So, you’re backpacking Thailand and want to head to Phuket? Well it’s the perfect easy access starting point for exploring the beautiful islands of Thailand. It’s got a culture and history, incredible beaches, spectacular day trips and is a great place to relax for a while and recharge and is one of the best islands in Thailand for backpackers. It can also be a relatively expensive destination in comparison to some other areas of Southeast Asia given its popularity with both travellers and tourists but at the same time cheaper than many more remote islands. It’s a crossroads for many various groups out there exploring the world in many different ways, some avoid it due to mass vacationers, but there is more to it when you scratch the surface. Here’s our comprehensive Phuket backpacking guide including transport and accommodation information, practical and budgeting tips as well as information the best places to visit in Phuket on a low cost visit for the Phuket backpacker.
Best Budget Attractions And Activities For The Phuket Backpacker: Things To Do In Phuket On A Budget!
Wondering where to go in Phuket, especially if you’re on a tight budget? Well we’ve got you covered, after two trips both as backpackers we’ve compiled this list of what to see in Phuket and most of it is free!
Explore The Charming Colonial Streets Of Phuket Town
Phuket isn’t just about the beaches, but it’s also got culture and history on top of that. The colourful streets of Phuket Old Town with it’s Sino-Portuguese architecture is one of the most fascinating and beautiful places to visit in Phuket. The architecture here alongside the street art reminds us of Penang in Malaysia!
Get lost in the narrow winding streets of the Old Town and discover some of the incredible culture, charming shopfronts and super cool street art it has to offer. It’s number one on our Backpackers guide to Phuket as it offers the culture most travellers really want to experience and is one of the unexpected things to do in Phuket too.
Discover the Chinese shrines and temples such as Hock Guan Kong Temple as well as visiting many local restaurants, independent shops and museums. If you think Patong is tacky and over run with tourism, well Phuket town is the antithesis of that which makes it one of the best places to go in Phuket.
Exploring the town is of course FREE. Ideal for that budget Phuket trip!
Take In The Incredible Viewpoints Around The Island
Phuket island has 8 official viewpoints that can all be visited on a motorbike, they’re some of the places to see in Phuket and don’t cost a penny! Phuket is a hilly island that rises sharply from sea level as well as having several winding roads that cling to the rugged and lush coastline.
With unbelievable azure blue water lapping up against the emerald green shoreline buzzing around the island on a bike and taking in these breathtaking viewpoints is an ideal way to spend a day in Phuket.
Our favourite spots to visit are Promthep Cape, Windmill Viewpoint and Kata Noi. The others to visit are: Rang Hill, Karon Beach Viewpoint, Radar Viewpoint, Big Buddha and Panwa Viewpoint. Most are really easy access but you can do a bit of hiking in Phuket around these hills.
All these viewpoints are FREE to visit and the only cost is renting a bike, or you could take a tour if you don’t want to rent a bike.
Relax And Unwind On A Sandy Beach
Of course, there is one main reason why most people head to Phuket island and that is the beaches! Being a large island means that though there are a few overcrowded and spoilt beaches, there are also many stunning isolated ones too. Lazing on a beach is also a great way to have a budget Phuket trip too and probably the main reason most come to the Thailand islands backpacking!
Phuket is the perfect place to either relax on the golden sands or head into the water to snorkel or swim, all of which cost hardly anything! Exploring the island on a bike allows you to explore further than Patog and head over to some of the better quality beaches which is one of the main things to do in Phuket.
Some of the beaches we’ve included on our Backpackers guide to Phuket are: Ya Nui, Rawai, Kata Noi, Karon, Bang Tao and Nai Yang which is close to the airport so the planes flight right over you! Freedom beach is also an incredibly secluded spot but the access is quite challenging!
All these beaches are FREE to visit and snorkel sets can be bought cheaply across the island.
Find Serenity At The Big Buddha
Buddhism is intertwined with the incredible culture of Thailand and visiting the huge gleaming white Buddha statue that dominates the central hills of the island is the perfect way to experience that, it’s also probably one of the best known things to do in Phuket.
