Thailand: how to cross the country through Phuket and Bangkok
Getting there: on a train from Kuala lumpur (see our post on Malaysia).
By now, you’ll be used to it, as soon as you get off the train, some men will come to you to ask you where you want to go. They will tell you they can drive you to Phuket if you want. As always, just refuse and walk, their services are 3 to 5 times more expensive than the normal bus.
By walking 5minutes straight ahead when you leave the train station, you will find an ATM to get some Thai bahts.
Now, see how you feel, you will either want to rest in a homestay or go straight to Phuket, it will be another 7h trip on a bus if you do. You can find homestays on the main street. Go from one to the other to find the best deal. Don’t hesitate to have a look at rooms before you make your choice. For example, Ladda homestay is 350bahts per night for a room with a fan.
Get some food, plenty of choice. There’s a nice soup place if you walk back toward the train station and go left when you reach it.
You will have noticed small travel agent offices on the left side when you left the train station prior. These people will tell you that if you want to go to Phuket you don’t have the choice but to get bus tickets from them. Off course that’s bul!sh!t. They would charge you a minimum of 500B each and you would have to wait for their minivan to be full of candid travellers, then they would drive you to their hotel in Phuket.
Instead, get a “tuk tuk” to the Hat yai bus terminal, these small open trucks. This will cost 40B each (negotiated) for a 10min ride.
At the bus terminal go to the offices, they speak a bit of english, there is one office per bus brand and each company offers a cheap and more luxurious option so you can decide what better suits your budget. Tell them you want to go to Phuket and compare, it shouldn’t be more than 280B each for 7 hours on a big bus.
The bus will stop in Phuket town bus terminal. There won’t be any hotels close by. You should decide where you want to go before you leave Hat yai, using the wifi of your hotel. If you want to take your time in Phuket, you can stay in the old town, if you want to go to Big buddha or one of the islands like Koh phiphi island, you better stay in Chalong, the little harbor.
If you arrive at Phuket town bus terminal during the day, you can take one of these wooden buses to Phuket old town for 30B, if you want to stay in the old town and then another one from there to Chalong if you want to go to Ko phiphi.
If you arrive at the bus terminal at night, the best option is to get a taxi to the old town for 300B (negotiated). Just make sure to choose a hotel before. Telling your taxi driver “please drive me to a cheap hotel” won’t get you anywhere cheap! Maybe share it with other travellers to split the cost.
In the old town, Beehive is quite cheap, 200B for a very hard bed in a dorm. It is quite clean though with air-con and a shared bathroom. Good enough if you’re exhausted. The next day talk to the friendly staff, they will give you information on how to move around. You can also check the maps on your phone using wifi.
To go to Chalong, walk or get a taxi to the fish market bus stop. Get a small wooden bus to Chalong bus terminal for 30B each. It will take about 15minutes to get there.
You will be dropped off at the harbor. If you want to stay there a bit, the cheapest hotel in the area is Supergreen hotel. It is on the left when you walk up the street. Their restaurant is quite nice too with friendly helpful staff. One night in a bedroom with a fan is 400B, you can book online.
There’s a lot to see around here, the best way to move around is to rent a scooter. You will find them everywhere, it will cost 250B a day.
Make a little video of the state of the scooter BEFORE you take it, recording in detail all the little scratches, dents and anything broken, just in case they try blaming you and charging you for it when you get back (this happens quite a lot in Thailand).
-Ride your scooter up to Big buddha! This statue is quite new but impressive and well worth a visit. The view from up there is beautiful too!
Please, if you do go there, DON’T stop at the elephant farms on the way to ride elephants or take your picture with a baby. People there will tell you your money goes to their association that “saves” the elephants, but you’ll notice that they are all attached with a chain that is less than a meter long. Plus, as we mentionned before, all domesticated elephants in Asia go through terrible sufferings to get there (check phajaan on Google and the work of Lek Chailert for more info on this).
-Visit some of the beaches around, enjoy sea food on the coast, do some snorkling, organise your trip to the islands. Have a chat with your hotel host, he will give you good advice on what to do and to see around the area, just don’t buy whatever they sell straight away. Do your own research to find the best deals too.
Getting there: To Bangkok overland, you have two possibilities:
-The bus to Surat thani and then the train to Bangkok: The bus leaves in the morning. You might want to book it in advance at the Phuket bus terminal 2 (or new bus terminal). You can get a combined bus/train ticket. The train will stop in Hualamphong train station in Bangkok.
-The bus straight to Bangkok. We found this option easier. In the bus terminal 2, you can get a VIP overnight bus for 1021B at the counter. You might want some comfort as it will be quite long (12hours).
To get to the bus terminal 2 from Chalong bus terminal, take a small wooden bus to the fish market (also known as old bus terminal) for 30B each, then jump on another small wooden bus from there to bus terminal 2 (or new bus terminal) for 15B.
One advice: it is a huge city, so organise your hotel BEFORE you get there! It is more expensive in Bangkok than it is in Phuket, 800B is concidered cheap there but you can find something for 500B, away from the touristy areas, try the highclass mansion for exemple.
When you arrive at the bus terminal, you can either take a cab to your hotel or walk to a BTS skytrain station or MRT underground station and see from there. These logos are quite similar and easily found on google maps.
These modes of transportation are the easiest and cheapest way around the city.
You can also easily move by bus. Bus stops are everywhere around the city. Tuk tuks and scooter taxi are also widely available. Just if you choose the tuk tuk (fun experience), devide whatever price they tell you by 3 and meet in the middle, in other words – haggle hard.
You will find everything in this crazy city: temples, cinemas, museums, cheap restaurants, you name it. Travelling around without spending much is really easy so we don’t need to detail here.
First of all, know that there is a HUGE SCAM going on a the Thailand-Cambodia border (Aranyaprathet-poipet). We devellope it and detail how to prepare for it there.
From Bangkok, 2 solutions:
-You can go straight from Bangkok to Siem reap by bus (but be aware that the bus stops at fake immigration offices on the way as explained in our border crossing post)
-Or you can choose to go to Aranyaprathet, Thai side of the border, by train and do the crossing by yourself following our steps. The train leaves twice a day from Hualamphong train station in Bangkok, at 5.55am and 1.05pm. It takes about 6hours and costs 48B each. Seats are not very comfortable and there is no air con but windows will be open and it will be a fun ride through the streets of Bangkok (very close to the building so don’t put your head or arms out of the windows), and through the ricefields and countryside of Thailand.
You can easily get to the station by the MRT subway service. Pack some water and biscuits and off you go!
Next: a must read if you’re going this way: Thailand Cambodia border: how to avoid all the scams