Is Phuket Safe? 8 Safety Tips for Travelers

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Phuket is a pretty safe place to go on vacation, but here are a few things travelers should watch out for to stay safe.


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Thailand’s largest island, and most popular beach resort, Phuket is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. This stunningly beautiful place can also be dangerous for travelers who aren’t cautious. Here are eight safety tips for your holiday to Phuket, gleaned from my many trips to this paradise.

Forget renting a motorbike

Phuket’s roads are busy with tourists riding small motorbikes they’ve rented for as little as USD$8 per day – the cheapest way to get around the island, which has high taxi prices, triple those in most other parts of Thailand. But it’s confounding that so many foreigners who’ve never even sat on a motorbike back home think it’s safe for them to operate one in a country renowned for its horrific road safety.

Consider this: according to a 2019 New York Times report, Thailand has the world’s second-highest road deaths per capita. And for motorbike deaths, it ranks first. Even for experienced motorcyclists, Thailand’s dense, unpredictable traffic is very dangerous. So, if you’re a novice rider renting a motorbike on holiday in Phuket, you’re taking a giant risk with your health. And, if you have a crash of any kind, your travel insurance probably won’t cover you.

How to book tours safely

From the moment travelers get off the plane at Phuket airport, they’re inundated with offers for tours around the island. Tiger tours, jungle tours, temple tours, island tours, food tours, adventure sport tours, and on and on. Unfortunately, a significant number of the companies that sell these tours actively look to scam tourists.

They charge upfront and then refuse to provide the tour, or later inflate the price, among other tactics. When booking through a tour business always choose one that has a high number of favorable online reviews on websites such as Google or Tripadvisor.

Another way to minimize your risk of being scammed is to book all your tours through the activities desk at a large hotel, even if you’re not staying there. These more expensive hotels cannot afford to have irate guests in their lobby yelling about how they were scammed on a tour organized by the hotel. It’s too damaging to their reputation and to their core business, so these hotels pick honest tour providers and police them strongly.

By comparison, the hundreds of tiny Phuket businesses that sell tours have much less to lose by upsetting one of their customers. Granted, you will pay more for a tour booked via a large hotel, but you’ll save on stress.

Water sports dangers

The ocean around Phuket is so warm and translucent which is why many travelers are drawn to water activities such as jet skiing, paragliding, and banana boat riding. Unfortunately, these water sports have long been a magnet for Phuket’s scammers.

I personally know three people scammed in the same way after renting a jet ski from a random vendor on a Phuket beach. When each of them returned to the sand, after their allotted rental time, the vendor pointed at the damage on the jet ski and demanded a huge amount of money in compensation.

Before you rent any jet ski, paraglider or banana boat, these scammers hide dents or scrapes on the equipment under pieces of tape. Then peel off this tape when you return and claim it is fresh damage. If you argue, the vendors become aggressive. And complaining to the local police rarely helps, as these scammers dupe tourists on a daily basis and have systems in place for dealing with the fallout.

The solution? Just like with tours of Phuket, book all your water sports via the activities desk at a large hotel. They will send you to a trustworthy vendor.

Jet skiing in Phuket, Thailand. Photo credit: Getty Images / Bento Fotography

Dealing with Phuket's taxi mafia

From taxis and Tuk Tuks to airport minibus shuttles, Phuket’s infamous “taxi mafia” has a grip on everything. This coalition of drivers ensures that fares on the island are wildly inflated compared with the rest of Thailand. When Grab (the local version of Uber) began in Phuket its staff were regularly harassed, threatened, and even assaulted by taxi drivers, who didn’t want their monopoly to end.

Once again, the safest option is to organize all transport through your hotel, including airport transfers. The hotel will have its own drivers who are far less likely to rip you off.

Boat trips can be deadly

In 2018, nearly 50 foreigners died after two tourist boats sank during a storm off the coast of Phuket. While the scale of that tragedy was unprecedented, tourist boat accidents are very common in Thailand. That 2018 disaster made headlines worldwide and prompted Thai media to highlight major safety shortcomings on such vessels, which are often overcrowded and lack sufficient life vests or functional fire extinguishers.

Such problems are more common on the cheapest boats, like low-cost ferries, onto as many passengers as possible are squeezed on by operators. The luxury versions of ferries and tourist boats are much safer options, as they’re not as crowded, have higher quality safety equipment, and better-trained crew.

How to eat safely

Many foreign travelers to Southeast Asia have their holidays spoiled by food poisoning. Hygiene standards and ingredients in Thailand can be very different from what Westerners are used to. While there’s no way to absolutely avoid getting an upset stomach, but you can certainly minimize the risk.

