Difference between revisions of "Phuket Island"
Revision as of 08:32, 10 September 2013
Phuket (pronounced puu gèt) (ภูเก็ต) , is Thailand's largest island. It is 48 km in length, 21 km at its widest, and is in Southern Thailand, on the west-facing Andaman Sea coastline, suspended from the southern tip of Phang Nga Province by a pair of short but substantial road bridges.
Phuket nestles in balmy Andaman Sea waters on Thailand's Indian Ocean coastline 862 kilometres south of Bangkok. Phuket formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber, and enjoyed a rich and colourful history. The island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, and was frequently mentioned in foreign trader’s ship logs.
In recent times, though, Phuket's top earner has been tourism, which has transformed the island into Thailand's wealthiest province. Expect prices to be a bit higher than on the mainland. The west coast of Phuket was hit severely by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, but almost no evidence of the damage now remains. Phuket enjoys great popularity as a travel destination. Most beaches are on the west coast, with Phuket Town to the southeast and the airport in the north.
Phuket is hot and humid throughout the year. The hot season is generally considered to be from March to early May. During the summer monsoon season from May to October, mornings and afternoons are still sunny and clear, but it tends to rain in the evenings and water clarity goes down. Locals consider November to February the "cool" season, and the weather is quite tolerable, much more so than in the tourism centres around the Gulf coast. It's comparable to Florida's summer weather in temperature and intensity of rain storms: 25-33 deg C, flying clouds, short and thunderous rainfalls in the afternoons and evenings. Surfing is possible off the western beaches.
Phuket is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and even sea gypsies. The majority of the population in the rural areas is Muslim. Outside of the provincial town, the rural folk speak with a thick Southern dialect which is difficult for even other Thais to understand. The provincial town’s economy having boomed over the past decade has led to a lot of the youngsters leading similar lives to those in Bangkok. Altogether, the lifestyle of the urban Thai-Chinese resembles that of Bangkokians.
The compact Phuket International Airport (IATA: HKT) (ICAO: VTSP) is in the north of the island, and is Thailand's second largest hub, second only to Bangkok. There are very frequent flights  to/from Bangkok as well as direct flights to many other airports in the region, including Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and direct charters to Europe and Australia in the high season.
There are some charter flights in high season from European and Asian countries such as Taiwan, Japan, etc. The airlines charge a very cheap fare.
Several domestic airlines fly to and from Phuket (HKT), including Nok Air  , Air Asia  , Orient Thai  . Tickets from either of Bangkok's two airports can cost around 1,300 baht one-way if booked well in advance, or around 2,000-2,500 baht (including taxes) if bought on the day or the flight.
Thai Airways  flies from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) several times every day, as well as once daily from Chiang Mai (but there are no direct flights in the opposite direction). Additionally, they sell tickets from/to many domestic and international destinations with a stopover in Bangkok. They are usually cheaper (especially international) than if one books separate tickets. Cheapest (non-exchangeable and non-refundable, though taxes are refunded even in the unfortunate case of no-show, if you call them later) one-way ticket from Bangkok, as of April 2008, costs 2,320 baht. Worth checking if you book just a few days before flight, as low-cost airlines may cost only 200-300 baht less in this situation, but you get world-famous Thai Airways service, and free on-board meals too.
Air Asia  fly from Phuket to Chiang Mai (CNX) direct, twice a day at 10:35 and 10:20, affording an opportunity to combine a beach holiday with experiencing the wildlife and exotic cultures of northern Thailand. From Chiang Mai to Phuket, flights depart at 13:00 and 21:45. They fly to two cities in Isaan as well, daily to Udon Thani (UTH) (handy for a trip into Laos) and four times per week to Ubon Ratchathani (UBP).
Bangkok Airways  has a monopoly on direct flights between Phuket and U-Tapao-Rayong-Pattaya International Airport (UTP) and Ko Samui (USM). They also have 6 daily flights from Bangkok. Fares are usually the same as Thai Airways, but sometimes they have very inexpensive promotional fares as low as 1,390 baht including taxes (that was a promotion in May 2011) when purchased on the airline's website. Bangkok Airways flights are usually less crowded and the entire journey is more relaxed, plus you can use their lounges for free even as an economy-passenger.
IMPORTANT: Thai Airways International and Bangkok Airways fly to Suvarnabhumi (pronounced: Soo-Var-na-phoom), whereas Nok Air and Orient Thai fly to Don Mueang Airport (DMK). This may be of importance when you have a connecting flight.
