Phuket is the most expensive city in Thailand. It has beautiful beaches, out-of-control nightlife, and of course, many expensive resorts. It caters to tourists and because everyone knows tourists have money to burn, Phuket can charge four times the normal price for a simple plate of pad thai.
I moved to Phuket to teach English for four months and was worried about seeing my savings go down the drain. I would be getting paid 42,000 baht per month or 1,200 USD. This was almost half of what I’d been making in Taiwan as a teacher and it troubled me. But, four months later, I survived, and actually saved money. Here’s my advice to anyone who is looking to live in Phuket long-term.
Go local in your lodging
Compared to San Francisco, housing in Phuket can seem like a steal. I had friends living in apartment building with pools, gyms, and their own balcony for only $300 a month. But, you have to look at it relatively. For Phuket, this is mid-range.
I looked outside the foreigner-filled complexes and in the Thai neighborhoods near my school. For a two-room apartment, I paid $150 a month. I’ll be honest and tell you that there was nothing fancy about it. No pool, no microwave, and my sink was outside. But, it was comfortable, in a safe area, and I had tons of room to do my Youtube workouts and even jump-rope in my apartment! The $300 apartments could hardly fit a bed. I wasn’t always able to communicate with my Thai landlords and sometimes wasn’t sure if they were trying to rip me off, but hey, it’s Thailand.
Rent a scooter and take full-advantage of taxi apps
I was scared to ride a scooter. The traffic in Phuket is high on the list for worst in the world and drivers have no mercy for each other. Yet, scooters are the most popular transportation and the cheapest. My scooter was $90 a month and filling up my tank would cost around $2 and last me a week. Plus, the freedom of driving yourself to the beaches or the grocery store is irreplaceable.
I didn’t always want to scooter places, for fear of the highways, so I sometimes had to take a taxi. A 20-minute ride could cost me $20, which is highway robbery in Thailand.
Luckily, there’s an app called GrabTaxi that saved my skin. It’s like Uber and you can find the nearest affiliated cab and get where you’re going for half the usual price. If you have a good and/or friendly cab driver, you can get their card and then, call them anytime you need a ride and still get those meter prices. My 20-minute ride now cost $10.
Get extra work
I was lucky that my school included after-school classes in our contract and depending on the amount of students we had each month, we got paid extra. A couple hundred dollars extra each month really helped me stretch my income.
If a school doesn’t include after-school lessons or if you are not an English teacher, it’s still easy to find Thai students who want a tutor for the weekends or after-school. There’s usually an excess demand for English teachers in Phuket.
Eat as the Thais do
A curry in Phuket can cost $2-$15, depending on what area or restaurant you are in. Patong, the main tourist area, jacks up the food prices and beachside restaurants are rarely dirt-cheap. It’s best to eat at places slightly away from the tourist swarms and if most of the customers are Thai, even better.
I lived in a non-touristy area called Thalang and I was able to get fried rice, curries, pad thai, etc for $2-3. The restaurants/cafes I went to didn’t look like much, but the food was local, delicious, and at a price that kept me from wasting all my money. I liked to cook to stay healthy, but there were times it was cheaper to eat out than to actually cook.
Bring your drinks with you
A beautiful thing about Thailand is that the liquor laws are pretty lax. You can buy a Singha beer for $1 in a 7/11 and then walk the streets drinking it. You may drink it on the beach and sometimes, you can even bring it into another bar. The police aren’t going to give you a problem (unless you are being ridiculously disorderly).
Having a beer on the streets before going into a bar can save you a ton of money because once you go in that bar, the beer prices rocket up to $3-7. I’ve actually gone to Patong and spent the night drinking 7/11 beers in front of bars and never actually going in. You still get the vibe and the party people without doubling your expenses.
Also, if you are a lady, most clubs (my favorite is White Room) will offer you free drinks, so be on the look out for those deals.
Phuket is not the easiest place to save money, but if you are wise about your spending and keep things local, you’re sure to leave with some baht still in your pockets and have some extra for island trips and coconut drinks.