My husband and I lived in Thailand for three years. We spent more than half of that time avoiding Phuket—the country’s famous jet-set destination.
It wasn’t until the second half of our last year that we went there. My husband’s cousin was visiting Thailand for the first time and his girlfriend was going to be DJing at a local club.
We begrudgingly packed an overnight bag, headed to the local van station in our small town—Surat Thani—and strapped ourselves in (metaphorically, of course—it’s rare to find working seatbelts on the local minibuses) for the three-hour journey to Phuket.
We found what we were expecting: overpriced food, overcrowded beaches, and a loud strip teeming with a much wilder nightlife than we were used to in our sleepy town.
But we also found something we didn’t expect: rich history and a quaint old town that made us want to stick around and discover what other hidden treasures we might find along the Andaman Sea…
Looking past the infamous nightlife and priciest pad thai in Thailand, you notice how colorful Phuket is. The remnants of the Sino-Portuguese architecture in the old town—whose wealth was built on tin mining—is charming… as are the fishing villages of the once-nomadic sea gypsies.
It’s true that there are good reasons to avoid Phuket. But there are also good reasons why so many people find it attractive and choose to call the place home. It offers a plethora of living options and lifestyle opportunities, with something for every taste.
Long gone are the days of Phuket being a backpackers’ haven. Now, it’s bustling with a huge foreigner population and some of the beaches are being transformed by five-star hotel developers.
In the wake of the pandemic, Phuket is reassessing its priorities and rebranding itself. Many assert that it’s using the opportunity to shift away from mass tourism and toward medicine and education. The city is already a well-established medical tourism destination and several international schools are based here.
The cost of living has gone up over the years, too. Compared to American and European prices, living in Phuket can still be budget-friendly—especially if you like Thai street food and shop at the local markets for your produce.
A couple can live comfortably in the quieter corners of the old town for about US$1,000 a month. At the other end of the scale, if you indulge in the island’s luxury offerings and shop at international grocery stores, that budget could be as much as US$2,800. If you’re after a budget-friendly and more authentic Thai living experience, Phuket Town and Thalang are the top two areas for you.
Phuket has three distinct seasons: dry, hot, and rainy. The coolest, driest, and least-humid time of year is between December and March when temperatures range from 75°F to 90°F. Hottest time of the year is between April and May, when temperatures average between 81°F and 97°F. Rainy season gears up between June and August, with heavy showers and intermittent sunshine, while September to October is the proper rainy season. You’ll find plenty to do on the rainy days in Phuket… but expats and locals tend to flee to other areas of Thailand, like Koh Samui, to wait this season out.
One of the main concerns for expats moving to Asia is the language barrier. After living in Thailand for three years, I was comfortable having basic conversations in Thai. I hired a local woman to meet me weekly to teach me basic vocabulary and help me practice my conversational skills. Phuket has plenty of affordable language schools, but I encourage you to supplement your learning by making local friends and practicing your skills in real situations.
While you’re getting to grips with the language, you won’t be entirely lost. One of the great things about Phuket’s popularity is that lots of locals, visitors, and expats speak English. There are also tons of activities and opportunities for expats to connect in Phuket, including weekly get-togethers at bars, trivia nights, charity events, sports leagues, and networking events.
Who will Phuket appeal to?
If you don’t have the patience for red tape… are hoping to get by on US$20 a day… or expect an uber-modern city with a metro and public buses, you should look elsewhere…
But if you enjoy stunning sunsets… are seeking an active, outdoor lifestyle (where you can take part in watersports or go paragliding)… you love the beach but can cope with some rainy months… and are happy with a loose concept of time, Phuket could be the place for you.