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General Overview Phuket

Going To Phuket

Flights to Phuket International Airport come in from many airports in the region and include direct charters to Europe and Australia. Low-cost direct connections are available from cities like Macau, Seoul and Busan too.

Several domestic airlines fly to Phuket from Donmueang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. There are no direct train services to Phuket, but you can hop on one of the sleeper trains leaving Bangkok’s central station, or a public BKS bus at Bangkok’s Southern and North-Northeastern Bus Terminal.

If you are driving to Phuket, it is connected to the mainland by the Thao Thepkasattri Bridge. Ferries and speedboats to Phuket are the way to go if you are entering from the neighbouring islands.

Accommodation in Phuket

Accommodation in Phuket has choices aplenty, but you are advised to book at least a couple of months earlier during the high season from November to May if you are eyeing hotels and resorts in popular locations. Online bookings are usually cheaper, with best rates guaranteed, compared to walk-ins. As a guide, the lowest air-con room rates begin at around 1,000 baht in beachside areas and 500 baht away from the beach. Resort rates start go from just under 100 USD and up.

You can also rent two to three bedroom furnished houses and luxury villas at a range of prices, depending on the season, location and size. Another alternative is the homestay, thanks to the rise of accommodation-sharing sites like Airbnb.

In general, lodgings in town are cheaper than those near the beach. Those who are not looking to splurge can head to the budget hotels and hostels near Phuket Bus Terminal 1 around Old Town. From there, the beach is still accessible by bus or rental motorbike.

Getting around Phuket

Public transport is very limited in Phuket. A radial bus network links Phuket Town to the beach towns. Most lines operate at half-hour intervals with songthaews, which are converted pick-ups serving as buses. Drop offs can be requested and there are no set stops. Do note that there are no cross-beach connections.

Phuket has three types of taxi – many songthaew-style minivans, called tuk-tuks, a smaller number of sedan-style cabs and random vehicles serving unofficial taxis. Tuk-tuks have no meter and hard bargaining is usually required or you will risk getting overcharged. Metered cabs are safer, comfortable and usually cheaper. However, they may be harder to find, so it is highly recommended that you arrange one by phone.

Motorcycle taxis, with drivers sporting fluorescent numbered vests, are another way to travel short distances in Phuket. Phuket car or motorcycle rentals are also available, but the roads are often chaotic and accident-prone because of poor adherence to traffic rules, road markings and reckless behaviour.

Island-hopping is done by longtail boats or ferries. Some are available for charter at a higher cost but buying one-day pass will be more economical.

Currency of Phuket

The currency in Phuket is the Thai Baht. Currency exchange booths are usually open 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Entry Requirements

All tourists entering Phuket and other parts of Thailand must possess a passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond their intended length of stay. Most visitors to Phuket will clear the immigration checkpoints at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport or Phuket International Airport.

A visa is not necessary for many tourists (do check the Visa Exemption list) who are there for less than 30 days. Those who need one may apply for a Visa on Arrival, which is valid for 15 days at the cost of 15 baht. A 60-day Tourist Visa must be applied from the Royal Thai Embassy if you wish to reside for a longer period.

Climate

There are two seasons in Phuket: dry and wet. The dry season takes place between December and April, after which rainfall increases. Temperatures are consistent around 30°C, with some humidity.

Phuket’s Cuisine

Food in Phuket

Food is easy to come by in Phuket, with a bevy of options to suit different palates. There is a particular emphasis on seafood in its local cuisine, which often features fried or boiled noodles, spices, smoked shrimp and fresh vegetables. Cashew nuts and pineapples are widely available native produce that are also used in food preparation.

Phuket Chinese, Peranakan and Malay food are also common due to the province’s diverse heritage; expect dishes like Hokkien noodles, tamarind prawns, pork cooked in dark soya sauce, fried glutinous rice and fried oyster omelette. Other cuisines, such as Japanese and Western, contribute to the cosmopolitan food selection in Phuket – especially in Patong, where many foreigners have set up restaurants.

Nightlife in Phuket
Phuket’s bustling night scene is second only to Pattaya’s out of Thailand’s beach resorts. Check out legendary Patong, the undisputed centre of the Phuket’s nightlife activity. All the main action takes place along Soi Bangla, with a mix of restaurants, bars, discos, live music clubs and cabarets.

