Phuket is known as one of the popular tourist spot in Thailand. It’s famous for their cheap accommodation, offshore islands, clear water beaches, and many more! But with lots of tourists, there comes many tourists traps you and I may not know of.
We visited Phuket in the mid of 2012, and we had lots of fun there in 4 days. We did quite a number of things, had lots of touring and exploring, and also realized some little traps here and there which we hope to share with you, to help you for your next trip.
Phuket is not really a shopping haven
But that’s what most Singaporeans or tourists will do anyway. The apparels here are quite affordable, and I’ve seen tourists buying bags of branded clothes, bags, pants, shorts, undies…etc. Ok, the ‘fake’ branded goods.
Though they are so cheap, I can say they are not durable. But anyway, it’s still cheap! However, I wouldn’t recommend this place to be where you would want to do bulk shopping, like buying dozens to clothes to bring back to your home country to sell, or sell them online.
The goods here are quite limited, not in the volume, but in the choices. After walking around few stalls, you’ll realize most goods come from the same supplier, as most stalls are selling almost the same goods.
There are also not many shopping malls around. The only one near where we stay is the Jungceylon Shopping Mall. It is more of an air-conditioned street market. More things to see, but more of the same things :P.
So if you wanna shop, do buy some funky ‘branded’ clothes for your own wear will do. Don’t bother bringing huge luggage over here to shop. If you want to do bulk shopping, then Bangkok is where you want to be at!
But Phuket is a haven for services!
Yes. We don’t come here and buy lots of stuffs. But we spend a lot on their services! Massage, hairstyling, personal grooming, pedicure, manicure… you’ll find it more affordable than your home town. For us Singaporeans? Definitely!
As you may already know, Thailand is famous for massage. Same for Phuket, you can find massage parlor everywhere. Thai massage? Foot massage? Aroma massage? Oil massage? Hot stone massage? You want it, you have it.
When looking for a massage parlor, make sure it looks clean and air-conditioned too. Because you’ll be there for at least 1 hour.
As for us, when we’re at Phuket, we went to try out as many massage services as we can, as they are really affordable with tip-top professional service. We are glad we found 2 really good ones, and we even went back for 2nd time before we fly off.
Ladies, looking to get your nails polished? Get it done here also. Even at an affordable rate, their services are first class.
And when the ladies polish their nails, what do the guys do?
You can go for foot massage! Even better, they have Wifi for you to access. Let them knead your aching muscles, and you go and surf Facebook!
And If you had enough of thai massage, you can try letting these small fishes massage you.
Will it be comfortable? Will it be itchy? Will I feel better?
Try it and you know!
There are more international food than thai food at Phuket!
Thailand is famous for its thai cuisine, but I can say Phuket is not known so much for its food. You can still find thai food here and there, but don’t expect too much from it.
On the other hand, you’ll find more international cuisine that Thai food there. Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Turkish, Persian, Chinese… you find more of those restaurants than Thai ones!
But, you can still find Thai food. You really have to take effort to find, because they are not that common on the streets. How ironic!
Here’s some thai food we tried, and kind of like it!
If you’re starving from a day of tour and you want to have a satisfying meal, then thai food may not be enough for you. I recommend you to eat at this Sushi buffet at Jungceylon shopping mall.
All you can eat within 1 hour 15 minutes. They have this clock to time you. If you stay too long, you may get charged. But I can tell you, 30 minutes of constant eating may be enough for you.
Travel during non-rainy season
When we book for our Phuket trip to be in June, we didn’t think much about weather forecast. After all, the last few times I’ve been to Thailand, there’s no rain. No Rain. Not even drizzle.
But when we were in Phuket, there’s no only rain, but constant rain for hours, from morning to night. You can imagine how much of our trip is be affected. Some roads had ponding, and cars couldn’t pass through easily.
The strong winds at sea almost forced us to abandon all our island hopping plans.
Luckily it was just 2 days of rain.
Hence, if you want to travel to Phuket, the best time is during December through March, where the weather isn’t so humid, and there’s cool breeze to keep you comfortable. Temperatures around 75F to 89F (24C to 32C).
