Content last updated - November 2016 - please contact me if you have an update!
Phuket International Airport (code: HKT) is Thailand's second busiest airport. I was surprised at that fact because having flown through the airport a couple of times - its fairly small, and feels like a medium-sized domestic airport, rather than one that sees more than 8 million visitors who passed through in 2011. It gets a bit crowded at times, its fair to say, particularly as the airport was originally designed for a capacity of only 6 million passengers. The airport is being expanded - but, as any of us who have transited an "under construction" airport, this only means that its only going to get worse before it gets better!
However, for the moment Phuket Airport has one building for international departures/arrivals and an adjacent building for domestic. The signage is good and its not far to walk to the gates. International flights use air-bridges, though smaller planes, flying domestic may require a stair climb to board.
Airlines Flying To Phuket
There is a wide range of both scheduled and chartered airlines who fly into Phuket.
Domestic carriers into Phuket include: Nok Air, Air Asia, Orient Thai and Thai Airways. As well as hourly flights to Bangkok there are direct flights to Koh Samui and Pattaya (Bangkok Air, expensive), Chiang Mai (Air Asia - cheap),
International carriers into Phuket include: Air Asia, JetStar Asia, Qantas, Silkair, Tiger Airways (Kuala Lumpur, Singapore with connections to Australia and New Zealand), Thai International, Eithad, Swissair, Aeroflot, SAS, KLM, Finair (Bangkok with connections to Europe), Air New Zealand, Thai International (Europe and Australasia via Bangkok). In high season there are additional charter flights. There are also direct connections to the Middle East (Doha) and north Asia (Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan)
Phuket Airport Arrivals
The first thing with arriving in Phuket is that it can be spectacular. The airport is right on the coast and depending the wind direction and your departure point you will fly over the pretty, island-dotted Andaman sea on final approach. If you are arriving during daylight hours (roughly 06:00-18:00) then do try for a window seat - on the right if coming in from the south (Kuala Lumpur, Singapore) or on the left arriving from Bangkok and other points north.
Once you land - its straight through to immigration. The queues can be long - but there is a reasonable amount of space, and its pretty efficient. Most Westerners will get a 30 day on arrival visa arrival - just double check this before you buy your ticket, and make sure your passport doesn't expire in the next 6 months.
While you are waiting for your luggage, you can pick up some of the local tourist maps - handy, obviously paid for by local shopping and tourist operators, but accurate so pick up a couple.
If you are not familiar with flying into Asia - the baggage carousel is the calm before the storm. The taxi drivers aren't allowed in here!
Once you collect your luggage and exit you will find several ATMs. Acutally outside the terminal there is a large money exchange counter. The rates offered are the same rates all over Thailand, there is no reason to not change money - and you will almost certainly need to unless you have arranged a pre-paid transfer to your hotel.
Phuket Airport Transfers
Phuket Airport is in the north of the island - and Phuket is a large island - its around 35km north of the most popular beaches (Karon, Kata and Patong) as well as Phuket Town. Its even further to the southern areas of Chalong, Cape Panwa and Rawai). On the bright side is very close to several decent beaches (Nai Thon and Mai Khaen) and around an hour south of Khao Lak on the mainland.
Car rentals at Phuket Airport. There are a large number of rental car agencies on the island - all of whom will allow you to collect a vehicle from the airport. If however you have flown long-haul and are unfamiliar with driving in Asia I wouldn't recommend it.
Taxis, Limousine Transfers. Regardless of the time of day or night that you arrive.
Airport bus to Phuket Town with connections to all the main beaches. Although few tourists use it there is a regular airport bus which runs to Phuket Town and from which you can make connections either via taxi or local songathew to the beaches. For details and current prices check out their website. You will need Thai currency for the bus. The bus is a full-size bus which will take large pieces of luggage. However if you plan on completing the journey via songathew you will want to be travelling light.
We used the bus to transfer to Cape Panwa. It took around an hour to get to Phuket Town, we walked across town which would have taken about 20 minutes except we stopped for lunch. We then took a songathew for around another 40 minutes. A direct taxi would taken a little more than an hour.
Sleeping At Phuket Airport
Is generally not recommended. Instead stay at either the local town area where there are few scruffy, but reasonably priced airport hotels, about 5 minutes drive from the airport. For a more pleasent experience take the 15 minute drive (you'll have to take a taxi no songathews ) to either Nai Thon or Mai Khaen beaches - where there are nice beaches and mainly moderate to expensive hotels, with the odd cheapy in the mix.