Performances by ladyboys can be seen at Soi Katoey or Soi Crocodile; they will be glad to pose for a photo or two in their costumes in-between shows. Besides Patong, the nightspots at likes of Mamala, Karon, Kata, Phuket City and Rawai pulsate with partygoers too – perhaps with more local flavour when compared to tourist-filled Patong.

Things to do in Phuket

Phuket Shopping

From open-air food markets, street stalls and local bazaars to departmental stores and upmarket brand stores, shopaholics will rejoice at the variety of shopping options offered in Phuket. Antiques, handicrafts, housewares, batik, jewellery, thai silk and pearls are just some examples of what you can take home from this shopper’s paradise.

Located just outside Phuket Town, Phuket Weekend Market is a spread of secondhand goods, DVDs, t-shirts, sporting goods and more. Take the chance to sample the wide selection of delicious roadside snacks, like spicy sausages, grilled chicken, succulent corn on the cob, fish cakes and even deep-fried insects! Another similar option is Karon Plaza in the central area of Karon Beach Road on the western coast of Phuket Island. Located by the beach, it is a great place for an evening stroll. If you’re in Phuket Old Town, you should also shop at Phuket Walking Street (Lardyai or “big market”), a weekly market in the historical Sino-Portuguese district along Thalang Road. Expect a variety of southern Thai food and local crafts for sale. There is even a trampoline to keep kids entertained.

If you prefer air-conditioned malls, Central Festival Phuket and Jungceylon Shopping Mall are both excellent options. Widely regarded as the islands main shopping hub, Central has more than 120 outlets selling cosmetics, luxury goods, apparels, furniture, kitchenware, mobile phones, gadgets and more. The same goes for Jungceylon. Both malls also have a host of entertainment outlets, like a cinema and bowling alley. If branded goods are on your list, the prices at Premium Outlet Phuket on Bypass Road will not disappoint, with discounts of up to 70 percent.

Bargaining is not applicable anywhere except at markets, small shops or street vendors. Shoppers should also be mindful of touting taxi drivers and guides who offer to bring you on shopping tours. Do be aware of your Value Added Tax entitlements as well, and prepare the relevant forms for customs checks.

Places to Visit In Phuket 

Phuket-Beach-HotelsPhuket is a stunning holiday destination that will extend your horizons. The famous Patong beach is 15 kilometres from Phuket Town and hosts many of Phuket’s hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and other tourist attractions. Hit the sands for watersports like surfing, sailing, diving and snorkling! Patong’s famed nightlife centered around Soi Bangla is not to be missed. A romantic sunset viewing spot is Kalim, at the northern end of Patong Bay. The tides there are perfect for surfing between April and September every year.

Karon beach, the second largest beach in Phuket, is home to large resort complexes and a coral reef stretching towards Kata and Bu Island from its southern point. The beach is expansive but undeveloped, unlike Patong. Ditto for Kamala Beach, with its coral reefs on the north side. This sleepy seaside Muslim village is abuzz with tourist activity during the surfing season. Catch the market every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for great bargains too.

Journey down South to Laem Phromthep (Phromthep Cape) and be rewarded with stunning views of what has been described as Phuket’s most dramatic sunset. This spot gives you panoramic views of the surrounding islands from the southern tip of the island to Nai Harn Beach, the Andaman Sea and the surrounding islands.

The Big Buddha is one of Phuket’s most iconic images, resting on Naka Kerd Mountain near Phuket Town. Standing at an impressive 45 metres, the statue is covered in white Burmese marble. Two other landmarks for history buffs are Two Heroines Monument, Wat Chalong and Thalang National Museum. Two Heroines Monument was built to commemorate the national heroines Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Sri Sunthon, who rallied the islands against the Burmese invasion in 1785. In Wat Chalong stands the cast statue of Luang Pho Cham, another hero who helped cease the Chinese Coolie Rebellion during Rama V’s reign in 1876. Near Two Heroines Monument, Thaland National Museum showcases an exhibition of life in old Phuket, wartime and ancient artefacts.

