Phuket is Thailand’s biggest island but it doesn’t exactly have an exotic feel with its overdeveloped towns and crowded beaches. However, it’s certainly one of Southern Thailand’s biggest drawcards and still boasts plenty of sights and activities to keep you entertained for days.
Even if you plan on avoiding Phuket for the quieter islands, it often pulls people in by it’s well-connected transport network. It’s easily reachable by bus from most major cities in Thailand and its international airport also has plenty of cheap flights to various destinations. Flights from Australia, in particular, are even better connected to Phuket than to Bangkok in high season.
So, if you plan on spending time in Phuket, or just find yourself passing through the island, here’s a quick travel guide to Phuket with all the information you’ll need.
When to go to Phuket
The peak tourist season on Phuket is from November to April when you’ll find the best weather. November to around February are the coolest months with clear blue skies most of the time and low humidity.
March to May are the hottest months and can be a little uncomfortable with high humidity and temperatures over 30.
May to October is the monsoon season. The island sees a fair bit of rain, but you’ll also find far fewer tourists and lower prices. This can be a nice alternative if you don’t mind some rain as the temperatures are still warm for most of the time.
How to get to Phuket
Phuket is a very popular destination in Thailand. This means that it’s a very easy place to reach from most places in the country.
Phuket airport bus
Phuket is well connected to the rest of Thailand, as well as, international destinations through its international airport.
If you fly in or out of Phuket then the cheapest option to get in and out of Phuket Town is the efficient airport bus. It’s certainly not the quickest option but it’s definitely the cheapest. It costs 100 baht (AUD$5) per trip and it leaves hourly between 5am and 7pm from the main bus station in Phuket Town. They say the journey takes up to 90 minutes, but I took the 5pm bus and it took two hours to reach the airport, so it depends on traffic. They have a website with the schedule which you can see here.
The alternative is to get a taxi or Grab ride (similar to Uber).
Bus to Phuket
Despite being an island, it’s easy to reach Phuket by bus. There are plenty of services connecting Phuket with many of Thailand’s major cities. You can find both day and night buses and a range of classes and different prices. The most popular route is from Bangkok to Phuket.
The buses from Bangkok to Phuket take around 14 hours with a couple of toilet and snack breaks. They leave from the Southern Bus Terminal or Sai Tai Mai in Bangkok. Depending on which class you choose, tickets can cost between 600 THB (AU$27) and 950 THB (AU$43).
Read next: How to Spend 48 Hours in Bangkok
Things to do in Phuket
Phuket has enough things to do to keep you busy for days and many people stay longer than they planned. From Sino-Portuguese history and architecture in the Old Town, to laidback beaches on the south and western shorelines, to the trendy shopping laneways and markets and party central Patong. There is literally something for everyone on Phuket. Here’s a few of my top things to do in Phuket.
Phuket Town is the capital of the island and its picturesque old town neighbourhood is what entices most tourists. The old streets with Sino-Portuguese buildings, colourful street art and pretty boutique shops are enough to entertain you for a few hours of window shopping. Its classy shops and trendy restaurants are a little on the pricey side for Thailand standards but there’s something about the streets that will make you walk back and forth along the same sidewalk multiple times.
Some of the graffiti and bright buildings have become hotspots for selfie stick toting tourists and insta-obsessed travellers, so the best time to wander the streets is early in the morning before the crowds and day trippers have arrived.
Phuket has plenty of options for souvenir shopping and it’s not all Chang beer singlets and I Love Thailand handbags. The Old Town neighbourhood has a laneway called Walking Street where you can find trendy clothing and good quality gifts.
Phuket Town also has an incredible weekend night market with food stalls and all sorts of souvenirs and antiques.
For more typical and cheap souvenirs, there are countless shops and stalls around Patong beach plus a night market near the beach with plenty of food options as well.
Read next: 25 Tips for Travelling on a Budget
No guide to Phuket would be complete without the infamous Patong beach and the main tourist hub of Phuket. It’s a long, sandy beach front and congested neighbourhood full of Western restaurants, dirty bars, dodgy tattoo artists, sleazy massage parlours and crazy night clubs. It’s the epitome of cringey tourism and yet, it’s still relentlessly busy every year.
