Why Go To Phuket
Pure white sands, aquamarine waters and limestone cliffs await travelers who visit Thailand's southwestern island of Phuket. Surrounded by the Andaman Sea and about an hour by plane from Bangkok, this island is a little piece of paradise, which comes with a relatively low price tag for everything from its accommodations to spa treatments and boat tours. But along with its tropical appeal, Phuket beckons to travelers wanting to experience its flavorful cuisine (think: lemongrass, lime leaves, chillies) and its rich culture, heavily influenced by its reigning religion: Buddhism.
And although the island's beaches and tourism operators have bounced back from the 2004 tsunami, which hammered its western coast and tragically claimed thousands of lives, it remembers the past with memorials and a better warning system, should the area once again come under threat.
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Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Phuket is between November and April when weather conditions are ideal for beach activities, such as swimming and boating. The six months between May and October are monsoon season, and although accommodation prices are much lower this time of year, the water conditions can be dangerous.
Weather in Phuket
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
What You Need to Know
- Learn the beach flags There are drownings every year in Phuket – not to mention daily rescues – so pay attention to the flags posted in the waters. Red means "no swimming," yellow means "be careful," and a pair of half-red half-yellow flags denote that you should swim in between the two flags.
- Barter with the tuk-tuks Make sure you agree upon the price of your tuk-tuk ride before you get in to avoid being overcharged when you reach your destination.
- Avoid the tap water Buying and drinking bottled water will help you avoid any water-induced stomach woes.
How to Save Money in Phuket
- Book your hotel in advance You'll pay a premium if you're booking your hotel on arrival, especially during the peak season months of December and January.
- Find the best exchange rate Skip the airport when you want to exchange your U.S. dollars for Thai baht. The off-brand kiosks in the main streets of popular beach towns usually offer the best rates.
- Check the hotel perks Some hotels offer a complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport, as well as between popular beaches, so check out the property's perks before shelling out your baht for other modes of transport.
Culture & Customs
Thai is the official language of Thailand and its island Phuket, but you'll find that most tourist operators speak proficient English. Still, you might want to carry along a Thai phrasebook just to be safe. Some phrases you might want to memorize include: "hello," sa wat dee; "how are you?," sa baai dee reu; and "thank you," kòp kun mâak. When you're communicating with various taxi or tuk-tuk drivers, you might want to show them the address of your destination in Thai, especially if you're traveling to places that are off the beaten track.
Thailand's currency is the baht. One U.S. dollar is equal to about 33 Thai baht, but the exchange rate fluctuates, so be sure to check it before you go. Travelers can exchange their money at the airport, but moneychangers in various cities on Phuket offer the best exchange rates.
Buddhism is the official religion in Thailand, and the island hosts many attractions, such as Big Buddha and Wat Chalong, which reflect its predominant religion. When visiting these places, it's important that visitors respect the dress code, including wearing shorts or skirts that come to the knee and shirts that cover shoulders and midriffs.
What to Eat
Phuket's cuisine is an extension of the culinary delights found on the mainland. Tom yum goong (a soup with shrimp), som tam (a papaya salad) and green curry are all mainstays on the menus in Phuket. For an upscale Thai experience, visitors should book a table at Thong Dee The Kathu Brasserie, which earns high marks among recent travelers for its friendly and accommodating staff and consistently delicious meals. For a cheap but nonetheless delicious experience, travelers should head to O-Oh Farm Ta-Eiad in Phuket Town.
To get a deeper understanding of the local cuisine, travelers may want to book a cooking class, many of which are taught in English. The Kata Thai Cooking Class by Sally, located in Kata Beach, and Phuket Town's Phuket Thai Cookery School are both traveler-approved. At classes like these, chefs coach travelers on how to make traditional Thai foods, such as prawn soup and green curry, among other dishes. These cooking classes charge the equivalent of about $60 to $90 per person.
One of the biggest safety concerns you'll run into on a Phuket vacation are the dangerous rip tides and undertows at the beach, especially during monsoon season, which stretches from June to October. Make sure to pay attention to lifeguard warnings and all of the posted beach flags. For instance, a red flag means "no swimming," a yellow flag means "be careful," and a pair of half-red half-yellow flags signal that you should swim in between the two flags.
Because of the threat of the Zika virus, the Centers for Disease Control & Protection recommends that pregnant women and couples – or those hoping to become pregnant –
refrain from traveling to Thailand. All travelers can ward against mosquito bites by wearing bug repellant and skin-protective clothing, such as high-tech fitness wear.
There are some areas of Phuket that are known as hotbeds for sex trafficking, prostitution and drugs. For instance, Patong, which is known for its wild nightlife, is a center for such activity. Take care to be aware of your surroundings, especially in the evenings in areas like Patong.
Getting Around Phuket
The best way to get around Phuket is by tuk-tuk, though occasionally you might have to rely on another mode of travel, such as a taxi or rental car, if you want to travel beyond the town in which you're basing your vacation. Not only is a tuk-tuk (a small yellow or red truck) the most atmospheric of all transportation options, it's also one of the most convenient – they're absolutely everywhere. Still, they can be expensive for trips outside of town, and a metered taxi, songthaew or rental car might be a better option.
To reach Phuket, most travelers fly into Phuket International Airport (HKT), which is located at the island's northern end. Most of the accommodations are congregated in the south around Patong, Kata, Karon and Phuket Town. Travelers should check if their hotel offers an airport shuttle, and if not, they can hop in an airport bus, which takes travelers to Phuket Town. A taxi is probably the easiest and most efficient way to traverse the distance between the airport and accommodations. Although there are vans and minibus operators that offer rides from the airport to these southern locations, it can be hard to decipher which ones are reputable. If your hotel does not offer a shuttle service, ask if the concierge can recommend any reputable van or minibus operators.
Entry & Exit Requirements
A passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry is required for United States citizens traveling outside the mainland by air or by sea, as well as for U.S. citizens trying to re-enter the country. U.S. citizens do not require a visa unless they plan on staying in Thailand longer than 30 days. Visit the U.S. State Department's website for more information on entry and exit requirements.
Phuket is a riot of colors, from its aquamarine waters to its vegetation-covered rock formations.
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