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Phuket Travel Info

Phuket Island (pronounced puu gèt) (ภูเก็ต) , is Thailand’s largest at 48km in length and 21km at its widest. It’s in Southern Thailand, on the west-facing Andaman Sea coastline, suspended from the southern tip of Phang Nga Province by a pair of short but substantial road bridges.

Regions

Western Phuket (Bang Thao, Kamala, Karon, Kata, Laem Sing, Mai Khao, Nai Thon and Nai Yang, Patong, Surin)
This region is what Phuket is known for the world over. There is a wide variety of beaches, some calm, some totally ruined by millions of visitors each year. Patong is one of the party capitals of Asia.

Southeastern Phuket (Chalong Bay, Cape Panwa, Nai Han, Rawai, Ya Nui)
Slightly off-beat beaches that are worth the trip. Chalong Bay is the largest town that acts as a harbour for outgoing boats to Phi Phi island and others south islands.

Interior Phuket (Bang Rong, Ko Sire, Phuket Town, Phra Taew National Park, Thalang)
Besides Phuket Town, the interior of Phuket is pretty much unvisited by foreign visitors. This fertile hilly expanse consists of mangrove forests, fishing villages, rubber and pineapple plantations, small Muslim communities and shrimp farms. The Phra Taew National Park is a nice escape from the tourist crowds, as is the Gibbon Project.

Small islands southern-eastern Phuket and Phang Nga Bay (Ko Bon, Ko Hae, Ko Lon, Ko Mai Thon, Ko Racha, Ko Maphrao, Ko Naka, Ko Yao, Ko Panyi, Ko Tapu (James Bond Island))
Famous for its beautiful beaches, clear water, coral forests, pearl farm, limestone cliffs, caves, mangroves, fishing villages and national park.

Cities

Chalong Bay — home to Phuket’s most popular yacht anchorage and the primary gateway to the islands off Phuket
Kamala — a quieter beach to the north of Patong
Karon — the second most-developed beach after Patong
Kata — busy, clean tourist beaches with good surf, split into Kata Yai and Kata Noi Beaches
Nai Thon and Nai Yang — two quiet beaches in Sirinat National Park
Patong — the largest beach resort, known for its night life
Phuket Town — the administrative centre of the province, and the island’s main population centre
Rawai — set off point for lots of local islands, popular with locals for eating on the water front
Surin — an up-and-coming up-market destination

Climate

Phuket is hot and humid throughout the year. The hot season is generally considered to be from March to early May. During the summer monsoon season from May to October, mornings and afternoons are still sunny and clear, but it tends to rain in the evenings and water clarity goes down. Locals consider November to February the “cool” season, and the weather is quite tolerable, much more so than in the tourism centres around the Gulf coast. It’s comparable to Florida’s summer weather in temperature and intensity of rain storms: 25-33°C, flying clouds, short and thunderous rainfalls in the afternoons and evenings. Surfing is possible off the western beaches.

Culture

Phuket is a melting pot of indigenous Thais, Thai-Chinese, ethnic Malays and even sea gypsies. The majority of the population in the rural areas is Muslim. Outside of the provincial town, the rural folk speak with a thick Southern dialect which is difficult for even other Thais to understand. The provincial town’s economy having boomed over the past decade has led to a lot of the youngsters leading similar lives to those in Bangkok. Altogether, the lifestyle of the urban Sino-Thais in Phuket resembles that of their counterparts in Bangkok.

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 local 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 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.

Most operate from the local market at Ranong Road (Talad Sod 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 eg. travelling 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 travellers will immediately be set upon by the rip-off tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. Tourists beware!

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 to 200 m you will find the local bus stop.

By taxi

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 1km runs.

Metered taxis are a much better option when available, being safer, more comfortable, and usually cheaper than tuk-tuks. However, they are 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 highly recommended you insist your hotel gives you taxi meter phone number and keep on the front desk. Take the taxi meter land line number from the yellow booth at the right had side of ground floor of airport before you depart, approximately 150 meters to right as you exit arrivals. Use and promote metered taxis and give numbers to hotels and post to trip advisor to help others be safe.

