Controlling Your Holiday Expenses in Phuket
Phuket attracts tourists from across the full range of the wealth spectrum. There are many wealthy visitors who do not need to worry too much about the cost of their holiday. However, there are many more who have to be aware of their budget. One of the great attractions of Thailand is that it is cheap. The Tourism Authority of Thailand can carry on pushing their vision of Thailand as a millionaire's playground for as long as they want but still the majority of visitors will be people who have a limited budget.
In this article we will give a few simple tips to help you make your money go further. We are not talking about the sort of penny-pinching measures that backpackers use to make their tiny budget stretch a year. We are not going to suggest you eat noodles every day. After all, you are on holiday and holidays should be enjoyed. However, most people have worked hard for their two week holiday in the land of smiles and there is no reason why they shouldn't get the best from their money. So here are a few simple tips to make the money go a bit further.
If you want budget accommodation then usually you can find good deals just by walking in off the street. Walk around the side streets of any of Phuket's beach resorts and you will find guesthouses. During peak high-season (Xmas & January) it is better to book in advance as there may not be any rooms available. Whatever you do, do not ask a tuk-tuk driver for a recommendation. They will take you somewhere that pays them commission.
If you want mid to high range accommodation then you should book in advance. If you walk in off the street you will pay more for your room. It may seem strange but it is cheaper to book in advance through a travel agent or internet booking site. The internet booking sites have the best rates. We are happy to recommend Agoda Hotels as an excellent tool for finding the best room rates.
If you are on a longer term holiday of a month or more then it may be worth looking for an apartment. If you go further back from the beach (e.g. Nanai Road in Patong) you can find nice one bedroom apartments from 12,000 baht a month.
Getting cheap airfares is a little more complicated.
There is a lot to be said for buying a package holiday from a travel agent. They will use their buying power to ensure you get good rates for your hotels and flights. However, a lot of people enjoy the flexibility and independence of booking their own flights.
We would like to give a link to a single site that provides cheap international flights across the globe. Unfortunately, it does not work like that.
The airlines do not give their cheapest tickets to the major international travel sites. They know that companies such as Travelocity & Priceline have the marketing power to sell more expensive tickets. So while these companies sell in more countries and cover more destinations, they do not have cheap tickets.
The cheapest tickets are given to small independent travel agents. These smaller agents usually only sell flights that depart from their local country. So for example, if you are in the UK you could check cheapflights.co.uk and they will check for the cheapest flights from a range of small agents. You will probably find return flights to Phuket from £500 or less. If you try the major international travel agents then return flights start from $2,000. So whatever country you are in, check the internet or classifieds for your local travel agents and look around.
Many visitors seem willing to travel to Thailand without travel insurance. The low medical costs in Thailand mean this is not such a big gamble as at a destination such as the United States where high medical fees and a litigious society make travel insurance an essential.
However, we really would recommend that new visitors to Thailand get some form of travel insurance. Things can and do go wrong and it is best to be protected.
Do not get your travel insurance from your travel agent. They may offer good deals on package holidays but they try to make the money back on the extras and their insurance rates are overpriced.
Get your insurance from a local and reputable insurance broker. There are no international insurance brokers providing competitive travel insurance to all nationalities. Instead you need to go to an insurance broker in your home country.
We Make the Following Recommendations:
Rather than just getting an insurance package for your two-week holiday, it may be a good idea to consider an annual multi-trip insurance package. If you have more than one holiday a year or even a few weekends away then these can be very good deals.
Do not change money in your home country before coming to Thailand. You will get a much better rate of exchange in Thailand. Bring an ATM card or travelers cheques. In fact, it is nice to have two sources of money in case of problems so why not bring both.
Do not exchange your money at hotels. They give bad rates. Exchange booths at airports also give poor rates. The best way to get money when you first arrive is to use an ATM at the airport
The tour prices in Phuket are generally very competitive. These organised tours are a convenient and reasonably priced way to see some of Phuket's tourist attractions. There are lots of tour shops and lots of tours so the competition keeps the prices down. Just go to any tour shop and you are likely to find some good deals.
The only problem with booking tours is you do not know the quality of the tour service. The price may be competitive but if the experience is poor then you will still be disappointed. Most of the tour organisers provide a good service but there are also a few stinkers.
If you do not want to take a shot on an unknown tour company you could book your tours in advance with Easy Day Thailand. Their prices are only a little above what you will find at the local tour shops and you have the benefit of knowing you are dealing with reputable tour operators.
Tipping was never really a part of Thai culture. It is a custom that we visiting westerners have introduced and which has now also been taken up by Thai customers. Most western visitors over-tip.
