Travellers seeking a beach vacation in a luxury resort with friendly locals and a vibrant culture often choose Phuket island in Southern Thailand as their destination of choice. It’s an affordable country for most western tourists and, thanks to Phuket International Airport, getting to Phuket is easy no matter which side of the globe you’re travelling from. Phuket is a no-brainer!
But if you’ve never travelled to Phuket, or even anywhere in Thailand or Southeast Asia then you might have a few questions that aren’t covered in a standard Phuket travel guide. What is Phuket like? Is Phuket safe to travel to for overseas tourists? What are the do and don’ts in Phuket as a traveller?
This Phuket tour guide lists all Phuket information for tourists that you need to know before going to Phuket for first-time visitors. It includes information on money, safety, transport, where to stay in Phuket, what to do and what to avoid in Phuket. You’ll feel more relaxed and prepared so you can concentrate on having an amazing beach vacation!
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Phuket Is a Larger Island Than You Might Think
Phuket might look small on the map, but it’s actually Thailand’s largest island. It’s 12.56 km² and takes anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours to drive from the Sarasin Bridge on the northern tip to Cape Phrom Thep in the south. This distance is around 65 km.
But some places take longer to reach because the roads are not as well-maintained and less direct. This is something to keep in mind, especially when travelling to and from the airport and you need to be on time for a flight!
Phuket Uses the Thai Baht Currency
Thailand’s official currency is the Thai Baht, also written as THB. 10 THB is worth around 30c USD and 100THB is the equivalent of $2.85. Whereas some South American countries accept the US dollar as currency, there isn’t really a secondary currency in Thailand that is accepted alongside the Thai baht.
You Can’t Drink the Tap Water in Phuket
Unfortunately, the tap water in Phuket (and most parts of Thailand) is not safe to drink. This is due to the fact that most of Thailand’s pipes that deliver water from the treatment plants are old and damaged.
Most (if not all) of Thailand’s resorts, hotels, and hostels offer their guests a complimentary bottle of water in their rooms when they check in. However, some don’t replace it every day so you will have to buy water from shops. Luckily, 7-Eleven supermarkets in Thailand sell bottled water as cheap as 15 THB (less than 50 cents in USD) and many Phuket resorts have fridges in the rooms.
If you don’t want to waste lots of single-use plastic bottles, consider investing in a water bottle with a built-in filter or a filter straw.
Phuket Has a Tropical Monsoon Climate
Phuket has year-round warm weather so you never have to worry about getting cold. Phuket’s average temperatures usually stay between 25°C (77°F) and 30°C (86°F). The warmest months are May and June and the coldest months are December and January but there’s really not much difference.
But what you do need to worry about is the rain! Phuket’s tropical monsoon climate means it has a few rainy months! September is usually the wettest month with the surrounding months of July, August, and October experiencing a few rainy days too. So the best time to go to Thailand (Phuket specifically) is winter. This is peak season so be aware that there will be more tourists and resort prices might be more expensive.
Taxis Are Expensive in Phuket Compared to Bangkok
If you’ve travelled elsewhere in Thailand, like Bangkok, the metered taxi prices are pretty cheap. You might get a shock when you visit Phuket! Starting taxi fare in Bangkok is around 35 THB (around 85c in USD) but it’s 50 THB (around $1.50) in Phuket. Plus, you will get a surcharge for air-conditioned taxis, which most of the ones you’ll find outside your resort will be.
But when figuring out how to travel in Phuket, you’ll realise that taxis are unavoidable. At one point or another, you will probably need to take one.
Renting Motorbikes Is Cheap Yet Risky
Another common assumption about transport in Phuket is that the best way to get around Phuket is by renting a motorbike, scooter, or moped. This is certainly the cheapest way to get around Phuket! You can rent a 125cc scooter for around 300 THB ($9 USD) or a car for around 1000 THB (around $28.50) a day. You will need to cough up 3000 THB in deposits as well as give them a copy of your passport.
But driving around Phuket Phuket with its multi-lane highways is nothing like driving down a quiet beach road on a Thai island like Ko Lanta. And Thais drive on the left which adds an extra level of risk if this is something you are not used to.
Rent mopeds if you are staying on quiet roads, but consider renting a car or sucking up the cost of a taxi for longer journeys.
People in Phuket Speak Thai (and Some English)
Unsurprisingly, Thai is the official language of Thailand so all signs are written in Thai and most of the locals speak it as their first language too. You might see some signs also written in English in busy tourist areas, but not everywhere.