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 foreigners 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.

Motorcycle and scooter rentals start at around 200 baht/day, coming down to 150 baht/day for rentals of a week or more. Although both drivers and pillion passengers are required to wear helmets, this rule is sometimes ignored by locals, and tourists riding around without one are more likely to be taxed 300-500 baht (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 fined, 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 Road, Chalong Circle and the northern 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 economical one 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,phuket taxi, National and Sixt are located within walking distance of the airport (across the road). Bookings can be made online for these. Reputable local car rental companies such as Braun Car Rentals, phuket airport transferare 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 little or no insurance, so take extra care if you decide to opt for the motorbike option.

By boat

For a bit of island hopping the longtail boats are a great way to do so. Prices must be negotiated and are approximately 500 baht per hour or no more than 1,800 baht per day.

Swimming, snorkelling, diving, yachting, jet-skiing and parasailing are the most popular activities on the island. Other activities include Freediving, windsurfing, kite surfing, wakeboarding and deep sea fishing. Popular kite surfing locations include Nai Yang in summer and Chalong Bay in winter season. Sea Canoeing is a popular activity in the Phang Nga Bay, as many grottoes are only accessible by canoe.

One day tours to the islands around Phuket

There are several small beautiful islands around Phuket such as Phang-nga bay, Phi-Phi island, Khai island, Racha island, Hae island or Coral island, Maiton island.etc. It is possible to charter boat to those islands from Rassada pier or Chalong pier, but may be too much expensive, so to buy the one day tour is a good idea.

Many tour agencies sell all-inclusive day tours from all over Phuket, and most everywhere else on Phuket Island. Prices for join group tours range from 900 baht/person to 3,900 baht/person. Quality and safety seem to match the prices paid.

The cheaper speedboat tours take approx. 30-35 passengers per 2-engine speedboat and 50-60+ passengers on 3-engine speedboats. Very cheap tours take over 100 people in a speedboat.

The higher-end tours take approx 15 to 18 passengers on 2-engine speedboats. Insist on knowing the exact number of guests that will be on the boat. Keep in mind that tour desks will tell you anything to get your money, as they receive up to 65% commissions from the lower-end tours. It is always best to contact the company running the tour directly to ensure that you are getting what you pay for.

The more people on the boat the longer it takes to get on and off at each stop, decreasing the time one gets to spend off the boat. A packed boat is not very fun or safe when there are large waves.

Swimming, sun bathing and surfing

Most beaches on the west coast are wide, containing white sand and clear waters, especially after the monsoon season (November-April). It is suitable to swim or sun bathe. You can do those activities in front of your hotel. Those who stay in town, can reach the beaches by local bus, rental car or motorbike. However,there are big waves during the monsoon season. It is too dangerous to swim at that time. Only surfing is advisable.

Freediving

Phuket is the beating heart of diving in Thailand and has recently become the center of activity in the emerging Southeast Asian Freediving scene. It is also the home of the area’s only AIDA Instructor Training Center.

Most freediving trips go out with SCUBA dive boats to the well-known dive sites, but some freediving off the beach is also possible. The local operators are usually very happy to find like-minded divers and will happily give pointers.

Snorkelling

Snorkelling can be enjoyed in sheltered bays all around Phuket. It is particularly enjoyable at easily accessible reefs at Patong, Karon and Kata beaches. Fins, mask and snorkel can be rented on a daily basis from shops all over the island. Full and half day trips are available to the islands surrounding Phuket. Most popular are Ko Hae, Ko Racha Yai, Ko Khai (a hidden gem in the Phang Nga Bay), and Ko Phi Phi. There are many tours available at very cheap rates and the speedboats will be filled with up to 65 people. Research your options before signing up for any tour.

Diving

Phuket has some decent dive sites and is the centre of diving in Thailand. Most dive sites are off nearby islands, but distances are fairly short and there are dozens of dive shops and boats to cater to your needs, mostly based near Chalong Bay. The reefs around the area are in a healthy condition with both solid hard corals and colorfully soft corals. There is also an abundance of marine life. Most of the dive locations are suitable for all levels of divers but there are also some that are quite deep.

