Phuket is a large island with abundant transport that can take you just about anywhere you desire. Many beach resorts and tourist areas are easily explored on foot, but when you want to venture further the possible options include tuk-tuks, taxis, buses, motorbike taxis, or private vehicle rental. Whilst the island’s transport is ubiquitous and well connected, it’s certainly more convenient to have your own vehicle to explore independently at leisure, and helps avoid the extortionate fares that have skyrocketed in recent years. With a car or motorbike, you can tour the island and visit a few remote beaches and the majority of the main attractions in no time, and considerably cheaper than by public transport.
The primary modes of transport in Phuket are described below.
You’ll no doubt hear the familiar words “tuk-tuk” shouted incessantly at you when walking around, even when it’s quite obvious that you are not looking for one. Four-wheeled tuk-tuks can be found in all the popular beach areas where they linger waiting to pick up passengers. They are typically coloured bright red or yellow, but are more like minivans than the traditional three-wheeled variety found in Bangkok and elsewhere. First time visitors are likely to enjoy the experience of a ride in such vehicles, especially the flamboyant ones with flashing disco lights, expensive sound systems and under-vehicle neon lighting. Some proud tuk-tuk drivers certainly know how to attract attention!
Tuk-tuks can take you anywhere but the fares are so unreasonably high that it resembles an organised syndicate or monopoly, and is colloquially referred to as the tuk-tuk mafia. They constantly receive bad press, and there have been countless well-publicised cases of violent disputes and intimidation involving tuk-tuk drivers and tourists, who usually seem to come away badly. In a few extreme incidents, tourists have been badly injured, beaten up and hospitalised after refusing to pay the exorbitant fares. Lawlessness, some might say. Tuk-tuk drivers in some areas are trying hard to improve their reputation, but it will take a while. The governments of some countries have even gone so far as to advise their citizens against using tuk-tuks in Phuket! The whole situation is an issue of ongoing contention, and seems unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
We recommend that you try to avoid the tuk-tuk debacle where possible, but there aren’t always many other alternatives when it’s late at night or you need to get home in a hurry. Make sure you bargain extremely hard as the fares in Phuket are very pricey indeed, more so than other places in Thailand. There are supposedly standard fees being introduced but they are hardly ever adhered to and there are no meters in use, but a typical short journey starts at an absolute minimum of 100 baht, if you’re lucky. To go anywhere moderately far could set you back at least 500 baht. You’ll notice that hardly any Thais use tuk-tuks due to the unreasonable costs, and it’s certainly true that they are squarely aimed at tourists.
Typical tuk-tuk fares between some popular locations are as follows.
|Airport to Patong||800 – 1000 baht|
|Around Patong||150 – 200 baht|
|Patong to Karon||300 – 350 baht|
|Patong to Kata||400 – 450 baht|
|Patong to Phuket Town||500 – 600 baht|
|Karon to Kata||200 – 300 baht|
|Karon to Phuket Town||500 – 600 baht|
|Kata to Phuket Town||500 – 600 baht|
Licensed and metered taxis are available in Phuket, especially around the airport and Phuket Town, and they can be a suitable way to get around safely in air-conditioned comfort, especially if you have bulky luggage or need to get to your destination quickly. They are supposed to use the meter but hardly ever do, so make sure you ask them to turn it on or try to negotiate a fixed fare with all the gusto you can manage before they set off. Prices are usually slightly cheaper than the tuk-tuks. At the airport, there is a clearly visible taxi stand near the main exit. Note that a fixed 100 baht airport tax is levied on top of the actual fare, and there can be extra charges for luggage carried in the boot.
In some locations around Phuket and at peak times taxis can be scarce, but there are also plenty of unlicensed taxis around that you can use, albeit at higher rates than proper taxis. Nevertheless, they can be a convenient option and are easy to find. Most hotels and resorts can also book a metered taxi in advance. At the main beach resorts you’ll have a hard job to find a licensed taxi due to the infamous tuk-tuk mafia’s influence. You can expect to pay around 500 baht between Phuket Town and Patong Beach.