To get from the airport to your destination, there are several options:
If you are going to take the municipal airport bus from Phuket to the airport in the afternoon (especially 16:30 and 17:30 buses) you should allow yourself plenty of time. With dozens of school children getting on and off during weekdays and/or congested traffic the bus is frequently delayed.
Departure tax is now included in the ticket price. The airport is notionally divided into Terminal 1 and 2, with some charter and low-cost operators using the second, but these are only a few hundred meters apart and connected by an air-conditioned walkway.
There are no direct rail services to Phuket. But many trains leave from Bangkok's central station going south all the way to Singapore. The most comfortable are the sleeper trains (~685 baht for a berth in a 2nd class A/C car. Travellers by train must get off at Phun Phin railway station near Surat Thani and continue for another 5 hours by regular bus to Phuket. Do not buy the bus ticket until you actually see the bus and can make sure it is not standing room only as it picks up passengers at the popular Ko Samui ferry. If full, wait for the next one. See Surat Thani for more details.
Buses to mainland destinations including Bangkok, Chumphon, Hat Yai, Krabi, Phang Nga, Ranong, Satun, Sungai Kolok and Surat Thani use the BKS terminal off Thanon Tepkasattree in Phuket Town it is the new bus terminal move for the old bus terminal at Thanon Phang-nag in 2012.
The most reliable buses from Bangkok are the public BKS  buses from the Southern Bus Terminal to Phuket. The journey takes 13 hours and costs between 650-950 baht. There are also some private bus companies, Phuket Travel Tour, Phuket Central Tour and Phuket Travel Service . Khao San Road operations have a bad reputation for theft, often turn out to include a "surprise" transfer to a minibus at Surat Thani, and are best avoided. Richly Travel Center  offers a bus leaving at 19:00 from near the HuaLampong Train Station inside Bangkok (without having to transfer to the Southern Bus Terminal) for 900 baht. The TAT next door offers the same for around 1,100 baht.
From Phuket bus terminal to your final destination, you can take a motorcycle taxi, tuk-tuk, metre-taxi, or bus. A motorcycle taxi into Phuket Town will be about 10-20 baht; to most beaches 100-200 baht (negotiable).
A local bus to one of the main beaches will cost around 15-40 baht. It's not unusual for the tuk-tuk drivers at the bus terminal to tell arriving travellers that the local bus service has finished, even though it hasn't. The bus stop is near the market in the old town. From Bus Terminal 1, make a right onto Phang Nga Rd. Continue down Phang Nga until it terminates at Yaowarat Rd., then turn left. Within a few steps you will see a roundabout. Once at the roundabout, keep right. By keeping right, you will find Ranong Rd. Within 100 to 200 m you will find the local bus stop.
There are two bus terminals in Phuket, one small, old one in town, and one huge modern one 4 km north of town. You can take a 10 baht pink songthaew (leaves every 30 minutes) between the two. There are also 3 regular songthaew lines within Phuket Town, and both bus stations are served by them. There is a very useful big map just outside the bus stations (look around where the taxis are waiting at the old bus station and at the very rear, not towards the entrance at the new bus station) that displays the three songthaew routes within Phuket Town. Fare is 10 baht, last one at 19:00.
Before exiting the Phuket bus terminal, grab a free Phuket map from the information window. While supplies may always not be on hand, the map is a great way to get your bearings before jumping-off.
At the both bus terminals, be aware the tuk-tuk and motorbik taxi touts very expensive fare to the beachs.
Phuket is directly connected to the mainland by the Thao Thepkasattri Bridge. From Bangkok, take Highway 4 through Nakhon Pathom, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, thence through Ranong Province’s Kra Buri and Kapoe districts, Phang Nga Province’s Takua Pa and Thai Muang districts and onto Phuket Island. The total distance is 862 km. Cars  can be rented easily in Phuket.
All vehicles entering and leaving Ko Phuket will pass through a police checkpoint, Tha Chat Chai, about 5 km south of the bridge to Phang Nga. Most proceed without stopping, but suspicious vehicles will be stopped and searched.
Ferry services connect from Rassada Port in Phuket Town to Ko Phi Phi and on to Krabi on the mainland twice a day, taking 90 to 120 minutes and costing 350/650 baht one-way/return, for each leg. It's usually a pleasant ride, but can be rather bumpy when it's windy.