The normal tip in Thailand at restaurants or bars is 20 baht. That may seem like a derisory sum to leave by western standards but in Thailand they do not expect any more. You are not being tightfisted by leaving so little. In fact there are some who claim that westerners who come here and tip big are actually causing problems for everybody else. They are creating an expectancy of big tips from westerners that never used to exist.
The tuk-tuks have earned themselves a bad reputation for both prices and service. They are now charging a ridiculous 200-baht for short trips around Patong. Unfortunately, if you have bags or want to make a long journey then there is often no choice but to use them. All we would say is make sure you agree a price before starting the journey. Considering the prices they charge, there is no reason to give a tip.
There are motorcycle taxis everywhere. You can recognise them from their coloured vests. A short trip around town should cost 20-40 baht.
You can hire a motorcycle for 200 baht a day. They are a great way to get around town and also see a bit of the island. Drive carefully and always wear a helmet. Bring an International Driving License and carry it whenever you are driving. If you do not carry an IDL you may end up paying the police a few 300 baht fines.
You can hire jeeps from independent renters for 800 baht a day (but with very little insurance) or cars from reputable hire companies from 1,400 baht a day.
Eating out is remarkably cheap in Phuket. There are so many restaurants that there is a lot of competition and even the tourist restaurants will seem cheap to most visitors. Still there are big price differences between restaurants. Generally, the further you go from the beach, the lower the prices. If you eat at one of the major restaurants along the beachfront then you are going to pay for the location.
Thai food is cheaper than western food. It is also very good and there is a tremendous range of dishes. You are sure to find something you like and appreciating the local cuisine is part of getting to know the local culture.
You should also consider getting out of the tourist resorts and trying some real Thai style restaurants. The difference in price and style of food can be startling.
Check Your Bill
Do check your restaurant or bar bill before paying. I wouldn't want to say this is common but it does occassionally happen that they add extra items or total it up incorrectly to get more money. Don't feel bad about it. Thai customers invariably check their bill and are not embarrassed to point out 'mistakes'.
You should avoid shopping at the tourist stalls along the beachfront and around the tourist resorts. The quality of goods is inconsistent and the prices are massively hiked even after you have haggled. Unless of course you just want the fun of haggling and don't mind that you may be buying overpriced rubbish.
You have to be careful when asking tuk-tuk drivers for recommendations. If you are looking for specialty shops (jewelry, tailors, etc) then there are a lot of these that pay commission to tuk-tuks for bringing customers. The tuk-tuks will take you to these shops rather than the places that will give you good deals.
You should do your shopping at the department stores, shopping malls, markets or at specialty shops which are mostly in Phuket Town. The new Jung Ceylon shopping mall is the best option in Patong. Beyond the tourist resorts are Robinsons, Central Festival, Tesco Lotus and Big C.
For cheap clothes, trinkets, accessories, etc, two good locations are the Weekend Market (Sat & Sun 3pm-10pm) on Wai-Rat-Hong-Yak Road in Phuket Town and Expo Indoor Market on Tilok Uthit 2 Road, Phuket Town.
If you are looking for gold, silver, pearls, jewelry, art, antiques, etc then the best specialty shops are in Phuket Town. The problem is finding them. You have an extra problem here because even if you know where you want to go, your tuk-tuk driver may still try to claim a commission from the shop. Unfortunately, the best option is to drive yourself or dump your tuk-tuk after the drop off and do your shopping on foot.
There are good gold & jewelry shops on Montree Road in Phuket Town. The best art & antique shops are in the old town area of Phuket Town around Thalang Road & Dibuk Road. You should be aware that you need an export permit to take genuine antiques out of the country.
Bartering is part of Thai shopping culture but only at market stalls and independent shops. Try to haggle the price down a little (a lot if you are shopping at tourist stalls). It really helps if you have an idea of what is a good price. Haggling should be done in good spirit.
If you can speak a little Thai it will help. Not only does it create goodwill but it also gives the seller the impression you know a little about Thailand and might actually know what would be a good price. Even just an opening 'Sawatdee' may be enough to help your cause.
Yes, this little section is for the guys who intend to play around with the bar girls. If you are not careful, this will rapidly become the biggest expense of your holiday.
Just because you have picked up a girl at a bar, that does not mean you have to buy drinks for every other girl at the bar. They will try their luck and if you are a soft touch they will keep coming back for more. Just say no from the start.
You do not need to ring the bell and buy everybody in the bar a drink.
If you take a girl back to your hotel then agree the price up front (usually 1,000 to 2,000 baht). You do not have any responsibility to buy her food, drinks or pay her taxi home. It is up to you.
Most of all, you do not have to pay for her family's healthcare, sick buffalo or whatever other sob-story she may tell. And you definitely do not need to send her money once you have gone home.