The most well-known dive site in the Phuket area is Racha Yai with its sloping rocky reefs and its plenitude of solid coral forests. It is home to Ter Bay where there is an exciting wreck in the depths of 25-35 meters. The island south of Racha Yai, Racha Noi, is a haven for experienced divers as the depths are greater and the currents stronger. The overall topography is strikingly different from Racha Yai with huge granite boulders. The diving in Racha Noi compared to Racha Yai is definitely more challenging but the rewards are far greater.

Just off Phuket, is the limestone island of Ko Doc Mai that soars vertically from the sea-bed. It is home to a diversity of fish and offers the opportunity to view leopard sharks, moray eels, octopus and turtles. Phuket can also function as a base for dives further afield, such as Ko Phi Phi. Diving in Phuket’s warm clear blue waters is best from mid-October to May, when the calm seas and rain free days make Phuket diving a truly unique experience.

Snuba diving is the safest and easiest way to try diving on holiday in Phuket. Popular in Hawaii, the Carribbean, Mexico, and Japan, Snuba gives an introduction into the world of diving. No certification required, children 8+, just like scuba diving except easier. SNUBA trips go to most Phuket dive sites. No heavy equipment to wear, no long classes, maximum depth of 7 meters, professional dive guides accompany each group.

Sailing and yachting

Phuket has become the sailing and yachting center of Thailand and adjacent countries. It’s the home of Six the Senses Phuket Raceweek  King’s Cup Regatta, Phang Nga Bay Regatta, the Phuket International Boat Show (PIMEX), four marinas, two yacht clubs, Ao Chalong Yacht Club (ACYC) and Phuket Yacht Club (PYC) and some well-sheltered anchorages which are teeming with yachts. The marinas are all located at the eastern side of the island which makes them an ideal starting point to explore the natural wonders of Phang Nga Bay. An entire fleet of traditional junk-rigged boats is located there, offering day trips. But as well real sailing yachts are on offer for this.

Phuket has sailing yachts of virtually every size and for all budgets on offer to explore the surrounding beautiful islands on a yacht charter. With the recent increase in Phuket’s popularity as a tourist destination, the range of companies offering sailing trips and boat charters have increased as well. It is recommended to chose an established, reputable charter company with a good safety track record.

Small sailing craft like Hobie Cats and Lasers are available at most of the tourist hot spots on the west side, e.g. Patong and Kata.

Spa

It is no exaggeration to note that Phuket is now one of the most popular spa destinations in the world, home to secret oasis of comfort and pleasure that are difficult to leave when the time comes. Everything is available here for those into the spa and wellness scene, be it a one-hour massage down the street for US$10, or two weeks at one of the most exclusive spas in the world.

  • Oasis Spa – this chain has a spa in Kata, Kamala, and Laguna.

Getting married in Phuket

Phuket has become a sought after destination for people getting married. Undeniably romantic with an abundance of stunning locations not just necessarily on the beach but also in luxury ocean view villas and resorts. Combining both the stag or hen do, the wedding ceremony, party and honeymoon all in one Island location has proved that Phuket continues to grow in this market.

Telephone

The area code for Phuket is 076. You only need to dial the 0 if you’re calling from within Thailand. Pay phones are rare since most Thais have a mobile phone. Phuket has very good mobile phone coverage, albeit over slower 2G/2.5G GSM networks. Pay-as-you-go (pre-paid) SIM cards can be purchased for a few hundred baht, and local call charges range from 1 to 3 baht per minute depending on the package.

If you arrive by air, the easiest way to buy a local pre-paid (pay-as-you-go) SIM card is to go to the True Move booth in the airport. They will give you a free, pre-paid SIM card, with a booklet instructing you how to activate and use it. Calling voice is much cheaper than sending an SMS. You can top up the card at any 7-Eleven or convenience store.