You have to love the ubiquitous motorbike taxi, or “taxi motor-sai” as they are referred to by Thais. The drivers hang about all day and night at various prominent locations such as outside shopping malls or gather on street corners, and are easily identified by their brightly coloured vests and numbers which show the group they belong to. The fares are usually quite cheap and they’ll take you anywhere you want to go. The only downside is that when it rains safety can be an issue and you’ll get soaked, that is if you can persuade them to travel in the rain anyway.
Fares are often cheaper for Thais, but just hop on the back and tell them where you want to go, but don’t forget to negotiate the price beforehand. They might charge anywhere from 20 baht up to several hundred depending on the destination, but it will almost certainly be less expensive than a tuk-tuk or taxi would be for the same journey.
Unfortunately, rarely will passengers be provided with that essential safety item, a helmet! Just as in many other places in Thailand, the driver’s own flimsy or worn out helmet is conveniently kept in a basket on the front of the bike, to be hastily plonked on the head when approaching traffic lights and other police hotspots, but nobody seems to take much of an issue with this. Regardless of the inherent dangers, the taxi motorbikes, or motorbike taxis (we can’t remember which way round it’s supposed to be anymore) are a handy and readily available option, particularly for short trips around town.
These blue vehicles are usually just a small bus or converted truck with a covered rear and two rows of seats inside (songthaew literally means “two boards” in Thai), and are the cheapest way to travel around the island. The destination is indicated on the front in English, but there are no fixed stops so you have to bang on the roof or shout to the driver when you want to get off. The fare is usually between 15 and 35 baht depending on the destination and is displayed inside; simply pay the driver when you alight. They operate mainly in daylight hours until early evening along several main routes, centred in Phuket Town and radiating out across the island. As there are no convenient routes between the beaches, large detours back into Phuket Town are sometimes necessary.
In Phuket Town, they can be found en masse on Ranong Road in the centre of town. In other places, the best strategy is to wait patiently and you’ll eventually see one that you can hop onto. They seem to come along every 20 minutes or so. In Patong, the songthaews frequently trundle along the beach road. Unfortunately, unlike Pattaya where they are the ideal way to get around anytime of day and night, in Phuket they have been somewhat discouraged by the controversial “tuk tuk mafia” in the main tourist areas such as Patong Beach.
The public airport bus is the cheapest option between the airport and Phuket Town. The price is fixed at 85 baht and it runs almost hourly between 06.00 and 19.30. The bus stops frequently between Phuket Airport and Phuket Town, which is the final stop. To reach resorts such as Patong Beach, Karon and Kata, change at the Surakul Stadium stop and take another bus or continue to Phuket Town to make the onward connection. More details can be found in our related article on getting to and from Phuket in the Travel section.
These are small yellow and green buses commonly found in and around Phuket Town operating between 06.00 and 20.00, with very cheap fares between 10 and 20 baht. There are clearly marked stops on many of the roads and outside the Tesco Lotus and Big C superstores. They don’t operate anywhere else around the island, however.
Renting a motorbike and driving around Phuket under your own steam is one of the most convenient and pleasurable experiences there is, especially for anyone that enjoys the freedom to do things according to their own pace and schedule. It gives you complete independence and lets you metaphorically poke the tuk-tuk and taxi monopolies in the eye. The main benefit is that it’s probably the cheapest way to get around, and means that you don’t have to rely on the often erratic and overpriced public transport. When you need to pop out to the convenience store at 4 a.m and pick up some beer and cigarettes, it’s an ideal means to get there. In bad weather it’s no fun, but you’re not in a hurry, right?
Small Bikes and Scooters
In Phuket, motorbikes can be rented just about everywhere and it seems every hotel, restaurant, travel agent, bars and even random strangers will rent you a bike. Perhaps the best option is a small 125cc scooter, such as a Honda Click or Yamaha Fino, as they are extremely easy to ride and surprisingly nippy. Heavier people might be better with a more sturdy model with stronger suspension such as a Honda Airblade, Suzuki Hiyate or the excellent Yamaha Nuovo, which benefits from an extra 10cc of power.
