I came across Phuket, Thailand on a Tuesday afternoon during my usual peruse of random flight searches. I looked up a few photos on Pinterest and thought it was beautiful. The clear beaches, night markets, and Phi Phi Islands were all things that made me want to include Phuket on our first adventure to Asia.
We spent a total of 6 days in Phuket, exploring night markets, beaches, temples and even did an island tour. Expectations never live up to reality. Pictures can be deceiving as anything can look great with a bit of photoshop and great caption. Below are a few helpful tips every traveler should know before traveling to Phuket.
Top 10 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Phuket
One of the first things you will notice in the city are the number of massage establishments on every street and sometimes within a few feet of one another. Thailand is known for their Thai massages and some locations offer more than you expect. Many massage establishments will have women outside advertising the business. The front of the building looks just like any other business, however, they do have back rooms where more than massages are offered.
I first noticed the difference when my husband and I walked down the street separately. The women would call
out to him, “Massage, want a massage?” When we walked together, they didn’t call out at all. This is when I had the lightbulb shock moment, OMG, it’s a happy ending place!
To each traveler their own.
For the next 6 days, we made it into a game. I would walk in front or behind my husband but never with him. We would count the number of times he got, “Called.” Each time he would do a little dance, “Oh yeah, I still got it!” He started to get offended when no one called out to him when we walked by.
I recommend doing a bit of research online and also ask your hotel, resort or hostel for a few suggestions if you really want a Thai Massage. That way you aren’t surprised when you are getting more than you bargained for.
Tours Offered on Every Corner
Whatever your tourist’s heart desires, Phuket will conquer it up. Tours are offered at every corner, selling everything from Island Hopping, Zip-lining, Day Tours, Temples, Zoos and anything else you can think of. If you really want to purchase a tour, I recommend talking to a few people before you book just to make sure you get the best price.
I recommend learning the currency exchange rate prior to going to Thailand. This way when you are in situations where salespeople are throwing prices at you in Bhat you can quickly convert them and make a decision if you want to purchase the service or product.
My husband and I practiced my conversion swiftness at a coffee shop and then tested my skills when we explored the local grocery store. Turn it into a game, “How Quickly Can You Convert That Bhat.” At the time we went 32 Bhat was equal to $1 USD.
Island Hopping is Not What You Think it is Going to Be
Phuket is home to the Phi Phi Islands and why so many tourist flock to the destination each year. We purchased
a tour that would take us on a ferry ride to the see the main islands, including monkey island, a relaxing stop at the beach, snorkeling and lunch.
Island hopping is exactly what you will be doing and will only spend a short period of time at each destination. We spent 10 minutes at monkey island and 40 minutes at the beach. The guides are strict with the schedules as much of your time is spent going from one destination to the next and you have to get on the main ferry back to mainland Phuket before nightfall.
Wear your swimsuit under your clothes, pack a microfiber towel and only bring a small bag if you must. You will be transferring from the main ferry to a smaller speedboat with limited space. The guides are really nice and there to help if you have any questions. They are the only reason I was able to snorkel. I DON’T know how to swim. Although you don’t spend much time at each island just remember to take in the experiences. If you really want to enjoy the Phi Phi Islands the right way, book at night or two on the island. This place is beautiful.
Everything is Going to Be 5x More Expensive in Phuket
We blew our 6 day budget on day 2 in Phuket. Everything is 5x more expensive in Phuket than in mainland Thailand. Some items were even more expensive than in the States. The food is catered to tourist which means a decent meal will set you back a pretty penny.
If you want to find local food at budget-friendly prices, you will need to travel a little bit outside of the touristy areas. We were able to find a local restaurant, called Restaurant No. 6 that offered good food at affordable prices.
Bargain. I needed a pair of cheap sunglasses since my other pair broke in my backpack. We stopped by a vendor on the side of the road. After trying on a few pairs, I asked him how much and he said 700 Bhat = $21.57 USD. I said no, too much. He then went to 500 Bhat = $15.40 USD. I said no, too much. He said 300 Bhat = $9.24, I said nope. He then went to 200 Bhat = $6.16 and finally 100 Bhat = $3.08. I happily agreed to my new shades at 100 Bhat. Technically, I didn’t really bargain like a champ and got lucky with the nice vendor but the lesson is, never accept the first price when purchasing anything in Phuket.
