There are three locations on the Island of Phuket where cruise ships dock. During the high season of November through to April, most cruise ships would dock near Patong Beach – the island’s busiest area, buzzing with street vendors, beach-goers and spectacular nightlife, and the passengers would be taken ashore by tenders. There are no tourist facilities at the pier at all, but the beach is metres away and you would be immediately surrounded by taxi drivers, tour organisers and various other hawkers.
During the Monsoon season May – October, the shops would dock at the deep-sea port of Ao Makarm, the Deep-Sea Port of Phuket, about 8 km or 18 min by car from Phuket Town. When the ships overnight in Phuket, normally they would dock at Ao Makram and you would be taken to Patong Beach via a tender. The port is also about 50 min drive from Phuket International Airport, 43 km away. The port is lacking passenger facilities, however recently plans for a passenger hall and landscape improvement have been revealed by the Thai government. There are taxis waiting to pick up tourists from the pier, however make sure you practise your negotiating skills, as prices normally start quite high. There are “turf wars” between taxi companies in Phuket and normally you can pick up cheaper taxis, tuktuks and minibuses from just outside the port entrance.
The local currency is THB (Thai Baht) and exchanging money is quick and easy. There are various currency exchange shops around Patong Beach, just check a few to compare the rates. You can exchange a small amount at the Airport, if arriving by air, and exchange bigger amounts at one of the shops. There are ATMs everywhere but bear in mind that you would be charged a fee of up to 200 Baht, separate from the fees that your bank will charge you for drawing cash in a different currency. Make sure you protect your pin number and notify your bank that you would be travelling abroad. There are more and more card companies that offer now free of charge services abroad. All major credit cards are widely accepted at hotels, upscale restaurants and shopping malls. You would need to pay cash for your taxi fare and at markets and street food stalls.
Opening hours and bank holidays. The usual opening hours in Phuket are from 10 am until 10 pm, seven days a week. The banks and post offices would be open from 8.30 – 9 am until 3.30 – 5 pm Monday to Friday with an hour lunch break at midday. Some bank offices in shopping malls would work with slightly extended hours. There are many supermarkets that are open until late, some of them are open 24/7. The same applies to street food vendors. You are likely to find food sold at any hour of the day or night.
Tipping in Phuket is not expected, but greatly appreciated. As a general guidance, don’t tip street vendors, leave the change at low-key family restaurants, about 10% at more upscale restaurants (but do check the bill first for service charges), round the fare for taxis, and tip the bellboy and the made at your hotel about 20-50 Baht per bag/ per day. Tip your masseuse, hair-dresser and tour guide 10-15% if they have done a wonderful job. Remember to always tip in cash, and only give money directly to the person you are looking to tip. If you leave loose change in your hotel room for example, the housekeeper is not likely to take it, as she may think you have simply left the money in the room for yourself.
The language, spoken in Phuket is Thai. The local knowledge of English is somewhat limited, but most of the locals know enough English words to understand what you are trying to say and give you directions, for example. Knowing a couple of Thai words, such as thank you (women must say “sawatdee ka” and men must say “sawatdee khap), “khun khap” or “ka” to get the attention of a waiter or respectfully a waitress, and “aroy” – meaning delicious, will be very appreciated and will make Thai people very happy.
Things To Do
Although Phuket is mainly known by its endless beaches, impressive nightlife, spicy street food and buzzing night markets, there are a few landmarks that the locals are mostly proud of, below is a short list of the most popular ones.
A must-see is the spectacular statue of Big Buddha – the locals call it the Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha – quite the tongue twister, but no need to worry, everyone knows it as the Big Buddha. This fascinating structure was built in 2004 and is 25.5m wide and 45m tall, made by reinforced concrete, covered in White Burmese jade marble. It’s situated on the peak of mount Nagakerd, Subdistrict of Karon. It is possible to purchase a break of a marble tile, sign your name on it and it will be placed inside the Big Buddha forever. Apart from a place of worship, the statue is also a great viewpoint and picture opportunity. From the little square that surrounds it, you can see most of Southern Phuket, including Phuket Town, Kata and Karon beach and Chalong Bay. On a clear day you can see as far as Phang Nga Bay.
If you are interested in the history of Thailand and Phuket, make sure you take some time to go and see the Thalang National Museum. Now it’s closed for renovation until October 2018. The museum displays historic artefacts of the area to present the old days of Phuket. The exhibits are organised in four different themes: 1. Phuket Island and Early Inhabitant of the Andaman, 2. The Battle of Thalang, 3. The Chinese and Development of Phuket and 4. Phuket People. There are also exhibits, honouring the famous sisters Chan and Mook that led the people of Phuket against the invasion of the Burmese, and an exhibit on the sea gypsies – the original indigenous population of the island.
Another proud possession of the people of Phuket is the Wat Chalong Monastery – the most important, largest and most visited monastery amongst the 29 of them in Phuket. Here Thai people and visitors come to pay respect to the revered monks - founders of Wat Chalong. Amongst them are Luang Pho Cham and Luang Pho Chuang, who led the citizens of Chalong Subdistrict fighting against the Chinese in 1876 and helped the injured with their knowledge of local herbal medicine. The Grand Pagoda or “Chedi”, dominating the temple is 60 metres tall and it contains a splinter from Lord Buddha’s bone. The walls and ceilings are decorated with beautiful paintings, presenting Buddha’s life and there are many donated golden statues. You can climb all the way to the top floor terrace for a lovely view of the whole complex.
There is a lot more to do in Phuket, time permitting. Explore the many and different beaches Phuket has to offer – from the buzzing and ever busy Patong beach through the quieter Karon and Kata Beach, to the tranquil and peaceful Mai Khao and Banana beach – there are more than 30.
If you manage to peel yourself off the beaches for a while, take time to take a boat trip around the island – there are many routes to choose from, but the two main ones are Phi Phi Islands, Phi Phi Don, Maya Bay and Monkey beach and Phang Nga Bay, James Bond Island, Ko Panyi village and Naka Noi beach.
If you are interested in the flora and fauna of Phuket, take some time to visit the Elephant Sanctuary where you can help look after the animals, or the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project – an organisation, working to rehabilitate gibbons, rescued from pet trade and the tourist industry. There is also plenty to see at the Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife park – the only significant virgin rain forest in Phuket and at the Marine Research Centre & Aquarium, where cuttlefish, seahorses and “Nemo” babies are growing up, before being released back in the ocean. Check out the Phuket Butterfly garden & Insect World for an opportunity to get close and personal with some colourful butterflies.
For an insight into unique Thai entertainment and culture, visit Phuket Thai village. For an explosion of some colourful and exotic Thai fun, visit Phuket Fantasea – the ultimate night-time cultural theme park. To see the world-famous show of the ladyboys of Phuket, get tickets for the Simon Cabaret & Show – immerse yourself in the glitz and glamour of this sophisticated cabaret-style performance. Go to Trickeye Museum and take pictures at the weird and wonderful 3D images.
For that perfect social media picture, head over to one of the many viewpoints of Phuket. At Monkey Hill (named so because of the friendly macaques, fed by locals and tourists), you can see wonderful views of Phuket Town. At Promthep Cape viewpoint near Rawai Beach you can capture the best sunset-over-the-ocean pictures, make sure to arrive early as the place is very popular. At Khao Rang Viewpoint you can see some of Phuket Town, all the way to Chalong Bay and the Panwa Peninsula.
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