Most scooters can be rented for between 200 and 250 baht a day around Patong, but it’s possible to find somewhat cheaper prices especially further from the tourist hotspots. As an example, a brand new Yamaha Nuovo can be as low as 180 baht a day if you’re lucky, and even less if you commit to a longer rental period. For anyone that can handle a semi automatic bike with step gears but no clutch, a Honda Wave is a much cheaper option, as little as 100 baht per day. In all cases you will need to show ID and pay a deposit (normally 1000 baht), but are encouraged not to leave your passport with the owner. Check the bike carefully beforehand for any signs of damage and make a note, in case they try to blame you later for any minor bumps and scrapes that already existed.
Sports Bikes and Choppers
Big sports bikes and fancy choppers are quite popular in Phuket, and while they aren’t exactly that practical around Patong Beach’s congested roads and narrow streets, they really shine when zooming around the less populated areas of the island where the roads are not so busy. There’s nothing quite like the thrill and power of a sports bike which can overtake anything easily. There are dozens of places along the beach road in Patong where they can be rented, but costs are typically between 500 and 1000 baht a day depending on the model. Such bikes are common around Patong with tourists, and many expats prefer a bigger bike for obvious reasons. Unless you are already an accomplished rider and can handle a manual bike, it’s not recommended around Phuket.
Dangers and Annoyances
Most rented bikes will not come with adequate insurance and it’s important to realise the risks when driving in Phuket. Even most Thais don’t have a license to drive and unless you possess a valid motorbike license you could be in serious trouble when involved in an accident; foreigners are inevitably held responsible and may have to bear the costs, even when they are not to blame. This is just the reality of life in Thailand. Not having a license or any previous experience however is not a barrier to renting a bike.
Safety on the road is also an issue considering the way that many locals drive, such as ignoring stop signs, cutting you up, undertaking, driving with no lights and mirrors, going the wrong way down the street, driving when drunk…the list goes on. Such poor examples of driving occur all the time in Phuket and all over Thailand. Wearing a helmet in Phuket is supposed to be compulsory, otherwise you risk being stopped by the police and fined a few hundred baht, plus another fine for not having a license and anything else they can pin on you. Funnily enough, once the fine is paid (often on the street), you are free to go on your way and continue flouting the law. For beginners with no experience on Thai roads, we can’t really recommend that you rent a bike in Phuket. For everybody else, it’s likely that you’ll experience few real problems, and will have great fun at the same time.
Renting a car is a great way to explore Phuket in air-conditioned comfort whatever the weather, and allows you to venture much farther afield to nearby places such as Krabi and Ranong in just a few hours. There are several reputable and multinational car rental companies including Avis, Hertz and National based at locations such as the airport, Phuket Town or Patong, as well many local ones which are easy enough to find. Typical costs are from 800 baht a day for a budget model or jeep, to 1500 baht for a small hatchback such as a Honda Jazz, and up to 2500 a day for a larger saloon or SUV. Most companies offer free delivery to select destinations, and discounts for longer term rentals. It’s worth noting that prices may change slightly depending on the tourist season.
All the usual words of caution and warnings apply when renting a car, such as to check carefully what level of insurance cover is provided, and ensure that you have a valid license. It’s somewhat less dangerous to drive on Thai roads by car than motorbike, as you are much more protected from physical injuries, but nevertheless it pays to exercise caution and drive very defensively all the time.
Some rental companies’ telephone numbers are provided below.
Telephone +66 (0)89 969 8674
Telephone +66 (0) 76-381877
Telephone +66 (0)76 327 744
Telephone +66 (0)76 328 545
Telephone +66 (0)76 328 388
Thai Rent A Car
Telephone +66 (0)76 236 550
Easily overlooked but it’s possible to travel between beach locations quite easily by commandeering a long tail boat, which can normally be hired per trip, per hour, or even for a whole day. They are not the cheapest form of transport by any means, but quite convenient in any case. Between Phuket and neighbouring islands, various ferry and speedboat services operate from the main ports, especially Rassada Port in Phuket Town and at Chalong Bay. For more details, refer to our article on getting to and from Phuket in the Travel section.