Traveling from Bangkok to Phuket: A traveler review

Apart from beaches and nightlife, Phuket also boasts the room where “Richard” stayed in The Beach. Feel like a movie star when going to Phuket.

View of Kata Beach from the Big Buddha, Phuket

You visited the fabled beach in Koh Phi Phi when Maya Bay wasn’t closed to tourists. 

You’ve been to Bangkok’s bustling backpack melee of Khao San Road and certainly to Koh Phangan – the full moon mecca of the world, haven’t you? 

What’s with Phuket? you might think…

Apart from powdery beaches, a vibrant nightlife, awe-inspiring capes and busy markets, Phuket has more to offer. The mountainous rainforest-island in the Andaman Sea has attracted the international cinema industry many a time, for good reason, and Danny Boyle’s film “The Beach” is adventure lovers’ favorite. 

The On On Hotel in Phuket Town was made famous because of its appearance in the first scene of “The Beach” starring Leonardo Di Caprio, and as a The-Beach fiend, I had to visit this movie location and booked a bus ride online.

I was eager to get a glimpse of “Leonardo’s” room number 204 at the On On Hotel, and once I’d booked my trip from Bangkok to Phuket on a Naga Travel tourist bus, my journey began…

Getting to Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal

Sai Tai Mai, Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal, is situated in the Taling Chan area on the outskirts of Bangkok. The bus was scheduled for 7:30 am, and to collect my ticket, I had to show up half an hour before. I’m not a morning person so it was clear that I had to stay in the Taling Chan area the night before my trip. Hotel Sunkiss – just a kilometer away from Sai Tai Mai – was the perfect solution, or so I thought.

Never before had I been denied a taxi ride twice, let alone in this strange year 2020. But on that day when I was a little pressed for time, both a cabbie and a tuk-tuk driver refused to take me to Sai Tai Mai. “Too early,” said one, “I’m washing my tuk-tuk,” said the other. Wow, strange times indeed, I thought to myself.

Fortunately, Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal wasn’t far, so I used Google Maps and traipsed to Sai Tai Mai, passing aggressive dogs, fat beautiful monitor lizards and sewers that reeked worse than those ghastly rotten egg fart smells.

Finding the check-in desk at Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal

I arrived only minutes after 7 am, and seeing SC Plaza before me, a large shopping mall, finding the check-in desk was the next challenge. 

I was pleased to run into a guy in front of the building who asked, “Where you go?” He spoke a little English and told me to go to the top floor inside the shopping mall. There were the mandatory temperature checks and I had to jot down my name and my phone number to get inside.

Thankfully, there was no rush. There were no queues and the friendly woman behind Naga Travel’s check-in desk only wanted my name. I didn’t even have to show the voucher.

Naga Travel’s employee said to me, “You’ll find the bus station behind that shopping mall. Go to gate 32.”

The bus driver at Gate 32, however, said, “Boot 42,” and eventually, my bus arrived a little late at 7:45 am and pulled in at gate number 40.

The waiting area was ghostly quiet and near-empty. Due to the lack of travelers, there were no food stalls and no scrumptious scents. Fortunately, there are two 7-ELEVEN shops nearby. I went there to stock up on snacks and buy some water, and ironically, plenty of taxi drivers were now willing to give me a lift anywhere I wanted.

Only minutes later, some 20 people boarded the bus at gate number 40, all Thai and wearing facemasks, and I followed suit, thrilled to be heading south.

Enjoying the sights on the way to Phuket

The seats were numbered and the hostess was accommodating and led me to my seat. The overhead was very narrow; I could hardly stow away my laptop bag even though it looks spacious enough when it’s closed. The air conditioning was pretty cool, quite literally; I did need a hoodie. There was also a tv, though nobody bothered to turn it on.

Likewise, the radio was not something anybody was interested in. I could tell by the beeping message alerts on people’s cell phones that the lively chats were way more fascinating than music or the sleep-inducing AC sounds.

I took a seat and thanked the hostess for the bottle of water that she gave every passenger. Scarcely a second later, the driver turned the ignition and pulled out of the station at 7:55 am. The seat was comfy, and I looked forward to lean back and just enjoy the ride.

It didn’t take long for the first golden Buddha statue to roll past, and I knew that more of those wonderful sights were to come.

Approaching Hua Hin, I marveled at the sights of Chinese-style temples, embellished with dragons and statues of old men with mustaches and beards. A bit further towards Prachuap Khiri Khan, the scenery became hilly and grassy, and white buffaloes were grazing peacefully on great plains. 

Meanwhile, travelers were either sleeping, playing with their phone or applying copious amounts of Siang Pure Oil that reminded me of a spa.

At 12:20 pm, the driver stopped in Prachuap Khiri Khan and announced via microphone that this would be a 30-minute lunch break. Grub was free for guests of Naga Travel, and there were plenty of Thai dishes to choose from: soups, noodle and rice meals of all kinds.

Getting closer to Phuket on the second part of the journey

Precisely half an hour later, everybody was back on the bus, and the driver left on time at 12:50 pm. The hours slipped past gently. I had plenty of time to relax in my comfy seat and study the landscape roll past.

There were neatly-aligned rubber tree plantations galore, a common sight in southern Thailand, and eye-catching was a golden Buddha statue sitting calmly on top of a hill amid palm trees.

We also passed local markets where I would’ve loved to buy some fresh mangoes, jack fruit and mangosteen, but I knew I’d find that in Phuket too. 

Along the way to Phuket, I spotted two temple complexes in the middle of nowhere and managed to take a picture in time before another wonderful landmark was out of sight.

Arriving in Chumphon at 2:50 pm, people started to get off the bus. At 5:08 pm, we passed Suratthani’s Air Force Base, and I knew that even though we were in the south now, it would still take a few hours to get to the Andaman Sea where Phuket is.

The AC was still working properly, which I was grateful for, but the toilet had taken its toll at 6:30 pm when darkness fell. There was an issue with the flushing system; it was wet on the floor inside the restroom, and you couldn’t lock the door. Now that the ride was bumpy was a fine time to relieve myself.

Slumping into my seat, I nodded off and awoke at 7:45 pm when we crossed the Sarasin bridge that links Phuket and the mainland. It was now that the hostess served bread rolls and instant coffee powder.

The coach pulled into Phuket Bus Terminal 2 at 8:23 pm, more than an hour before the scheduled arrival time, and I knew what this omen meant – few tourists and a realistic chance of finding “Leonardo’s” room number 204 at the On On Hotel to be available.

Posted November 8, 2020
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Philipp Meier
Philipp Meier is a Phuket-based travel writer passionate about Thai culture and wandering off Thailand’s well-trodden tourist trail. His work has been published on the Nat Geo Traveller India, South China Morning Post, Culture Trip, BootsnAll, GoNOMAD, and elsewhere. You can find him at Writer Philipp Meier and LinkedIn.
image of blog writer Phil