The views from the top offer phenomenal panoramic views over the island as well as offering a serine refuge above the jungle. The gentle chimes of the bells and the yellow flags fluttering in the breeze below the imposing 45m statue is an incredible experience and a far cry from the noisy bars of Patong!
The statue is FREE to visit and the only cost is renting a bike or taking other transport.
Soak Up The Culture Of Wat Chalong
Another place to embrace the unique culture and customs of Thailand whilst in Phuket is to pay a visit to the remarkable Wat Chalong (Wat means temple in Thai). When you’re backpacking Thailand you’ve got to make time for the temples as well as the beaches!
Dating back to 1837 it is one of the most important temples on Phuket island and represents classic Thai style religious architecture. Getting away from the beaches and seeing this side of Thai culture is a valuable part of any trip to Phuket and the perfect place to learn about Buddhism too. We have to say it makes a refreshing change to the beaches and is one of our favourite places to visit in Phuket.
Visiting the temple is FREE
Browse Local Markets
Get ready to sharpen up your haggling skills and step into the sensory overload that is a Thai market, with a rainbow of colour, smells and noises even if you don’t buy anything it’s a great experience in itself but also an opportunity to get some great food and produce whilst on a budget Phuket trip.
Visiting the local markets on Phuket Phuket island is a perfect way to sample some amazing and fresh Thai food as well as picking up some delicious fruits and veggies. They are also ideal places to pick up some more authentic souvenirs and gifts from your trip usually at a better price too which is ideal for any Phuket backpacker.
Some of the great markets to visit are: Naka Market, Chillva Market, Sunday Walking Street Market, Phuket Indy Night Market and the Weekend Market. A perfect inclusion on any Phuket travel guide.
Make A Difference At The Soi Dog Foundation
Street dogs are a huge problem around Asia but thankfully those in Phuket have a guardian angel in the form of the Soi Dogs Foundation. Determined to help, rehome and ultimately reduce the street dog population the foundation are doing an amazing job to save these animals.
Volunteering at the foundation is FREE and you can do it for as little as a day or as long as you want. Duties involve walking and socialising the dogs as well as cleaning. This is a great opportunity to do something great with your time in Phuket and help out these animals in need. Many volunteers also end up adopting one of the dogs! When you’re backpacking Thailand it’s great to help out too!
Check Out Some More Tours Here:
Best Budget Day Trips And Tours: Islands Around Phuket
There are heaps of amazing islands off Thailand to explore and a lot of them are within a close distance to Phuket so an island hopping tour is one of the best things to do in Phuket!
James Bond Island
Heading off to the famous James Bond island is a classic day trip from Phuket and though it can get a little crowded we would say for the sheer beauty of the area it is well worth it. It’s one of the most well known islands around Phuket but it’s a must see!
The real benefit to this being a popular Phuket sightseeing trip is that there are many providers competing for customers out there meaning it’s quite easy to get this trip for a decent price usually with lunch and transfers included.
More Phang Nga Bay
James Bond island is set up in the magnificent Phang Nga Bay and there is much more to explore in the national park than just Khao Phing Kan. It’s possible to combine a trip to the island made famous by The Man With The Golden Gun with further exploration of the park including visiting the muslim floating village of Ko Panyi which is a perfect Phuket sightseeing trip!
Phi Phi Islands
The popular and beautiful Phi Phi islands is also one of the best trips to take from Phuket. Many people take the ferry and spend a few days exploring the islands but the accommodation and food costs are high and tours on long boats still have to be taken to see most of the bays and the smaller island.
It is however possible instead to take a day tour and see the highlights, this is a little bit more rushed but it’s cheaper. Whilst the islands are definitely worth visiting and are stunning, they are also overpriced and over populated by tourists so for us a day trip here is the best way to visit and then instead spend more time on one of the quieter islands off Thailand once leaving Phuket.
Coral Island is a small island just off the coast of Phuket and only a short boat ride away. Known locally as Koh Hae or Ko He being only 3 km away from the main island its a quick and easy day trip that requires very little sailing time so it’s ideal for those who get seasick.
The main beaches; long beach and banana beach offer stunning white sands as well as perfectly clear water and as the name suggests the island also has an incredibly colourful and diverse reef which is ideal for snorkelling. You can take an organised day tour here or hire a long tail boat from Rawai Beach or Chalong Pier.
