Phuket Town, is the main town for the province of Phuket, but really, it should be called Phuket City as it seemed quite large and polluted with many bustling cars and people going about their business. Actually, the locals just call it Phuket, so I think the ‘Town’ part is just added for us tourists.
Many tour books will tell you that you could save a bundle by staying in Phuket Town and that is certainly true, for both accommodations and food. However, if you are going to Phuket for the beaches I cannot imagine staying in this busy smoggy city. The main reason for me is the lack of good transportation.
If you are staying in one of the beach towns you can get to Phuket Town in one of three ways:
- Hire a taxi $$$
- Rent a motorbike $$
- Take the songthaew (local bus) $ – 30 baht per person (can’t read the Thai below and unsure why it says 40 baht)
We opted to take the cheapest and most adventurous route, the songthaew. The word songthaew in Thai means two boards. song = two + thaew = boards. That is exactly what this bus is! Two boards or benches!
The songthaews run every twenty minutes from Kata Beach and I’m sure they also run at the same time from other beaches to Phuket Town. If you are late for the bus don’t worry as the bus drivers will actually wait longer than its scheduled time if there aren’t enough people on the bus. In fact, you can actually catch the bus anywhere along its route! Just waive them down and the driver would be more than happy to stop and pick you up even if the bus is already completely full with people hanging on to the back of the bus standing on the bumper!
During our short journey to Phuket Town the bus must have stopped at least 15 times! The bus was so overloaded and when we approached some road construction on a hill the bus could not climb the hill since it had to slow down. So the bus driver stopped the bus and began to yell at us in Thai to get out of the bus and walk up the hill. None of us foreigners (farangs) could understand what the driver was saying but it was clear that he wanted us all to get off the bus. Luckily, there were some Thai people on the bus who were able to translate so we all got off the bus and walked up the hill. Here is a photo that shows how crowded the bus was. There are some people in front of me as well as 3 people sitting in the front seat with the driver!
As soon as we were allowed to get back on the bus, Heidi and I made sure we were one of the first so we wouldn’t be standing at the back! My guess is there were about 35-40 people on this little bus.
Our destination in Phuket Town was Central Festival, a new mall located on the outskirts of the growing city. Unfortunately, it was not on the route of the songthaew because songthaews only follow one route and their destination is always to the local bus station on Ranong Rd then back to the beach of origin. So if you wanted to go to a different beach, say Patong Beach, but you are staying in Karon or Kata beach, you cannot take the songthaew since all songthaews go only from beach to Phuket Town. How you get from beach to beach will be explained in a later post.
Lucky for us, we were able to see Central Festival from the route to the local bus station and someone else on the bus was thinking the same thing as us, ‘stop the bus!’ and so they rang the buzzer signaling the driver to stop. Once off the bus we had a short walk of about 1/4 mile to the Central Festival Mall. My only gripe about this part, which is a continuing problem in Thailand is the lack of crosswalks. So the only way to cross streets is run across them when it looks safe. Good thing that Thais are merciful to pedestrians running across busy streets and will stop for you.
The Central Festival Mall is similar to the malls we have back in the U.S. with many high-end shops as well as many restaurants, a grocery store (perfect for long stay visitors), and shops dedicated for us tourists. The reason why we ventured here was because I forgot to bring a mouse for my laptop. Though many things in Thailand are cheap, electronics are not one of them.
Leaving Central Festival there are a number of transportation alternatives. As soon as you exit the mall several taxi drivers will try to get your business, but you can just ignore them unless it is just too hot for you and don’t mind paying a couple hundred Baht to get to the bus station that will take you back to the beach. Instead there is a bus station right in front of the mall on route 4020 (Wichit Songkharm Rd.). From here you can catch the songthaew that originates from Patong or Kamala Beaches. If you are coming from one of these beaches the songthaew will stop right in front of the mall before continuing on to the local bus station in Phuket Town. Of course we did not know that at the time and instead caught the route 1 minibus. We had read that these buses are air conditioned and will take you to the main bus station in Phuket Town, which is not too far from the local bus station. It cost us 10 baht each to ride the minibus, which is a bargain, except for the fact that the airconditioning was broken and it was at least 90 degrees in the bus and they did not have any windows to open! What surprised me even more was that both the bus driver and the bus attendant were wearing uniforms with long sleeves and neither of them were barely breaking a sweat!
The minibus has a lot of stops but we didn’t know where these stops were except for the main bus station. If anyone can find a legitimate bus route for the minibuses please let me know and I would be happy to post it here for other weary and confused travelers to Phuket Town. After about 45 minutes driving around town we realized that we had gone nearby the local bus station and tried to get the bus attendant to stop the bus for us, but our lack of Thai and his lack of English made it difficult. A local Thai lady who was sitting behind us spoke English pretty well and tried to communicate for us but by this time we were very near the main bus station. Oh well, we just didn’t want to have to walk farther than needed since it was scorching hot outside.
The local station was much closer than we thought but a little confusing since there really isn’t a bus station at all. Instead, there is a bus stop that doesn’t even look like a bus stop. The only way we knew we were in the right area was because a stack of buses were lined up. Once at the station we looked around for the correct bus to take us back to Kata Beach but we only saw buses for Patong and Kamala beaches. We thought that our bus had not yet arrived, but luckily a taxi driver asked us where we were going and when we told him Kata Beach, he pointed to us that there was another bus stop farther down the road for Kata and Karon beaches. So don’t be afraid to talk to taxi drivers. Sure they want your business and some of them are tricksters, but most of them would be happy to point you in the right direction if lost. The bus stop for Kata is located directly across from the Thai Airways office and right in front of the 7-Eleven. There is also a small bus sign right in front of the 7-Eleven, but I would have never noticed it.
On the way back the bus picked up people along the way just like on the journey to town. In fact, the bus also stopped at the same spot where we were dropped off in the morning! Doh! if we had known this, we could have just walked back there and completely bypassed the minibus and walk through town. Then again, we wouldn’t have learned all we have. So we hope you learn from our mistakes and enjoy your trip into Phuket Town.