From the harbour, you could avoid the minibuses and take a ten baht songthaew to Phuket Town. If it doesn't show up at the bus stop right outside the terminal, you'll have to walk past the gate outside the harbor and along the road, turning left at the first T-junction, for about 600 metres. then on the big main road you can catch a cheap songthaew. There's a picture of all the routes posted just outside the terminal near the bus stop inside the complex. Last one leaves at 7PM.
There are also speedboats from/to Ko Racha (45 minutes), Phi Phi (1 - 1.5 hours), the Similan Islands (about 3 hours) and other islands. Boats and yachts can be chartered all year from Phuket at Chalong Bay, Rawai Beach, the Boot Lagoon, the Yacht Haven and Royal Phuket Marina. Boats from Phi Phi and Phang Nga can be found by visiting the local beaches. A search for Phuket Speedboat Charters will turn up many companies providing inter-island charters and services.
Prices for transfers on-board a tour speedboat are typically between 1,500 to 2,500 baht depending on destination. Phi Phi speedboat transfers (no tour) are provided by the Zeavola Resort, which has dedicated speedboats for Phi Phi transfers. Most companies doing Phi Phi Speedboat Tours will not accommodate transfers including baggage due to space limitations.
Prices for speedboat charters to/from Phuket range from 3,000 baht to 60,000 baht+ depending on distance / size of boat:
Phuket is a large island and you need some form of transport to get around. Public transport is very limited and taxis and tuk-tuks are the only practical means. Another, more dangerous option is rent your own wheels. Hotels generally offer shuttle bus services into Phuket Town, and also have taxi and car hire facilities.
By songthaew or bus
Public transport within Phuket is limited to a radial network connecting Phuket Town to the beach towns. There are a few full-size buses, but most lines are operated with songthaews, basically converted pick-up trucks serving as buses. The fare is 25-40 baht up on distance, and there are no set stops — they pick up and drop off as requested. Most local bus services operate at half-hour intervals and stop at around 18:00.
Most operate from the local market at Ranong Road (Talad Sod or Ban San); those to major beaches go via Phuket Town bus terminal. The main lines connect to Patong, Kata-Karon, Chalong Bay, Rawai-Nai Han beach, Cape Panwa (for the Aquarium), Mai Khao, and Surin-Kamala. There are no "cross-beach" connections, and eg. travelling from Surin to Patong (15 min by taxi) requires an hour-long detour via Phuket Town.
Upon your return, though, often the bus will drop you off not at the main terminal but at a bus stop somewhere in the middle of Phuket Town, where travellers will immediately be set upon by the rip-off tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. Tourists beware!
Phuket has three types of taxi — millions (or so it seems) of small songthaew-style minivans (usually bright red, occasionally bright yellow) called tuk-tuks, a much smaller number of conventional sedan-style taxis (yellow and red, with a "Taxi-Meter" sign on top), and random indistinguishable vehicles that serve as unofficial taxis.
The minivans are universally referred to as tuk-tuks (even though they have four wheels, not three). They have no meter, and their drivers are notoriously mercenary, so always agree a price beforehand and do bargain hard. Short hops around town shouldn't cost more than 40 baht, but good luck getting from Patong to Phuket Town for under 400 baht. Tuk-Tuks should be avoided whenever possible, these are run by what locals call the "Thai Mafia" and charge you 200 baht for less than 1km runs.
Metered taxis are a much better option when available, being safer, more comfortable, and usually cheaper than tuk-tuks. However, they are often hard to find, and during peak periods their drivers will also ignore the meter and demand flat fares. You can arrange one by telephone. It is highly recommended you insist your hotel gives you taxi meter phone number and keep on the front desk. Take the taxi meter land line number from the yellow booth at the right had side of ground floor of airport before you depart, approximately 150 meters to right as you exit arrivals. Use and promote metered taxis and give numbers to hotels and post to trip advisor to help others be safe.
Finally, many beaches have little shacks with "TAXI" signs, sometimes unofficially supported by a hotel, offering quick transport at high prices. They are usually pricier than the tuk-tuks, with most fares exceeding 500 baht, but they are usually air-conditioned and more comfortable.
By motorbike taxi
There are also motorbike taxis (motosai). While you should never hop on the back of just anyone's motorbike, motorbike taxi drivers wear bright numbered vests and are usually the cheapest way to go. However, these are more dangerous than a tuk-tuk, for obvious reasons, and are not comfortable for long trips. However, if you just need to get around town, they are a great way to go.