The hottest time in Phuket would be from April to May, with temperatures ranking from 80F to 95 F (27C to 36C).
June, July, August tend to be the period where there’s heavy showers but sunshine in between (which is what we experienced!). September to October is then the rainy season.
Book the right hotel
As Phuket is much a tourist haven, I see more tourists from all over the world along the streets than their local Thais. That’s why you’ll find really many hotels in Phuket.
With so many hotels there, you can get a relatively good hotel at a low price. For our trip, we stayed at Patong Terrace Beach Boutique Hotel. It’s not those kind of big hotels with huge lobby and swimming pool. But it’s a simple B&B (Bed & Breakfast) accommodation.
It’s only a 3-storey hotel sandwiched between shophouses. So it’s not obvious when you first see it.
For the price we pay for, I have to give 5 Star for it! We paid S$35 per night via online booking, and we were very happy about it. It’s very convenient, as you’re footsteps from everything in Phuket. It’s right at the central where the buzz of Patong is.
Bangla Road, where all the bars, clubs and Tiger shows are, is just a junction away. The Patong Beach, Jungceylon Shopping Mall, and all the street stalls and night market are just around the hotel.
Why service is excellent? On our last day, we are supposed to have a one full day island tour, then depart for hotel at night. We have to check out early morning, and that means we won’t have a bathroom to bathe after our island tour. However, when we returned after the tour, the staff allowed us to do a wash-up in their lobby toilet, which is very much like 5 star toilet, and provide us with soap and towels.
I’ll never hesitate to book this hotel again. We chatted with the boss, who is also an angmoh (Caucasian) who moved here many years ago to start his hotel business. A friendly guy, and makes you feel welcomed.
Of course, there are many more hotels at Patong, but some are not located as convenient as they said they are. When booking online, they would describe themselves as ‘close to all the buzz’, but some are really FAR away. We saw it ourselves when we pass by a hotel we originally thought of booking. Fortunately, we give that a miss, as it was nowhere near any buzz.
If you were to book a hotel there, check out their price at Agoda, Booking.com or other booking services, and read tourist reviews at Tripadvisor or somewhere else before finally booking them. Do ask your friends also.
Book local tours in Phuket itself, not in your home country, not even from Groupon!
This is one of the important things I have learned from this trip. We know Phuket is famous for its island tours, where it will bring you to various island for sight-seeing or water activities. These 1 day island tours are very attractive too, and many tourists would love it.
Before our trip, we saw a Deal.com.sg deal for a 1 day island tour to 4 islands (Koh Phi Phi, Maya Island Bamboo Island & 1 more) via Speedboat and with lunch provided for $58/pax. This price is also after almost 50% discount from its original price. I did some research online to compare other island tour and their prices, and I conclude that this Deal.com.sg deal is a better deal.
So we bought it.
We went for the island tour and we were very happy with the whole tour, the fun, the tour guide etc. However, we also realized that we can go for this same trip at a much lower price! How we know? Just talk to the people (other tourists) on the speedboat. Everybody paid different price for the same tour. Of course, there are also people who will pay more than us.
So is that $58 deal a steal, or is it just a package with price jacked up by 200% then bring it down to call it a deal? Anyway, I’m thankful I learned something new! If I were to visit Phuket again, I won’t book any local tours online (online prices are jacked up too!) or in Singapore. You just have to go there(Phuket), and there are many local tour agencies for you to choose and you can pick the best tour at the best price you want.
And I have to share an encounter I have with a Canadian tourist on the same island tour as us.
He’s the one who told me that I paid to much for the same tour he bought. Thanks to him, or I’m still in the dark. He managed to buy the same tour package as me at half of what I pay. And as I said earlier, I was at first still happy when the salesperson gave me some discount which I thought I was not entitled for.
I paid $1800 Baht per pax and I thought I got a good deal, until he told me he paid only $900 baht. Wow.
For that particular tour, we sat on a big boat, which is even cheaper. A tour with Speed boat will cost slightly more. So now you see, how much higher the salesperson there have jacked up the prices and paste them on the brochures. Imagine how many more more full body massage you can go with the money you save from bargaining.
And the funny thing is, this Canadian guy told me “You’re from Asia! You should have bargained more!”
