Chiang Mai got something for everyone, it lacks beaches. On the southern side, Phuket is home to beautiful islands and even mountains, sexy walking streets, historical streets, marine life for scuba divers & beach resorts. Call it Family-friendly or party people’s paradise; you can’t dislike Phuket if you take a slight deviation from the tourist traps. Here is your complete travel guide to the Sino-Portuguese Phuket.
- How to reach Phuket
- Best time to visit
- Tips to travel in Monsoon
- Where to stay in Phuket
- Getting around Phuket.
- How many days to spend here?
- THINGS NOT to do in Phuket
- BEST THINGS TO do in Phuket
View while landing in Phuket
By air -The Phuket International Airport is one of the busiest in Thailand, with two terminals. Terminal 1 is used for international flights, while Terminal 2 is used for domestic flights. The airport does justice to its label “international”, unlike Chiang Mai.
ROAD – Phuket is a beachside town connected with public buses to nearby cities like Koh Samui, Surat Thani, and Phan Nga. Bangkok to Phuket distance is 840km which takes almost 12hr. Still, this route is famous among backpackers.
TRAIN – There are no direct trains to Phuket. 240KM away, Surat Thani is the nearest station.
FERRY – The most efficient way to get here from nearby islands like Phi Phi, Krabi and Koh Lanta is by Ferry. Check Thailand Ferry Booking to know more about Ferry routes from/to Phuket.
Best time to visit Phuket
October to December is ideal when most days are sunny and dry. December to February gets better weatherwise, so it gets super crowded. This means hotel prices will also be higher. Ashrith went to celebrate New years with his friends in January 2019. He says
“I haven’t seen such a big crowd at a time anywhere else in my life. At the airport, they could not even manage the public. Since Indians are eligible for VOA and E-Visa, they stopped stamping our passport to save time – It was Visa-free for a while!. Buses, beaches and pubs are full. You will have no place to walk around unless you choose a non-touristy location. Patong street is always a party vibe. It gets even crazier on new years evening.
A random person sprayed foam at him at 12!
February to April is the best time because the crowd is less, and the weather isn’t hot yet. April to June gets super hot with rain. If you are ok with a bit of a shower now and then, like us, June is a good time if you know how to walk in rain. Prices were meagre, the crowd was less, and the mountains, islands were greener. June to October is a time you may avoid because of pouring rain.
Tips to travel in Monsoon
A way to explore touristy places like Phuket is to go there during the “Non-tourist” season. It comes with a few perks and jerks. Though there was rain every evening, I still feel June was ideal for us. Coming from the Western Ghats of India, we were comfortable walking with an Umbrella everywhere. If you aren’t ok with this, visit Phuket during Dry season. Beaches are emptier, prices are lower, and tourists are fewer in Monsoon.
For your trip to Phuket in Monsoon, your plan must be flexible. My Scuba diving and the sailing trip got postponed by a day. Fortunately, I was there in Phuket for five days and left the city on the 6th day. I had no other activities pre-booked. So I could manage without losing on anything. If you plan for a short trip to Phuket, don’t go there in Monsoon for two days.
Jerks: The magical sunrise at Samet Nangshe and spectacular sunset at the Buddha point of Phuket won’t happen as you expected in the rainy season. We couldn’t go to the big Buddha point at all because of the rain. Instead, we used the time to sip more coffees, eat more coconut ice creams at Old Phuket’s old cafes.
Bike rental isn’t convenient in Monsoon. You have to depend on songthaew or grab taxis for local commuting. If you want to hire cars for self-driving, you should be familiar with driving on windy roads to reach mountain viewpoints and the busy streets of Patong.
Choosing the right neighbourhood in Phuket.
The neighbourhood matters most when you stay in a touristy town like Phuket for almost a week. While picking the area, consider what you want to do at the end of the day –
Partying? Dinner at a fancy restaurant? Cheaper cafes? Night market or away from the crowded beach?
Here are a few neighbourhoods you can choose from when you stay in Phuket –
Patong – The place that defines nightlife in Patong. A minute walk to the beach and the walking street, this area is a hub of restaurants, pubs and sex shows. Ashrith stayed in Deewana Plaza for two nights here along with his 11 other friends. The hotel was worth the money, breakfast good, and locality, making it an excellent choice for party animals.
Old Phuket is a great place for families and those who prefer the old town over the modern one. Sino- Portuguese style buildings houses cafes, boutiques and souvenir shops. Most tourists come here for one to two hours of strolling and return to the beach resorts. So nights are calmer except on weekends. It is most suitable for culture and history buffs who love to wander and “people watch”. The perk of staying here is, whenever you come back to your room at the end of your day, your colourful neighbourhood welcomes you to relax in their tiny cafes. So this locality was my obvious choice. I stayed at Ming Shou house. It was in a perfect locality and under my budget. But the room wasn’t comfortable. I pass it.
The Coastal areas: While Patong is a party people’s coastal town, families who want a beach by the room prefer the coastal regions like Nai Harn, Kamala, Kata, Karon & many more. Mostly they have luxury resorts. I stayed at the Nai Harn for a night.
Getting around Phuket.