You’ll never be bored here, whether you plan on partaking in any of the numerous activities on offer or prefer to sit back and watch the mayhem. During the day, you’ll find most people down at the beach, where it’s sometimes hard to find a spare spot of sand to lay down your towel. As soon as the sun sets, however, people return to the streets to drink their weight in Chang beer and party until the sun comes up again.
Nai Harn Beach
Arguably Phuket’s most beautiful beach, Nai Harn is on the far southern shore of the island. It’s a wide cove with soft, white sand and far less crowds than Patong. It’s especially popular for sunset, where locals claim you can witness the best sunset on the island.
There’s less facilities here than at Patong, but you can still find a few restaurants and cafes a bit back from the beach, plus a couple of exclusive resorts on the cove’s fringes.
This 45-metre high giant marble buddha statue is one of the most famous attractions on Phuket. It’s perched on top of a hill with stunning panoramic views. The complex is free to visit which makes it extremely popular. It’s best to go in the early morning when it first opens if you want to avoid the crowds.
Take a day trip
There are countless day trip options around Phuket. The most popular ones take you out to Phi Phi islands and Phang Nga Bay where you can find James Bond Island. Tours can be booked practically anywhere on Phuket, including at travel agents, restaurants and accommodation desks or right here through Viator.
How to get around Phuket
Getting around Phuket is actually very easy and affordable. There are shared trucks and busesthat leave from Phuket Town and service most of the beaches and towns around the island. They tend to run on some sort of schedule but it’s not generally published anywhere. The driver’s and ticket sellers are very helpful and can answer any questions about timings for buses.
In Phuket Town, they congregate along Ranong Road, west of the Suriyadej roundabout and near the main local market. It’s marked on Maps.Me. You will find them parked up, with clear signs as to where they go, including main stops along the way. Coming back into Phuket Town they drop everyone at that same roundabout as the last stop.
The bus from Phuket Town to Patong Beach takes around 40 minutes and costs 30 baht (AUD$1.50) per person.
The bus from Phuket Town to Nai Harn takes around one hour and costs 50 baht (AUD$2.50) per person.
In both Patong and Nai Harn, the last stop is at the beachfront, where they stay until returning to Phuket Town.
The only down side to using these trucks and buses is that they tend to finish early at around 5pm depending on the route. So for any late night escapades you’ll have to use a taxi instead.
Where to stay in Phuket Town
The two main hubs for accommodation on the island are Patong and Phuket Town.
If you plan on hitting the nightclubs and don’t care too much for crowds and noise, then you’ll probably want to stay in Patong. On the other hand, Phuket Town is much quieter and quainter and is more for those looking for a laidback visit.
Here are my top budget choices for staying in Phuket Town.
OK Chic Phuket Hostel || This clean hostel is a popular choice near the Old Town in Phuket. They have a range of options such as mixed dormitories and basic private double and twin rooms. They have plenty of good facilities and even their private rooms are pretty affordable for a budget traveller. Check the latest prices here.
White Wall Poshtel || This place is one of the most highly rated budget places in Phuket Town. This “poshtel” is certainly a posh hostel with beautiful facilities and nice rooms. They have dormitories as well as private double and triple rooms. You might pay a bit more here than other hostels but it’s definitely worth it. You can check their latest prices here.
Where to eat in Phuket Town
If you aren’t around for the weekend night market near Old Town in Phuket, there are also some nice restaurants, although they’re slightly more expensive.
China Inn | This is a nice restaurant on the main Thalang Road which has all your Thai favourites.
Aroon Restaurant | This is a small local place where the prices are a quarter of the more tourist-oriented places. It’s also on Thalang Road, close to the intersection with Phuket Road. Their menus have pictures which makes it helpful to order as well.
Thaivetro Ice Cream | This small shop has homemade ice cream in the most flavour choices I’ve ever seen. The weirdest flavours I saw were Red Bull, Sweet Potato and Tom Yum, plus they also have about five different cone flavours too. They had two vegan options, coconut and chocolate, which are clearly marked as vegan or you can ask the friendly staff. It’s quite expensive at 129 baht (AUD$6) for any two scoops, but for a fancy treat, it’s worth it.