I don’t know about you, but I always heard people say westerners (ang moh) don’t like to bargain because it’s their culture they don’t like to bargain. And here I have an ang moh who can bargain much much better than me. And he even teach me how to bargain next time.
And you know what? We talked so much, but didn’t know each other’s name!
Update Jan 2017: My friends have updated me that although you can book the island tours when you’re at Phuket itself, it is risky because there may not be slots or availability for you, and all island tours may be fully booked, leaving you empty-handed when you are there.
Hence, you can still try your luck to book your tours when you reach Phuket, or you can book your tours online and you can get guaranteed your seats in those island tours. Viator is a world famous local tour booking website and I can say your booking will be safe with them. (Afterall, you don’t want headaches when you are at Phuket. Like you, we just want all the fun!)
Private Taxis of Phuket
Phuket is a place where you can’t find any public transport. To get out of the airport, you either rent a car, or get in a taxi. How about traveling from places to places in Phuket?
You can either hop into a TukTuk, or into a private taxi. If you’ve been to anywhere in Thailand, you’d have seen a TukTuk before, a vehicle which is driven by a bike in front, and ferry passengers at the back.
You can hop on one for an experience, but the TukTuk drivers, having seen too many tourists in Phuket, know how to rip you off!
What about a private car? I don’t think I saw any taxi there, but I saw many private ‘taxi’. In Phuket, it seems like anyone can become a taxi driver if you have a car. Just take a cardboard, write Taxi, put inside your car, and you have a taxi.
I was initially afraid of this type of ‘private taxi’ service, because I don’t know where they will bring me to. Will they drive me to my destination, or THEIR destination?
But because on our 2nd day tour of Phuket, we wanted to travel out of Patong area to Phuket Town and it was raining heavily. A (doorless) TukTuk won’t suffice because we would be drenched.
Then this ‘taxi’ uncle waved to me to get into his ‘taxi’. He quoted us his price, but I bargained with him until he rejected us. His face is kinda black. So I know I have gone too low. We told him we will find another ‘taxi’.
After 10-15 mins, there’s no other taxi in sight. Then we went back to him again and gave him our price (slightly higher than our previous low). He said okay, and off we go! And when we went with him, he didn’t hold the grudge that I just now tried to force his price drastically down. He just treats me like his new passenger.
In the end, he ended up being our driver for the whole of our trips. On his last day, we also took his car to the airport. We met him, but its his employee who is the driver. At that point, we realized he also hires other drivers to drive under him. Smart guy.
Hence, if you’d want to travel around Phuket, you can consider getting into a ‘private taxi’, know the driver, and engage him as your driver for the few days you are in Phuket. Because you give him business for that few days, you can negotiate with him a better rate.
Want an even better ride?
Try Uber in Phuket! Uber is a global app that allows you to book private car drivers, just like normal taxis. Uber is everywhere, it is probably in your home country too. When you visit Phuket you can use it too!
Just login to the app and book your trip around Phuket. The Uber fees is likely to be a lot less than taxis or tuktuk there.
Downside? The number of Uber drivers there might be less than the taxis or tuktuk. Hence, demand is greater than supply. You might need a bit of luck to get hold of a Uber driver there.
And so, those are the 7 things that you have to know before you travel to Phuket! Hope these tips help you enjoy your Phuket trip!
Of course, how can we end this post without sharing some of the island tours we went to?
There you go!
The big boats that bring us around.
At James Bond Island. James Bond had this scene in his movie, and this island became famous overnight.
And then we have a guide who brings photography to a whole new level.
And we alight the boat into canoes as we enter the caves.
And I think our boatman has an uncanny resemblance of Bruno Mars.
So we entered this cave, which they say has diamond crystals.
See any diamonds?
I think there is, but we can’t find any, so we paddle out.
As we paddle, we also saw some bird nest caves. That’s bird nests of swallows are harvested and sold to us humans as delicacies.
Then the boat brought us to a small island with lots of monkeys. We don’t know what we’re supposed to do there. So we just keep feeding the monkeys.
And of course took pictures of them.
And their little ones.
We also get the chance to paddle our own canoes.
