24 hours in Phuket
Written by Kerrie Hall Illustration by Fernando Volken Togni
Phuket – now famed for sun-and-sea tourism, this lush tropical island in the south of Thailand was once rich in tin deposits. Devastated by a Burmese invasion in 1809, traders from the British Straits moved all mining activity to the Bay of Tongkah near Old Phuket town.
By the early 1900s, Penang merchants flocked to the island and life was more culturally linked to Malaya (now Malaysia) than Bangkok, influenced by European architecture and Chinese settlements in Penang, Singapore, and Malacca.
?Tin mining collapsed in the 1970s, however, direct flights from Europe to Bangkok infused new life into local economies with tourism to Phuket’s stunning beaches. Phuket town’s early architecture is referred to as Sino-Portuguese in design. A movement to restore the pre-World War II streets is now in full swing – from ancient shophouses to sacred shrines and temples. Modern Phuket is diverse in culture – Buddhist, Muslim, and home now to people from all over the globe with the laid back traditional and cosmopolitan lifestyle reflected in food, art, and the fabulous outdoors.
Opposite Phuket Airport find a reputable car rental with full insurance, from 1,200 baht per day for new small sedans.
Make sure you can ride, have an international licence, and a quality motorcycle helmet – as island traffic can be chaotic.
Rent by trip or negotiate a deal for a car or smaller tuk-tuk to be available on call, half to full day.
A local bus, where passengers sit on benches in the back of a pick-up, can be slow but fun to try.
Public transport is an ongoing issue on Phuket. Thai locals use a songthaew bus between beaches unless they own a car or motorcycle. Hotels will arrange reputable vehicle rentals; it’s best to have an international driving licence. In Phuket city, walking is easiest to enjoy the history and daily ambience. For longer trips in town, take a songthaew or a faster motorcycle taxi. Drivers wear coloured vests for easy identification; just wave one down and off you go. For time-limited travellers, an island tour by self-itinerary is best organised with a taxi driver who will take you where and when you desire for a set price all day long. Just like having a personal chauffeur and guide in one; you may even make some Thai friends!