Public transportation on Phuket is a problem that never seems to get solved. If you've spent any time in other parts of the country, you'll know that the covered pickup trucks that cruise the streets picking up and dropping off passengers are called songtaews, while the noisy motorized three-wheel vehicular demons are known as tuk-tuks. Not on Phuket: Here, locals call communal pickup trucks tuk-tuks, while songtaews are the giant colorful buses that ply the main roads (also called baht buses).
Here's the problem: Songtaews are only permitted to travel from a beach to Phuket Town (not from beach to beach). Tuk-tuk drivers have exclusive rights to transport people between beaches, so the "service" is run as a racket -- pay the fare they demand, or walk. At night, tuk-tuk drivers are known to charge solo passengers up to 1,000B to go from Karon to Patong Beach, but they are the only game in town. Budget travelers on limited funds must bear this in mind to avoid getting stranded late at night. If you plan to stay several days and want to explore the island, renting a car is the obvious answer.
The local bus terminal is in front of the Central Market, on Ranong Road, in Phuket Town. Fares to the most popular beaches range from 20B to 30B. Songtaews leave when full, usually every 30 minutes, and they run from 7am to 6pm between Phuket Town and the main beaches on the west coast.
Within Phuket Town, tuk-tuks charge 100B to 200B even for the shortest trips, but they can get away with it because there's no alternative for short hops. They provide the most convenient way to get to the bus station or to Phuket Town's restaurants.
In the busy west-coast beaches, tuk-tuks and small Daihatsu minitrucks roll around town honking at any tourist on foot, especially in Patong. It is the only way to travel between beaches. Bargain hard and beware that these guys will try to eke every baht out of you. Expect to pay about 600B from town to the airport, 500B from town to Patong Beach, and 200B from Patong Beach to Karon Beach. At night, you'll have to pay through the nose, usually double the normal day rates. In early 2007, the beach and main roads began using one-way traffic, and transport prices have been rising further due to the longer distance.
By Motorcycle Taxi
Motorcycle taxi drivers, identifiable by colored vests, make short trips within Phuket Town or along Patong Beach for fees as steep as 100B. Don't let them talk you into anything but short in-town rides, unless you're looking for a death-defying F1-style race along the switchback highways between beaches.
You should be extremely cautious when driving yourself around Phuket. Roads between the main beaches in the west and connecting with Phuket Town across the center of the island are dangerously steep and winding, with more than a few hairpin turns and lots of unpredictable traffic. Having said that, renting a vehicle here makes much more sense than in, say, Ko Samui or Ko Chang, and road surfaces are generally in good condition. As in other parts of the kingdom, drivers pass aggressively, even on blind curves, and self-driving visitors should be defensive and alert at all times.
Avis (tel. 07635-1243) and Hertz (tel. 07632-8545) have counters at the Phuket airport.. Plan on spending around 1,400B per day for the cheapest four-door sedan. Budget (tel. 07620-5396 at the airport, 07629-2309 in Patong) charges similar rates. All international renters have sound insurance coverage available, which is highly recommended.
Inexpensive (but notoriously unsafe) Suzuki Caribbeans can be rented from almost all travel agents and from hotels at the beach areas. Prices start at 800B per day. Independent agents hang around under umbrellas along Patong Beach and offer great bargains, if you negotiate, but don't count on them having an insurance policy.
Also along the Patong strip, the same car-rental guys will offer cheap bike rental. A 100cc Honda scooter goes for 150B to 200B per day, while a 400cc Honda Shadow chopper will set you back at least 600B per day. Significant discounts can be negotiated, if you plan to rent for a longer time. Wear your helmet, as police enforce fines of 500B for going without, and practice caution while driving.