People who work in hospitality (restaurants, hotels, tour guides, etc.) are likely to also speak English as a second language. But don’t expect locals, particularly older locals and people working at food stalls and driving taxis, to speak English.
Be Wary of Scams When Renting Vehicles in Phuket
As with any popular tourist destination, keep an eye out for pickpockets and scammers. They are most likely going to be hanging around beaches, temples, and popular bars.
One of the most popular scams in Phuket concerns renting vehicles like jetskis, cars, and mopeds. It’s common to hand over a deposit of around 3,000 THB for mopeds to ensure you return the vehicle in good condition and to give a copy of your passport or driving license.
If they ask you for a deposit of 4,000 THB and to hand over your actual passport, they might potentially be trying to scam you. Upon returning the vehicle, the renters may accuse you of damaging the vehicle (e.g. causing marks that were already there) to keep your deposit or hold your passport for ransom until you pay them a bribe.
Checking reviews of watersports equipment rentals or transport rentals is an excellent way to avoid these scams. If people have had a bad experience in the past, they will often post it on Google Reviews or TripAdvisor. You can avoid renters having to take your passport away to photocopy it by travelling with photocopies of your passport too.
Only Use ATM Machines in Phuket Banks
Another way you may fall victim to a scam is by using unverified ATM machines outside bars, in shopping malls, and in other unsafe locations. Always use the ATM machines connected to banks, preferably those inside the banks while it is open.
Bangkok Bank, ICBC, Siam Commercial Bank, and Western Union are some legitimate places where it should be much safer for you to withdraw cash. I would however recommend that you ensure your bank cards are left at the hotel in the room safe.
Avoid Bartering in Phuket Shops
It’s typical and expected in some Middle Eastern countries, like Turkey, and in some South Asian countries, like Asia, to haggle when buying from shops. But this isn’t common practice in Thailand. Phuket locals are mostly very friendly and honest and if they’ve set a price for a product, then that’s the price they want. Bartering in markets is acceptable and sometimes expected but please be respectful and realize that sometimes you are bartering over a few cents!
It’s borderline offensive and insulting to push for a lower price, especially in shops. Plus, Thailand is such an affordable country for most western travellers and it’s important not to take advantage of that privilege.
Bring Credit Cards As Well As Cash to Pay in Phuket
In hotels, nice restaurants, and large shops, you should be able to use Visa and Mastercard credit and debit cards for payments in Phuket. But if you are buying from fruit stalls and night markets, you will need to pay in cash.
Have a great travel payment card with you so you can avoid as many ATM fees and high currency conversion rates as possible, but also keep some cash on you at all times. You can always spend any coins and notes you have left at Phuket International Airport before you leave.
Tipping Is Not Customary But Appreciated in Phuket
Phuket and other places in Thailand do not have a big tipping culture. You are not expected to tip in restaurants, bars, taxis, and hotels. However, if you want to give your server or housekeeper a small tip then you can absolutely do so as it’s not in any way offensive or unexpected and they will appreciate it.
Stay in Phuket’s West Coast Neighbourhoods
Choosing where to stay in Phuket could make or break your trip. Most of the best resort towns are on Phuket’s west coast so this is where you should stay.
Choose Patong Beach if you are travelling on a budget and love nightlife. Opt for Kata Beach or Karon Beach if you’re travelling with your family or are an older couple. Or, stay closer to the airport if you’re a young couple and want to stay somewhere a bit less touristy.
Phuket Town Is One of the Only Exceptions
One of the few exceptions to this ‘stay on Phuket’s west coast’ suggestion is Phuket City, also known as Phuket Old Town. This is Phuket’s main city and it’s on the east coast next to Rassada Harbour. This is where all the boats to Koh Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, and Krabi depart.
It has lots of cafes, art galleries, museums, and cultural activities which are very different from the activities and vibes in other parts of Phuket. Its 19th-century Sino-Portuguese architecture is totally unique and is somewhere you should visit if you want a break from the beach.
Cover Your Shoulders and Knees in Phuket Temples
There are many Buddhist temples in Phuket. Some of the most popular temples to visit are Wat Chalong and Wat Ladthi Wanaram as well as the Big Buddha. It’s important to always respect other cultures when visiting holy places and follow their dress codes.
