Phuket transport tips

By Dave Rudd

Distinctive Phuket red tuk tuks are expensive

Although Thailand’s largest island, measuring somewhere in the region of 40kms north-south, the touristy part is in a relatively close-knit area on the west coast. You may never need to use public transport to get around if your hotel is near the beach, although on-hand are tuk-tuks and songthaews.

It is more expensive to get around Phuket by public transport (the touristy parts) than anywhere else in Thailand. This is largely because of the notorious tuk-tuk mafia who have a virtual monopoly on transport. While it may seem cheap to most tourists, you can be rest assured that 200 baht for a 100-metre journey is not indicative of the price of travel in Thailand.

There are also regular meter taxis on Phuket, although these are tough to find in the tourist areas and will need to be booked by phone, or taken from the airport. Motorcycle taxis, regular buses, and car rental are also choices. There is no train line or metro system on the island, however.

By taxi

The so-called tuk-tuks are the king of the road near the beach. They are the little red trucks that are similar to those in Bangkok, and elsewhere in the country, although Phuket tuk-tuks are four-wheelers and are notoriously expensive. If staying at Patong, Karon, or Kata, you can forget any cheap travel with these as they won’t budge unless you’re ready to part with hundreds of baht.

They run like a mafia and squeeze out any sort of competition, such as meter taxis. It is, thus, within your interest, and that of the general welfare of Phuket, to avoid them where possible. They are useful if you are a family or group, though, as several people can fit in the back and it works out more economical and more convenient than bus or taxi travel in this respect.

Be sure to always agree on the price before leaving and ensure the driver knows where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to haggle or get them to repeat your destination. Avoid those tuk-tuks at the beach that offer cheap travel as they will invariably take you on an unwanted gem factory tour. Tuk-tuk travel in Phuket Town is standard price.

Motorcycle taxis are also popular in Phuket, although are clearly not entirely safe. They are available all hours and taxi drivers wear bright-coloured vests. Look to popular tourist areas - shops, bars, restaurants, hotels - where they tend to congregate.

Metered taxis are thin on the ground in Phuket and are only generally good for travel to and from the airport. They have been squeezed out of the tourist areas for regular transport by the tuk-tuk mafia, so you will have trouble hailing one. There are unlicensed taxis around and about, although are not recommended. More on getting around Phuket.

Bus travel

Meter taxis wait at the airport

Like the tuk-tuk, the songthaew is a Thai institution and is ubiquitous to Phuket. They are the large, open-backed buses that are painted blue and look somewhat dishevelled. Songthaews go between the main beaches and Phuket Town on set routes and you simply stick out your hand for them to stop, while ringing the bell when you want to get off.

Ranong Road is the main departure point for songthaews in Phuket Town. Again, though, you can’t travel between beaches with songthaews as the tuk-tuks have stopped them doing so.

Phuket also now has microbuses, which are small air-conditioned buses (painted green and yellow) that run around Phuket City and environs. They are quite cheap and stops are on the main roads and at the main Central shopping mall.

Vehicle rental

Car and motorbike rental in Phuket is popular. It is quite a large island and is better explored under your own steam. Be mindful, though, that the mortality rate on Phuket’s road is unnervingly high, with around 15 deaths per month, and usually on the routes between Phuket Town and Patong, and Patong and Karon beaches.

Budget, Avis and National are all represented on Phuket and you can pre-book car rental online and do an airport pick-up/drop-off. There are also many local agencies, although it is best to stick with the big companies as you will have first class (comprehensive) insurance as standard.

Motorbike rental is very popular with tourists, allowing the most freedom for travel. Don’t be tempted unless you have ridden before as the driving here is quite aggressive and the steep roads can be heavy-going, especially when wet. When booking a motorbike, don’t leave your passport as collateral; see if they will accept a cash deposit or a photocopy of your passport. Also take pictures of any pre-existing damage on the bike and ensure you have your license.

Airport travel

Taxis, shuttles, and buses all serve the airport in some way, shape or form. The airport is a fair way from the main beaches, though, and prices are usually steep when going direct.

While there are meter taxis at the airport, there are surcharges and you need to wait at the taxi stand outside. The cost involves an airport surcharge, a meter surcharge and then the per-kilometre rate. It is often best to negotiate a flat fee to be sure that the driver will go direct and not waste time. To avoid the airport surcharge, walk outside the airport grounds as some taxis usually wait on the road there.

So-called limousines have fixed prices, but you should avoid all touts inside Arrivals and go direct to the taxi desk. Simply take a slip and go to the desk just outside. You pay the driver on reaching the destination. Don’t worry about tipping.

Fixed-price, share taxis are minibuses that wait to fill before the off. While good for those on a budget, they take ages to reach the destination. There is also an airport bus that departs just outside Arrivals, although it only takes in destinations between the airport and Phuket Town. You can, however, alight at the Central shopping mall and then hail a songthaew, for a cheap way to get to the beach. More on Phuket Airport.

Travel insurance: although getting around Phuket is extremely safe, occasional mishaps do sometimes occur if people rent motorcycles. It's therefore vital to have to the best quality travel insurance available. We recommend the online travel insurance site Travel Insurance Discounts for UK visitors.

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