Thailand’s largest island is also home to its most famous beaches and the party capital of Asia. Phuket may be one of the country’s smallest provinces, but the unwavering tourist arrivals have made it into one of the most prosperous. With year-round good weather, an eclectic cultural mix, turquoise seas, cosmopolitan food offerings, and lots of activities for both day and night, it is no surprise that so many people forget to leave “the pearl of the Andaman”.
Phuket became an important trading century during the late stages of the Age of Discovery, with the arrival of European powers to India and China, turning the straits of Malacca just south of Phuket into an important sea lane. The island started to be developed for its tin and rubber, traders of different backgrounds and ethnicities started to settle there, and the once sleepy home of sea gypsies started to transform into the world-famous beach resort it is today.
Like in most places in Thailand, the main religion in Phuket is Theravada Buddhism. Islam is followed by about 20 percent of the population, constituting an important community. Many rural areas are populated by Muslims, many of them ethnic Malays. Another important group and even more numerous group in the island is the Chinese community, mostly assimilated yet practising idiosyncratic varieties of Buddhism, steeped with Chinese folk traditions.
The culture of Phuket has become a melting pot of Thai, Chinese, and Malay cultures; and influenced heavily in recent times by a large expatriate population (according to some estimates at least 20 percent of the island residents), mainly of Western origin.
- PDA frowned-upon
- No touching (especially in head).
- Showing soles of feet or pointing with feet considered indecent and rude.
- No public raging or loss of face.
- Respect elderly and monks (who are not allowed to touch women).
Phuket is located approximately 863km south of Bangkok. The main island has an area of 543 square kilometres, slightly less than Singapore. Phuket experiences a tropical monsoon climate, with year-round hot temperatures and a “dry” season from December to March.
Phuket is a mountainous island, with only about a third of the territory being plains. The vegetation is dense, and substantial portions of the island are covered with rubber or palm oil plantations.
The northernmost corner of Phuket houses a 20 square kilometre rainforest reserve. A national park in the northwest coast houses a beach for sea turtles to lay their eggs.
Before you go
- Language: Thai, or Siamese, a language of the Tai–Kedai family closely related to Lao.
- Currency: Thai baht (thb)
- Time Zone: Indochina Time, utc+7
- Voltage: 220
- Electric Socket: Type A/B/C
- Local network sim cards are widely available and work on any unlocked phone in the gsm network.
- Prepaid cards sell for as little as $3 in convenience stores.
- A $15 card will get you a month’s worth of internet data and talk time.
- ATMs are widely available throughout Phuket, and they charge approximately $5 to every withdrawal with a foreign card.
- Usually no more than 20 notes or 20,000 baht can be withdrawn at once.
- Foreign exchange can be converted at banks and moneychangers at competitive rates.
- Kaeng matsaman (แกงมัสมั่น) – A yellow curry with spices uncommon in other Thai curries.
- Khanom chin (ขนมจีน) – A popular breakfast item, consisting of a bowl of thin rice noodles served with different stocks, green curry and chicken.
- Tom yam (ต้มยำ) – A sweet and sour soup, served with meat, usually shrimp or chicken.
- Sate (สะเต๊ะ) – Meat skewers served with peanut sauce.
In general, tipping is not customary in Thailand but feel free to show appreciation through small gratuities for great service.
- Taxis: Both Thais and expats commonly round up the fare to the nearest multiple of ten (e.g. a 51 baht fare would be rounded to 60 baht).
- Restaurants: It is customary to leave behind any loose change in coins as a tip or larger tips of 5%-10% in high-end restaurants
- Hotels: Tipping is not expected. Good tips include 20-50 baht for the porter who carried your bags up to your room, or 20 baht left under your pillow for the cleaner.
- Suggested Vaccinations: hepatitis A and typhoid
- Safety: Be wary of people offering free help. Phuket is mostly a safe and liveable place, there is little risk of being assaulted, but a number of scammers and touters operate illegal taxi schemes and overpriced tuk-tuks for tourists.
Tourist Police: 1155
Phuket International Hospital (private): 44 Chalermprakiat Ror 9 Rd, Phuket 83000, Tel: (+66) 76 249 400
Patong Hospital (private): Sainamyen Rd, Kathu, Kathu District, Phuket 83120, Tel: (+66) 76 342 633
- Hello (in general): Sa-wat-dee
- Excuse me. / Sorry: Koh-tohht
- Thank you: Kob-khun
- You’re welcome: Mi-penrai
- Good morning/evening: Sa-wat-dee-krahp
- Goodbye: Baai-baai
- How much is this?: Rak-ha-tao-rai
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Chai-yoh
- Bon appetit: Kin-hi-aroy
- Where’s the toilet?: Hong-nahm-nyu-nai
- Help!: Choo-wai-doo-wai
- I understand: Kao-jai-lao
- I don’t understand: Mi-kao-jai
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
North of the island is Phuket International Airport, receiving domestic flights, especially from Bangkok, and international flights from many cities in Southeast Asia, as well as seasonal flights from Europe. The airport is 32km away from Phuket Town and 39km away from Patong Beach. There are convenient air-con buses to both location for 100-120 baht ($3), and metered taxis for around 700 baht ($20). A recent crackdown on touts and illegal taxis has all but eradicated them.
As there are no direct rail links to Phuket, long-haul buses are a major source of transportation in and out of the island. The island boasts two bus terminals, both in Phuket Town. Buses to Bangkok take 13 hours and cost between 650-950 baht. Travel to/from Koh Samui can also be arranged for between 450-1,300 baht, with speedboats being the more expensive option.
Phuket has very few local buses, with songthaews (covered pick-up truck, red in colour) covering most routes. From the Ranong Road market in Phuket Town, most routes travel to the beaches every half-hour until around 6.00pm. There are no routes from beach to beach. Please be aware that on your return, drivers will usually drop you off not at the main terminal but somewhere in the middle of town where mercenary taxis and tuk-tuks will descend on you.
The tuk-tuks in Phuket have four wheels instead of the usual three, and are notoriously predatory and a hard bargain – you are better off avoiding them if possible. Metered taxis offered air conditioning and safety, but are difficult to find. Please request your hotel with several taxi phone numbers for arranging pick-ups. Note that during peak times, drivers will refuse to use meters and will demand flat fares instead. Motorcycle taxis, though available, are very unsafe, especially for long trips.
Phuket roads are by nature perilous, so be extremely cautious and consider carefully the decision to rent a motorcycle or a car. Although prices are accessible (a scooter is usually 200 baht/day and a sedan 1,200 baht/day), we recommend you practice your best defensive driving. In Thailand, cars drive on the left-hand side of the road, but motorcycles often drive on the wrong side of the road and accidents are common. Do not drink and drive, and carry an appropriate license. Please remember that at night the roads are much more dangerous, and even if you are sober, many other drivers are not.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.