Phuket will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my first-ever destination in Asia, and I got to experience it during COVID, when the beautiful beaches were nearly empty.
As a digital nomad, I’ve returned to Phuket many times since then, staying in four different parts of the island—Patong, Karon, Rawai, and Chalong. The total time I’ve stayed in Phuket has been ~3 months.
In this post, I’ll share some of my favorite things about Phuket, along with the reasons why it personally wouldn’t be my top choice of where to live in SE Asia for the long-term.
Pros of Living in Phuket
There are plenty of reasons to love Phuket. It’s a famous international tourist destination for a reason, after all. Here are six things I personally loved as a repeat visitor and digital nomad.
1. Beautiful Beaches
Phuket has many great beaches—public and private, large and small. Personally when I stay in Phuket, I walk along the beach most evenings at sunset. It’s so refreshing to hear the waves and be in such a beautiful place.
Personally, my favorite is Karon Beach. It’s big, a bit less crowded than the others, and it faces directly out to the setting sun in the evening. Some of the best sunsets of my life have been the ones I saw from Karon Beach in Phuket.
Some beaches like Patong Beach and Nai Harn Beach can be extremely crowded with tourists. But if you lived in Phuket long-term, you could find more secluded and lesser-known beach spots over time.
2. Nearby Island Adventures
If Phuket itself doesn’t have enough natural beauty for you, you can take various day trips to nearby island views that are truly breathtaking. One of the most famous are the Phi Phi Islands, which I experienced myself.
The companies that arrange such day-trips fully understand the Instagram era we live in. Typically, you’ll be escorted around to several of the most gorgeous views, staying for 5 to 30 minutes in each, taking pictures.
Often, there will be a meal included in these day trip packages, and often there will be opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, or kayaking.
Aside from the Phi Phi Islands, I also experienced a trip from Phuket to Racha Island, with a sunset by Promthep Cape on the way back. The beauty of these places are pretty unreal.
3. Lots of Restaurant Options
Thai food is famous around the world—and you can find plenty of it in Phuket. In fact, one of my first impressions of Phuket that I shared with family back home was that “It smells like Thai food everywhere I go.”
The Thai food can be cheap, too. One of my favorite restaurants in the world is a small shop in Patong called Mae Orathai Vegetarian. You can get a big meal of delicious vegan (“jay”) Thai food for just 40 to 100 Baht ($1 to $3 USD).
There are plenty of international restaurants spread across Phuket, as well. Some have beautiful beachfront or mountain views. These tend to be more expensive than the local Thai food vendors—but it’s still nice to have options.
There’s one downside I found with the food situation in Phuket, though. If you’d like to order food delivery from apps like Grab and FoodPanda, there is often a shortage of drivers (as of 2023).
Particularly if you want to order food from far-away parts of the island—especially during busy meal times, or on rainy days—you may not be able to find a driver in Grab at all. (Or the delivery fees may double the cost of your meal or worse.)
I’ll share more about the shortcomings of Grab in Phuket below.
4. Decent Grocery Stores
Thailand has some of the best grocery stores in SE Asia. That is especially true of Bangkok: Gourmet Market, Villa Market, and Top’s Market grocery chains are really phenomenal. But it’s also true of Phuket, to a lesser degree.
Villa Market in Chalong is probably the best grocery store I’ve found in Phuket. It’s a bit expensive, but you can find basically anything you need there—even vegan protein powder, American breakfast cereals, and other imported goods.
Patong has a couple grocery stores, as well. In my opinion, the better one is Top’s Food Hall (in the basement level of the “Central Patong” department store). Big C at Jungceylon would be a decent back-up option.
I haven’t yet spent time living in Phuket City, but there is a big “Central Festival” shopping mall there, and I’m certain they have even more grocery options there.
5. English Proficiency Is Decent
Because Phuket is such a tourist hot-spot, many of the locals are accustomed to dealing with English. Of course, not everyone is fluent, but most of the time, you won’t have difficulties ordering food and other such basic communication.
