To reach your eventual destination in Phuket usually involves several modes of transport along the way, and might include planes, buses, taxis and the odd tuk-tuk or two. Travelling within Thailand can sometimes be a hassle but there is rarely a dull moment, and it can be good fun to mingle with friendly locals and fellow travellers. Flying to Phuket directly is the simplest option, as flights connect with several cities in Thailand and destinations elsewhere in Asia. Alternatively, you might have to suffer a long bus journey as that’s the most common and invariably the cheapest method to reach the island.
To Phuket by Air
Phuket International Airport (code HKT) is in the north of the island and is the second largest air transportation hub in Thailand. There are frequent daily flights to Bangkok and domestic destinations, and flights can be picked up at reasonable prices when booked in advance or when there are special promotions. Air travel certainly beats the bus for comfort and speed, and it can take just a few hours to reach Phuket even from most neighbouring countries.
Phuket is well served by international flights especially with the major hubs in Asia, from where it’s easy to connect onwards to just about anywhere in the world. The schedules are too numerous to list, but the most popular destinations are mentioned below.
|Australia||Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney|
|China||Beijing, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai|
|Malaysia||Kuala Lumpur, Penang|
The route between Phuket and Bangkok is one of the busiest and most popular in Thailand, therefore the prices can be very cheap as there is intense competition between the airlines. Other possible routes include Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Samui, Sukhothai, Trat and Udon Thani. The airlines that operate these routes and some typical one way prices including tax and fees are shown below. Prices are usually similar in either direction. Some routes into Phuket only have one carrier, so they are typically more expensive.
|Arrive or Depart||Airline||Price|
|Bangkok (BKK)||Air Asia||1,700 baht|
|Bangkok (BKK)||Bangkok Airways||4,000 baht|
|Bangkok (BKK)||Thai Airways||5,300 baht|
|Bangkok (DMK)||Nok Air||1,700 baht|
|Bangkok (DMK)||Orient Thai||1,650 baht|
|Chiang Mai (CNX)||Air Asia||2,000 baht|
|Chiang Mai (CNX)||Bangkok Airways||4,100 baht|
|Pattaya (UTP)||Bangkok Airways||3,000 baht|
|Samui (USM)||Bangkok Airways||2,500 baht|
|Sukhothai (THS)||Bangkok Airways||4,600 baht|
|Trat (TDX)||Bangkok Airways||4,400 baht|
|Udon Thani (UTH)||Bangkok Airways||1,600 baht|
From The Airport
Once you’ve arrived at the airport and collected your luggage, the first thing you’ll want to do is get to your hotel or accommodation. Some hotels will pick you up at the airport by minivan or taxi, often for a charge, and the driver will meet you at the airport with your name on a placard. The alternative onward transport options are as below.
Just outside the main terminal is a very easy to find taxi stand. Exit the main arrivals hall, immediately turn right and continue for about 50 metres. Just ignore any unlicensed touts that tend to hang around. The official taxis are bright red and yellow and can’t be missed. They are supposed to use meters, but you might need to remind the driver to turn it on, as they prefer to charge tourists a fixed price which inevitably ends up being more expensive.
Taxis certainly aren’t cheap in Phuket and you can expect to pay at least 500 baht to reach Patong Beach, and even more to destinations farther south such as Kata and Karon. They will also charge an additional 100 baht which is a legitimate airport tax, and the total charges may fluctuate in line with fuel prices.
When you come through the doors after you’ve collected your luggage, you’ll see many placards held up that show “limousine” and the rates they charge. These cars are essentially run by the Phuket transportation “Mafia” so it’s not always a good idea to use them as the prices are fixed quite high. However, they will certainly get you to your destination. They are not really limousines in the normal sense either, just old Toyotas or the occasional newer Mercedes.
Tickets can be bought on the first floor (in reality it’s the ground floor) inside the terminal building, which you then hand to the chosen limousine which all wait directly outside the main doors. They tend to drive very fast, and prices are inevitably higher than the taxi meters or other transport options. They also have an annoying habit of making unrequested stops at travel agents, to persuade you to part with some cash and earn a healthy commission; just tell them firmly that you want to go straight to your destination and insist that they don’t stop.
Shared minivans that hold about 10 people are much cheaper than taxis and will get you to your destination quicker than the public bus. However, they only leave when they are full and fares are approximately 150 baht to Patong Beach. You can tell them the name of your hotel and get dropped off, but surprise, surprise they like to stop midway through the journey at a travel agent and pressure you into various tours or book you a hotel room. When they’ve either made a few sales or given up, they continue the journey.
