So I didn’t know. I didn’t know that “Phuket Town” was 40 minutes from the airport and 40 minutes from the beach. Didn’t know my cab ride would cost more than my room for the night. Didn’t know that the hostel I was staying in wouldn’t have warm water or that it would be far from everything. Didn’t know getting a SIM card for my phone would be difficult. Didn’t know that every other corner of the city would smell of sewage.
But that’s kind of how this traveling thing works, isn’t it?!
If you travel to travel to Phuket, which is one of Thailand’s major cities and a tourist hub, here are my quick tips and observations.
Flying from Bangkok: There are very few locals on a flight from Bangkok to Phuket. It’s comprised mostly of foreigners on holiday. The largest groups (from my small, qualitative study) are from Australia, Russia and France. Side bar – French women really are the most beautiful women in the world. And sorry guys, they all seem to travel with their boyfriends!
Arriving in Phuket: Most people on the flight are going directly to a resort on one of the beaches. Patong is the largest, and it’s party central. For my friends who go to Cabo frequently, you could compare it to that. From the moment you walk out the front doors of the airport, locals are offering you tour packages, rides and other rip offs. I did notice, however, that Thais are not as pushy with sales. They ask you once then leave you alone. Also, they are pretty helpful if you just want to ask them a question, even if you don’t intend on buying from them.
Getting around town: From Phuket Town you can take a local bus to any of the major beaches. Thai local buses are quite colorful, both literally and figuratively. They are painted with bright, beachy colors and have an open-air quality about them (think hay ride). Many are fully open in the back, and you really do just kind of jump on. The bus stops aren’t like the clearly marked ones we have in the US or the ones I’ve seen in Europe. You’ll want to ask a local where to pick one up and tell the guy as you get on where you want to get off to make it a little easier for you.
The buses get very crowded in the afternoons. But watching the mix of confused tourists, students, and lady boys is quite entertaining. If heat bothers you, you’ll hate it. (I personally live for heat. It’s been fun to sweat again after living 7 years in moderate San Francisco! Yes… I’m crazy.) Bonus – a 30-minute bus ride cost less than $1.
As for walking around, just be warned that crossing the street is a fight for survival… There are no cross walks. You can see traces where they use to be – faint whispers of yellow paint suggesting pedestrian safety – but no one on car scooter or tuk tuk seems to pay them any mind. In exchange, you can cross the street anywhere you want as long as you look both ways… and run! Wear comfortable shoes. There’s also a lot of stuff lying around on the sidewalks outside shops, so I’d wager that tripping on something isn’t hard to do.
Getting hit by a scooter is also easy to do, as it nearly happened to me twice (sorry mom). I have never seen so many scooters. They are more common than cars here. The only concerning thing is I see many children (and adults) on them with no helmets. Also, they tend to drive all over the place making it seem even more dangerous if you’re on foot. Tip: Learn to drive one before you come if you don’t know how already. They can be rented cheaply and are an easy way to travel from beach to beach/ places you want to visit.
Patong: I only visited Patong during the day so my observations are limited. I can tell you, however, I have NEVER in my life – not in Legas, LA or NY – seen so many bars. There are literally 2 streets filled with nothing but bars, one right after the other. Large, open spaced bars lined with cute Asian women (“welcome girls”) ready to get you and your friends drunk and take your money! But if you really want to know what goes on there, go at night and go with a group to be safe.
The beach in Patong is packed. The hotels there have taken over most of the real estate with their lounge chairs that are for guests only or for rent. I walked up and down the beach just to get a sense of it. I can’t say as it would be a choice for me for a vacation, as I prefer the quiet.
Cell Phone: Everyone told me to bring an unlocked phone, so I did. And they were right, SIM cards are cheap and it’s easy to get data here. However, my phone didn’t work with the Thai SIM cards. I suspect it has something to do with iOS updates. But I’m in marketing, so I don’t pat myself on the back for my technical skills… I will update you all when I find a solution for this current conundrum. Stay tuned. (Side Bar – You can get a SIM card at any 7-11. True is the name of Thai’s largest network. DO NOT get your SIM/phone package from a store on the beach. They double the prices.)
Going to the smaller islands from Phuket: Phuket Town is located near the ferries that take
tourists daily to other popular islands like Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. The person working at my hostel booked mine for me and the shuttle to the Ferry picked me (and some other travelers) up at 8am. It was a straightforward process… we are mere cattle here ;). No, seriously, they put stickers on us at the dock with our final destinations on them and waved us in the right direction. I just got a second sticker when I switched boats in Koh Phi Phi!
I’m on my 2nd ferry headed to Koh Lanta right now. Wish me luck ;).