Located near the island's northern tip, Phuket International Airport is 32 km from Phuket Town and 40 km from Patong beach. The airport is served by more than 20 international carriers, with regular flights to most of east Asia's major cities including Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Seoul, as well as to Perth and Sydney in Australia. Direct flights are now coming in daily from several cities in Eastern Europe to suit the demands of package tours. Domestic carriers Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways have routes linking Phuket with Pattaya, Ko Samui, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok. Budget carriers like AirAsia, Nok Air, Tiger Air and Thai Orient also fly plenty of trips throughout the day to Bangkok.
As soon as you've cleared immigration and near the airport's exit you'll be assaulted by taxi drivers. The metered taxis have vanished, and fare is now a fixed amount depending on your destination. Large signs clearly display the going rate, but be sure to confirm it with your driver to avoid any surprises. Sample fares are 500B to Phuket Town, 600B to Kamala, 650B to Patong, and 750B to Kata or Karon. Yes -- the fares are outrageous.
A shared mini-van service runs from the airport to Phuket Town, Patong, Kata, and Karon. It's slower than a taxi, but better value for solo travellers. The fare is paid before you board (remember to hold on to the ticket), and the rate is 100B to Phuket, 150B to Patong, and 180B to Kata or Karon. These vans often stop at a travel agency where passengers will be instructed to unload so they can tell an English-speaking employee their destination. If you hesitate in answering which beach and hotel you plan to stay at, they'll make a recommendation (that is, a hotel that pays commission) and do their best to sell you a tour package. If you don't have a booking anywhere, it's easier to lie than to explain your freewheeling travel philosophy.
The government-run airport bus is the cheapest option, but so slow that travel time is nearly 60 minutes. It runs between 8:30 and 20:45, every 60 to 90 minutes between buses. At the airport, the bus stop is to the left of the taxi stands and it terminates at the Phuket Town bus station. The fare is 85B. Unlike the mini-van service, the official airport bus also plies the route back to the airport but, unless you're staying in Phuket Town, it isn't very convenient.
Airport Bus Phuket: http://www.airportbusphuket.com T: (076) 23 2371
Since there are no trains in this neck of the woods, Phuket is all about the buses. Long-distance public buses arrive and depart from the central bus station in Phuket Town. Second class buses have air-con and first class buses have air-con and a bathroom. VIP buses offer a lot more leg room and, for overnight trips, are worth the extra baht. Second class buses make frequent stops to pick up passengers who wait on the roadside and, for this reason, VIP and first-class buses are sometimes significantly faster.
Sample destinations include:
Bangkok (2nd class): Departs at 06:00, 06:30, 08:25, 10:55, 12:35, 14:15, 16:20, 17:30, 18:15, 19:00, 19:30, costs 487-539B, 12 hours or 14 hours via Ranong
Bangkok (1st class): Departs at 07:00, 15:00, 15:30, 16:00, 17:00, 18:00, costs 652-693B, 12 hours.
Bangkok (24 seat VIP): Departs at 07:30,16:00.17:20, 18:00, 18:30, 19:00, costs 970-1,045B, 10 hours.
Hat Yai (2nd class): Departs at 05:15, 06:40, 07:45, 08:45, 10:20, 11:45, 13:30, 15:40, 16:50, 17:50, 20:50, costs 267B, 7-8 hours.
Hat Yai (1st class): Departs at 07:30, 08:30, 09:30, 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 19:30, 21:00, 21:30, costs 344B, 7-8 hours.
Hat Yai (VIP): Departs at 21:45, costs 535B, 6 hours.
Krabi (2nd class): Departs at 10:50, 12:50, 14:30, costs 113B, 3-4 hours.
Krabi (1st class): Departs at 06:00, 07:00, 07:30, 08:00, 08:30, 09:00, 09:30, 10:00, 10:30, 11:00, 11:30, 12:00, 12:30, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 17:00, 18:30, costs 155B, 3-4 hours.
