Across most of Thailand, reasonably priced public transport is readily available. Bangkok has a good Skytrain and underground service and taxis are cheap, provided the driver will use the meter. Bangkok transport is a subject for another time. Pattaya has its baht bus, a hop-on hop-off songthaew on a circular route and other cities have reasonably priced buses and tuktuks.
And then there’s Phuket, a law unto itself.
Unfortunately, the Phuket public transport system is run by mafia types under the guise of tuk tuk co-operatives, meaning price-fixing and restriction of trade for other transport forms is the norm.
There are buses of sorts; an array of songthaews, converted trucks with bench seats, that serve Phuket Town and travel between Town and various beaches. They’re mainly to serve local people and can be especially busy during the school rush hours, but tourists are welcome to use them. However, they’re only useful if you are travelling into and out of Phuket Town. They are not allowed to ply their trade between beaches, nor are they allowed to operate after dark. That’s tuktuk territory. And note that Phuket tuktuks bear no resemblance to those used in the rest of Thailand. Look at the images.
So what are the options for a tourist travelling between, say, Karon and Patong, a 7km journey? In order of price here are the alternatives:
- Walk! Not advised; it’s hot and the roads are dangerous.
- Get a songthaew into Phuket Town and another out again. Time-consuming, uncomfortable, hot and doesn’t operate after dark. Not really practical.
- Motorcycle taxi: very few of these exist in Karon and Kata and it’s hardly the safest mode of transport but possibly economical for a solo traveller.
- Rent a motorcycle: OK for some, not for others. Cheap, as most bikes rent for 200 baht per day but definitely not always advisable. See the next post for more information on motorcycle rental.
- Taxi or tuktuk: 400 baht each way seems excessive. It is excessive but they have control of the route and as the only other options are those above, they get away with it. If the fare is split amongst a few of you it’s OK but for one or two, particularly those on a budget, it’s pretty off-putting.
And that’s the story around the whole island.
Are tuktuk and taxis safe? Probably as safe as any car journey in Thailand but that’s not saying much, being the second worst country for road deaths per head of population in the entire world. Drivers have been known to use violence against both passengers and other car drivers, particularly if you happen to occupy a parking spot “reserved” for he tuktuks.
Taxis have improved in recent years as unlicensed cabs have been forced off the roads. Official taxis sport yellow stickers with the drivers name and a phone number to ring should you have any problems.
Always agree a price before starting your journey and bear in mind that drivers may charge extra for any drop-offs en route, even if it’s a two second stop on the road. You should avoid getting into arguments with these guys as they always have “friends” on-hand to help them.
So, if you are travelling to Phuket on a budget you do need to factor transport costs into your calculations. One option is to spend a couple of nights on different beaches so as to avoid return fares. The other option is to base yourself where you feel you might be more comfortable and just stay there. Despite what you might read elsewhere, prices aren’t as high as London, Paris, Sydney or New York but for Thailand they are excessive.