Phuket transportation and getting around
People staying in our accommodation in Phuket often have questions about Phuket transportation and getting around. Public transportation in Phuket bears few similarities to the western equivalents. Phuket visitors will find few slick new air-conditioned buses running to strict timetables. Instead, Phuket public transport is a lot more relaxed and usually much cheaper than its western equivalent, and initially at least, PhuketSpace customers may well have to rely on public transport to get around.
Local bus services are cheap and cheerful, and at the same time oozing character. Often built out of wood and mounted on a truck chassis, most of the buses are in the style known as songtaew, which is effectively a covered truck with two benches along the sides and perhaps an extra bench down the middle. They can get very full at busy times, with passengers clinging onto the back. Fares range from 10 to 30 baht. Don’t expect comfort or to get to your destination quickly – just enjoy the ride.
The buses run between Phuket Town to the main beach resorts and back. Most bus services don’t have bus stops as such – passengers just flag down the bus as it passes if they want to get on. Bus services generally run from 7:00 am to 6:00pm so don’t expect to find one in the evenings or late at night. Government-operated pink buses operate in Phuket Town and the central area of the island.
Motor cycle taxi
Motor cycle taxis are perhaps the most under-utilised form of public transportation used by visitors to Phuket. With their drivers dressed in green, red or maroon vests they offer an inexpensive short trip-taxi service. Motor cycle taxis are usually the quickest and often the cheapest way to get around the island. Simply wave one to a stop and ask for the fare to your destination.
Fares within a kilometre or two are usually between 30 and 50 baht, but you need to make sure you agree the fare first and that the driver knows exactly where you want to go. The vast majority of motor cycle taxi drivers will charge you a fair price and get you to your destination quickly and efficiently.
The traditional three-wheeled tuk-tuk is one of Thailand’s icons. Fortunately (or unfortunately, for the purists) these noisy, smoke-belching vehicles are now a thing of the past on Phuket. They have been replaced with small red or yellow vans with open sides.
Phuket’s tuk-tuk drivers don’t share the fair and reliable reputation of their motor cycle contemporaries unfortunately, and the tuk-tuks of Phuket have long been a cause of controversy. Phuket tuk-tuks 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 available. Always agree the price before you start the journey and be specific about where you want to go. Tuk-tuks in Patong now charge an insane minimum of 200 baht for short trips in the area. A trip from Patong to Phuket Town should cost no more than 400 baht. This is certainly not the cheapest option for Phuket transportation.
Avoid arguing with tuk-tuk drivers – if you don’t like the price he’s trying to charge you before the journey, just walk away and find another one. Better still, find a motor-cycle taxi driver, as they’re far more likely to be fair with you.
Unlicenced taxis are best avoided. They are likely to be uninsured and are akin to getting a ride from a complete stranger. If anyone approaches you to ask you if you need a taxi and points you towards an ordinary car with a homemade ‘taxi’ sign plonked on the roof, look elsewhere as better options are likely to be available.
The longtail boat is Thailand’s iconic contribution to maritime transport. Longtail boats are essentially large, incredibly strong canoes with a recycled diesel truck engine mounted on a long pole with a propeller at the end. The driver controls the boat’s direction simply by swiveling the pole. They can be a bit noisy but have become one of the classic images of Thailand and Phuket transportation.
For tourists they are a great way to visit the small islands around Phuket or to get to some of the inaccessible beaches. PhuketSpace customers in Rawai are in the perfect spot, with Rawai Beach and available longtail boat rentals within walking distance. 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.
If you want to travel to other provinces then the national bus service is a good option. The main bus station is on Thepkassatri 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. You’re best avoiding a standard bus for a long journey, as the seats are hard and uncomfortable, and there’s no toilet. 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 legroom and no unscheduled stops.
Getting around Phuket independently
The main roads on Phuket are generally in good condition and well marked with signs in both Thai and English. The line of high hills that runs up the centre if the island limits the number of roads that traverse Phuket from east to west so at times you may be taking a circuitous trip to your destination.
Should you choose to navigate your own way around Phuket, you will find an unpredictable but relatively relaxed attitude from Thai road users. Thai people are taught from a young age to maintain jai yen (cool heart), so public displays of anger are rather rare. Visitors to Thailand will find this approach a lot more effective and make any unexpected maneuvres a lot easier to deal with. Bear in mind that driving in Thailand is very different to the driving you may be used to at home – be ready for anything to happen, as it probably will! There are two main options for getting yourself around Phuket:
The tropical climate, the natural beauty of the island, and the winding coastal roads make Phuket a total natural for cruising around on a motor cycle. Not surprisingly, motor cycles are the most common mode of Phuket transportation. They are also the most common cause of serious injury and death on the island. There are no statistics available regarding the number of motorbike injuries sustained by visitors to Phuket but the number is substantial.
Should you rent a motorcycle, the price is certainly reasonable: 3,000 baht and up per month, or as little as 150 baht per day. There’s a slight downside, in that insurance is not available on any rental motorbike, and fully comprehensive insurance unavailable for any motor cycle at all. Therefore, if your rented motorcycle is is damaged or stolen you will have to pay in full for its repair or replacement. Check any rented bike out carefully for any existing scratches or damage before you drive away to avoid paying someone else’s repair bill!
More information about PhuketSpace motorcycle rentals here.
Phuket, in common with the rest of Thailand, has a motorbike helmet law. The main difference in Phuket is that the law is actually enforced in most areas. In Phuket Town, the law regarding helmets for pillion passengers being required to wear a helmet is sometimes enforced too. Laws aside, even though the helmets available in Thailand are hardly the most robust in the world, they are a lot more effective than nothing at all. PhuketSpace would therefore advise all motor cycle drivers and passengers to wear a helmet – it may well save your life.
Cars and four-wheel-drives (often referred to as ‘jeeps’) are available for rented numerous locations around Phuket. In theory, a valid international driver’s license or a state license from your own country is all that’s required, though many places will only want to see a valid ID such as your passport. Rates start at around 500 baht per day for a small Suzuki Caribian with unlimited mileage. The customer pays for the petrol. Virtually all of the areas of the island you are likely to visit are accessible with an ordinary two-wheel drive vehicle, so a four-wheel-drive is certainly not a necessity for Phuket transportation.
Some of the cheaper rental agencies will want to hold the renter’s passport while the car is rented out – although they’re not technically allowed to do so, this is standard practice. You can pay a higher rate at one of the larger companies such as Hertz or Avis, but they won’t ask to hold onto your passport. When renting a vehicle, be aware that you are liable for all damages to the vehicle, so read the fine print carefully.
From the Airport
There are a number of transportation options from Phuket airport.
The cheapest is the Airport Bus service. As you comer out of the airport building, turn immediately left, and you’ll see the bus stop towards the end of the payment. Fares vary according to your destination, but they are reasonable. Details at www.airportbusphuket.com.
The best option in our opinion is the airport meter taxis, which are reliable and inexpensive. On arrival at Phuket airport, walk past the airport limousine counter (ignore them, as they’re overpriced), go out of the terminal building and turn right, and you’ll see a meter taxi stand. They will sell you a voucher for a red and yellow taxi. Again the fare will vary, but the driver will turn on the meter and add 100 baht airport charge to the fare.
Another cheap 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 airport taxi (sold at the airport as a ‘limousine’) is the most expensive way to leave the airport. Apart from being expensive, the drivers have a reputation for driving at excessive speeds – they always seem intent on getting where they’re going then back to the airport as quickly as they can to collect their next fare.
However you decide to get around Phuket, have fun doing it!