Sungai Kolok (1st class): Departs at 06:00, 08:00, 20:00, costs 556B, 11 hours.
Surat Thani (1st class): Departs at 08:00, 09:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 14:00, 16:00, costs 195-200B (extra 235B with ferry to Ko Samui, extra 305B with ferry to Ko Pha Ngan), 4 hours + ferry time.
Takua Pa: Departs at 06:20, 07:40, 09:00, 12:20, 11:40,13:00,15:00, 16:00, 17:00, 18.00, costs 70B, 3 hours.
Trang (2nd class): Departs at 06:20, 07:15, 09:15, 09:45, 11:15, 12:20, 13:20, 14:20, 15:20, costs 200B, 5 hours.
Trang (1st class): Departs at 07:00, 09:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:00, 18:30, 257B, 5 hours.
If you don't want to spend hours on a bus, it's worth looking into the mini-van services just outside the bus station. Mini-van routes go as far as Hat Yai, Ranong and Chumpon and can usually stop everywhere in between. There are a handful of companies with varying prices and credibility. If you don't mind last-minute purchases, buy your ticket the day of your departure – it's just a bit pricier than the bus.
In case the van doesn't fill up, the company will put you on a bus and may keep the money left over from the ticket they bought for you. Beware.
Songthaews to the beach
Songthaews form the basis of the Phuket's public transportation system. They're large, battered trucks with benches in the back (the word songthaew literally means 'two boards') and, while not the fastest or most comfortable way to get around, they're an affordable and reliable ride during the day. The 'songthaew station' is in Phuket town along Ranong Road and each songthaew's fare and destination is clearly marked in English. The songthaews run in a loop from Phuket town to their destination and back. They stop anywhere along the route to pick up or drop off passengers. Push the buzzer on the ceiling to get the songthaew to stop -- be sure to pay attention during the trip for landmarks as the driver won't necessarily stop at the beach if no one else is getting off there.
Songthaews do not run from beach to beach, so a songthaew trip from Patong to nearby Kamala or Karon beach must be via Phuket Town. Songthaews depart roughly every 30 minutes, but the driver will wait longer if there aren't enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile. Once the last songthaew departs you're at the mercy of Phuket's taxi drivers.
Sample fares include:
Ao Chalong: Departs between 08:00 and 17:30, costs 30B.
Karon, Kata and Kata Noi: Departs between 07:30 and 18:00, costs 30B.
Kamala, Surin and Bang Tao: Departs between 07:00 and 17:00, costs 40-50B.
Patong: Departs between 08:00 and 18:00, costs 30B.
Rawai, Nai Harn: Departs between 07:00 and 17:30,costs 35B.
It should never cost more than 60-70B to get from beach to beach in Phuket during daylight hours. All you have to do is take a songthaew to Phuket Town, and catch another to the beach you're headed for. Convenient, eh?
Direct beach to beach travel
One of Phuket's unpleasantries is dealing with the drivers of the tuk tuks and taxis. The TAT publishes a list of taxi fares between beaches, which the drivers completely disregard. Tuk tuk drivers in Patong are particularly ruthless, often asking triple this rate. The fare will depend on the time, the weather, and the driver's mood, but even under the best conditions you'll have to bargain fiercely to get anything close to a fair price. Some beaches have taxi stands with posted rates that tend to be slightly more realistic, but still try to negotiate a discount from these prices. Sample fares:
Phuket Town to Patong: 300-400B
Phuket Town to Rawai: 400B
Phuket Town to Airport: 600B
Phuket Town to JW Marriot @ Mai Khao: 700B
Patong to Karon: 250-300B
Patong to Kamala: 250-300B
Patong to Naiharn: 600B
Most of Phuket's towns and beaches are small enough to be explored by foot. Otherwise, motorcycle taxis are cheaper than tuk tuks for in-town trips and shouldn't cost more than 50B. Tuk tuks in Patong are known to charge a 100B minimum even if you're only going a couple blocks.