Beware of Scratch-off Scams
Scratch-off scams happen often on the beach. A gentleman will approach you as you walk down the beach, asking you a few questions to see if you “qualify” before giving you a scratch-off. Everyone’s a winner! My scratch-off stated I won a 7 night-luxury stay at one of Club Unique’s resorts. In exchange for the prize, all we needed to do was complete a 60-minute tour of the resort. We didn’t have anything special planned and knew it was a scam so we played along. 15 minutes later we pulled up to a half-finished resort with villas built in the mountainside.
When we arrived the receptionist was very friendly. She gave us a short questionnaire to complete, gave us our voucher and disappeared down the hall to speak with her manager since we didn’t fit the “ideal image”. After 5-10 minutes she returned stating all the guides were booked so we could skip the tour. She gave us instructions on how to redeem our free 7-night luxury resort stay, along with a long list of qualifications. I looked around and saw the lobby was bustling with people and asked can we look around? She said, um, okay but quickly rushed us to a taxi. I laughed to myself at this point. This was fun while it lasted, playing along asking so many questions and making the receptionist a bit uncomfortable.
This was essentially a time-share scam where they ask people to invest, hence the 60-minute tour. We didn’t look rich enough to afford a time-share, therefore, got turned down. Gosh, darn it, another unsuccessful scam.
We were able to get a free t-shirt & taxi ride to the mall after our encounter at Club Unique. Score!
If this happens to you on the beach, don’t get your hopes up. The people are really friendly and trained to do this all day to tourist. They actually have signals and work with several others up and down the beach along with taxi drivers to spot couples to sell time-shares to.
Lower Your Expectations of Patong Beach
Patong Beach is absolutely beautiful. Look out into the ocean, you will see gorgeous blue skies, with a backdrop of lush jungle. Perfect for any photo op. If you think you are going to be able to sit on the beach and enjoy a relaxing day in the sun, think again. Patong Beach is great if you want to stroll up and down the beach but it is not at all relaxing.
You will be surrounded by jet ski vendors, people selling you paragliding packages, speedboats to pull the paraglide and various different tourist water sports. On top of that, you only have a small stretch of water to swim due to the powerful waves. We did see a few people in the water but not many.
Over the years, Patong Beach is getting more and more polluted. Look down and plastics of all sorts will wash up on your feet. As you go farther down, a pile of trash can be seen in corners of rock formations.
Patong Beach is what you make of it. We choose to see the positives on our stroll. After all, it was a beach with the most picturesque backdrop. The people were all very friendly. You have to keep in mind that vendors are there to make a living and just doing their job. If you politely decline they will move on and if you engage in conversation, they might just give up a few hidden gems for your travels. We spoke to some of the nicest people on Patong Beach.
Mind your step. You will want to be careful when walking on Patong Beach so that you don’t walk in something
that could be dangerous like sharp plastics or worse, glass. That would ruin any vacation. We took our sandals off on our stroll and didn’t have any issues. If you want to be extra careful, you can wear water shoes. You can definitely enjoy Patong Beach as long as you keep an open mind. If you want to visit other less touristy beaches you can visit Surin Beach, Kamala Beach, or Mai Koi Beach. I recommend asking around and doing research on your destination so that you can plan accordingly for transportation and know how much a ride should cost.
Taxis & Tuk-Tuks
Taxis and Tuk-Tuks are everywhere in Phuket. Don’t be alarmed by the number of people hawking their service to you as you walk. Tuk-Tuks are small vehicles with an open-air back. Many Tuk-Tuks will be decorated with neon lights, painted eclectic colors with music blasting. Taxi drivers will usually be gathered every 50 feet sitting in a chair and as you pass by they will ask you, “Taxi?”
If you haven’t figured it out yet, you will more than likely not be renting a car in Phuket. Driving is insane. It’s been
8 years since I last traveled to Southeast Asia and I completely forgot how incredibly shocking driving was. Lanes are optional and roads are sketchy. Scooters will pass you at every angle, squeezing into the spot just in front of you. The surprising thing is that with all the insanity, there are very few accidents. Drivers in Thailand can maneuver just about any space no matter how large the vehicle or small the vehicle.