Eating Thailand’s famously tasty and cheap street food is one of the joys of visiting Phuket. Stay safe by avoiding the stalls that have pre-cooked food sitting in trays. You can’t be sure how long those dishes have been sitting there accumulating bacteria. Instead, order a specific dish from the menu and have it cooked fresh, right in front of you.

Washing your hands regularly, drinking using water filter bottles, and avoiding ice in drinks might also help.

Dangers for female tourists

Phuket is quite a safe destination for female travelers, who are unlikely harassed because of how they’re dressed, and doesn’t have significant issues with violent street crime. The two biggest criminal threats to female tourists in Phuket are drink spiking and scams.

While it is not particularly common, Thai media have reported incidents of sedatives being slipped into the drinks of female tourists at bars and nightclubs. So, it’s advisable to always keep your drink in your hand. Meanwhile, scammers in Phuket tend to choose victims they consider less likely to respond with anger or violence, and this makes female tourists a preferred target.

Other scams to watch out for in Phuket

Always change money at your hotel or a bank to avoid the sleight-of-hand thefts that can occur at Phuket’s small currency exchange businesses.

When visiting local temples or tourist attractions, be wary of anyone who approaches you before you enter claiming the venue is closed, that you’re dressed inappropriately, or that you need to pay them an entrance fee. These are often the opening gambits of a scammer who, it just so happens, tends to have excellent English.

When looking for transport outside of a tourist attraction or busy hotel, it’s better to flag down a passing taxi than to hop into one that’s already waiting at this exit. Phuket’s most unscrupulous taxi drivers target such heavily-touristed locations and will wait there patiently until they get a passenger who agrees to their hugely inflated fares.

Phuket has a Tourist Police force. A mixture of Thai and foreign nationals, these guys can be called in an emergency and are good to speak with if you have any questions about your safety or how to go about things whilst in Phuket.

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  • Bigfoot said

    As a 6 year American expat, I think you've given good advice, but, a little dated.

  • [email protected] said

    It's June 22 2016 and writing this from Phuket: it's a shithole full of dirty bastard scoundrels. Some lowlife cab driver just mollested my wife and yelled at him and pulled myself short from punching him. They will cut your arm off if you're not careful. Don't come here - low
    Life 3rd world country scums of the world

  • jimmy said

    Jet-ski operators still rule the roost at Patong beach making it impossible to swim even in the so called Swim Here zones. Just laughing at the complaints to the Life guards as they are a part of the business. Last time in Patong! Good luck to all the businesses trying to attract tourists)

  • Mani Ramanaidu said

    Got robbed by a motor-bike tuk-tuk. Hailed him at 10.00pm to take us from Wyndam Resort to Patong beach. Half-way he stopped and brandished a knife demanding money. Out of fright we paid him extra but he insisted we hand over all that we have. He became aggressive when we argued with him. He snatched our wallet, grabbed all the money in it and warned us not to report or follow him and rode off. Without any money with us we walked back to Wyndam from Patong... a long 1 hour walk.

    This Phuket isn't as safe we have thought.

  • adan said

    A guide to travel safety in Phuket I will make my travel guides as long as I was in Phuket later, this is very interesting and important to you already, thank you kindly

  • portia forbay said

    i leave for pkuket in a few weeks time. after reading these comments i am real scared.

  • Allyson said

    Hi Portia,

    There is no need to be scared of going to Phuket. The information is about informing travelers of what may happen, not what will happen. And if you know before you go, you can be one step ahead if something does happen.
    Thailand is one of the safest places to travel in the world. Most people travel there and have an incident free holiday.

    - [email protected]

  • graham said

    I have been to Phuket 4 times and just about to go back for our 5 visit on our 1st trip we fell for the time share scam and a small dodgy Aussie guy tried to pressure us into buying time share. he did not like it when i kept saying i wanted to see all the figures and talk to an accountant before making up my mind and got a bigger bloke to come into the room. luckily for me i am a hefty size so not intimidated and we got out of it but it is pretty scary and last time we were there the thugs on the scooters delivering the scratch cards were very aggressive but stick to your guns say no with a smile and keep walking. they will leave you alone soon enough.

    Apart from that most Thai people are warm and friendly so don't be put of just be aware things can go wrong and happen but they can even in your own back yard enjoy Phuket

  • Steve A. said

    Loved the city, I have been in the U.S. military. This is why I have the sense to go to a place like this.
    Cheaper than Hawaii, even after all expenses are added in. Also Australia has started to become like the big islands. I have been to both, if I didn't have a farm to run. And other things I have to do. Yeah I would go there for a month.

  • Seth Brundle said

    Thailand is a dump anyway, the people are quick to be aggressive fake and phoney and the country is full of filthy old sexpats, why anyone would come here is quite beyond me, Cambodia Laos and Myanmar are way nicer and less commercial

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