The official public bus is by far the cheapest option between the airport and Phuket Town. The price is fixed at a reasonable 85 baht and it runs almost hourly every day between 06.00 and 19.30. To find it, simply leave the arrivals hall and turn left; the bright orange bus is another 25 metres farther near the end of the building and has “Airport Bus” clearly written across the front. Alternatively, take an elevator to the second floor departures hall, exit and turn left where the bus can be found waiting near the Burger King restaurant.
There are 15 stops in total including Phuket Airport and Phuket Town, which is the final stop. To reach any of the popular tourist resorts such as Patong Beach, Karon and Kata on the island’s west coast, it’s more convenient to change at the Surakul Stadium stop (the price is the same however) and take another bus, or continue to Phuket Town and make the connection from there. Either way, the public bus is a convenient and cheap method of transport. Furthermore, 85 baht clearly beats the taxi fares hands down, as long as you don’t mind longer journey times.
More details on the public bus can be found on this website: www.airportbusphuket.com
Another convenient way to reach your destination is to rent a car, as you can then use it to get around the island during the rest of your visit. There are some reputable international car rental companies at the airport including Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt. Two counters can be found at either side of the terminal’s first (ground) floor. Prices start as low as 1000 baht a day, but make sure you have an international driver’s license and organise appropriate insurance, as driving in Thailand can be very dangerous and is definitely not recommended for anyone with limited experience. Local Phuket residents in particular seem to drive rather carelessly and dangerously.
To Phuket by Bus
Going by bus to Phuket is usually the most inexpensive way and there are abundant connections throughout Thailand’s provinces, especially with Bangkok and other major cities. From Bangkok there are dozens of buses from countless companies, which leave every day from the Southern Bus Terminal on a journey that takes around 13 hours. Prices vary widely as there are several classes of bus, such as air-conditioned VIP buses with only 24 seats, first class air-conditioned buses with 32 or 50 seats, and second class buses which are probably best avoided completely. A typical VIP ticket on a decent 24 seater bus should cost no more than 1000 baht.
Buying a Ticket
Make sure that you buy a ticket at the station where you can see the type of bus that you’ll travel on, as travellers are frequently disappointed when the “VIP” bus arrives and it’s in much worse quality than expected, or is not even a VIP bus at all. Tickets can also be bought from any of the travel agents near Khao San Road in Bangkok, but these are not recommended as there have been stories concerning organised theft on such buses. However, many backpackers and travellers still use them, as there are so many convenient and inexpensive places to book in the area.
Bus Travel Annoyances
Travelling by bus in Thailand can be comfortable, and many buses have large seats and decent facilities including toilets, free snacks and drinks, movies and even Thai karaoke (at maximum volume). However it’s not all rosy and there are a few negative aspects to bus travel in Thailand; the buses are often freezing cold as the air-conditioned is turned up to full power, so it’s advisable to take a jacket and long trousers or socks, even though blankets may be provided. The buses can stop at service stations on the journey much too frequently, and although this lets you take a break and stretch it can add to the journey time considerably.
A small but real danger is that buses are occasionally involved in some terrible accidents, as they drive at breakneck speeds in the middle of the night. Consequently, there are people who resolutely refuse to travel by bus under any circumstances. On the whole though, going by bus is considered fairly safe and inexpensive.
Phuket Town Bus Station
All inter-province buses depart and arrive at the main bus station in the centre of Phuket Town, completely separate to the local bus station which only serves routes around the island. From the main station, the cheapest way to reach any destination on the island is to walk to the local bus station about 15 minutes away, and catch an onward bus. The typical price to the popular beach resorts is between 35 and 50 baht. There are also plenty of tuk-tuks hanging around here, but a trip to Patong Beach could set you back an extortionate 500 baht! Besides Bangkok, there are frequent bus services between Chumpon, Hat Yai, Krabi, Phang-Nga, Samui, Ranong, and Satun to name just a few. For destinations in the north of Thailand, a change is usually required in Bangkok.
The approximate ticket costs between Phuket and a few popular destinations are as follows. For the very latest prices and schedules, check at the Phuket bus station or wherever you intend to depart from. There are also many bus companies and travel agents that publish their times and prices online.
