Phuket is the biggest destination for tourism in Thailand. This is where you see all the good and bad of Thai tourism – from overdeveloped beaches and sex tourism, to tiny towns with no tourists and authentic Thailand. You’ll find great beaches and amazing activities this island, and if you stay away from Patong Beach, you can avoid most of the over-development and crowds. Phuket draws a lot of tourists, and if you really want to enjoy the area, get out of the main spots.
Hostel prices – Hostels are a great way to save money on Phuket. Most hostels have dorms with 4-8 beds to sleep in. Most of the 6-bed dorms are in in the 250-300 THB range. Private rooms for two people with ensuite bathrooms start at 700 THB. Aside from saving money on this touristy island, you’ll also get to meet other travelers with all of the common spaces offered at the hostels on the island.
Budget hotel prices – A night in a centrally-located two-star hotel starts around 350 THB for a room with air-conditioning and free WiFi. About half of this selection includes free breakfast. While still pricey, Phuket does actually have some of the least expensive 5-star hotels in Thailand (as low as 2,400 THB)! The Memory at On On Hotel is a great choice (and it was featured in the movie The Beach)! On Airbnb, you can find a large number of shared rooms in apartments for 315 THB. There’s also a selection of entire apartments/homes starting from 390 THB per night, with many priced around 1,050 THB. I’d definitely look into staying in an Airbnb here since there are so many quality ones available!
Average cost of food – Compared to the rest of Thailand, food is a bit more expensive here. Lunch at a local Thai restaurant will cost around 150 THB. Western meals will cost around 330 THB. Dinner with drinks can typically cost around 270 THB or more. If you are having a fish meal or getting wine, expect to pay around 675 THB. In the major tourist area, you’ll probably pay 25% more. You can grab a beer for about 60 THB. A week of groceries with the basic staples should cost you around 1,040 THB. Eat at the street stalls, the food is not only cheap, it’s utterly delicious. Remember that buying beers from 7-Eleven vs in bars and restaurants will save you lots of money.
Transportation costs – A motorbike taxi will cost on average 60 THB, with a 3km ride in a tuk tuk around the island costing about 335 THB. A ride in a songthaew (a covered pick-up truck taxi) usually starts around 25-50 THB. Walking and bicycling is a great way to get around the island too!
Suggested daily budget – 1080-1450 THB / $30-40 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals or eating cheap street food, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Eat street food – Speaking of street food, don’t be afraid to eat it. It’s safe – even safer than most restaurants. If it weren’t, the Thai wouldn’t be packing the stalls each day. You’ll find the best of Thailand’s food on the street, and it will cost you a fraction of what you pay at a restaurant.
- Buy beer at the 7-Eleven – Buy your beers from the supermarket as they are much cheaper here than anywhere else. Most bars don’t have corkage fees, so you can also bring spirits and just buy ice and mixers.
- Ride in a songtaew or rent a bike– These are converted pickup trucks are shared taxis that cost a lot less than a tuk-tuk or a taxi, coming in at around 25 THB. If you are looking to get around on your own, renting a bike is also a great option, and can usually be done for about 200 THB/day.
- Couchsurf — Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay, but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see.
- Bargain hard – When shopping at the markets, whip out your negotiation skills. The rule of thumb is the more you buy, the cheaper the prices will be. So shop in packs for the best deals.
Top Things to See and Do in Phuket
- Cruise around Phang Nga Bay – The best way to view the awe-inspiring limestone islands is by taking a leisurely cruise through the glorious emerald-green waters. With limestone cliffs and collapsed caves, you’ll really feel like you’ve found paradise. And whilst gliding through the waters, stop to enjoy some of the quiet beaches. The beauty of this place is something that you have to see to believe and is something that will always leave a memorable impression. Cruises start from 2,500 THB.
- Visit the temples – Phuket is distinctive for its temples. One in particular that is definitely a must-see is Wat Chalong. The biggest and most impressive of all of Phuket’s 29 Buddhist monasteries, it is associated with the monks, Luang Pho Chaem and Luang Pho Chaung. For this reason a lot of Thai come here to be blessed. There are many different Buddha statues to see here, and the inside of the Grand Pagoda’s walls are covered in paintings that relay the Buddha’s life story.
- Skip Patong – This is the main tourist section of Phuket, filled with crowded beaches, resorts, hawkers, stores, bars, and sadly, a lot of sex tourists. Unless you want to get drunk a lot, try to avoid this beach at all costs (although I do still recommend taking a cooking class near here!)
