Kata-Karon, Chalong Bay, Rawai-Nai Han beach, Cape Panwa (for the aquarium), Mai Khao, and Surin-Kamala. There are no"cross-beach" connections, and travelling, for example, from Surin to Patong (15 min by taxi) requires an hour-long detour via Phuket Town.
Upon your return, though, often the bus will drop you off not at the main terminal, but at a bus stop somewhere in the middle of Phuket Town, where you will immediately be set upon by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. Tourists beware!
Phuket is known for its "taxi Mafia". Taxi prices are heavily inflated and even for short distances of 2 km they easily charge 200 baht. Taxi drivers often block any kind of change that could endanger their easy money, e.g. by literally demolishing local buses, fighting with clients and setting up road blocks. They're usually also well-connected with the police. Be careful.
Phuket has three types of taxi: millions (or so it seems) of small songthaew-style minivans (usually bright red, occasionally bright yellow) called tuk-tuks, a much smaller number of conventional sedan-style taxis (yellow and red, with a "Taxi-Meter" sign on top), and random indistinguishable vehicles that serve as unofficial taxis.
The minivans are universally referred to as tuk-tuks (even though they have four wheels, not three). They have no meter, and their drivers are notoriously mercenary, so always agree a price beforehand and do bargain hard. Short hops around town shouldn't cost more than 40 baht, but good luck getting from Patong to Phuket Town for under 400 baht. Tuk-tuks should be avoided whenever possible, these are run by what locals call the "Thai Mafia" and charge you 200 baht for less than 1 km runs.
Metered taxis are a much better option when available, being safer, more comfortable, and usually cheaper than tuk-tuks. However, they're often hard to find, and during peak periods their drivers will also ignore the meter and demand flat fares. You can arrange one by telephone. It is recommended you insist your hotels give you a metered taxi phone number and keep on the front desk. Take the taxi meter land line number from the yellow booth right outside of the ground floor of the airport before you depart.
Finally, many beaches have little shacks with "Taxi" signs, sometimes unofficially supported by a hotel, offering quick transport at high prices. They are usually pricier than the tuk-tuks, with most fares exceeding 500 baht, but they are usually air-conditioned and more comfortable.
By motorbike taxi
There are also motorbike taxis (motosai). While you should never hop on the back of just anyone's motorbike, motorbike taxi drivers wear bright numbered vests and are usually the cheapest way to go. However, these are more dangerous than a tuk-tuk, for obvious reasons, and are not comfortable for long trips. However, if you just need to get around town, they are a great way to go.
By car or bike
Renting a car or motorbike to explore the island on your own is a cost-effective way of getting off the beaten track. However, given the driving habits of most locals and the resulting carnage on Phuket's roads every year, the risks do demand careful consideration. Driving habits are Thai-style, ignoring all the rules and keeping going at all costs, not much worse than Naples, but like there it keeps traffic moving. Traffic lights have just made things worse in the last few years.
Due to the geography of the island with its winding hilly roads and poor vision, Phuket certainly has more than its fair share of accidents. In fact, the death and injury statistics are more than high. More than 10,000 people are injured and over 250 killed every year in road accidents in Phuket. Nine out of ten accidents involve motorbikes.
Drive very defensively at first and watch what the locals do. Of course, it helps if you are accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, which in itself could be enough to distract some drivers. Be aware that many motorcyclists will drive on the wrong side of the road to cover short distances, and passing on the left is a very common occurrence on Phuket roads. Driving under the influence of alcohol is both illegal and dangerous, and driving at night also increases the risk of accidents. Even if you're sober, many others aren't.
Motorcycle and scooter rentals start at around 200 baht/day, coming down to 150 baht/day for rentals of a week or more. Choose a rental company that doesn't hold your passport as deposit (most of them will) or negotiate a cash deposit, as there is a chance that your passport will mysteriously disappear when you return the rental. If possible, arrange the rental through your hotel—they typically won't hold your passport since they already know who you are and will negotiate the deal with the rental company.
Although both motorcycle/scooter drivers and pillion passengers are required to wear helmets, this rule is mostly ignored by locals, but a farangriding around without one is more likely to be hit with a 300-500 baht fine (seems to be another rip-off for tourists, as the official fine for driving without a helmet is 200 baht) by the police if caught. You must carry a valid driving licence with you, or you'll be slapped with a 500 baht fine. Police can check for motorcycle licences, and not having the correct licence type may result in a fine. Your licence will be confiscated if you're stopped, and returned when you pay the fine at the appropriate police station. There can be police check-points on the way, and regular check-point locations include the northern end of Patong Beach Rd, Chalong Circle, and the north end of Karon Beach. If you do wear a helmet chances of being stopped should be low though.
Renting a car usually costs between 1,000-1,200 baht if you want to go for an economy car like a Toyota Vios (stay away from the Jeeps). Several rental companies are located in and around the airport. Avis is located within the airport while Hertz, National and Sixt are located within walking distance of the airport (across the road). Bookings can be made on-line for these. Reputable local car rental companies are also present, which are often a little cheaper.
Be careful to check the level of insurance on a hired car, as many local companies say they have full insurance when in fact it is only a very basic level. Motorcycle rental generally includes no insurance, so take extra care if you decide to opt for the motorbike option.
For a bit of island hopping, the longtail boats are a great way to go. Prices must be negotiated and are approximately 500 baht per hour, no more than 1,800 baht per day.
Hitchhiking would be delightful if it weren't for the taxi Mafia. Any car could double as a taxi. Mention at least 3 times that you're not going to pay: "no money". "Free ride". "No taxi". Ask if this is clear to the driver. If the driver later on still insists on money, be sure to move on before they get their corrupt police friends involved.