Getting Around Phuket
Getting around Phuket is easy enough but you are often limited to taking a taxi or tuk-tuk. Phuket does have a reputation in Thailand for having the most expensive transport system in the country. Visitors from the west may still find the taxi costs seem acceptable but by Thai standards they are very expensive.
From the Airport
For many people, the trip from the airport is their first experience of transport in Phuket. Unfortunately it is not always a good introduction to Phuket. There are two companies that pay for the concession to run the taxi service from the airport. And of course that means they charge extra to their passengers. Their cheapest option is a shared minibus which will cost 100-200 baht. This will take longer than a taxi as they wait until they have sold all the seats before they leave and it will then go around the hotels of every passenger. An air-con taxi (they call a limousine) to Patong will cost around 600 baht.
These fares are only a little above the going rate and a minor annoyance. The real annoyance with these operators is their occasional efforts to squeeze more money from their customers by pressing them to book accommodation through local travel agents. It has been a regular occurrence that the mini bus stops at a travel agent on the way and everyone is bustled out of the vehicle and into the shop. Once there, they tell everyone to book their accommodation through the agent before continuing their journey. They will even pressure people with pre-existing bookings with the claim that their hotel is no good. Needless to say, the hotels they want to book you into are paying them commission.
Constant complaints to the local authorities have eventually seen this practice become less common but if you do find yourself in this situation - say you have a pre-existing booking right from the outset (even if you don't) and say you have already paid for it. If you do not have a booking, then at least know the name of a hotel in your desired town. For example, if you want to go to Patong, say you have a booking at the C&N Hotel which is in a nice central location.
There has been a turf battle around the airport concession for some time even reaching the extreme of shootings. The latest compromise is that independent taxi-meters have a stand outside the airport terminal but they only allow three in at a time. If you make your way out of the terminal and turn right, you should be able to get a taxi-meter. They are a little cheaper than the 'limousines' although they tend to want to charge a fixed fare rather than use the meter.
One other alternative is to book a private taxi to meet you at the airport. Your hotel may be able to arrange this for you.
On the other side of the road from the airport are a couple of car rental firms that charge reasonable rates.
Taxi Meters are just that - taxis with meters. They are cheaper than tuk-tuks, as long as they turn the meter on. Unfortunately, there are not enough taxi-meters in Phuket. The tuk-tuk lobby (we will try to avoid the overused word mafia) are very effective and have been successful in limiting the number of taxi-meters on the island.
The little red vehicles that are known in Phuket as tuk-tuks, should strictly be called songtaews. A tuk-tuk as recognised throughout the rest of Thailand is a three-wheeled vehicle with handlebar controls instead of a steering wheel. They have two-stroke engines that could not climb Phuket's steep hills. Therefore Phuket uses these little red vans as the most common means of transport. They are still known as tuk-tuks because tourists expect to see tuk-tuks. The Thai word songtaew means 'two rows' and refers to the two benches in the back.
Phuket's tuk-tuks have long been a cause of contention. They are more expensive than anywhere else in Thailand and operate a very effective closed shop.
Unfortunately, with the scarcity of taxis they are often the only option. Always agree the price before you start the journey and be specific about where you want to go. Tuk-tuks are now charging a ridiculous minimum of 200-baht for short trips around Patong. A trip from Patong to Phuket Town can cost 500 to 600-baht. Tuk-tuk drivers do sometimes like to take their passengers on unscheduled tours of jewelry shops or other places where they will get commission. If you don't want to go, don't go.
Do not get into a heated dispute with a tuk-tuk driver as the other drivers will back him up en-masse.
In all fairness, there are plenty of nice guys driving tuk-tuks. Some of the old guys in Phuket Town are a pleasure to meet. Regrettably, the bad apples do earn them all a bad name.
Not the safest way to travel but they are a convenient option for short trips. You will see them on street corners all over Phuket. They wear red or green vests. Agree the price before you start the journey. Short trips around town should cost 40 baht.
Driving in Phuket
Renting a car or motorcycle is a great way to get around Phuket. However, there are plenty of provisos - see our driving in Phuket section.
The local bus service is cheap and cheerful. Most of the buses are in the style known as Songtaew. That is basically a truck with two benches along the sides and maybe a bench down the middle. They can get very full with passengers hanging on to the back. Fares range from 10 to 30 baht. Do not expect comfort or to get to your destination quickly.
The buses run between Phuket Town to the main beach resorts and back. There is no direct bus service between the main beach resorts such as Patong and Karon - the tuk-tuk drivers saw to that. You can board buses along the beach roads of the main resorts. In Phuket Town, they run from Ranong Road. The bus services run from 7:00 am to 6:00pm so don't expect to find one in the evenings.
If you want to travel to other provinces then the national bus service is a good option. The new main bus station (Bor Kor Sor) is on Thepkrassatri Road on the outskirts of Phuket Town. There are regular services to Bangkok, Ranong, Surat Thani, Hat Yai and most of the towns in-between.
There are three classes of bus - standard, first class and VIP. Do not take a standard bus for a long journey. The seats are hard and they do not have toilets. The first class buses are comfortable and have toilets but they can be slow going as they stop to pick up passengers all along the route. For long journeys, the VIP buses are worth the extra cost with comfortable seats, plenty of leg-room and no unscheduled stops. The leg-room on the VIP buses varies depending on how many seats the bus has. The 24 seat VIP buses are highly recommended but even the 32 and 36 seat VIP buses are comfortable.
The longtail boat is Thailand's contribution to maritime transport. They are like large canoes with a recycled diesel truck engine mounted on a long pole that has a propeller at the end. The driver controls boat direction simply by swiveling the pole. They are rather noisy but have become one of the iconic images of Thailand. For tourists they are a great way to visit the small islands around Phuket or to get to some of the inaccessible beaches. You can rent them at the beach nearest your target destination. The cost will depend on the season, how far you are going, how long you are going, how many people are going and of course your negotiating skills. A trip should cost from 1000 to 2000 baht. This will include the driver waiting while you are at your destination and the return journey.