The Similan islands are a little further from Phuket but that means they are much more isolated and incredibly idyllic. It will cost a little more to get out here but it is well worth the effort. The unique rock formations and pure blue water make these islands complete paradise. All overnight accommodation was demolished a few years ago to protect them meaning day trips are the only way to visit.
If you are planning on doing some Thailand island hopping around the region they are closest to Khao Lak so make the best day trip from there, however Phuket is also a great place to visit them from.
Check Out Some Island Hopping Tours Here
Phuket Travel Tips: Practical Advice For The Phuket Backpacker
Phuket Backpacking Transport Guide:
Getting To And From Phuket
Phuket being a popular holiday spot is well connected to both mainland Thailand, Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. The island might be an idyllic escape but arriving and leaving are easy with transport options ranging from buses (it’s connected via bridge), boats and flights to Phuket as well as options for joining the train once on the mainland.
The regular Koh Samui to Phuket flight also means it’s great for backpackers exploring the region and many also arrive here via travel from Krabi to Phuket. There are also a great number of Bangkok to Phuket travel options.
Here’s our transport section of our Backpackers guide to Phuket.
Flights to Phuket & Onwards
Phuket International Airport is the third busiest in Thailand behind the two in Bangkok! So flights to Phuket are frequent!
Domestic flights from here can be taken to places like Bangkok and Chiang Mai as well as there being frequent Phuket to Koh Samui flights and many other areas of the country too. If you’re wondering whether to choose Koh Samui or Phuket there is really no reason to pick with transport being so easy, quick and cheap! In fact, the Phuket to Koh Samui flights are some of the most popular and pretty much all domestic airfare to Phuket is affordable.
International flights cover much of the rest of Southeast Asia as well as regular flights to China, Korea, Russia and Qatar. Outside of Asia there are also regular flights to Australia (Melbourne to Phuket for example) and Europe, though some of the later may be seasonal.
With connections available through Bangkok, Qatar, KL and Singapore virtually any destination can be reached from Phuket with only 1 stop over. Thai airlines in particular make this very easy and the flight to the capital is just over an hour and there are many cheap flights to Bangkok available.
Bus and Coach
With Phuket being an island you might imagine taking bus from here isn’t too practical. Well think again, the island is connected to the mainland via the Sarasin Bridge which means that staple budget backpacker option of the night bus is still an option!
On our first visit we took the night bus up from Phuket to Bangkok. The 18hr trip was actually the most comfortable long distance bus journey we’ve been on and the roads are smooth and safety standards much higher than surrounding countries and on a par with Malaysia.
Buses from here go to most corners of the country but the most popular destinations are Bangkok, Krabi, Koh Samui (Koh Samui to Phuket includes ferry), Koh Sok NP. So if you’re in Phuket backpacking then it’s easy and cheap to continue onwards from here with the most common options being Bangkok and the Phuket to Koh Samui bus.
It is possible to take the bus all the way north to Chiang Mai, this takes 24hrs and isn’t much different price wise to the 2hr flight! However, for other shorter routes it’s the cheapest option by far and ideal for a backpacker budget.
Boat and Ferries
Ferries are another budget friendly way to get to and from Phuket.
From here you can head over to Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Similan islands and Krabi as well as bus-ferry-bus tickets being available for trips like Koh Samui to Phuket and vice versa. The Phuket to Koh Samui ferry can be a little long winded but it’s great if you’re on a budget.
These options are much cheaper than flying and also very easy to organise from Phuket. You can also often hop between islands too. It’s the most authentic way to travel as a Phuket backpacker!!
Book Your Transport To and From Phuket via Air, Sea or Land Using This Search Form:
Backpackers Guide to Phuket: The Best Way To Get Around Phuket
Transport on Phuket island is also easy and often cheap. Public transport in the form of buses and Song-Thaew (Like a long public Tuk Tuk) cover much of the island as well as readily available tuk tuks, taxis and private hire cars. Motorbikes are also a popular option for many backpackers too. There are lots of places to visit in Phuket so choosing the right transport is a must.
