Phuket is a great starting point for a tour of Thailand. Foreigners are commonplace, so visitors can get a taste of the culture without stepping far out of their own comfort zone. From here it's easy to connect to other parts of the country where tourism is secondary to mainstream living.
Family, status and social connectedness are important factors in the daily lives of Thais. Visitors will find that locals are generally warm and hospitable, accustomed to overlooking minor social faux-pas from foreigners. That said, there areas of daily life where extra attention is needed.
The most important thing to keep in mind is the concept of ‘face', which is tied up in a person's dignity and position. Thais will go out of their way to avoid disrespect or insult. Loss of temper and public affection are frowned upon. Above all, remember that criticism of the king or royal family is not tolerated and the offender can even be prosecuted.
There are a few other minor issues to bear in mind. Feet are filthy in Thai culture and should never be pointed at another person or even to Buddha image or to the image of the king. Guests are also expected to remove their shoes when entering a private residence. When dining out, tips are welcome but not always expected.
The local form of currency is the Thai baht. Western tourists will find their currency goes a long way in this economy. Street food and noodles can be had for pocket change, while a nicer meal in a sit-down restaurant is many times cheaper than it would be back at home.
Cash is essential in local commerce, and you may even be asked for correct change (or smaller bills) when shopping at street markets in out-of-the-way places. ATMs are widely available and most accept foreign cards. Credit cards are accepted in department stores and at hotels and restaurants at and above the mid-range level.
Phuket's tropical monsoon season divides roughly into three seasons. The best time to visit is from November to March when temperatures are cooler (but still hot) and the weather is relatively dry. The hottest periods are from April to May and again from September to October, and this period can be an uncomfortable time for any outdoor activities that aren't water-based.
Rains start to roll in August and September, marking the official peak of the low season. This can still be a good time to visit for flexible travelers, as off-season bargains are available and long periods of sunshine still persist between storms.
Taxis are widespread across the island and offer the most convenient means of getting around, but visitors also have the option of hiring their own car and exploring the coastline. Motorbikes are available for rent from guesthouses and from local rental agencies. Locals get around using large minibuses on fixed routes.
Phuket International Airport (HKT) is the major gate of entry. It's to the island's north and receives flights from Bangkok, Koh Samui, Pattaya and Chiang Mai. The easiest way to connect to the hotels and resorts on the east coast is by taxi or hire car, though minibuses also make the journey.
Spoken languages: Thai (as well as a local dialect)
Electrical: 220 Volts, 50 Hertz
Phone/calling code: +66 7
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