What is the best way to travel from Bangkok to Phuket ?
A lot of travelers make their way into Thailand through either Bangkok or Phuket. Both destinations are fairly big travel hubs, but what if you want to travel from Bangkok to Phuket as well? Having made the journey myself repeatedly, I will go over the different possibilities and explain a little about the up- and downsides of some of them.
Some basic info about Bangkok to Phuket
First off, Bangkok is a megacity with over 12 million people calling it their home. As such, it has two airports in very different locations of the city, which is something to take into account when you need to make a flight transfer. Bangkok also has an international train hub with trains leaving regularly to its neighboring countries. In addition to the flights and trains, there are several spots in the city in which you can hop on a bus or minibus on your way to Phuket as well.
Phuket on the other hand, is the biggest island in Thailand. There is no real city, as I consider “Phuket city” a town more than anything else. But the island does have an international airport that was very recently expanded into a National- and International hub. The island is connected to the mainland by Sarasin bridge, so travelers do have a choice of methods to getting on- and off the island.
Travel from Bangkok to Phuket by air
How far is Phuket from Bangkok by plane you ask? Well, with just 840km (approx. 524 miles), flying to Phuket is one of the easiest options. It is an in-land flight so no extensive immigration procedures apply, and the flight takes a mere 70 minutes. What’s more, compared to some of the low-cost carriers elsewhere in the world, the tickets are very affordable, especially if you manage to book a few weeks in advance.
Keep that in mind, as you will easily pay more than double if you book your ticket one day before you fly. While some still consider even those prices still extremely cheap, it is a waste of money. Keep in mind that the low-cost carriers have flexible prices, so a trip that is well planned in advance can be much cheaper than a train- or bus ticket, while you travel a mere fraction of the time.
Whenever I fly to Phuket, I start out by checking out the various carriers, but 9 out of 10 times I either fly with Nok Air or Tiger Air. When I happen to miss my flight, it is usually Air Asia offering the best last minute pricing on the airport, so do keep an eye out for them as well. There are several other carriers flying the same trajectory, so don’t limit your choices to these few companies only. I am not a big fan of sites that “find you the cheapest ticket”, because guess what?! They have to make a living too. And it definitely pays to fly outside the weekend, as Fridays and Sundays are usually more expensive than the rest of the flights. Internet tells us that a Bangkok to Phuket airfare is best bought on a Wednesday, as the airlines adjust their prices around that time. Go ahead and try it out – I never got around to do it but is sounds sensible.
Travel from Bangkok to Phuket by train
I usually recommend traveling by train in Thailand, as the night trains are much more luxurious than you expect them to be, at a very affordable price as well. However, the problem with Phuket is that there are no railways coming in, so the closest railway terminal is in Surat Thani. And getting to Surat Thani from Phuket is going to take you several hours by bus or minivan. And while I have little experience with taking the long distance busses in Thailand, I know all about minivans.
Out of all possible modes of transportation, I would avoid the minivans wherever I can, as I will explain later in this article. I hear there are long distance bus carriers that offer interesting levels of comfort, and occasionally I have been passed on the highway by giant double-decker busses full of music and dancing people. While I am sure this is not a regular occurrence on the Phuket Surat – Thani trajectory, the bus lines really are not half bad.
If your goal is the trip itself and the destination not so much, I would definitely consider this option. Not only do you get to see inland parts of the country, but the night train is a great experience as well. As long as you don’t book anything cheaper than a 2nd class sleeper wagon, you will have reasonable Wi-Fi access, air conditioning and a private bunk at your disposal.
Pro tip: Any seasoned traveler knows this, but in a night train, earplugs are worth their weight in gold.
Travel from Bangkok to Phuket by bus
As mentioned in the previous section, the busses are not half bad in Thailand and I hear that this is the preferred method of travel by many backpackers. Especially the VIP section of certain busses are funny, in the sense that the proud owners of these enormous busses manage to build flat screen TV’s, karaoke machines and other amenities in these rolling fortresses.
By far, the most reliable are the public BKS buses, and they do tend to be more affordable than the private bus companies. The private ones on the other hand, are more expensive but they will often feature additional amenities (see what’s on offer!), and you get to book your ticket in advance. I’ve heard this is advisable as it could get you a better price and your seat is guaranteed.
Note that I read a lot of stories of people traveling on busses, only to find several of their belongings were missing. I am not saying this will happen to you, but one particular case made headlines in Thailand where the operator had installed trap doors to rob its passengers.
Pro Tip: When you get to your destination and the driver is a little too eager to get you off the bus, thoroughly check you belongings. In case you feel your driver is up to no good, taking his picture in a very obvious way may also make him a little more reluctant to pull a fast one.