Public Buses/ Song-Thaew
Phuket has a great network on public buses that can be taken for very little money all around the island but normal buses and Song-Thaew which are like a long public tuk tuk and aren’t as fixed by schedule but rather how many people are on board! If you are in Phuket backpacking then this is a great way to save money.
The route from Phuket Town to Patong on a Song-Thaew takes around 50 mins, Kata 40 mins and costs around 20 Baht/ £0.50 / $0.60. You pay once you get on and can flag them down anywhere on the road. Great for a budget Phuket trip!
The airport bus (8411) is a government run service that costs between 30-150 TB depending on where you get off. It’s air conditioned, safe and comfortable. From the airport to Phuket Town it takes around 1.5 hrs.
There is also the blue bus from the airport to Rawai via Patong that can be taken and is also a good bus for travelling up and down the west of the island.
You can also take a Song-Thaew from Phuket Town to the main bus station for buses and coaches around the country.
Find out more about the buses here: Phuket Bus Info
Taxis are available all over the island but it’s best to book through your accommodation as many do like to overcharge. Be sure to agree a price before the journey.
A taxi from just outside the airport to Patong should cost around 500 Baht.
Another option is to use the online taxi app, Grab. This is like Asia’s answer to Uber an is usually cheaper than a taxi with no need for negotiations. You can also hire Grab motorbikes too which are cheaper again but only 1 person can ride pillion. You need an internet connection to use this app but it’s worth getting if you want to use taxies when you visit Phuket.
There are also many reliable private cars that can be hired to and from the airport in advance for a good price.
Hiring a scooter is a popular way to get around Phuket especially for the younger people who visit Phuket. Roads in Thailand can be a little bit more hazardous than back home but drivers are used to bikes and the roads are generally in great condition and less frantic than many other Southeast Asian countries. For us it’s the best way to get around Phuket.
Bikes usually cost around 200 Baht / £5 / $6.30 per day for smaller bikes and can be arranged through your accommodation or a rental shop.
I’ve written a more in depth section below as I feel there are a few more things that need mentioning. However, I do think a motorbike/ scooter is the best way to get around in Phuket and see everything as it gives you total freedom.
A Special Mention For Motorbikes/ Scooters on Phuket
Biking and scootering in Thailand and Southeast Asia need special mention here we feel. We’re not going to be all high and mighty and tell people not to rent bikes, after all, if you follow our blog you will know we have ridden bikes in pretty much every country in Southeast Asia many times! We’ve rented bikes many times in Thailand and on both our visits to Phuket.
When renting a bike in Thailand you need to be especially careful for several reasons:
* Be wary of putting your passport down as a deposit when you visit Phuket. If you can put a monetary deposit down if you can instead. However sometimes that isn’t possible. Also always always take photos of the bikes before you leave. Most rental companies in Phuket however are pretty relaxed and don’t even check the bikes.
* Be sensible!! Riding in Thailand isn’t too bad compared to places like Vietnam but it is still relatively wild compared to what most of us experience at home. Traffic is on the left and some of the winding roads can be challenging to new riders. Always take your time and don’t be one of those people who rides like an idiot. Practice on a quiet street first and always wear a helmet! Be careful travelling around Phuket on a scooter!
* Riding in Thailand is technically illegal if you don’t have a bike endorsement and an international licence. However, most police will just issue you with a ticket and let you go on your way. The main roads into and out of Patong are usual places for road blocks, most other police will leave you alone unless you’re not wearing a helmet! The fine is usually around 500 TB / £12.50 / $15.80
* Make sure you have adequate travel insurance to cover you if you have an accident and be aware not having the right licence might void your insurance. We recommend World Nomads as a good quality insurance for backpackers.
Island Hopping From Phuket
Phuket is a perfect place to begin your island hopping tour of Thailand. Being one of the most developed Thailand destinations you can pretty much reach any island from here.
There are day trips and also ferries that run from here as well as bus/boat/bus services to get to islands across the peninsula making the islands around Phuket and Thailand easily accessible. Particularly for backpackers when you’re planning where to go in Thailand Phuket is a major hub for the islands and is a great place to start your Thailand backpacking route.