If you are brave you can definitely rent a scooter to get around. Keep in mind that it’s common practice that they will keep your passport for the rental. You will want to inspect your scooter thoroughly for any damages and if there are any document it immediately with the shop owner, take photos and video if you can prior to taking off. Scams occur all the time with damaged scooter rentals. Not all shops are like this, you just want to be careful.
If you want to ride in a Tuk-Tuk or Taxi you will want to bargain and ask a few drivers what their rate is. More than likely the first guy will tell you a high rate but if you walk a little further you’ll notice the rate will drop. Don’t be afraid to say lower, too much or walk away. We always asked the staff at our hostel how much it should cost to go to X. They’ll give you a range, and if the driver says anything more than that, you’ll be paying too much. You can also get a much cheaper rate if you bargain a round trip ride, we did and it worked out perfectly.
My Attempt At Bargaining
We wanted to go to Wat Chalong Temple via Taxi for the air con. It was hot and I was willing to pay for air con versus sit in the back of a Tuk-Tuk. Our first offer was 700 Bhat = $21.67 USD to get there. We started negotiating with the driver and he said it would take about 45 minutes to get there with traffic. I told him that was too much and I’m not sure if we wanted to go for that much. He went down to 600 Bhat = $18.57.
I asked what about a round trip, he said 1200 Bhat = $37.14 USD. I asked if he could do 1100 Bhat = $34.05 USD and he agreed. As we walked up to the Taxi, I blurted out, 1000 Bhat = $30.95 USD and we all laughed but he still agreed. Hey, it didn’t hurt to ask at this point since we all knew we wanted to go to the temple. The round trip was a better deal, plus the same Taxi driver would sit and wait for us to explore for up to 2.5 hours.
If you are exploring a distance and need to take a Taxi or Tuk-Tuk, try sharing your ride with other travelers to cut down the cost.
Do Not Carry a Large Backpack/Day Bag or Purse
As you walk around Phuket, you will notice that not very many people carry around day bags, large bags, or purses. If you do, you are setting yourself up as a target. In other countries, we would carry around our backpacks with us to keep our camera, money and credit cards. In Phuket, we only carried around a small travel wallet that goes around your neck, everything else was locked up in the safe back at our hostel. The streets are typically pretty busy and you are bumping into people constantly. It’s best to avoid the hassle and just travel lite.
Only carry around a small amount of cash, enough to cover your day’s expenses. If you do prefer to carry a bag, Fanny packs are back in style! We saw a ton of people with fanny packs slung across their shoulders in Phuket. We also decided not to take our big expensive DSLR camera with us and just took photos and video on our phones. I left my phone in the safe, in case something happened my husband’s phone we would always have a backup. This is optional and I suggest doing what you are most comfortable with. We don’t really separate while traveling for safety reasons, therefore, I was more than comfortable with doing this.
The Island Caters Heavy to Tourist
Phuket relies heavily on tourist and it’s evident in everything you do, from the food to activities. That being said, if you are wanting a more local experience you will need to trek a bit further inland. Be sure to ask around for some recommendations. If you are looking for a more diverse and affordable experience in Thailand you may want to check out Chiang-Mai or Bangkok.
Pollution is everywhere in Phuket and that is why I would recommend wearing closed toe shoes. I know this
sounds odd due to the tropical climate but you will be walking in dirt, rocks, make-shift sidewalks among trash and other things in Phuket. If you are brave, go for the sandals, we just preferred wearing closed toes shoes due to the pollution and for safety.
Sidenote – We were walking down a street and a gentlemen spit towards me and missed me by a hair. If this happens to you, just be prepared not to freak out.
Don’t forget to bring your allergy pills. My husband has severe allergies and when the air quality is bad it makes it hard for him to breath. He took his allergy pills every morning before we left our hostel just to be safe. If you want to wear a white surgical mask, it’s totally acceptable too. We didn’t but saw a few that did.
Keep an open mind
Travel is about learning. The most important thing is that you open yourself up to new experiences.
These are some of the things we learned along the way, and wish we knew before booking our trip. We hope you find them helpful when planning your travels. Thailand is a beautiful country that has a lot to offer, a must-see for anyone traveling through Southeast Asia.
Interested in watching our travel day to Phuket and more, check out the video below.
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