Maximum Taxi or Tuk Tuk fares published March 2013
By car or bike
Renting a car or motorbike to explore the island on your own is a cost-effective way of getting off the beaten track. However, given the driving habits of most locals and the resulting carnage on Phuket's roads every year, the risks do demand careful consideration. Driving habits are Thai style ignoring all the rules and keeping going at all costs, not much worse than Naples, but like there it keeps traffic moving. Traffic lights have just made things worse in the last few years.
Due to the geography of the island with its winding hilly roads and poor vision, Phuket certainly gets more than its fair share of accidents. In fact, the death and injury statistics are more than high. More than 10,000 people are injured and over 250 killed every year in road accidents in Phuket. Nine out of ten accidents involve motorbikes.
Drive very defensively at first and watch what the locals do. Of course, it helps if you are accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, which in itself could be enough to distract some North American or European drivers. Be aware that many motorcyclists will drive on the wrong side of the road to cover short distances, and undertaking is a very common occurrence on Phuket roads. Driving under the influence of alcohol is both illegal and dangerous, and driving at night also increases the risk of accidents — even if you're sober, many others aren't.
Motorcycle and scooter rentals start at around 200 baht/day, coming down to 150 baht/day for rentals of a week or more. Although both drivers and pillion passengers are required to wear helmets, this rule is sometimes ignored by locals, and tourists riding around without one are more likely to be taxed 300-500 baht (seems to be another rip-off for tourists, as the official fine for driving without a helmet is 200 baht) by the police if caught. You must carry a valid driving licence with you, or you'll be slapped with a 500 baht fine. Police can check for motorcycle licences, and not having the correct licence type may result in a fine. Your licence will be confiscated if you're fined, and returned when you pay the fine at the appropriate police station. There can be police check-points on the way, and regular check-point locations include the northern end of Patong Beach Road, Chalong Circle and the northern end of Karon Beach. If you do wear a helmet chances of being stopped should be low though.
Renting a car usually costs between 1,000-1,200 baht if you want to go for an ecomonical one like a Toyota Vios (stay away from the jeeps). Several rental companies are located in and around the airport. Avis is located within the airport while Hertz, National and Sixt are located within walking distance of the airport (across the road). Bookings can be made online for these. Reputable local car rental companies are also present, which are often a little cheaper.
Be careful to check the level of insurance on a hired car, as many local companies say they have 'full' insurance when in fact it is only a very basic level. Motorcycle rental generally includes little or no insurance, so take extra care if you decide to opt for the motorbike option.
For a bit of island hopping the longtail boats are a great way to do so. Prices must be negotiated and are approximately 500 baht per hour or no more than 1,800 baht per day.
Phuket is one of Thailand's premier tourist destinations and (basic) English is widely spoken, especially in the beach areas. That said, even a little Thai will draw smiles and can be useful in the less touristed areas of Phuket.
Swimming, snorkelling, diving, yachting, jet-skiing and parasailing are the most popular activities on the island. Other activities include Freediving, windsurfing, kite surfing, wakeboarding and deep sea fishing. Popular kite surfing locations include Nai Yang in summer and Chalong Bay in winter season. Sea Canoeing is a popular activity in the Phang Nga Bay, as many grottoes are only accessible by canoe.
Phuket is the beating heart of diving in Thailand and has recently become the center of activity in the emerging Southeast Asian Freediving scene. It is also the home of the area's only AIDA Instructor Training Center.
Most freediving trips go out with SCUBA dive boats to the well-known dive sites, but some freediving off the beach is also possible. The local operators are usually very happy to find like-minded divers and will happily give pointers.
Snorkelling can be enjoyed in sheltered bays all around Phuket. It is particularly enjoyable at easily accessible reefs at Patong, Karon and Kata beaches. Fins, mask and snorkel can be rented on a daily basis from shops all over the island. Full and half day trips are available to the islands surrounding Phuket. Most popular are Ko Hae, Ko Racha Yai, Ko Khai (a hidden gem in the Phang Nga Bay), and Ko Phi Phi. There are many tours available at very cheap rates and the speedboats will be filled with up to 65 people. Research your options before signing up for any tour.
Snorkelling trips to Racha & Phi Phi Islands
Agencies sell all-inclusive day trips from all over Phuket, and most everywhere else on Phuket Island. Prices for group tours range from 1,400 baht/person to 3,900 baht/person. Quality and safety seem to match the prices paid.
The cheaper speedboat tours take approx. 30-35 passengers per 2-engine speedboat and 50-60+ passengers on 3-engine speedboats. Very cheap tours take over 100 people in a speedboat.
