Crossing the border by mini-bus from Georgetown (Malaysia) to Hat Yai (Thailand) and onto Phuket Town is easy to organise and a painless exercise.
You receive a 15-day visa when travelling overland or a 30-day visa when travelling by air, both are free. You can apply for a 60 or 90-day visa prior to arriving in Thailand, but you have to pay for these.
As this is my fourth time in Thailand, I didn’t have any great desire to stay in the beach/party area of Patong Beach but instead, decided to stay in the better-valued Phuket Town; it’s a little quieter and has more to see than bars, nightclubs, and beaches, which there’s loads back in Australia, if I wish.
Walking around Phuket Town and taking photos is pretty cool as there’s loads of great Colonial architecture that’s either renovated or in good condition. Stop at one of the many cafes and take in a coffee, scrumptious meal, juice or just people watch; take time to absorb your surrounds and not just pass through.
If you want to give the more frequented towns of Patong Beach or Krabi a complete miss, then Phuket Town is a good alternative and also to get to the gorgeous surrounding islands.
Blue Songthaews (two or three-bench pick-up trucks) in Phuket Town will take you everywhere, are inexpensive, and a great way to have some laughs with the locals.
Walk to the market area (Ranong Road) where Songthaews to most destinations including Patong Beach, line the road. Some have destinations advertised on signs in English or Thai, others don’t, but ask and a driver or local shop owner will always be willing to help as it might get the driver a fare. Some wait until full before leaving and others leave with only 4 or so passengers – no real set times so be prepared to wait around 15 minutes or more for a ride.
The Tint Phuket Town (Dibuk Road)
You can usually get a gut feel when you’re staying at a place if it will be the best accommodation in that country for the money, service, and quality. This time, the Tint (B810/night for Dbl with bathroom) was the gut feel, which was right; it was so good that we extended our stay here from 5 to 7 nights.
Apart from being a modern new hotel, great facilities, comfy bed, etc., all staff are fantastic and accommodating! “Starfish”, one of the lovely ladies at reception, is always eager to teach you Thai, if you have the patience, regardless of the time of day or night. The hotel even has jars of sweets at the front desk so that you can help-yourself (free) if you’re dying for a sugar fix!
Apart from obvious sights and beaches around Phuket, Chalong Bay (B30 by Songthaew) and Kamala (B50 by Songthaew) are good day trips when you’re based in Phuket Town. The Songthaews stop along many roads in the area for pick-up and drop-offs but designated stops for all Songthaews are still in the market area on Ranong Road.
The 19th Century saw the beginning of the tin boom here, which led to the construction of many fine mansions and shops that are still well preserved. The architecture is described as Sino-Portuguese with a strongly Mediterranean character. You can see many shops, especially along Dibuk Road with Chinese fretwork carving on old wooden doors.
Take the time to do a little walking tour around Old Phuket as it’s an easy walk with delightful architecture, especially at night on Thalang Road when the buildings are lit with gorgeous changing colours.
Try the Kopitiam by Wilai (18 Thalang Road) for authentic great Thai food at good prices (didn’t reduce the spice in dishes for Westerners, so good). Chang beer is a cheaper price here (B60) than other restaurants in Phuket Town.
The markets (Friday and Saturday nights) down from the Tint Hotel are great for cheap delicious treats to curb any hunger pangs. Get a pedicure or some waxing done on a tiny stool by the roadside or buy souvenirs and clothes at super cheap prices. Street performers and artists also grace the main market street so it’s a great night out!
Many locals go to these markets so you know that prices are genuinely cheap.
All ATMs in Thailand charge B180 to withdraw money, which is on top of what your local bank charges. However, some banks limit withdrawals at B10,000 at a time and other banks limit withdrawals to B20,000. Apparently in 2015, the word on the street is that Citibank (a few in Bangkok) does not charge at all for ATM withdrawals so check this bank out first. To help other travellers that may be reading this blog, leave me a comment below if you found Citibank does not charge.
Tip: Although I don’t like big store chains as I believe they drive local businesses to the ground, whilst in Thailand, you can’t but help to notice the 7/Eleven chain that grace (invade) almost every corner of Thailand. This chain is cheap, convenient, and typically used by the locals, as well as “Falangs” (foreigners). Actually, apart from convenience items, you can pick up tasty fast foods (chicken meatballs, sticky rice burgers, Gyozas, sandwiches, and loads more), which staff can microwave on the spot for you. Many items are cheaper than the supermarkets and some street stalls.
Phuket Town to Khao Lak
From Phuket Town Number One bus station, the orange bus (B100) drops you off along the very long Highway 4 in Khao Lak so make sure you know exactly where your hotel is otherwise you’ll be walking miles out of your way with heavy packs!
After travelling in Thailand for 2 months, flew to Myanmar for a month’s travel, then returned to Thailand for a 3rd month of amazing travelling – check out the 3-month Thailand route.