Most visitors’ first experience of the island of Phuket is the airport.
Phuket International Airport opened a brand new international terminal in 2016 and initially the queues at Immigration were an absolute nightmare with waits of over two hours a regular occurrence. Blamed on the lack of computers, Phuketians were scratching their heads as to the whereabouts of the old computers and cameras from the old terminal where waiting times were’t great but nothing like those experienced in 2016.
It appears that the situation has greatly improved with waiting times at an acceptable level. Don’t expect smiling, friendly, English-speaking Immigration Officers, however, as these are few and far between. Expect a scowl as you pass your passport over, a nonplussed look as the officer peruses the document, apart from the compulsory glance to make sure you’re the person in the photograph, a gesture to stand in the correct position and look at the camera as your photo is taken before the page is stamped and the passport is returned. If you have any sort of visa it is worth checking you have been admitted for the requisite number of days as they do sometimes make mistakes. Don’t forget to fill in your Immigration Card before you get to the desk. Also if you can avoid joining a queue of Chinese visitors then do so. They usually have no idea how to fill in these cards so the process takes much longer.
The two Bangkok airports can be just as bad, even worse at times, with reports in August 2017 of waits of over four hours at Don Muang, people urinating on the floors rather than risk losing their place in the queue. This in turn prompted a relocation of Immigration Officers to Don Muang which left Suvarnabhumi undermanned!
With passport in hand, it’s now time to collect your bags, a simple enough process. It’s worth knowing that most bags are x-rayed by customs officers before you exit so if you happen to have more than the permitted 1 litre of alcohol and 200 cigarettes, you are very likely to be stopped. Duty charged is usually at the whim of the officer but remain polite at all times if you are stupid enough to try smuggling anything you shouldn’t. As for drugs………DON’T!
The terminal has ATMs and money exchange booths. Bear in mid ALL Thai ATMs charge 180 baht per transaction, often with another 30 baht added, and exchange rates are better outside the airport.
If you’ve booked a taxi in advance you’ll need to look for a sign with your name on outside Exit 2. We recommend booking a pickup from your hotel or guesthouse, where the price should be cheaper, though some of the more expensive hotel prices can exceed those of the Airport Taxis.
The procedure at the domestic terminal is similar but head to the meeting point to find your taxi sign, It’s currently under renovation so it’s a bit of a zoo right now. And if you’re being picked up, make sure your accommodation knows at which terminal they should find you. It should be simple but this is Thailand, where even Thai Airways put the wrong terminal on the tickets. A straightforward domestic flight will arrive at domestic but if you are on a connecting flight from another country and will be collecting your bags in Phuket, you’ll be arriving at International.
If you haven’t booked a pickup you have several options: Airport Taxi, where there’s a stand inside the terminal, Meter Taxi, usually slightly cheaper, with a stand outside the terminal, shared minibus, a cheap option or the airport bus, which is the cheapest option but only goes to Phuket Town. What happened to the Patong bus? Apparently it’s still running so if you find it please et me know where.
If you take the minibus or limo, be prepared to stop at a tour shop en route. Here they’ll attempt to sell you accommodation if you have nothing booked, even if you have a booking elsewhere they will sometimes state that the place is dreadful, has rats and cockroaches, has burned down or is closed! They’ll also try to sell you day trips. We recommend you do not book anything with this office for a number of reasons: they are more expensive than you’ll find elsewhere; if there’s a problem it’s difficult to change a trip or even get money refunded. They insist upon a personal visit if a refund is necessary and this may entail a two hour or more return trip. Phuket is a much bigger island than many realise and the traffic can be dreadful so travelling can be a real pain.
Take your accommodation’s phone number so the driver can ring for directions. Thais are generally poor map readers and GPS is still rare. Failing this you may be dropped a long way from your hotel or guesthouse, the driver insisting it’s just around the corner. Also, if the minibus is your preferred option, be prepared to be driven around the houses before you arrive at your destination.
Phuket traffic nowadays ensures that it may not be the most relaxing journey and you will quite possibly be disappointed with the scruffy concrete scenery but most people arrive at their destination with no problems.
Don’t leave anything in the bus or taxi. Too many mobile phones fall out of pockets!