The higher-end tours take approx 15 to 18 passengers on 2-engine speedboats. Insist on knowing the exact number of guests that will be on the boat. Keep in mind that tour desks will tell you anything to get your money, as they receive up to 65% commissions from the lower-end tours. It is always best to contact the company running the tour directly to ensure that you are getting what you pay for.
The more people on the boat the longer it takes to get on and off at each stop, decreasing the time one gets to spend off the boat. A packed boat is not very fun or safe when there are large waves.
Private companies providing small group tours are few (currently only 3 - 1 is listed below). Full day tour prices range from 3,200 baht to 3,900 (no discounts are offered; can only be booked direct). The tours include stops at all the major sights, higher quality lunches (from picnic to seaside sit-down restaurant meals), full sets of snorkelling equipment, minibus transport, fresh tropical fruits, snacks & drinks on-board, foreign owner/guide, small groups, attention to safety, and national park fee. Prices vary based on services, amenities, and extras that are provided.
Phuket has some decent dive sites and is the centre of diving in Thailand. Most dive sites are off nearby islands, but distances are fairly short and there are dozens of dive shops and boats to cater to your needs, mostly based near Chalong Bay. The reefs around the area are in a healthy condition with both solid hard corals and colorfully soft corals. There is also an abundance of marine life. Most of the dive locations are suitable for all levels of divers but there are also some that are quite deep.
The most well-known dive site in the Phuket area is Racha Yai with its sloping rocky reefs and its plenitude of solid coral forests. It is home to Ter Bay where there is an exciting wreck in the depths of 25-35 meters. The island south of Racha Yai, Racha Noi, is a haven for experienced divers as the depths are greater and the currents stronger. The overall topography is strikingly different from Racha Yai with huge granite boulders. The diving in Racha Noi compared to Racha Yai is definitely more challenging but the rewards are far greater.
Just off Phuket, is the limestone island of Ko Doc Mai that soars vertically from the sea-bed. It is home to a diversity of fish and offers the opportunity to view leopard sharks, moray eels, octopus and turtles. Phuket can also function as a base for dives further afield, such as Ko Phi Phi. Diving in Phuket's warm clear blue waters is best from mid-October to May, when the calm seas and rain free days make Phuket diving a truly unique experience.
Snuba diving is the safest and easiest way to try diving on holiday in Phuket. Popular in Hawaii, the Carribbean, Mexico, and Japan, Snuba gives an introduction into the world of diving. No certification required, children 8+, just like scuba diving except easier. SNUBA trips go to most Phuket dive sites. No heavy equipment to wear, no long classes, maximum depth of 7 meters, professional dive guides accompany each group.
Snorkelling and scuba diving
Sailing and yachting
Phuket has become the sailing and yachting center of Thailand and adjacent countries. It's the home of Six the Senses Phuket Raceweek , King's Cup Regatta , Phang Nga Bay Regatta , the Phuket International Boat Show (PIMEX) , four marinas, two yacht clubs, Ao Chalong Yacht Club (ACYC)  and Phuket Yacht Club (PYC)  and some well-sheltered anchorages which are teeming with yachts. The marinas are all located at the eastern side of the island which makes them an ideal starting point to explore the natural wonders of Phang Nga Bay. An entire fleet of traditional junk-rigged boats is located there, offering day trips. But as well real sailing yachts are on offer for this.
Phuket has sailing yachts of virtually every size and for all budgets on offer to explore the surrounding beautiful islands on a yacht charter. With the recent increase in Phuket's popularity as a tourist destination, so has range of companies offering sailing trips and boat charters. It is recommended to chose an established, reputable charter company with a good safety track record. Elite Yachting  is a specialist in bare boat and crewed yacht charters in the Andaman Sea, operating one of Phuket's largest charter fleets of sailing yachts, including both monohulls and catamarans. The company has been operating in Phuket since 1993 and is therefore one of the longest-running charter company on the island. Sailing Thailand Island Cruises  operates a wide array of sailing catamarans from budget to luxury, most of them located in Chalong Bay. YachtPro Thailand based at Yacht Haven Marina has a great fleet of sailing yachts . SweetDreamers also many different sailing tours from Chalong Bay in Southeastern Phuket. Small sailing craft like Hobie Cats and Lasers are available at most of the tourist hot spots on the west side, e.g. Patong and Kata.
Getting married in Phuket
Phuket has become a sought after destination for people getting married. Undeniably romantic with an abundance of stunning locations not just necessarily on the beach but also in luxury ocean view villas and resorts. Combining both the stag or hen do, the wedding ceremony, party and honeymoon all in one Island location has proved that Phuket continues to grow in this market.