Travel from Bangkok to Phuket by Minivan
Call me biased, but please avoid Minivans at all costs. Like anyone who stayed in Thailand for an extended period of time I haven’t just heard the horror stories, I experienced them. The drivers of these death traps are underpaid and under extreme pressure to stick to their time schedule. As a result, you will witness completely psychotic driving habits, combined with telephone calls and a horrible attitude.
Pro tip: Any movement of the car is amplified on the seats over the rear axle, so if you get car sick easily, try to sit in the front part of the minivan.
The government has also taken notice of the countless accidents involving minivans and as a result they are gradually phasing them out in favor of slightly larger minibuses. And why would you get in a minivan in the first place? Ticket prices are higher than by bus and you get considerable less comfort without the ability to stand up. And even if your minivan is faster than a bus, you will need at least a day to recover from the jarring effects of being thrown around for hours straight.
Note: Make an exception for the shuttle service at Phuket airport. Unlike the taxis which will cost you an arm and a leg, the minivans actually offer a flat and fair rate of THB 160 per person. You buy a ticket outside the arrival terminal, wait for the other passengers and as soon as the driver knows where to drop you off, it’s on.
Travel from Bangkok to Phuket by car
When I get visitors from abroad, I always tell them to spend at least ten days in Thailand. That doesn’t always work because some of them just stop by on their way to Australia, or they have other commitments elsewhere. For the ones that do dedicate themselves to my 10-day minimum, I usually set up a road trip. And driving from Bangkok to Phuket is a great way to catch up with your friends and truly see the country.
A friend of mine drove the distance in 11 hours straight, when he had to hand over his company car, but I recommend taking three, maybe four days. There are several car rental agencies that will allow you to drop your car in Phuket for a small fee, and prices are truly great compared to some of the rates I see from European rental companies. The Chevy Captiva we reserved for our last trip was upgraded to a TrailBlazer, so we spent several days in the South of Thailand, exploring the back roads with a very modestly priced SUV.
The road to Phuket is littered with national parks, incredible little beach towns and sleepy rest stops with some of the best food you will find in Thailand. I highly recommend driving straight through the first beach town you will encounter on your first day. Hua Hin is too close to Bangkok, and stopping for a one-night stopover in Chumphon is much more rewarding. Its beaches are prettier, and the prices are lower, which a lot less tourists to share your tropical beach with. There is nothing like waking up for a little stand-up paddling in the morning, followed by a lavish breakfast before you hit the road.
The motorcycle diaries – Travel from Bangkok to Phuket by bike
During a road trip from Phuket to Bangkok, I decided to stay as close to the beach as possible whenever the main roads allowed me to. During that period, I kept seeing a couple of backpackers on a 125cc scooter with some serious luggage. We tried to guess what they were doing, but at one point we all pulled into the same gas station, and before they could take off again we greeted them and told them we had seen them over the course of two days.
It turns out they were a couple from Estonia, and they bought the motorcycle in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Over the course of several weeks, they planned to drive it to Hanoi, Vietnam. They told us they would drive no more than three hours every day, and tried to avoid riding mid-day, as the sun can be pretty brutal on your arms when you expose your skin for several hours straight. Very similar to us, they would open their smartphone in the afternoon and find the nearest hotel they liked, and call it a night.
For adventurers who truly want to experience Thailand, this is the way to do it. First of all, you make up your own schedule and no bus driver or flight attendant tells you to get out just when you were getting comfy and secondly, you get to stop whenever you feel like it. Be your own boss, and drive there yourself I say. Whether you do it in a car or on a motorbike is up to you, but personally I prefer the air-conditioned option.
There are several ways to get from Bangkok to Phuket, and depending on what type of trip you intend to have, there is a perfect solution for you. Trains are usually the cheapest, but due to Phuket not having a train station and the nearest one being several hours away, Bangkok to Phuket by bus is your budget option. If you are strictly looking for the quickest way to get there, I suggest looking up a Bangkok to Phuket airfare, and make sure you book two weeks in advance.
Keep in mind you will need at least an hour to get to the airport, and getting from Phuket airport to your destination is going to take some time as well (do NOT take a taxi, but opt for a minivan instead, as it will almost save you THB 1000). Door-to-door you still lose at least four hours, with check-ins, transportation, flights and waiting for your luggage. It’s quick, and you’ll have forgotten about it the minute you arrive at your destination.
If you are looking for an adventure, drive there yourself. Rent a car, a motorcycle or maybe find some backpackers to share the costs with. Thailand has an excellent network of roads are you are going to see monkeys, temples, beautiful beaches, mangrove forests, national parks, fish farms and so much more over the course of your trip.
More Thailand: Check out other amazing things you can do in Thailand
Sacha Albarda is an copywriter/online media expert living in South-east Asia for the better part of a decade. Asked what he likes best about living there, he usually answers that it’s “the tightly organized anarchy”.