Phuket is easily Asia’s number one sunshine destination for holidays, but it’s so far from most visitors that it’s a shame to go all that way and only stop in one place. Thailand is a tourist’s paradise in many ways, though in Phuket you only get to taste a small slice of what the country has to offer.
For this reason, most savvy visitors have figured out that it’s very easy to spend a few days in Bangkok on their way to Phuket or on their way home. As we discussed in our section about getting to Phuket, most visitors will at least need to change planes in Bangkok (or Kuala Lumpur) anyway, so you might as well spend a few days in one of them to get more contrast on your long trip.
The easiest and cheapest way to combine Phuket and Bangkok
Whether you are starting in Europe, or the Middle East, or Australia, or North America, the cheapest flights to Thailand will almost always be in and out of Bangkok. Many people automatically just enter the destination airport in the search box when they are planning their trip, which is understandable. Phuket does have its own large international airport, which is the second busiest in Thailand, but still flights into Phuket generally cost about US$100 to US$200 more than flights into Bangkok.
With the savings on your main flight you can easily buy a round-trip ticket between Bangkok and Phuket on Air Asia or one of the other low cost carriers, as long as you book well in advance. Since most people plan their winter holiday in Thailand many months in advance, they should be able to get that Bangkok to Phuket flight for around US$100 total, so the stopover is essentially free. On Air Asia, which is a very nice and modern airline, airfares between Bangkok and Phuket actually start at about US$50 round-trip if you buy in advance.
Check which Bangkok airport you are flying in and out of
Bangkok has two large airports. The main one is the new Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), but most of the low cost airlines fly in and out of Don Mueang Airport (DMK). Needless to say, it’s most convenient to fly in and out of the same airport, but even if you need to change airports it’s only a minor inconvenience.
Whether you stop in Bangkok on your way into Thailand or your way out of Thailand, you’ll only be switching airports one time. The other time you’ll just be going from the airport to the city, and for both of them you can get a reasonably priced taxi or an even cheaper bus or train to take you to your hotel.
Bangkok first or Phuket first?
Now that we’ve decided that you are going to visit Bangkok as part of your trip, is it better to visit Bangkok at the beginning or at the end? That’s going to be a personal decision for most people, but there are some interesting factors to consider if you haven’t yet been to both places.
Bangkok is a shopping paradise
While Phuket does have one large shopping mall and many small shops and stands at markets, it doesn’t even begin to compare to the shopping available in Bangkok. The capital city has over a dozen large shopping malls that are literally within walking distance of each other, with every clothing retailer you can think of, plus everything else under the sun.
If you want to buy more than a couple items of clothes or electronics or anything else bulky, it’s almost certainly best to visit Bangkok on your way back home. Many people even buy another cheap suitcase (or an expensive designer one) to haul their bounty back home with them, and there’s little point in hauling it to and from Phuket as well.
Bangkok is a frantic and fun huge city
If you aren’t going to do a lot of shopping then you probably want to consider whether you want to have your “big city experience” at the beginning or at the end. Bangkok is fun and easy to visit even if you only know English, but it’s also a frantic city that offers little relaxation.
So if you have a total of two weeks and you want to spend 3 nights in Bangkok and 11 nights in Phuket, do you want to fly home totally rested after Phuket, or energized after a stay in Bangkok? It seems like most people prefer to stop in Bangkok on the way in because they are ready for sightseeing and they want to cut the trip down a bit, but either way is just fine as long as you know what you are getting yourself into.
We’ll have more tips for where to stay in Bangkok and what to do in Bangkok on a short stay soon.