Phuket is the source of cultured pearls, nielloware, pewterware, ornaments and dried seafood. Specialist shops dealing in souvenir products can be found on Ratsada, Phang-nga, Montri, Yaowarat, and Tilok-U-thit roads, in Phuket Town, Thepkasattri Road, north of town and at the beach centres of Patong, Kata, Karon and Rawai.
Phuket's larger beaches are ravaged by ravenous hordes of touting tailors, who are certainly cheap, but will screw you over if they can. For example, suits done in 24 hours are usually just glued together and will fall apart the first time you take them to a dry cleaner. Choose your own fabrics (you can buy them on Thalang Rd in Phuket Town), insist on multiple fittings and check the quality of work carefully. It makes little difference which tailor shop you choose, since they're all just sales fronts for a few central sweatshops.
Phuket has its own style of preparation and cooking. Some interesting local dishes include:
Cashew nuts and pineapples are grown in Phuket and available all year round. The nuts are available dried, fried, or coated. Phuket pineapples are delectable, sweet and firm.
For long term residence 2-3 bedroom furnished houses available for 7000-10000 baht/month/up (only available far from the beach). But you have to pay 3 months' rent fee in advance. In addition, luxury villas  can be rented at a range of prices, depending on the season and the location and size. Anywhere from 9,000-60,000 baht per night with deep discounts available for monthly or longer terms.
There is a wide array of international newspapers and magazines at some bookstores in Phuket Town and Patong. You can also follow local English radio through the website of Phuket FM Radio  and on 91.5 FM.
The area code for Phuket is 076. You only need to dial the 0 if you're calling from within Thailand. Pay phones are not commonplace, as most Thais have a mobile phone. Phuket has very good mobile phone coverage, albeit over slower 2G/2.5G GSM networks. Pay-as-you-go SIM cards can be purchased for a few hundred baht, and local call charges range from 1 to 3 baht per minute depending on the package. You can also pre-purchase a Thai SIM card online .
Mobile Internet is available from all providers, with True Move offering 3G access from a limited network of base stations on the eastern coast, including Patong, Kata and Karon. All other networks offer EDGE and/or GPRS access, so don't expect fast Internet connections on your mobile device. For e-mail and basic surfing GPRS speeds are normally fine, but access to websites hosted outside Thailand can be slow.
Unlike many western countries, Thai networks bill mobile internet usage by duration rather than bandwidth, with PAYG users paying around 1 baht per minute. Most networks have PAYG monthly unlimited GPRS deals for around 750 baht, and you can easily purchase a SIM and the Internet package at one of the numerous phone shops around Phuket.
If you want to send mail, post offices and parcel services are widely available. In Phuket Town, there is a post office at the corner of Phang Nga Road and Montri Road. In Patong, there is one at the appropriately named Soi Post Office, a side-street of Thavee Wong Road (near Molly Malone's).
Particularly in the summer monsoon season, there are strong currents on many of the beaches and drownings are a depressingly common occurrence; four tourists died during a single 3-day stretch in June 2009. Heed the warning flags on popular beaches and play it safe if off the beaten track.
Crime as of late has definitely increased in the Phuket area among tourists and you should keep this in mind and be vigilant of anyone who wants to befriend you or trick you into gambling (which is illegal) and anything else you consider out of the ordinary. Katoeys (ladyboys) are notorious for pick pocketing as you walk around the tourist areas at night. Also muggings do take place regularly. Avoid walking down unlit sois; stick to the main roads. If something looks/sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Tourist police can be contacted locally using 1155. They have a good basic understanding of English, so if in trouble these people should be contacted. Thai police speak hardly any English and normally take the side of the locals even if it is their fault. Always insist on Tourist Police if you have any run-in with the Thai Police. Use only metered taxis and ask hotels to call, take down driver license plate and taxi license number before you get in. You can use receipt from taxi to complain to police or find lost property, so take a receipt and license numbers.
Tap water is generally not potable. Liquids from sealed bottles nearly always are, and should be used wherever possible. Take care in restaurants and bars. Some may use untreated/unsafe tap water to make ice for drinks that otherwise have bottled/safe ingredients. Some residents claim that ice with round holes is made by commercial ice makers who purify their water; others state that it is wise not to rely on that claim. Tap water in most hotels should not be used for drinking or brushing teeth unless explicitly labelled as safe.