In my experience, Thailand overall has better English levels than Vietnam or Japan. It’s not as good as the Philippines and maybe Malaysia in this regard—but it’s plenty good enough, especially in the tourist spots like Phuket.
6. Reliable and Fast Internet
Some island destinations in SE Asia have pretty spotty Internet. (I’m looking at you, Philippines.) But I’ve had no Internet problems at all in Phuket. I’ve always been able to do video calls from Phuket without any interruptions or lag.
Personally, I get an AIS SIM card with unlimited data every time I come to Thailand. If there’s ever a hotel or cafe with a weak wifi connection, I can just create a personal hotspot from my phone, and I still have a great connection.
Cons of Living in Phuket
Although there’s a lot to love about Phuket, I’ve personally gotten tired of some aspects. Here are my top annoyances with this island paradise.
1. Crowded With Tourists
Sometimes in places like Phuket, I don’t feel like I’m even in Asia. You’re surrounded by so many tourists from abroad, and so many vendors specifically catering to them. It’s kind of a tourist bubble.
Instead of feeling like, “Wow, I’m immersed in a foreign culture,” you may just feel like, “I’m at a famous tourist spot.” I felt this way in Bali, as well.
Of course, if you mostly stay away from the crowded tourist spots, you could reduce that effect. And of course, for some people, it may not be negative at all. Maybe you want to feel like you’re constantly on vacation at an international tourist resort.
But personally, I prefer living in places where I’m mostly surrounded by locals just living their day-to-day life. And that’s not what you get in the popular spots in Phuket.
2. Relatively Expensive for SE Asia
I remember speaking to some locals in Chiang Mai, Thailand, about my trips down to Phuket. They all remarked about how “Phuket is expensive.”
Of course, from an American or European perspective, Phuket is not really that expensive. But especially during the “high season,” it’s not the cheapest, either.
I’ve paid between ~600 Baht and ~2,000 Baht per night for hotels in Phuket (~$17 to ~$56 USD per night). During COVID, it was cheapest. My taste for hotels also got a bit more expensive over time… And seasonality affects the price, too.
Of course, living in Phuket long-term, you could get a 12-month lease for much better prices than hotels. However, your living expenses will probably still be higher in Phuket than in most places in SE Asia.
3. Transportation Can Be Slow and Expensive
In most places in Southeast Asia, you can order a car or motorbike taxi through the Grab app (like Uber) and quickly have a cheap ride. But Grab in Phuket is slower and more expensive than anywhere else I’ve been in SE Asia.
On multiple occasions, I’ve had to wait 20+ minutes for a Grab taxi to arrive in Phuket. Sometimes you simply get a message that “Sorry, all our drivers are busy.”
Of course, you can get a taxi, motorbike taxi, or tuk-tuk on the street—but these will all typically be even more expensive. Phuket is a tourist destination, and it comes with tourist prices—not the cheap “Thailand prices” you may be expecting.
Usually, getting from the airport to where you’re staying will cost ~800 Baht (~$23 USD). To get back to the airport again, the taxis on the street will usually ask for around 1,000 Baht (~$29 USD), although you could haggle them down.
I believe there is a bus system on the island, but it wasn’t running during my first visit due to COVID, and I’ve never taken the time to figure it out.
Many foreigners rent a motorbike when staying in Phuket. I’ve never done this because frankly, I’ve heard countless stories of foreigners being injured in motorbike accidents in Thailand. It is very common. If you go that route, please drive slowly and carefully.
Overall, living in Phuket as a foreigner might feel like you’re constantly on vacation. You’d be surrounded by beauty, with plenty of international amenities available nearby, as well.
That said, it’s expensive and crowded with tourists compared to other spots in SE Asia. One of my expat friends suggested Ao Nang as a less touristy beautiful beach destination in Thailand—but I haven’t been able to check it out myself yet.