Phuket’s lush forests and abundant biodiversity will appeal to every nature lover. In Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Park, you will find a number of wild animals that would have otherwise done extinct in Phuket. The Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Conservation Development and Extension Centre is a center for environmental studies that aims to promote and distribute wildlife within the Park. Many different species of exotic butterflies and moths can be found in Phuket Butterfly Garden and Insect World, one of the last few butterfly gardens left in Thailand.

The limestone outcrop of the twin Phi Phi Islands towers just a 45-minute speedboat ride or 90-minute ferry ride from Phuket. The larger, uninhabited island, Phi Phi Don attracts hundreds who come to seek respite amidst its lovely beaches, beautiful rock formations and clear blue waters filled with colourful tropical marine life.

Water Activities, Snorkeling & Diving in Phuket

The clear, calm waters of the Andaman Sea are ideal for water sports like swimming, yachting, jet skiing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, fishing parasailing, snorkeling and diving. Nai Yang and Chalong Bay are popular kite surfing locations. The Phang Nga Bay is a good place for sea canoeing; many of its numerous grottoes are only accessible that way.

Ao Sane, Laem Singh, Kata Noi, Paradise Beach and Ya Nui have been cited as great snorkeling locations. Ao Sane is located next to Nai Harn Beach in the South, characterised by huge granite boulders and two very different snorkeling areas; a sharp drop out into deeper waters ride with parrot fish, clown fish and eels, and a stretch of coral just along the beach. Like Laem Singh, it is located in a touristy area with massage parlours, restaurants and the like. Kata Noi’s beautiful turquoise waters have earned it the status of one of Phuket’s loveliest beaches. Kata Noi, Ya Nui and Paradise Beach boast vivid corals of different configurations that beckon for exploration. Most beaches provide gear for rent.

The Phi Phi Islands – the smaller Phi Phi Leh, in particular – are outstanding snorkel destinations. Daily boat trips can take visitors who want a closer look at the sheer limestone walls and their caves and passages, as well as the islands’ shallow lagoons and coral formations. The Coral, Racha, Khai Nok and Similan islands are other offshore accessible the same way. The Similans are a pristine marine wonderland, world-famous for diving.

Rated amongst the top 10 diving destinations in the world, Phuket is a good place to achieve your PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certificate if you want to learn to dive or improve on your technique. Phuket diving day trips leave from the main island to the offshore islands, including the Phi Phi and Racha Islands daily throughout the year. The underwater scenery and the King Cruiser wreck close to Anemone Reef at Phi Phi are truly sights to divers to behold.

Those up for some excitement can dive at Phuket’s Shark Point to spot the leopard sharks living on the sandy seabed. Dive cruises to the Similan and Surin Islands will take you on a world-class scuba diving adventure, deeper into Andaman waters.

People & Culture

People in Phuket

Phuket’s extensive history has resulted in its diverse mix of ethnicities. Centuries ago, it was an important trading hub for Dutch, English, and French ships. Thousands of Chinese labourers were drawn to the tin mines on the island and their descendants remain, resulting in Phuket having the highest percentage of ethnic Chinese in Thailand now. Peranakans (“Phuket Babas“), or straits-born Chinese, are part of this community too. Malays also make up a large portion of the currently population as their ancestors thrived on the southern and coastal areas of the island as fishermen.
Other minority groups include the northern hill tribes, as well as Cambodian (Khmer) and Vietnamese refugees in the east. Sea gypsies, also known as Chao Leh, are a nomadic tribe living in Ban Sangka-Ou, in the southeast of Lanta Yai. Supposedly the very first dwellers of the Andaman coast, they still live close to the sea in their independent, tight-knit villages.

Just like most of Thailand, Buddhism is the dominant religion in Phuket. Many also practice Daoism and Islam. There are numerous shrines, temples and mosques around the island. The Chao Leh believe in their own form of animism, which is the worship of spirits believed to inhabit natural objects and phenomena. There is also small numbers of Christians and Hindus.

In addition to their hospitality and generosity, Thais are also known for their strong attention to social hierarchy. Seniority is a core concept in Thai culture and elders are always revered.

