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Here is a travel guide to Phuket, with our compliments. Please contact us if you would like information on flights, hotels or travel insurance.

In the Andaman Sea off Thailand’s west coast, the holiday hub of Phuket, or the ‘Pearl of the South’ as it has become known, is connected to the mainland by the Sarasin Bridge. Thailand’s largest island, Phuket is incredibly diverse with rocky and sandy beaches, tall cliffs, forests, waterfalls and temples.

Phuket caters to all, with a variety of holiday resorts offering accommodation from backpackers and simple guesthouses to modern luxury hotels, though the beachfront bungalows on unspoilt stretches of white sand are rarer now than they used to be. There are numerous activities in or near Phuket to enjoy on holiday, including mountain biking, bungy jumping and golf. It is even possible to go elephant trekking. A variety of tours offer day trips to the cliffs of nearby Phang Nga Bay, Koh Phi Phi, and the beaches and islands around Krabi. There is plenty to do on the island, whatever your budget, and several offshore islands are good for snorkelling and scuba diving.

Phuket has a huge variety of goods and shopping establishments, from markets and street stalls to department stores and specialist shops, and a range of restaurants from Thai seafood to Indian and Western cuisine. Phuket also has its own airport, making it easy to get to and from Bangkok, and although the island hosts thousands of tourists in peak season, its sheer size allows visitors to escape from the madding crowds. Patong Beach is the island’s most famous and developed beach resort, offering a wide choice of holiday activities, dining options and nightlife. It is situated nine miles (15km) from Phuket City.

THE BASICS

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Both flat and round two-pin plugs are used.

Language

Thai is the official language, although English is widely spoken in tourist areas.

Travel Health

As a health precaution, travellers should take medical advice at least three weeks before travelling to Thailand. Malaria is a risk outside Bangkok and the major tourist resorts, and immunisation against Hepatitis A and typhoid fever is also advised. Yellow fever vaccination certificates are required for travellers from infected areas. There has been an increase in reported cases of dengue fever, particularly in the south, and vaccination against Japanese encephalitis is also recommended. Outbreaks of leptospirosis occur during the rainy season and after flooding. There have been outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the Provinces of Khon Kaen, Lop Buri, Phitsanulok and Prachin Buri. Outbreaks of cholera have also been reported. You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks. If you suffer from diarrhoea during your visit you should seek immediate medical attention. HIV/AIDS is prevalent in the major cities and resorts. Medical facilities are good in major cities, but good medical insurance is vital – without insurance, or cash/credit card, travellers will not be treated. Bangkok has excellent international hospitals.

Tipping

Tipping is not expected, but is becoming more common in places frequented by tourists. A 10% service charge is added to the bill at most hotels and restaurants. Taxi drivers are not tipped.

Local Customs

Public displays of affection are frowned upon. Dress is informal, although beachwear should be confined to the beach. Drugs are illegal and travellers should know that possession of even small quantities can lead to imprisonment, and that drug traffickers risk the death penalty.

Business

Business culture in Thailand is considerably more relaxed than other Asian countries within the region. However, Thailand shares its neighbours’ work ethic and value systems, as well as emphasis on hierarchy and building relationships. Senior managers must be consulted on all matters and decisions. Appearance and age are important in Thai business culture as they illustrate social standing and status. Older individuals are generally afforded a great deal of regard in Thailand. Building relationships is central to business culture in Thailand. It is ill regarded for a businessman to start negotiating before being properly acquainted with his business associates.

The concept of ‘face’ and saving face is important in Thailand; so if you make a mistake, don’t expect it to be pointed out to you. Also, if a business associate makes a mistake, it is impolite to draw attention to it or correct them. In 2010, Thailand was the fastest growing economy in South-east Asia. Despite this, Thais value family time and time to actually live life. Placing family in front of business priorities is the norm.

English is the language of business in Thailand, but translators are often needed. Business hours are from 8am to 5pm or 9am to 6pm with an hour for lunch. Dress styles tend to be quite formal, but due to the humid climate, heavy suits are rare. However, meetings with senior management tend to be slightly more formal and jackets are usually worn. Men generally wear shirts, slacks and a tie while women wear below-the-knee skirts and blouses. Pants-suits for women are quite rare. Shaking hands is not a popular form of greeting and the wai (putting cupped hands in front of oneself and bowing slightly) is more acceptable. Thais use first names rather than surnames preceded by Kuhn for both men and women. As with many Asian nations, giving gifts to business associates is generally a good idea. When receiving gifts, don’t open them in front of the giver. Wait to be introduced to others, as it is an indication of rank. Often the hierarchical structures favour the elders in a group and respect must be given accordingly.

Communications

The international country dialling code for Thailand is +66. The outgoing code is 001, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 00144 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are in use, e.g. Bangkok is (0)2 and Chiang Mai is (0)53. To dial a mobile in Thailand an 8 must precede the city code. International direct dial facilities are available throughout most of the country. Mobile phone networks cover most towns, cities and holiday resorts; operators use GSM 900, 1800 and 1900 networks. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts.

Duty Free

Travellers to Thailand do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 250g tobacco or equivalent amount of cigars, 1 litre of alcohol, 1 camera with 5 rolls of film or 1 movie camera with 3 rolls of 8 or 16 mm film. Goods to the value of Bt10,000 per person for non-residents with transit visas and Bt20,000 per person for holders of tourist visas are allowed. Family allowances are double the individual allowances. Prohibited items include firearms and ammunition without licenses, fireworks, and drugs. Trafficking in drugs carries the maximum penalty. Restrictions apply to meat imported from countries affected by BSE or mad cow and foot-and-mouth diseases. Antiques or objects of art and religious articles may not be exported without a license.