|Arrive or Depart||Type||Price||Duration|
|Bangkok||VIP (24 seats)||950 baht||12 hours|
|Bangkok||Class 1 (50 seats)||650 baht||12 hours|
|Bangkok||Class 2 (50 seats)||500 baht||13 hours|
|Hat Yai||VIP (24 seats)||550 baht||7 hours|
|Hat Yai||Class 1 (36 seats)||350 baht||7 hours|
|Hua Hin||VIP (24 seats)||950 baht||9 hours|
|Krabi||Class 2||100 baht||4 hours|
|Ranong||Air-con||200 baht||5 hours|
|Samui + boat||Air-con||375 baht||7 hours|
|Surat Thani||Air-con||375 baht||7 hours|
To Phuket by Car
Phuket is easily reached by car or motorbike, even without a detailed map or a satellite navigation system as it’s a very simple route. From Bangkok, the journey can take up to 10 or 11 hours and there are essentially two possible routes. The first and more scenic option is to head south on the main highway 4 (Petchakasem Road) for the entire journey which passes the provinces of Petchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumpon, Ranong, Phang-Nga and finally to Phuket over the Sarasin Bridge. This trip is around 850 kilometres. The route to Ranong passes some stunning rainforest and mountain scenery, but the area has its own microclimate and frequently rains hard. By motorbike, this trip is best done in the dry season over a full day.
An alternative and slightly quicker route is to stick to the above until Chumpon, then exit from highway 4 and take highway 41 which goes farther south through Surat Thani province, and onto roads 401, 418, 415 and the 402 to Phuket. From the south of Thailand, there are also good road links and it takes just 2 hours to reach from Krabi.
To Phuket by Train
Travelling to Phuket directly by train is not possible as there are no lines that run close to the very western side of southern Thailand. However, numerous trains travel daily between Bangkok’s main Hua Lamphong station and Malaysia, and run all the way down Thailand and across the border. A sensible option is to take the overnight train from Bangkok to Phun Phin in Surat Thani province on the east coast, and then a bus to Phuket which should take at least another 4 hours or so. Train travel is very slow in Thailand, but can be comfortable if you have a decent class of seat or a sleeper birth. Just don’t count on getting anywhere quickly, and try to enjoy the views.
To Phuket by Boat
Most people come to Phuket by plane, bus or car as those are by far the most convenient options. There are several ferry and speedboat routes that operate to and from Phuket, mostly to the neighbouring islands and coastal areas such as Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Koh Lanta, Koh Racha Yai, Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi. Even though it’s quicker to take a bus between Phuket and coastal destinations like Krabi, a boat is essential to get out to the islands that can’t be reached by any other means. Some luxury cruise-liners sailing around Asia also make a stop in Phuket and let the occupants enjoy a few days of sun and sightseeing.
Most boats to and from Phuket are relatively old ferries, but there are also regular speedboats services particularly in the high season which are expensive but much faster. From Chalong Bay and the Royal Phuket Marina, it’s possible to arrange private charters to nearly anywhere but you may be charged exorbitantly. More traditional long tail boats are available in many places and popular beach locations, and can likewise take you to wherever you want.
Top up The Tan
In Thailand, boats and ferries can be quite slow and rather overcrowded, especially in the high season, but the journeys can be enjoyable when the weather is fine and you can sit outside to work on that holiday tan. When the conditions are bad and the seas rough however, it can be a very unenjoyable experience as the boat is tossed around and lurches from side to side. Usually everybody arrives in one piece, but there have been a few fatal accidents in the past due to poorly maintained boats and extreme weather.
Routes and Schedules
Some of the more popular routes are shown as a guide below. Prices and schedules may change depending on the time of year and the weather. For instance, in the low season there may be fewer departures, simply because there are fewer people around. Most tickets can be bought at the point of departure and don’t require advance booking.
Phuket (Rassada Port) to Koh Phi Phi (Tonsai Bay Pier)
Daily ferry, 08.30, 10.30, 13.30, and 14.30. A one way ticket is around 650 baht.
Koh Phi Phi (Tonsai Bay Pier) to Phuket (Rassada Pier)
Daily ferry, 09.00, 13.30, and 14.30. A one way ticket is around 650 baht.
Phuket (Rassada Port) to Krabi (Ao Nang)
Daily ferry, 08.30 only. A one way ticket is around 650 baht.
Krabi (Ao Nang) to Phuket (Rassada Port)
Daily ferry, 15.15 only. A one way ticket is around 650 baht.
Phuket (Bang Rong Pier) to Koh Yao Yai and Noi
Daily ferry, hourly between 07.30 and 17.00. A one way ticket is around 150 baht.
Koh Yao Yai and Noi to Phuket (Bang Rong Pier)
Daily ferry, hourly between 06.30 and 17.00. A one way ticket is around 150 baht.
Phuket (Chalong Pier) to Koh Racha Yai
Daily speedboat, 09.00 only. A one way ticket is around 600 baht.
Koh Racha Yai to Phuket (Chalong Pier)
Daily speedboat, 15.00 only. A one way ticket is around 600 baht.