Phuket is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia and the world, literally attracting millions of tourists every year, to a point that the island’s airport is sometimes finding it difficult to cope with the large numbers of scheduled arrivals and departures. However, as with any vacation to a foreign place, a holiday on Phuket requires some careful planning and analysis, as well as a decent knowledge of what to do and what to avoid doing while there in order to ensure the perfect experience most people dream of before leaving. The following is merely a short guide on how to plan a trip to Phuket, as well as what to do once arriving there.
Before comfortably thinking about the luxurious beaches, warm waters and great sun on Phuket, one must start off planning a trip to the island by deciding on the best time to go there. Traditionally, the island’s high season is between October and April, when the North-East monsoon season brings a cooler weather with fewer rains to the region. The best bet is, in fact, between November and March, when average temperatures on the island vary between 24 and 32 degrees Centigrade and the cool breezes and less humid climate make going out very pleasurable. New Year’s time is usually the fullest period for tourism and bookings during this interval, as well as the rest of the high season, should be made well in advance to avoid disappointment. The island can also be visited reasonably well between the hot months of April and May, when average temperatures can go as high as 36 degrees Centigrade, but the best time during the low season can be enjoyed between September and October when, despite the very common heavy showers, some amount of sunshine and outdoor activities can be easily enjoyed. However, if going during this time, when hotel rates are at their lowest, it might be a good idea to avoid swimming too far off the beach, especially in the more isolated areas, due to the particularly strong underwater currents.
When planning, one should also consider the visa requirements for Thailand. While New Zealanders, Swedish and South Koreans do not require a visa to enter or transit the country, most other nationalities do, therefore it is advisable to consult an Embassy or a Consulate of Thailand to see whether a tourist or a transit visa is applicable for any individual situation.
Travel and accommodation arrangements should also be made in due time in order to avoid disappointment or last-minute high prices. Getting to Phuket can be achieved by land, sea or air, with both direct and connection flights available from virtually anywhere in the world to Phuket International Airport, including from Bangkok Airport. For Phuket hotel reservations, the best option is to book online prior to departure regardless of whether planning to visit Phuket in the high or the low season. High season bookings made in time will avoid the hassle of trying to find alternative arrangements when the main options are unavailable, while reserving rooms via the Internet during the off season may bring special prices or offers that are only valid online. Additionally, using the web to find a hotel will help in choosing one that is in an area perfectly suitable with individual preferences. As Phuket is a very popular destination, there is a very large array of prices, comfort and luxury in its resorts, along with a variety of locations to choose from, depending on whether a quiet, secluded vacation or a social, partying holiday is sought after. Parents can also look at family resorts, where various entertainment and educational activities are often set in place for their children, ensuring a good time is had by everyone.
Finally, before departing, it is important to consider a few more aspects, such as clothing and medication. Light clothes are most recommended for a visit to Phuket regardless of the time of the year when it takes place, as the island tends to be warm most of the time. Shorts, T-shirts and sandals are the most common attire for tourists during daytime and do not invade upon the local culture or dressing codes. The wardrobe for the night can include casual pants and short-sleeved shirts for men or simple dresses and skirts for women, but dressing up for special occasions is quite unusual. Nudity is often frowned upon and should at most times be avoided, with this including sunbathing topless for women. In terms of other items, legal and prescription drugs can be brought along, as can up to one litre of spirits and 200 cigarettes. Commonly recognised international currencies are recommended for cash, as exchange offices can be found all around the island.
Once in Phuket, the first thing to do is get from the airport to the hotel. One way this can be done is via prior discussion with the hotel where the stay will be, as most resorts have vehicles and drivers available for transporting their guests to and from the airport, sometimes free of charge. If this is not an option or is an undesirable one, a good alternative are the taxis and minivans that can be hired from one of the offices that precede the public arrivals area.
This can be done by filling out a form including the name and number of people to be transported and the destination for an appropriate fixed fee that depends on the chosen resort or hotel. The amount charged depends on the means of transport chosen and can vary from around 100 baht for a minivan to Patong to about 600 baht for a taxi to the same destination.