As part of the tour, we also tried snorkeling. We were brought to somewhere 3m deep. We dived in, and saw fishes swimming around us. To get the fish to swim to you? Dive in with some bread.
On the speedboat. Phi Phi Island.
That’s how clear the water is!
The bamboo island. This island has nothing, other than fantastically clean beaches. You can just lie there, let the waves hit you, and let yourself bake under the sun. That’s what we did anyway.
Want to find out more about Phuket? Here’s an article by my fellow traveller friend, Jan, on the Top 25 Things To Do In Phuket!
Bonus: The Famous Tourist Trap of Phuket
Since you’ve read till here, I thought I should share a little more about an unpleasant incident that happened to us in Phuket. Phuket is famous for its nightlife at the Patong area.
If you walk around, you will see clubs and bars open their doors wide, with scantily-clad ladies dancing on table tops. If you’re new to this, then it may be an eye-opener for you!
But that’s not all. Walking around, you will also see men and women peddling with menus, inviting you to “Ping Pong” shows. Ping Pong shows is famous in Thailand only. You can find them in Bangkok too.
But what exactly is a Ping Pong show? Playing table tennis balls? A magician show doing tricks with ping pong balls?
By the way, here’s one menu you can find:
Seen the menu? Yes, those shows are for adults only.
In every show, you will see ladies (or ladyboys) doing amazing tricks and stuns with their private part. You have to see it to believe the amazing things it can do: like lighting a cigarette, shooting an arrow and more.
How much for the show?
Look at the menu – ‘Free Show Only Buy Drink’ only.
That was what we thought too! Just buy a drink, and you can enjoy the amazing show! Read on to find out what happened.
We told the man we are interested, and right away, he led us the way into the club. The place where the real performance took place seems very discreet. We have to walk through a door, through an empty room, and through another door, through an empty room, and a final door again.
We are not sure why this place is sooooo secretive that we have to walk so deep into the bar just to watch the show. Okay… maybe its an adult show, that’s why.
And finally, we were inside the real bar with the Ping Pong Show. It’s kind of dark (as expected), with a few ladies (or ladyboys) on stage preparing for next show. There were a few Caucasians around us, probably visitors who are curious just like us.
We took our seats and waited for the next show.
And at this time, a waitress came over to show us the drinks menu.
Remember ‘Free Show Only Buy Drink’? We kind of expected that we have to pay for something. But what happens next SHOCK us.
We looked at the menu. The price list is crazy.
The drinks listed on the menu range from 45 USD to 100 USD.
I re-examine the menu. It is 45 USD to 100 USD. Not Thai Baht!
And guess what is the cheapest drink at 45 USD?
A glass of coke.
Wow… I didn’t expect I have to pay so much for a drink to watch a show which we’re just curious about.
That price is just too much for us to pay for. We tried to bargain..
“Can both of us share 1 glass of coke?”
They said No. 1 person has to buy a drink.
At that point, I did my math. I realized it is not worth it to pay so much (US$90 for both of us) for 2 glass of cokes, and ladyboys performing weird tricks with their p****. We rather pay US$90 for more sessions of thai massages.
So after about 7 mins of ‘negotiations’, we told the waitress we are leaving.
At that point of time, another waiter came over to convince us to stay. He even said we can just buy 1 glass of coke. (I thought we can’t earlier?). But we insisted we want to leave. But both of them still tried to hold us back and keep convincing us ‘the show is about to start!’, and he will even give us discounts on the drinks.
We don’t feel comfortable staying any longer and somehow felt that they are trying to prevent us from leaving. Don’t forget, we are tourists, and we just walked through 3 doors to the bar. We are totally unfamiliar with that place!
That was when I stopped talking, and started walking out. The waiter continued to follow us on our way out and hope that we would change our minds and turn back. But after opening 3 doors and walking through 3 rooms, we are out of that bar.
Wow. What an ‘experience’!
We’re not sure about you. You may want to explore this when you’re in Phuket. Just be careful. At least, now you know the price of the coke you have to pay for the ‘Free’ show!
Return from 7 Things to know before you travel to Phuket to Travel Asia Yourself
Return to Travel Yourself Today Home