Everyone of all genders must cover their shoulders and chest. Women must also cover their knees but men can wear shorts to most temples. The temples with the strictest rules don’t allow anyone to show their knees and also don’t allow scarves as a chest and shoulders cover-up.
Some temples have pieces of cloth you can loan either for free or for a fee and some clothing stalls often set up shop outside of temples in the hopes that they will get business from unprepared tourists. You can avoid potentially not being allowed into the temples by wearing a simple t-shirt and a maxi skirt or long trousers. Those elephant pants that tourists wear around Thailand are perfect!
Book Your Phuket Airport Taxi Through Your Hotel
Let’s say you are staying in Karon Beach during your beach vacation to Phuket. It’s around 45 km from Phuket International Airport which takes around 90 minutes to drive depending on traffic. That’s a long journey and if you don’t pre-arrange transport, you might pay a hefty fee to hire a taxi driver on the spot. Buses in Phuket are slow, infrequent, and can be confusing for travellers.
But many resorts and hotels offer to add on a taxi pick-up when you book your accommodation. Take it! It’s usually much cheaper and you won’t have to worry about how you’re getting to your hotel when you land.
Koh Phi Phi Is Further From Phuket Than It Looks
Many travellers want to visit Koh Phi Phi on a day trip when they visit Phuket. It’s one of the closest smaller islands to Phuket and doesn’t look too far away on the map. But depending on the boat and the season, ferry crossings can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. Check the duration of the sail when you book your ferry ticket from Rassada Harbour so you don’t end up travelling for four hours on your day trip.
Phang Nga Bay Is Worth the Distance from Phuket
Phang Nga Bay is home to many small islands off the northeast coast of Phuket. It’s where you’ll find James Bond Island (it appeared in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun), canoe rides, and floating villages. And if it looks quite far from Phuket, it is!
For a day trip, you will likely get picked up from your hotel around 7 am and travel in a minibus to somewhere like Ao Por Pier and then get in a speedboat to hop around the islands. After a jam-packed day of activities, you might return home around 6 pm or later. It’s a long day, but it’s absolutely worth it!
Choose Phuket’s Ethical Elephant Activities
There are lots of places all around Thailand, including Phuket, where you can ride elephants. It’s a popular activity and widely advertised. But the spines of elephants are not made to carry people and can lead to permanent injuries. Plus, the method of taming the elephant or ‘breaking its spirit’ as its called is a cruel process so you should avoid riding elephants in Phuket.
Luckily, these centres are slowly closing down as more people become aware of the cruelty and there are still lots of ways to see elephants in an ethical environment. At the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and Phuket Eco Elephant Park, you might have the opportunity to wash and even feed elephants.
Bring the Two-Pronged Plug Socket Adapters to Phuket
If you’ve never visited Asia or Thailand before, you might not own the correct travel adapters for your electrical items! You will need electrical items with plug type A which is commonly used in the US, Canada, and China. This is has two flat parallel pins and Thailand has a supply voltage of 230V supply voltage and 50Hz.
Phuket’s Overall Crime Rate Is Very Low
Is Phuket safe for tourists? Absolutely! Violent crime rates are very low, especially in popular tourist destinations. The only concerns you should have are travel scams and pickpocketing.
But you should still use your common sense and not walk in dimly lit areas at night by yourself, especially if you’ve never visited them before.
Buy Dried Fruit and Thai Silk as Souvenirs in Phuket
If you’re wondering what things to buy in Thailand (Phuket, in particular) then dried fruit and Thai silk make great local souvenirs and gifts. Sealed dried jackfruit and durian (an infamously smelly fruit you can find everywhere in Thailand!) are allowed on hand luggage and checked luggage. And Thai silk clothing is cheap and you can find it in markets.
Recommended tours in Phuket
- Phi Phi Islands Adventure Day Trip with Seaview Lunch by V. Marine Tour
- Phang Nga Bay Sea Cave Canoeing & James Bond Island w/ Buffet Lunch by Big Boat
- Phuket Thai Cooking Class
- Phuket Old Town Food Tour for 8 Exclusive Guests
- A Morning with the Elephants at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
- Phuket Best Half Day City Tour (SHA Plus)
- Hype Boat Club: Phuket ‘s Most Stylish & Unique Catamaran Experience
- Canoe Cave Explorer Phang Nga Bay Tour from Phuket
- Phuket Instagram Tour: The Most Famous Spots (Private & All-Inclusive)
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