Getting Around Phuket
Phuket is the largest island under the governance of Thailand. It is 48 kilometres long between the farthest North-South tips and 21 kilometres wide between farthest Eastern and Western tips. The island is on the Andaman Sea to the West of Southern Thailand. It appears suspended from Phang Nga Province by the road bridge that connects the island with the mainland Thailand.
Phuket is big enough for tourists to be travelled on foot or bicycle. However, public transport system is limited while tuk-tuks and taxis dominate the island as means of conveyance. Besides, hotels do offer shuttle buses as well as cars and taxis for hire.
Phuket has a radial network of transport that connects the beach towns to the Phuket Town. Buses do ply on the roads but are few. Buses ply every half an hour and the last service on most routes is at 6 p.m. Most buses operate from Ban San and Talad Sod, which are local markets at Ranong Road. The buses ply to major beaches via the main terminal in Phuket Town. The main destinations that are serviced by buses are Surin-Kamala, Mai Khao, Cape Panwa, Rawai-Nai Han, Chalong Bay, Kata-Karon and Patong. There are no routes that connect beaches directly.
Fare of local buses ranges from Baht 15 to Baht 40. On journey return to the initial point, buses often drop passengers in Phuket Town centre to be looted by Tuk-tuks and Taxis. Tourists need to beware of such tricks. Taxi and tuk-tuk drivers also misinform tourist about last bus services in order to persuade them to get on to their vehicles. The bus stop is situated close to the market in the old Phuket town.
Songthaews fulfill the need for buses and ply on most routes on the island. Songthaews are pick-up goods vehicles that are modified to be converted into a passenger vehicle. They are small and the fare for a journey on them ranges from Baht 25 to Baht 40 depending upon the distance. Typically, songthaews pick up and drop passengers on request as there are no designated stops.
There are 4 types of taxis in Phuket, if counted altogether. The most dominant kind is the tuk-tuk, which are minivans similar to Songthaews. Tuk-tuks are usually red but occasionally yellow. The normal sedan taxis are another type and bear signage ‘Taxi-Meter’ on top. They are also red or yellow but much smaller than tuk-tuks. In addition to the two types of taxis, indistinguishable random vehicles also serve unofficially as taxis.
Tuk-tuk is the universally used name for the minivans even though the vehicles have 4 wheels instead of 3 and run on motor. Tuk-tuks do not have meters and the drivers are opportunists. It is recommended to tourists that they should fix the fare before journey and try to bargain as aggressively and inconsiderately as they can. Fare for short distances within town typically do not exceed 100 baht. However, tuk-tuks are said to be run by Thai Mafia and, so, they charge randomly. A 1-kilometre journey may cost Baht 200 while a trip from Phuket Town to Patong is above Baht 500. Therefore, tuk-tuks should be avoided whenever and wherever option is available.
Though few, metered sedan taxis are more comfortable, safer, cheaper and, therefore, much better option than tuk-tuks. However, even taxi drivers may ignore meter during peak hours and demand rounded-off fare. Metered taxi is more common in airport and you hardly find one in other part of Phuket. The landline number for taxi meters is provided to tourists at a yellow booth to the right of the ground floor of the airport.
You can also find people on the street who offer taxi ride. These people use their own private cars and function as taxi. Most of them are not licensed but you can negotiate a better price than tuk-tuk sometimes. Still it is an expensive option. A single ride of 30km from Patong to the airport can cost more than 800 baht.
Lastly, many beaches have small taxi shacks, some of which are unofficially supported by local hotels. These taxis are typically more expensive than tuk-tuks but are air-conditioned, comfortable and very fast.
Motosais are motorcycles that carry passengers for fare. Motosai riders wear bright vests with numbers on them to distinguish themselves from locals riding their private motorcycles. Motosoi are not comfortable but the cheaper means of transport in Phuket. They are great for short trips and tour of the town.
Renting a motorcycle or a car is an economical means to enjoy a tailored tour of Phuket. However, the driving style of drivers is questionable. Especially, the foreign drivers are reckless and their driving is risky. The general Thai style of driving influences the drivers in Phuket. The basic idea is to keep moving ignoring all traffic norms wherever and as much possible. Like in Naples, the installment of traffic signal lights has worsened the condition in Phuket during last few years. The situation is coupled by the geography of the island too. Phuket has winding hilly roads and vision is poor in the climatic conditions. The cumulative result of the geographic condition and driving habit is apparent on the roads.
Statistically, more than 250 people die of road accidents and more than 10,000 are injured yearly. Motorcycles are involved in more than 90% of the accidents.
Traffic in Phuket moves clockwise, that is, the norm is driving on the left side of the road, like it is in many Asian countries. Therefore, defensive driving is recommended to travelers who hire or ride their own vehicles. Motorcyclists soften on the wrong side of the road for short distances. Moreover, undertaking is common on roads of Phuket. The good thing is that driving under the influence of intoxicants is illegal on the island, like it is in many countries. Still, drunken driving is not rare in Phuket. Therefore, drivers need to be extra cautious to escape from the lawlessness of other drivers.
Rental of motorcycles and scooters starts at Baht 300 per day. However, the cost is typically Baht 200 per day if you rent for a week or longer. Wearing helmet is compulsory for both motorcyclists and the pillion passengers but locals ignore the rule occasionally. However, tourists who are caught on a motorcycle without helmet are penalised with Baht 300 to Baht 500. Ironically, by law, the fine for riding without helmet is 200 baht and excessive fine levied on tourists is viewed as rip off. Not carrying a driving license gets a fine of 500 baht. Penalty is levied on motorcyclists like it is levied on car riders. Fine is a payable at the appropriate police station to free the license, which is confiscated by police. There are several police check posts on the roads and the stretches where checking is common are northern end of Karon Beach, Patong beach Road and Chalong Circle.
Car rent typically costs between 800 baht and 1,200 baht per day for economical vehicles such as Toyota Vios. There are a number of rental agencies in and near the airport such as Sixt, National Hertz and Avis. Locally owned car rental firms offer cheaper options and some are quite reputable. However, hirers must verify the level of insurance that covers the hired car. Local rental companies do not hesitate in saying that they have full coverage while they may only have basic insurance. The motorcycles on hire typically have no or basic insurance cover.
Being an island, Phuket naturally has good options for long tail boating and island-hopping. Boat rides are great means to acknowledge and appreciate the significance of aquatic and marine ecosystem and the role they play in people’s lives. Besides, boat rides become a good and welcome change in the way tourists travel conventionally. Moreover, boats are the most convenient and the best mode of transport between islands.
Rent for a boat ranges approximately from Baht 500 to Baht 1,800 for a day. However, like in most cases, good negotiation ability does help.