Languages in Phuket

Thai is the chief language in Phuket, with four regional dialects in use. Other languages include Lao, Chinese, Malay and Mon-Khmer. English is taught in schools and used frequently in government and commerce. Basic English is also widely spoken in areas with high tourist traffic. The Chao Leh retain their own language from the Malay-Indonesian family; this has no written form.

Design & Architecture

Although Phuket’s beaches are well-known, the busy Phuket city with its old architectural quarter, is often overlooked. Many resort hotels bear a structural resemblance to Penang, a former British Straits Settlement in Malaysia. Walk down the streets to appreciate the beauty of the Sino-Portuguese buildings (the Chinese row houses), the Sino-Colonial mansions, the ornate Chinese and Thai temples, and the public markets in old Phuket Town.

A five-footway, a sheltered walkway formed by joined front verandahs and framed by a series of arcades, is a common characteristic in Chinese row houses in Phuket. The facades are reminiscent of European neo-classical and Renaissance-style stucco designs. Their interiors and carved wooden furniture are a combination of Chinese, European and Straits Chinese motifs and fixtures. A long stretch of well-maintained Chinese row houses can be found along Thalang Road, formerly the most important trading street in the province. Some belong to coffee shops and diners, like China Inn Cafe and Restaurant. The same elaborate motifs can also be observed in the numerous Chinese shrines around the island.

By the late 1930s, the architecture in Phuket had evolved into a Sino-Colonial style that still incorporated decor from the earlier years. Early Chinese settlers, including Kor-Sim-Bi Na Ranong, Governor of Phuket and Sino-Thai businessman, were responsible for building intricately decorated hybrid mansions with their exquisite latticework at the entrance, narrow structures, arched windows and doors supported by Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns. You can see several examples of these along Dibuk Road, like Phuket Philatelic Museum, Phuket Provincial Hall and Nakorn Luang Thai Bank.

Many of the mansions and shophouses have been lovingly restored. Some still serve as residences for local families.

Cultural & Legal Restrictions

Like many people in Asian countries, Thais are extremely mindful of the concept of ‘face’; being able to maintain their own dignity and reputation is crucial, while ensuring the same for others. Losing your temper in public is considered a loss of face and should be avoided. Staying polite and lighthearted helps to diffuse social tension.

In Thailand, the head is considered the most spiritual body part, while the feet are considered the dirtiest. Locals make every effort to ensure that unclean feet are never cleaned in places where they wash other parts of their bodies, except in the shower. Do be mindful not to rinse your feet in washbasins meant for hands. Thais consider the bottoms of the feet to be offensive, so bear in mind not to point the bottom of your foot at someone when sitting on the floor or lying down. Stepping over people, food and books is also frowned upon; in fact, books are one of the most revered secular objects in Thai culture.

Patting a child’s head is a common act of friendliness and does not cause any offence, but this is different for adults, who will see it as a sign of disrespect and a violation of personal space. It is customary to remove all footwear before entering a house or temple. This applies to some shops and offices too; just look out for a collection of shoes at the entrance and add yours to the pile.

All statues and images of Buddha are considered sacred, so do refrain from posing with them or engaging in any behaviour that will deface or disrespect them in any way. Taking images of Buddha, deities and some antique artefacts from the country is prohibited by law, unless approval from the Fine Arts Department in Bangkok is given.

In general, visitors should be mindful of their conduct at places of worship. Revealing clothing at a temple or mosque is unacceptable. Legs, shoulders and cleavage should be covered at all times. If you are going to a mosque, long sleeves and headscarves are expected for women; men should wear hats. Pay attention to signs at the entrance that will show you what appropriate and inappropriate clothing is.

Buddhist monks are a common sight around Phuket and the rest of Thailand. As part of their vows, contact with women is strictly forbidden. Females are expected to make way for passing monks so that accidental contact does not happen; when passing an object or making a donation, a woman has to first give it to a man, who will in turn give it to a monk. Alternatively, you can place the objects at his feet or on a special cloth laid out for this purpose.

Thais are very patriotic and show tremendous respect for their beloved King and the Royal Family. Any show of disrespect. whether verbal or written, is a violation of the Lese Majeste laws and provides grounds for arrest – this includes vandalism of Thai currency. Do stand up whenever you hear the national anthem, for instance, in movie theatres of during a public event with a member of the Royal Family present.

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