Phuket airport is very much outside the town ( more than 30km). You can take public buses, but Phuket traffic contends with Bangkok’s. You don’t want to mess with your flights or waste time stuck in traffic for more than two hours. So booking a taxi through Grab or any other private taxi is better. I booked Alexi Taxi five days before arriving in Phuket, and it was the best decision I made.
A songthaew is your pocket saviour in Phuket. I booked a Grab Taxi to go to Aussie divers in Patong from Old Phuket on a rainy day. It cost me 240 Baht. The next day, while going to the walking street in Patong, we got into the songthaew that cost us 30 baht for both of us. The cost difference is eight times!
If you are in a big group, you can hire the songthaew for the whole day.
There is no fixed schedule you can follow for Songathew. You need to ask locals or observe where many locals stand and wait. That will be the Songathew pickup/drop off points. They are safe, easy to use, quicker, and most of all, cheapest. You can’t get dropped at the exact location, as these are public transport and has a fixed route.
Heads Up – The public transport Songathew stops after 8 PM between Patong to Phuket. You will have to go by private taxis that cost you more.
Private Taxi: Grab taxi works perfectly here. You will see taxi drivers holding the boards and asking tourists if they need taxi service at main tourist spots like Old Phuket circle, Simon Cabaret show. They quote more than Grab a taxi. Unless it is your last resort, don’t opt for these. Usually, private taxis are those big vans – big enough for eight people!
Rental – In summers, renting a bike is easier and convenient, especially you want to go to nearby places like Samet Nangshe, Karon viewpoint. Phuket, unlike Chiang Mai, isn’t bicycle-friendly. Bike taxis do exist, but the way they drive is a little scary!
How many days to spend here?
We stayed in Phuket for six nights and five days. There is history, culture, rock climbing, scuba diving, glamorous cabaret shows, mountains, beaches. Three days is a minimum. Anything between five to seven days is good to explore Phuket at leisure.
Things not to do in Phuket
After spending almost a week in Phuket, I have a fair idea of tourist traps and what things may get you into trouble.
Don’t be rigid about your Phuket plans in the rainy season.
Don’t hire a bike if you are an inexperienced driver. It can be stressful to drive here. It isn’t like Chiang Mai. Everyone is in a rush here.
Don’t promote animal cruelty – Don’t go dolphin show, tiger park and the new thing “Crocodile Park”. Tigers are sedated to keep calm when humans touch them. God knows what they do to crocs to keep them still when the performer keeps his head in the croc’s mouth.
Don’t lose your calm while haggling -Taxi and Tuk-tuk drivers aren’t as friendly as in Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Sukothai. If you want to bargain for a better price, keep calm, smile and do it politely.
Don’t buy a tuk-tuk driver’s package tour. It is easy to go by yourself to Phuket. Some tuk-tuk drivers even try to sell island day trips. They neither own a boat nor an agency. They recommend the agency which gives more commission for every person they bring in.
Don’t take sailing trips from random agencies- Some of the sailing trips take tourists, even when the weather is terrible. Phuket local government authority controls the sailing trip when the sea isn’t safe enough for sailing. Make sure you book through a recognised and responsible agency.
Don’t fall for tourist traps – Most Wats in Phuket are similar to what you see at the Grand Palace of Bangkok or any other modern Buddhist temple. These are part of many group tours along with Bird parks. You can do it by yourself without any package.
Don’t pick any shows randomly –Before going to any performance, whether ping pong or Muay Thai boxing, know about it. There are Bollywood dance shows, Mujraa dance shows, etc. Not all the shows are glamorous or sexy enough. Think twice before spending your money and time on these shows.
Don’t shop in Patong – Shopping at Patong night market is over-rated. There is nothing unique or cheap priced item here. It is like any other place in other modern markets of Thailand.
Don’t get over drunk so much that you lose consciousness or misbehave. Even in Patong, be under limits to avoid getting scammed by sex workers.
Don’t hesitate to go out at night – Patong street is safe for women. But you should be cautious like you would be anywhere else.
Beware of useless guides to avoid losing money- Hiring a Local Thai guide is good to know about the place. I came across some “Non-Thai” travellers/ long term travellers offering guide services that say “Most Instagrammable locations in Old Phuket.” Do you want to learn more or take Gram pictures? Decide and pick your guides carefully. I didn’t hire any guide, and it went all fine. Whenever I wanted to know more about any particular building there, I walked in, smiled at the owner and asked them politely. They & I used translators at times to convey better..Most buildings have storyboards explaining their history. Other hosts are happy to talk to you if there is not much crowd in their shop/cafes.
Don’t be a jerk at Walking street or Cabaret shows –You need to pay to click pictures of performers after Cabaret shows. If they catch you clicking them without their permission, they may ask you for more than 500 baht. Whether sex workers at walking street or at Cabaret shows, don’t be an arsehole touching them inappropriately in public ( I saw a few men trying to get some free fun trying to put hands inside the performer’s dress while taking photos at Cabaret shows. There will be guards and bouncers watching you over to drag you out when you misbehave)
I prefer these Phuket agencies –
- Simba Sea Trips – Their price is higher than most other agencies; trust me, it is worth every baht you pay. They run small group tours; the service is excellent.
- Aussie Divers – For scuba diving
- Alex Taxi – airport transfer and taxi to go to nearby towns like Samer Nangshe.