Phuket is not cheap, we all know that, but if you travel on a very tight budget there are still a few things you can do to save a bit and have a great time. These tips are based on real and personal experience. Just for the short story, I arrived in Thailand 20 years ago with basically no money and no job. My first job in at Banyan Tree was only paid 12,000 baht so I had to find ways to pay the rent and still travel around and have fun. Here is a list of things I learned from experience plus a few more I learned along the way. Some might help you shaving few bucks. Plan a bit in advance and expect to do some waiting… you can’t have it all! (We have a few other pages with more useful info: “10 Things to Do in Phuket With a Small Budget“)
There are many ways to change your money when coming to Phuket, but it can make quite a bit of difference if 10 baht means a lot to you. Changing currency from home country is probably the worse option, as well as changing at your hotel in Phuket. Rate at Phuket airport is pretty good if you can sport the green ‘SuperRich‘ counter, convenient if you have to pay your taxi meter by cash. Exchange rate from ATM is acceptable as well and is widely available at the airport and all around the island. The cheapest option is to change your cash in the streets. Look at the rate on the electronic board as it tends to differ just a little between each booth. The booths with no bank name are the cheapest (probably not really legal but that is not your problem) double-check your change before leaving the booth. Thailand is not known to trick tourists like they often do in Bali money changers but better be safe. If you want to get an estimate of a pretty good low exchange rate check this page.
Renting a bike is the best and cheapest way to go around as Tuk Tuk are always too expensive. However you need to know about a few serious things: have an international driving license and wear your helmet. Police controls are not unusual and the fine of 500 baht will hurt your budget. Renting a bike can also lead to very costly accidents so in addition to driving carefully, having an international driving license is recommended. Read here to know more about renting bike in Phuket and here about “The Art of Driving in Phuket” and “14 Lifesaving Tips to Survive Driving a Bike in Phuket”
Yes that’s obvious and luckily food is great in the streets of Phuket. Unless you can’t wait for that famous Phuket seafood, avoid the seafood touts, it’s usually not cheaper than a restaurant. But is to eat in and around the markets or in the street stall. Streets and markets of Patong are always more expensive than any other market on the island. You don’t bargain on food.
Markets are great to buy all kinds of clothing, bags, accessories, electronic and souvenirs. Here get ready to bargain. Not that brands you will find on market are obviously all fake and the quality and cut will probably show that.
Not a well-known tip: If you really need to buy something from the convenience stores, avoid 7-11 and Family Mart. We did the research and these are actually the most expensive places to buy anything! But there is this local brand called ‘Super Cheap’ that looks like a big 7-11 but shop stripes are purple instead of orange and green. And it is significantly cheaper. Super Cheap was originally just a huge warehouse shopped became so popular with locals that those convenience store are now widely available around the island.
If you shop in the streets or at the market you need to bargain. Most of us are not familiar with this practice and we tend to be a little shy. In most touristic areas, vendors are well aware of that and might try to take advantage by raising the price further. Bargaining is not easy but remember that the sellers do need to sell so you don’t have to be shy when doing a counter offer. So if you are in a Patong, bargain harder. By offering 50% you should be able to knock down 30% of the asked price. However, in more remote areas of Phuket don’t expect a big discount. Remember that you don’t bargain in restaurants, convenience stores and malls! If you are a walk-in guest in a hotel you can actually bargain the cost of a room night.
When every baht counts you can go ‘local’. Food is easy to find in the streets and markets but you can also get cheaper beers (Cheers, Red Horse, Archa) and local Cokes aren’t bad (Est, Big Cola). We urge you not to smoke but local cigarettes are much cheaper (Krong Thip, SMS, Wonder) On the long run, your throat might become painful! Then you have the local alcohols that are quite alright but tend to give you a massive hangover the next day: Sang Som and the like. Those are often used in those famous ‘Buckets’ which are cheap mixes of local alcohol, soft drink and Red Bull you can buy cheap in party places. Also known to give notorious hangovers. The famous Mekhong Whisky that used to be so popular is trying to reposition itself as a ‘luxury Thai Whisky’ and has become harder to find. What they call Thai whiskey is actually a spiced rum.
You probably read this on all the websites selling hotel rooms and in your mails but this is true. Booking early will often get you better rates as prices tend to increase when hotels occupancy increase. If you are really with a tight budget and you are 100% sure of your travel dates, the cheapest option will always be the non-refundable. In addition, if you plan to come for the high season (which wouldn’t be a good idea if you have a tiny budget anyway) rooms become difficult to find.
Not need for a long explanation here: Everything is more expensive on the most touristic beaches. Patong Beach is probably the most expensive, then Kata beach and Karon. Kamala Beach is a good compromise.
Hotels are significantly cheaper during low season but the overall cost of holiday gets lower as you can bargain better. Most business are running low so they really want your Baht, allowing you to be tougher with your counter offer.Just to be on the safe side, try to book a hotel with a nice pool as the sea can be rough: when the flags are red, respect them and stay out of the sea.
Roaming is expensive so get a local SIM card at the closest convenience store, they are everywhere, cheap and easy to refill. Even if you don’t speak Thai, staff at convenience store will know what you are looking for.
Unless you are the kind of person that can’t do the first step without having breakfast, better skip the hotel buffet. Even in a cheap hotel it’s usually overpriced. Eat in the street or go to the nearest food court. There is one near the beach in Patong (search for Loma Park) and a few restaurants right on the beach with a very good value breakfast such as ‘Chez Bernard’
It’s about 250 baht per person and it’s even cheaper than a Taxi meter (Patong beach 180 Baht, Karon and Kata 200 Baht). On the other hand it will take longer to reach your hotel as you will have to wait for the van to be full plus you might be the last one to reach your destination. Having a lot of time is almost a requirement when traveling cheap and this applies to everything you will do if you want to cut cost. Yes, there is also a very cheap local bus but it would only take you to Phuket town from where you would have to get another local bus to your destination, then an overpriced Tuk Tuk to your hotel. Not worth the waste of time.