Finally, cars can also be privately hired from one of the offices at the airport or even online prior to arrival, so that they wait for pick-up as early as landing. This requires a valid national – from the country of origin – or international driving licence for stays shorter than three months or a Thai one for longer stays. Before departing the airport, it might also be a good idea to buy a map of the island from one of the kiosks or information desks in the terminal. It would also be good to look for a travel adaptor for Thai plugs at this time if bringing along electrical equipment. The standard voltage is 220 volts, but the outlets may not be compatible with those from the country of origin.
Once around the island, it is a good idea to speak at least some English, as this is the most widely used language around apart from Thai. Having a credit card can also be very useful, as most ATMs accept Visa or Mastercard cards from all over the world and this will be the cheapest method of obtaining Thai baht. Although there are numerous exchange offices everywhere on the island and traveller’s cheques can also be cashed in, using liquidities will lead to greater expenses due to commissions and higher exchange rates than those offered by ATMs.
Public transport may be an issue for first-time tourists, as the island is heavily tourist-oriented and there are many tour buses, taxis and tuk-tuks charging quite heavily to get foreigners from one place to another, especially over longer distances. The public transportation system, on the other hand, is more locally-oriented and does not benefit from a comprehensible route map yet, making it difficult for beginners to understand it. Additionally, it seldom offers options for getting to places outside Phuket Town, where locals do not usually need to go.
In terms of food, Phuket offers options from all over the world, with French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Mexican, vegetarian or halal food being just a few of the available choices, depending on the diner of preference.
From exquisite restaurants to pavement cafés and from groovy eateries to mobile vendors, all sorts of diets and standards can be respected, although the ideal choice should always respect the legal hygiene requirements and display certificates stating so.
A more difficult choice when visiting Phuket, however, is what to see, especially if one is there for the first time and doesn’t know what is going on during that time of year.
Festivals such as the Songkran – the Thai New Year – or the Chinese Vegetarian Festival, which occur on a yearly basis, should not be missed if one is there during them and most other events can and should be checked online prior to departure. Nevertheless, some of the major attractions on the island are the uniquely picturesque Phang Nga bay and the superb viewpoints in Kata, Nai Harn and Panwa, all of which offer spectacular natural landscapes to the delight of any tourist. Phuket’s Old Town should also be a point of interest due to its unique Sino-Portuguese architecture and funky atmosphere.
The Simon Cabaret and FantaSea shows are two further daily events that are worth at least a first-time visit and most tourists will reserve at least one evening for each. Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing, will represent another interesting spectacle for sporting enthusiasts, while snorkelling and diving can be practised either with hired or with owned equipment on many sites around the island and its reefs. The Big Buddha and Wat Chalong Temple in Chalong are some other noteworthy places to visit for those seeking to explore the country’s culture, while the Bangla Road night-life on Patong Beach should be interesting for any party-lover.
Just check our page, What to do in Phuket to find a lot of activities.
Last but not least, there’s the safety issue that any tourist wonders about before going to a foreign place. Is Phuket safe? There is no short answer to this question because, as with any other place in the world, there are a few things the mindful tourist should look out for in order to avoid any unpleasant experiences during a stay. Touts selling services or offering assistance in tourist areas may often cause annoyance and unnecessary expenses to those falling into their traps, although they are unlikely to cause physical harm. Pickpockets, drive-by motorcycle thieves and people who drug lone tourists by offering them snacks, sweets or drinks filled with various substances in order to steal from them are all dangers that should be noted, so valuables should be kept safe at all times and carrying large amounts of money or speaking to complete strangers should be avoided. Hygiene can be an issue in some restaurants or pubs, while water currents can represent a serious threat even to the most experienced swimmers, particularly between the monsoon months of July and October on the island’s west coast. However, one should be safe if using common sense and not venturing in unknown or sketchy places.
All in all, a visit to Phuket should always be preceded by careful planning, in order to save as much as possible on transport and accommodation and have as many funds as possible for the actual stay. In turn, the latter should always be guided by common sense, while always keeping an eye out for the best and most fun events of the time. Phuket offers something for anyone, and it is up to every individual tourist to decide which attractions – of those presented and more – suit them best and will make the experience of visiting the island truly unforgettable.