Popular Islands Around Phuket To Visit Are:
Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Similan islands, Koh Surin, Koh Yao Islands, Racha Islands and Krabi
These can be accessed by ferries and transport between each of them is possible but it’s best to plan a route out beforehand and going back via Phuket is sometimes required.
Transport on a bus-boat-bus is also possible to organise for islands on the other side of the Thai Peninsula such as Koh Samui however this is a long trip and flights are available!
Check Out Options For Island Hopping Here
Accommodation Advice For Phuket: Phuket Hostel & Budget Hotel Options
Our Tips For Places To Stay In Phuket
Best Party Hostel Phuket: Bodega Phuket Party Hostel
Ok, disclaimer here, we’re not really the party hostel types! But, we do know that they have their place and as well as keeping the other hostels quiet they also provide a fun and safe place for those wanting to go wild! Some of the best hostels in Patong are aimed at this market!
So if we were maybe a little younger our choice would definitely be the Bodega Phuket Party Hostel offering prime location in Patong as well as pub crawls, games, cheap drinks and importantly well kept and clean facilities as well as a great vibe! It takes the top of the list of best party hostels in Phuket every year and is one of the top beach hostel Phuket has to offer.
Best Budget Hostel For Dorms: Aekkeko Hostel
A fun and colourful hostel set in one of the heritage buildings in the heart of Phuket town it’s the ideal Phuket backpacker hostel. With affordable but clean and well designed dorms with cubicle style beds including curtains and individual lights and power points. The hostel also has a large kitchen with great facilities and lots of cool areas to chill and meet new people in. There is also a free basic breakfast and it’s one of the top rated hostels in Phuket with a score over 9!
Best Phuket Backpacker Hostel For Privates: Book a Bed Poshtel
Another great and top rated hostel right in the centre of Phuket Town and build into a beautifully restored colonial house. Being a “poshtel” it is more like a hotel which does offer dorms. however the privates here are simply spectacular for the price and offer superb comfort and design making this one of the best hostels in Phuket. The hostel also offers 2 amazing pools and many of the private rooms open directly out onto them! If you’re on the lookout for the ultimate Phuket backpacker hostel then this is it!
Best Phuket Backpacker Hotel For A Treat: The Title Boutique Phuket
A funky and phycadelic hotel with an incredible pool, sauna, garden and balconies looking out over the ocean as well as a basic kitchen. It might be the top end of most backpackers budgets but if you are heading to Phuket for some relaxation and a treat away from hostels then this is incredible value for money. It is also located right on the beach front in Rawai, the perfect escape from the chaos of Patong whilst still being close to good facilities as well as places such as Promthep Cape and Nai Harn Beach. If you are looking for the best on a budget then this is the ultimate Phuket backpacker hotel.
See More Phuket Backpacker Hotel and Hostel Options Here:
The Best Area To Stay In Phuket
What is the main Phuket backpacker area? Well depending on what type of experience you want Patong or Phuket Town are the best places to stay in Phuket for backpackers with the first having a more youthful party vibe and the later being a bit more refined and quiet.
For us we prefer to stay in Phuket Town as it is the heart of the island. The Old Town seems to have a good balance between feeling local as well as a cultural tourism destination. It’s got a good range of shops and restaurants for all budgets and tastes including some really amazing and dirt cheap local joints. For us and most backpackers it’s the Best area to stay in Phuket.
It is also in a convenient location on the island and isn’t too far away from anywhere and has good infrastructure for transport and organising your trip. The only issue for some is that it isn’t by the beach but it is home to most of the best Phuket backpacker hostel options!
Many people stay in Patong but we found it to be loud, tacky and filled with Russian and Australian holiday makers. Some people may love that but it’s not to our tastes. However if you are after a really cheap resort or Phuket backpacker hotel then this is a good area to get a bargain. For those interested too the best shopping in Phuket is in the malls of Patong.
Karen and Kata are good places to stay if you want to be near a beach and not too isolated from the action and a good shout for the best place to stay in Phuket.
Rawai to the south and Bang Tao to the north are great spots for a quieter visit where you will be right on the beach. For us if you want to be near the beach this is the Best area to stay in Phuket.
Where Do You Think Is The Best Place To Stay In Phuket?