Mobile Internet is available from all providers, with True Move offering 3G access from a limited network of base stations on the eastern coast, including Patong, Kata and Karon. All other networks offer EDGE and/or GPRS access, so don’t expect fast Internet connections on your mobile device. For e-mail and basic surfing GPRS speeds are normally fine, but access to websites hosted outside Thailand can be slow.

Unlike many western countries, Thai networks bill mobile internet usage by duration rather than bandwidth, with PAYG users paying around 1 baht per minute. Most networks have PAYG monthly unlimited GPRS deals for around 750 baht, and you can easily purchase a SIM and the Internet package at one of the numerous phone shops around Phuket.

If you don’t have a pressing need to use the Internet everywhere, wait till you’re back at your accommodation and then use their Wi-Fi. This saves you money because you don’t have to buy an internet SIM package.

Mail

If you want to send mail, post offices and parcel services are widely available. In Phuket Town, there is a post office at the corner of Phang Nga Road and Montri Road. In Patong, there is one at the appropriately named Soi Post Office, a side-street of Thavee Wong Road (near Molly Malone’s).

Medical Tourism

Phuket, Thailand’s Pearl of the South, is a choice many people from overseas make for medical and dental tourism as the cost is usually much lower than in their home country for these. There are a number of decent hospitals, including JCI-accredited Bangkok Hospital Phuket and Phuket International Hospital.[30] These hospitals have experienced, professional medical staff, modern state-of-the-art equipment and premier services, such as international departments and translation services for visitors from many countries.

Other major medical facilities on the island designed to cater to and care for medical tourists from overseas include Mission Hospital Phuket, Patong Hospital, and Bangkok International Clinic.

As far as elective procedures are concerned, such as a number of cosmetic and reconstructive procedures, Phuket has a number of hospitals, clinics, and medical facilities which do these.

Stay safe

Particularly in the summer monsoon season, there are strong currents on many of the beaches and drownings are a depressingly common occurrence; four tourists died during a single 3-day stretch in June 2009. Heed the warning flags on popular beaches and play it safe if off the beaten track.

Crime as of late has definitely increased in the Phuket area among tourists and you should keep this in mind and be vigilant of anyone who wants to befriend you or trick you into gambling (which is illegal) and anything else you consider out of the ordinary. Katoeys (ladyboys) are notorious for pick pocketing as you walk around the tourist areas at night. Also muggings do take place regularly. Avoid walking down unlit sois; stick to the main roads. If something looks/sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Tourist Police can be contacted locally by dialling 1155. They have a good basic understanding of English, so if in trouble these people should be contacted. Thai police speak hardly any English and normally take the side of the locals even if it is their fault. Always insist on the Tourist Police if you have any run-in with the Thai police. Use only metered taxis and ask hotels to call, take down driver licence plate and taxi registration numbers before you board. You can use the receipt from taxis to complain to police or find lost property, so take a receipt and licence numbers.

Stay healthy

Tap water is generally not potable. Liquids from sealed bottles nearly always are, and should be used wherever possible. Take care in restaurants and bars. Some may use untreated/unsafe tap water to make ice for drinks that otherwise have bottled/safe ingredients. Some residents claim that ice with round holes is made by commercial ice makers who purify their water; others state that it is wise not to rely on that claim. Tap water in most hotels should not be used for drinking unless explicitly labelled as safe.

Hospitals

  • Bangkok Hospital Phuket (โรงพยาบาลกรุงเทพภูเก็ต), 1719, 076354062
  • Mission Hospital (โรงพยาบาลมิชชั่น), 07623722026 (fax: 076211907). Emergency call 076237227 
  • Patong-Kathu Hospital (โรงพยาบาลป่าตองกะทู้), 076342633-4 (fax: 076340617). Emergency call 0 7634 0444  
  • Phuket International Hospital or Siriroj Hospital (โรงพยาบาลศิริโรจน์), 076249400 (fax: 076210936)
  • Thalang Hospital (โรงพยาบาลถลาง), 076311111, 076311033
  • Vachira Phuket Hospital (โรงพยาบาลวชิระภูเก็ต), 1669, 076361234 (fax: 076211155)