The island of Phuket (pronounced "pu-KET") is Thailand's largest, loudest, and most visited. Yes, tinselly Patong Beach is filled with touts and backpackers, but it's easy to avoid if you want a more upscale experience. In this guide, we've also included some areas around Phuket: tiny islands like Koh Phi Phi Don, which have a more organic, funky appeal; the mainland in Phang Nga province, also quieter than Phuket; and the farther-flung island chains that draw snorkelers and divers.
Notes on the 2004 tsunami: Phuket was a focal point of much tsunami news, but actual damage to the island was not nearly as bad as initially feared. The hardest-hit stretch of coastline on Phuket was Patong Beach. In other areas, such as Khao Lak and the Phi Phi Islands, the rebuilding effort had some false starts, but nearly everything is back to normal. Beaches, coral reefs, and dunes survived the waves with incredible resiliency, and local officials and hotels have since put into place tsunami evacuation plans just in case.
WHEN TO GO
Avoid the rainy season, from May through October. November to February is dry and cooland when the country sees the most tourism, especially from Europe. It's somewhat hotter from March into May, but during those months, you can generally bypass the worst of the tourist crush.
HOW TO GET THERE
Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways fly between Phuket and Bangkok several times daily. Other carriers include Malaysia Airlines, Taiwan-based China Airlines, and Silk Air from Singapore. Avoid discount airlines such as Orient Thai (also known as One-Two-Go), which are notoriously late and tend to use extremely old planes.
It's only worth renting a car if you plan to spend much of your trip exploring. If not, you should be able to rely on hotel-arranged airport transfers and day-trip packages that include transportation. If you do rent, you'll get a better deal by going through your hotel than by picking up a car at the airport. Be sure to get insurance, as the incidence of hit-and-runs on the island is high.
Taxis are available on Phuket, but prices are extremely high for Thailand (especially when compared with prices in Bangkok). Be sure to have your hotel help you negotiate a fair rate, which can vary widely. Tiny four-wheel tuk-tuks are convenient for short distances, but tourists often get wildly overcharged. Stay away from drivers that try to charge you per personthe fare is supposed to be for the entire trip, regardless of the number of passengers. As tempting as it can be, avoid renting motorcycles and scooters: Locals seldom obey traffic and speed laws, and serious bike accidents injure thousands of people each year on Phuket alone. Ironically, the most cost-effective and least stressful transportation option around the island may be hiring a driver. Expect to spend about $50 per day plus tip.View Thailand Factsheet