Climate

Phuket has a tropical monsoon climate, with high temperatures and humidity all year round. March to May is the hottest time of the year on the island. Average daily temperatures range from 75°F (24°C) to 89°F (32°C). During the summer monsoon season from May to October, the island experiences thundershowers in the late afternoons and early evenings. The best time to visit Phuket is from December to March, when temperatures are slightly cooler.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS FOR SOUTH AFRICANS

SA Passport required for SA citizens valid for at least 6 months upon arrival. Visa required, except for touristic stay of max. 30 days.

Passport/Visa

All nationalities require passports valid for at least six months. Travellers entering Thailand are required to prove they have sufficient funds to cover the length of their stay, and are recommended to hold documentation for return/onward travel. If issued a visa prior to arrival, travellers are permitted to travel on a one-way ticket.

Money

The unit of currency is the Baht (THB), which is divided into 100 satang. Currency can be exchanged at the airport, banks, hotels and bureaux de change. Banks are open Monday to Friday. ATMs are available in most cities and tourist resorts. Most major credit cards are accepted at hotels and larger businesses.

TRANSPORT

Public transport is quite limited on Phuket. Local buses, in the form of converted pick-up trucks (songtaews), operate along set routes and are a convenient and cost-effective means of getting around. The destination of the songtaew will be written in English on the front of the vehicle. Tuk-tuks are popular on the island, but they are not metered and it’s not uncommon for drivers to overcharge unsuspecting passengers. It’s best to negotiate a fare before getting in the vehicle. Although not as common as songtaews and tuk-tuks, metered taxis are available on Phuket. Drivers are sometimes reluctant to use the meter, and it’s best to agree on the fare before embarking on a journey in a taxi. Motorbike taxis are a cheaper means of getting around the island, but by no means the safest. Car and motorbike hire is available on Phuket and both offer a good means of getting around the island, although should be considered carefully due to the poor safety standards on local roads.ATTRACTIONS

ATTRACTIONS

Many visitors come on holiday in Phuket simply for the beaches, but there are many things to see and do in Phuket out of the water. Phuket’s long and fascinating history is detailed at the Thalang National Museum, while the island has 29 Buddhist temples, including the famous Wat Chalong. The 147-foot (45m) Big Buddha is also a popular attraction, visible from most of southern Phuket.

Phuket has rightly earned its reputation as a paradise for outdoor activities, and visitors will enjoy exploring some of the biggest waterfalls in Thailand, and other pastimes like fishing and hiking. Also interesting are the Muay Thai boxing matches staged in Saphan Hin Stadium.

Fun in the sun and sea is the main attraction of Phuket however, and there is no end of opportunities for snorkelling, scuba diving, cliff diving, sailing kayaking and jet-skiing.

SHOPPING

While not on the same level as the legendary shopping in Bangkok, Phuket is still a great place to find bargains in Thailand. The island has everything from air-conditioned shopping malls to noisy night bazaars and open-air village food markets.

The best place to find Thai silk and other traditional Thai souvenirs in Phuket is Kamala Beach. Cheap souvenirs like hats and scarves are available along the beach walkway in high season, and there are a number of shops near the beach restaurants selling sarongs, toys, and hand-carved items. There are even shops along Kamala’s main road that will turn out copies of your favourite suit remarkably quickly.

One popular souvenir from Phuket is pearl jewellery, available locally from the Phuket Pearl Factory in Sapam.

There are two main shopping malls in Phuket: Central Festival Phuket and Jungceylon Shopping Center. Central Festival Phuket is dominated by a single Central Department Store selling everything from silk sarongs to designer watches, while Jungceylon Shopping Center has more than 200 stores offering everything you can think of, from pirate DVDs to perfume.

Most department stores and shops have fixed prices, however market stalls and street vendors are willing to bargain anywhere from 10-40 percent off the original price.

NIGHTLIFE

Phuket’s nightlife is second only to Bangkok for sheer buzz. The liveliest resort area in Thailand, the larger towns on the island offer plenty of entertainment into the wee hours of 5 or 6am. Many restaurants and markets also stay open until 11pm, enhancing the festive atmosphere.

The epicenter of Phuket’s nightlife is Patong Beach, and within the town, Bangla Road is the main concentration of bars and clubs, ranging from seriously dodgy beer bars to upscale cocktail lounges, as well as pumping nightclubs, rowdy karaoke bars, gay bars, jazz clubs, relaxed pubs and go-go bars. At the top end of Bangla Road are several side-by-side establishments to party into the early hours. Paradise Complex is Patong’s gay area, with more than 50 bars, karaokes, restaurants and discos.

Lady bars, or beer bars, are clustered together and staffed with beautiful women tasked with getting patrons to drink as much as possible through drinking games or sheer distraction. In Patong you’ll find the famous ‘ladyboys’ (or katoeys) of Thailand, transvestites that are often more feminine, slimmer, and sexier than Thai women. While katoeys working in bars are notoriously friendly, remember that they are working and will expect drinks, gifts, and/or money for their time. If the seedy clubbing scene isn’t what you’re looking for, many hotels in Phuket stage Thai dance shows. Tourists can head to Phuket Simon Cabaret or Aphrodite for elaborate drag cabaret shows staged nightly.

The bars and nightclubs in Phuket have gotten stricter in the last few years about carding patrons, especially in venues offering more than food and drink. Tourists should take care not to go out alone at night, and to keep an eye on their drinks at all times.

CURRENCY EXCHANGE RATES

 

ThailandTHB 1THB 5THB 10THB 100THB 1,000
South AfricaR 0.26R 1.32R 2.64R 26.45R 264.48

Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Check out all our Thailand holidays here: https://www.igotravel.co.za/thailand

***TRAVEL INFORMATION CORRECT AT THE TIME OF POSTING***

(Please check updated info prior to travel, and this can change without notice)