We’ve recently enjoyed a 10 day visit to Phuket, Thailand, exploring the island, meeting other worldschooling families and visiting local tourist attractions. But we faced one major problem after arriving… getting around! Ultimately we were thrown in to figuring out Phuket car rental options in a hurry, and today we share our experiences!
Before we arrived we had spent a reasonable amount time in Thailand and found that Grab Taxi worked well – taxis were super affordable and getting around was easy to do. I’d double checked that Grab was active in Phuket (Uber isn’t), so we ruled out the need for a Phuket car rental – but what we didn’t foresee was the force of the Taxi Mafia.
To say getting around Phuket is expensive is a massive understatement!! On our first night, we went exploring. A couple of hours later we were ready to go home and thought we’d catch a ride – we were literally less than 600 meters from home, but we had a tired 6-year-old in tow!! Much to our amazement we were quoted about $AUD10.00 to get there, by either Grab Taxi, Taxi or Tuk Tuk. And they were definitely not interested in bartering!
Now in comparison, prices at home are expensive, but $10 to go 600 meters was just highway robbery in my eyes. So… we walked!
The next day we wanted to venture out to the local supermarket to stock up on supplies… a mere 3.7kms away. Prices at the little 7/11 around the corner were pretty good but naturally a supermarket would have a much better range. A quick look at Grab showed a taxi would be $AUD20 EACH WAY!! To go just 3.7kms!!! Not a chance was I willing to part with $40 just to go to the supermarket and back!
Before arriving I hadn’t even considered a rental car. Based on our experiences in Thailand two other times, we just didn’t see the need. But with the Taxi Mafia demanding ridiculous rates, which I refused to pay, a motorbike scooter or Phuket car rental suddenly sounded like a fantastic idea!!!
Hiring a Scooter in Phuket
Of course, a motorbike hire or scooter hire in Phuket is a VERY popular option… they are SUPER CHEAP at around $AUD8 a day, however be warned – read your travel insurance before hiring a scooter. On many policies (including ours), without a FULL motorbike licence in our home country (I have my L’s) our Insurance would not cover us in the event of an accident. This simply wasn’t a risk we were willing to take (given the crazy drivers)… as much as I so desperately wanted to!
Finding a Phuket car rental
A quick Google search for car hire in Phuket came up empty… ordinarily car rental in Phuket airport is easily done by booking in advance, so it is ready and waiting on arrival, but at short notice, nothing was available. With a little help from our AirBnB hostess we were able to find a local rental car business who, after a little negotiation, quoted me $34/day for a relatively new model, with free delivery of the car, AND airport drop off!!! Given that we needed only drive about 3kms a day by taxi to break even it was a great deal.
Picking up the car gave me a sense of freedom that had been lacking for the couple of days before. Finally, we were able to easily get around, and could avoid the Taxi Mafia! I’m told there are local buses in Phuket but they do not travel within the tourist areas and, as a result, the Taxi Mafia have the place locked down.
Filling a rental car with gas
Filling the car with fuel, (something I hadn’t had to think about for months using Uber) was an experience all of its own. In Phuket, there are plenty of regular gas stations that we are used to, but on the tourist stretch along the coast, they are few and far between!!
Getting low on fuel one afternoon and with no station in site, we stopped and asked a local. “This way…” I was told in broken English, before leading me 50mtr up the road. There we found a 44 gallon drum attached to a pump – a local gas station! Fuel was pumped into glass bottles and poured into the car!!! OK then! I worried for a moment about the quality of the fuel, but after we departed we found that there are many varieties of “petrol stations” in Phuket… from the man with a barrel, a 24/7 self-serve single pump dispenser to the large regular stations like at home!!
Driving in Phuket
Another interesting experience! Having driven in countries all over the world, from Bolivia in SA America (which in my opinion rivals Bali) to Spain (on the opposite side of the road, in the middle of the night), driving in foreign countries is something I’m pretty used to. Driving a Phuket car rental however, takes a bit of patience and understanding! Put simply, there doesn’t seem to be any rules… or at least there is, but no one seems to abide by them. Driving through red lights (whilst I sat patiently waiting for a green), travelling at twice the speed limit, pulling out in front of on-coming traffic without a care in the world and a million motorbikes darting around, are all par for the course!!!
If you are a confident driver and can have a laugh at others (that is, not one that suffers easily from road rage!!!) driving in Phuket isn’t difficult. But you do need to pay close attention… roads are terrible, not well lit at night and various items appear from time to time without any notice (think roadwork, dogs, people, cars and many other distractions). One evening we were driving home and in the darkness of the night and limited street lights, we only just managed to avoid some roadwork barriers in the middle of the lane we were driving in!!! If you are not a confident driver I would suggest staying off the road… and budget a lot of money for public transport.
Oh, and do watch out for elephants!!! I was slightly surprised to drive around a corner, only to find an elephant in the middle of the road!
All in all, getting around in Phuket wasn’t nearly as easy as most other Asian destinations we’ve visited. But one needs to remember it is a tourist destination with tourist prices. It’s a captive market and locals are very good at taking advantage. But, if you do your research and ask around there are other options out there – in my opinion, a Phuket car rental is a must do and something we wish we’d done from day one!