Taxi and Public Transport Information
As with many tropical island destinations, Phuket does not have a well-developed taxi or public transport system. The most common forms of public transport used by visitors are the tuk-tuk, public bus, private taxi, motorcycle taxi and – a recent development – the meter taxi.
This is an open-sided small minivan with front-to-back bench seating available for hire like a taxi. You’ll find the main streets in any of Phuket’s resorts lined with them waiting for a fare. They’re not metered and you need to check the fare before you get in. In most cases, the fare will be higher than you’d expect and is almost certainly non-negotiable – although it is always worth a try at bargaining with a smile. Phuket’s tuk-tuk drivers are happy to wait all day for a fare at the right price and operate a closed shop so there is no effective competition.
Under no circumstances get into an argument with a tuk-tuk driver about the fare or anything else; you’re likely to find yourself arguing with a crowd of his friends too! A tuk-tuk ride is not particularly comfortable or fast, but may be the best way to travel a short distance from your resort. The best way to start off is to ask at your resort information desk for an idea of how much to pay to get to your destination.
CAUTION: If you’re offered a really cheap ride in a tuk-tuk, you'll find yourself being taken around several retail establishments en route to your destination. The driver picks up a ‘fee’ for every tourist he brings in!
Recently introduced to Phuket, meter taxis have been unable to break the tuk-tuk monopoly on pick-ups in major tourist spots. It is worth, though, obtaining a meter taxi phone number from your resort’s information desk as you can call them for the return trip after a night out. You will probably need a Thai-speaking person to arrange the booking.
The majority of public buses, plying only a few popular routes, are open-air vehicles of a style that has not changed for 50 years. Although locals will tell you there is a schedule, it’s almost impossible to find out exactly what that is. If you're travelling from one major destination (eg Patong Beach, Kata Beach, Naiharn Beach etc) to another (eg Phuket City) you can find out from your resort information desk where the bus pick-up point is and give it a try. You’ll find most of your travelling companions will be locals, and this can be a great way to gain an insight into how things really work in Thailand.
There are many private, unlicensed ‘taxis’ operating in Phuket. These will almost certainly be uninsured for carrying paying passengers. However, if the insurance aspect is not too important to you, many visitors find this the ideal way to go. If you do decide this is for you, get the information desk at your resort or the head waiter at a local restaurant to organise it for you and tell them you want a driver who speaks English. If it works out, you could find yourself with your own chauffeur – and a good friend – for the duration of your visit.
Just as it sounds, this is a motorcycle with driver available for hire. Prices are fixed, but a little negotiation never hurts. You’ll find motorcycle taxis at most busy street corners in busy areas (the drivers will be wearing a uniform vest) and they can be convenient for short trips. However, they are not safe – particularly for longer journeys on the winding coast roads – and are not recommended here. If you do decide to take the risk, be sure to ask the driver for a safety helmet. This will not be up to western standards, but does afford some protection in the event of a low-speed tumble.
Because of the vagaries of public transport, self-drive is a favourite option for many visitors. Motorcycle hire is particularly popular with tourists – and is responsible for a high number of serious accidents and spoiled holidays. Phuket is not a sleepy little tropical island. The main roads are busy with cars, buses, vans, motorcycles and 10-wheel trucks – not to mention 3-wheel noodle carts – all vying for road space. The quieter roads have unexpected twists and turns, steep hills and inconvenient patches of gravel just around the next corner. Driving standards and practices are not comparable with those you may be familiar with back home.
If you do decide motorcycle rental best suits your needs – and it does offer a certain freedom – we recommend you follow a few simple rules:
- Wear a helmet at all times.
- Wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts (this will help avoid what local expats call ‘road rash’ – the painful result of many minor spills).
- Keep your speed down and your antennae up at all times.
- Leave the bike behind if you’re going for a drink.
By far the safest, most comfortable and convenient option for getting around Phuket is to hire a car.
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