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What To Pack For A Backpacking Trip To Phuket
Wondering what to make sure is in your pack when you head to Phuket and on your Thailand trip? Here’s our essentials on top of the basics that you shouldn’t forget:
* Good Quality Camera/s: We recommend the Sony A7ii for enthusiasts, the Sony RX100VI For those wanting a high quality compact and the iphone 11 for those who would rather just use their phone. We also recommend getting a GoPro Hero 8 for those underwater shots and boat trips!
* A rain cover for your backpack is an essential if you visit in rainy season or in the shoulder months where the weather can be unpredictable.
* We also recommend the Osprey Farpoint 70 as our go to backpack, ours have served us well for over 4 years and are still going strong!
Phuket Weather: Best Time Of The Year To Backpack Phuket
Wondering when to travel to Thailand? Wanting to miss the famous monsoon season Thailand has to offer? Well here’s the info on what we consider to be the best time to travel to Phuket.
Phuket like most of Southeast Asia has two main seasons, the wet and the dry season. Characterised by monsoon rains and high humidity for part of the year and sunny and dry conditions for the rest of the year the Phuket weather can be somewhat predictable at certain times of the year and highly unpredictable at others!
Phuket is hot all year round with average temperatures ranging from 22⁰C-34⁰C however April and May are considered to be the hottest months so factor that in when deciding when to travel to Phuket.
The months close to the seasonal change can be quite unpredictable, you should also factor in that backpacking south Thailand can be slightly different to the north in terms of weather and when the Thailand seasons change. The south is often more humid even in dry season.
The Wet seasons runs from May – October
The Dry Season runs from November – April
Most people consider the dry season to be the best time to visit specifically from November to February when the weather is much more stable. This time of year offers calmer seas which are ideal for visiting the beaches, taking the main boat trips and also offers clearer conditions for SCUBA diving.
The dry season and the months of November to February are the high season meaning accommodation will generally be a little more expensive and the island more crowded. The later part of the dry season before the rains begin is the ideal compromise and we recommend backpacking in Phuket around March and April.
However the Thailand rainy season does have some benefits such as cheaper accommodation as well as the island being a lot quieter. You can also often get some sunny days especially in the mornings and it’s definitely the cheapest time to travel to Phuket.
Phuket Backpacking Guide: Advice For a Budget Phuket Trip.
In Phuket and even more so the smaller islands in Thailand the country’s reputation for being a budget friendly location can lull you into a false sense of security. backpacking South Thailand can be much more expensive than the north and central regions. However being one of the most developed destinations in Thailand it is one of the cheapest Thai islands.
If your budget is tight then you should be more careful when visiting Phuket. Food, accommodation and private transport can be more expensive than other areas of Thailand and many activities require tours or boat trips which can easily push your spending up!
Our Tips For Budgeting (Phuket Travel Cost Advice):
* Use the local buses and Song-Thaew both to and from the airport and around the island. Avoid local taxis and tuk tuks as they’re expensive and sometimes will try to take you to over priced gem shops. They are the perfect way to keep your Phuket travel expenses down.
* Hire a motorbike instead of taking a tour to explore the island, it’s the ideal way to have a Phuket budget trip but see a lot!
* Visit the local markets, street food stalls and local restaurants rather than having more expensive western food. There are some very good ones in Phuket town.
* Choose a couple of boat tours to take and prioritise which islands and attractions on the water you want to visit. Many day tours allow you to visit a few in one. Doing too many is an easy way to blow your backpacking Phuket budget.
* Taking a day tour to places like Phi Phi will save you money as accommodation and food on the island is super expensive and in our opinion not entirely worth it! You can see many of the best Thai islands from Phuket.
* Be careful of the drinking establishments you visit when you are in Patong. Many have local girls hanging out looking to scam mostly single or groups of men usually through innocent looking games of connect 4 where the winner (usually them) has to buy overpriced drinks!
* Phuket Town is the best place for good quality cheaper backpacker accommodation with many hostels
* Stay in accommodation that has cooking facilities and visit the local markets and large supermarkets for cheap meals.
Have We Covered Everything In Our Phuket Backpacking Guide?
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