- Learn to cook traditional Thai food – If you are looking to learn some Thai cooking tricks, take a class at Pum’s Thai Cooking School. Located near Patong Beach, you can take classes ranging from 30 minutes to 6+ hours. Why not get a souvenir you can take back with you, and bring back the knowledge of how to make some of your favorite dishes from Thailand! Classes start at 500 THB.
- Watch some Muay Thai fighting – To see something truly Thai, book yourself in to watch some Muay Thai. This is a form of combat that combines striking techniques using fists, elbows, knees, and shins, and is known as “the art of eight limbs.” It requires extreme mental and physical discipline to train to be a Muay Thai fighter. The Saphan Hin Stadium is the destination to see regular matches or go to Patong Beach where you can watch these disciplined fighters in action. You can usually find tickets starting around 1,300 THB.
- Head to Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Park– Take a trip to the Khao Phra Thaeo Conservation Development and Extension Center, a center focused on preserving the environment. The center contains a park which is home to a number of endangered animals, and also contains giant trees in the midst of dense a dense forest. Make sure to check out the Nam Tok Sai waterfall, which is located close to the park headquarters. There is also a floating restaurant located in the mangroves! Admission is 400 THB.
- Visit the gibbons – Located within the Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Park, you will find the Gibbon Rehabilitation project. It is an NGO that adopts gibbons born into captivity, and rehabilitates them to be released back into the wild. Many of these cuddly little critters had been domesticated, and used for tourist entertainment. Once they mature, they are usually killed because they become too aggressive to be around tourists. The organization runs free tours, but gladly accepts donations to continue running the project. Open daily from 10am-4pm.
- Sleep in Leonardo DiCaprio’s old room – Made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie The Beach, The Memory at On On Hotel used to be quite dingy but it was recently renovated. Now the rooms are modern, and there’s free Wi-Fi, a beautiful courtyard, and a restaurant and café. It’s lost some of its charm but it’s still the best place to stay in Phuket Town.
- Get your beach time on Hat Karon – For a change of scenery and beach, make your way to Hat Karon. A long, white-sand beach, it is home to a coral reef, which stretches towards Kata and Bu Island. It’s also possible to feast in the restaurants and shop in the tourist stores which are located close to the beach.
- Stop at the Thalang National Museum – If you are eager to find out more about historical Phuket, then make a visit to the Thalang National Museum. The Museum holds an exhibition of ancient artifacts from Old Phuket and items used during the war with Burma. This is a great way to immerse yourself in the history of the island. It’s 30 THB for entry.
- Enjoy the viewpoints – Phuket has many viewpoints- there are 10 in total. Promthep tends to be the most popular, but other great spots include the Kata viewpoint. Nothing is better than watching a golden sunset from these points. Your camera will thank you!
- Rent a bike – Renting either a bike or motorbike will give you more freedom to explore Phuket. Find your way to Laem Singh Beach, a more secluded and laid-back spot with some great snorkeling opportunities. Be careful- biking in Phuket can be a little tumultuous. You can expect to pay about 200 THB a day for a bike.
- Explore Sirinat National Park – This national park was founded in the early ’80s, and consists of three beach areas along the northwest coast of Phuket. It includes a couple of beaches, including Nai Yang, Sai Kaew, and Mai Khao, as well as the mangrove forest where the saltwater and freshwater mix. This is a good place for camping. During the spring, endangered Leatherback Turtles come here to lay their eggs. Park entrance costs 200 THB.
- Make a trip to the Similian Islands – These islands are a bit of a journey – three hours from Phuket – but they are completely worth it. The area boasts some of the best diving in the world. On top of that, the island topography is both bizarre and stunning, with unique rock formations.
- Check out the Phuket Mining Museum – Located in Kathu, this museum is one of the most interesting in my opinion. There are a couple of neat models, and even a recreation of an opium den! Some of the models seem so real, it’s like you are living it. You will get a chance to see some of the mining methods used back when Phuket was a major tin mining center. Entry is 100 THB.
- Stroll the Phuket Weekend Market – Known also as the Naka market, this market is located right outside of Phuket Town. It is a crazy assortment of local and secondhand goods, interesting objects, and a huge variety of food. The market is broken up into two sections- the covered section (everything from jeans to pirated DVDs), and the open market (food, food, food!)
- Snorkel the waters – Phuket has over 33 beaches, all of them pretty incredible. While not all of them are great for snorkeling, some of the best are Laem Singh Beach, Ao Sane, Ya Nui, and Surin. You might want to bring your own gear, as renting can get a bit pricy. It is possible to buy some cheap gear in Phuket if you look hard enough.
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