Getting to Phuket island
Quiet a few airlines operate direct international flights to Phuket, so if you're starting your Thailand trip in the south, it may be worth flying straight here or via another Asian city rather than having to make connections via Bangkok. Given that bus journeys from Bangkok are so long and tedious, you might want to consider taking a domestic flight from the capital or elsewhere to Phuket. Thai Airways runs sixteen flights a day between Phuket and Bangkok (1hr 25min) and also links the island with Hat Yai; Bangkok Airways also runs a few Phuket-Bangkok shuttles and has flights to Pattaya and Ko Samui, and there is a daily seaplane service from Phuket Airport to Ko Phi Phi run by Blue Water Air.
Phuket International Airport is located on the northwest coast of the island, 32km northwest of Phuket town. There is currently no reliable public transport system from the airport to the beaches, so the cheapest option is to take the airport limousine bus, which will drop you at the hotel and charges 100 Baht per person for the ride into town, 150 Baht to Ao Patong and 200 Baht to Ao Kata or Ao Karon. Taxis cost about 500-800 Baht to the main west-coast beaches of Ao Patong. Ao Karon and Ao Kata about 300-500 Baht to Phuket town.
The cheapest way for travellers to get to the airport is with a company called Phuket Airport Bus (076-248596), which charges 150 Baht per person. Unfortunately their office and pick-up point is inconveniently located on Thanon Vichitsongkhram, 4km west of Phuket town centre, and their minivans only depart every two hours between 7am and 5 pm, taking about 45 minutes. Most people use taxi instead, a service offered by nearly all hotels on Patong, Karon and Kata for 400-600 Baht, the trip takes about an hour. One company on Patong offers a cheaper hourly minibus service.
All direct air-con buses from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal make the journey overnight, leaving at approximately half-hourly intervals between 5.30pm and 7 pm and arriving about 14 hours later and sometime a little bit longer. Most air-con buses from Phuket to Bangkok also make the journey overnight, though there are a few departures during the morning. There is no train service to Phuket, but you could book an overnight sleeper train to Surat Thani about 290km east of Phuket, and take a bus from Surat Thani to Phuket (about 4-5 hours). There are plenty of ordinary and air-con buses between Surat Thani and Phuket, some of which run via Khao Sok, Takua Pa and Khao Lak, and a private minibus service also runs from Phuket's Montri Hotel on Thanon Montri to Surat Thani. Takua Pa is a useful interchange for local services to Khuraburi and Ranong, though there are a few direct buses between Ranong and Phuket. As for points further south: numerous buses travel between Krabi and Phuket, via Phang Nga, and there are also frequent services to and from Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Hat Yai. The TAT office in Phuket town keeps up-to-date bus timetables.
Nearly all buses to and from Phuket use the bus station (Tel. 076-211977) at the eastern end of Thanon Phang Nga in Phuket town, from where it's a ten-minutes walk or a short tuk-tuk ride to the town's central hotel area, and slightly further to the Thanon Ranong departure-point for songthaews to the beaches.
If you're coming to Phuket from Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta or Ao Nang, the quickest and most scenic option is to take the boat. During peak season, up to four ferries a day make the trip to and from Ko Phi Phi ( 1hr 30min-2hr 30min), usually docking at Rassada Port on Phuket's east coast; during low season, there's at least one ferry a day in boat directions. Travellers from Ko Lanta may have to change boats at Ao Nang. Minibuses meet the ferries in Phuket and charge 100 Baht per person for transfers to Phuket town and the major west-coast beaches, or 150 Baht to the airport (leave plenty of extra time if you have a flight to catch as boats are notoriously tardy); some ferry agents include the transfer price in their tickets.
Although the best west-coast beaches are connected by road, to get from one beach to another by public transport you nearly always have to go back into Phuket town; songthaews run regularly throughout the day from Thanon Ranong in the town centre and cost between 30-40 Baht from town to the coast.
Tuk-tuks and taxis do travel directly between major beaches, but charge around 100-200 Baht from Kata to Karon, 200-300 Baht between Patong and Karon, and 300-400 Baht from Karon to Kamala. For transport within resorts, the cheapest option is to make use of the public songthaews where possible, and to hail motorbike taxis elsewhere. However, many tourists on Phuket ride motorbikes or mopeds, available for rent on all the main beaches for 200-300 Baht per day (be sure to ask for helmet, as the compulsory helmet law is strictly enforced on Phuket); alternatively, rent a jeep for 800-1200 Baht per day. Be aware though that traffic accidents are region on Phuket, especially for bikers: some reports put the number of motorbike fatalities on Phuket as high as three hundred per year, many of which could allegedly have been prevented if the rider had been wearing a helmet.