Is it vacation time for you and the family? Are you having or attending a destination wedding? Planning your honeymoon? Are you a backpacker or solo traveler? Are you an expat or a voluntourist? Whatever your reason for visiting Thailand, you’re sure to find total fulfillment. Expect to come away with memories that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. If you’re reading this, you’ve realized that to get the most out of your experience, you’ll want to do a bit of research first. When I first started traveling, I was a research fiend. I spent hours on Pinterest combing through travel blogs and itineraries. By the time I got to my destination, I had everything worked out in theory. Yet, time and time again, I stepped off the plane, or bus, or boat and suddenly felt lost. The first couple days in a new place can be overwhelming. This arrival guide will help you save money and get comfortable in Southern Thailand quickly.
Phuket Town vs Phuket Airport Town
If you're flying into Southern Thailand internationally, you’ll be flying into Phuket International Airport. If you’re flying in from Nothern Thailand, you’ll be flying into the Domestic Terminal where you’ll either take a shuttle to the International Terminal or you’ll get a cab from that terminal. Assuming you end up at the International side, let’s begin on what to expect. When you leave the building, you’ll see stands at the curb for taxis and vans. The first thing to know is that they are not competing for business. Their rates work out to be almost identical and they will not bargain much, if at all. If you go to one of the stands directly outside the door, they will send you down towards the parking lot. That’s because they all work together. If you’re arriving during the day and looking to save money, your best bet is to ask about a shared van or bus. It’s the cheapest option and they leave as soon as the seats are full (10-12 people). This means you can be waiting 2 minutes or 2 hours, but you likely won’t 2 hours. If it’s night time and they don’t have any buses, the taxis charge based on how far you want to go. Now, you may think then that it would be cheaper to be closer to the airport. It is not. The airport town is about half an hour to forty-five minutes away from Phuket Town. I promise, there is almost nothing at all to do in the airport town since it's not very big. Your hotel or hostel will likely only be five to ten minutes away, but it will cost you a few hundred Baht to get a taxi there. I recommend going straight to Phuket Town.
Me and Big Buddha
First on the list of things to see is Big Buddha. At 45 meters tall and still under construction, this massive white Buddha sits atop a small mountain. The viewpoint overlooks the whole city, the coast, and the surrounding rolling hills. The incredible statue is about a 30-minute drive from the center of town. If you fancy an early start to your day, Big Buddha is perfect for seeing the sunrise. Early in the morning is also best for avoiding the heat and the crowds. If you don’t mind crowds, there’s usually a fair bit of wind to combat the heat due to the height of the mountain.
The rolling hills as seen from atop the mountain where Big Buddha sits.
To get to Big Buddha you can take a taxi, take a quad tour, or rent a motorbike for yourself. only rent a motorbike, if you're able to drive through hillsides because much of the way up to Buddha is very steep. If you have a passenger, make sure your bike is strong enough to carry the both of you. If you’re able and comfortable, spend the day exploring on your motorbike. The areas around Phuket Town have some pretty viewpoints. Make sure you wear sunscreen and helmets!
Diving and Snorkeling near Phuket
For diving and snorkeling, the Similan Islands offer world-class diving opportunities. Albeit pricey, this is the best place in the country to head out to sea. Prices average at least 2000TBH for 3 or so dives or a day of snorkeling. You can find diving companies for the Similans operating out of Phuket. The smaller town of Khao Lak also has respectable diving companies. Khao Lak is about a two-hour bus ride from Phuket.
Elephant Parks in Southern Thailand
If you're looking to get acquainted with the local wildlife, use caution in choosing animal attractions. The ONLY ethical company in Southern Thailand is Elephant Nature Park. They also operate in Chiang Mai where there are a few more ethical companies. In the South, Elephant Nature Park is the only true ethical sanctuary. They have half day and full day packages available, with half day packages starting around 2500TBH. It's pricey but the company is new to the area and it’s worth it when you know that you’re supporting a company trying to do well by these animals.
Islands of Phi Phi
The most popular attraction is Phi Phi. Though there are opportunities for snorkeling and other fun activities, Phi Phi is a tourist party spot. It is beautiful but you will not find a cultural experience there. You will find some great parties if that’s what you’re into. Another nearby party area is Patong beach. It’s a popular spot but it's rather seedy and I’d encourage you to watch your drink. Avoid taking anyone home with you: especially locals. Phuket may be the worst party spot in Southern Thailand; you’ll want to look into Koh Tao and Koh Pa Ngan.
I hope you feel prepared and excited for your trip to Thailand. Living in Thailand was one of the best experiences of my life and I know you’ll feel the same way after your stay. If you’re still deciding what to do once you’ve settled into Thai life, check out more of my posts about my time there.