Got an overseas meeting scheduled in Phuket and not sure how to behave in meetings or show the clients a good time (not that we’re suggesting you’ll climb on the boardroom table and take the staff off on a 15-temple tour)? German expat Rainer Sigel – Publisher of Jetgala & Solitaire Magazines – is often jetting off to the Thai island for business. Here, we lock him in a room until he tells us everything we need to know about working in Phuket.
How often do you travel to Phuket and who do you fly with?
I travel to Phuket every four-to-six weeks, and I always fly with SilkAir. They have the most flights between Singapore and Phuket, and since my schedule changes often, budget carriers are out of the question.
One thing everyone ought to know about Phuket:
Phuket is quite big – about the same size as Singapore. Over half a million people have made their permanent home there, and in addition, the island receives, houses and feeds well over 10 million visitors per year.
How quickly can you get a visa?
Most nationalities do not require a visa to enter Thailand. Casual visitors, though, can stay for a cumulative maximum of 180 days per calendar year, divided into several shorter stays.
Fastest way to get into the city?
Most visitors will head for one of the main tourist beaches, such as (listing them from north to south) Nai Yang, Bang Tao, Surin, Kamala, Patong, Karon, Kata and Nai Harn. There are fixed-price taxi operators at the airport, which are the fastest way to get away, and prices range from THB300 to 600, depending on the distance. Car rental is also widely available at the airport and is relatively cheap, and driving in Phuket is not a difficult or overly adventurous affair. I always rent and drive a car.
When are the good and bad times to visit Phuket?
The weather-dictated low season periods are mid-May to the end of June, and then again mid-September to mid-November. High season is December to February, and advance bookings for hotels is recommended during those months.
Hotels you recommend:
Depending on the area you are planning on staying in, I recommend (again, from north to south) Andaman White Beach Resort in the Nai Yang area, which has the best private beach in Phuket and excellent food and drinks. On Surin, two very good options are the Twin Palms Resort and The Chedi. In Patong, Phuket’s main tourist drag, the hotel with the best reputation is the Holiday Inn (yes, really); if you stay there, I would recommend booking the newer and better-situated Busakorn Wing. In Kata, there are several options, such as the Kata Beach Resort, but none of them really stand out. Finally, if you have business in Phuket Town and prefer to stay there, I recommend The Memory at On On Hotel (thememoryhotel.com), a beautifully restored blast from Phuket’s past.
What’s the dress code for meetings?
The dress code in general is very relaxed, but for business meetings, smart casual attire is recommended. That means no flip-flops, shorts or tank tops.
Any cultural or business etiquette to be aware of?
Cultural etiquette in Phuket is pretty much the same as in the rest of Thailand, but perhaps a bit more relaxed than Bangkok due to the overall holiday setting of the island. The simple rule is “when in doubt, smile, smile, smile and never raise your voice”. That by itself will solve most issues, including encounters with police, immigration, pesky vendors and so on. Although not expected, tips for waiters are seen as a polite gesture.
You are taking a client to lunch or dinner, where do you go?
This too depends on the area you are in. There is always the hotel fare, which varies but can be a safe option. If you venture beyond the hotel, in Phuket town, simply the best Thai food is found at Raya Thai Cuisine. Second choice for Thai food is Natural Restaurant. Western food is very good but pricey at Brasserie Phuket. And in a class of its own is Ka Jok See, a perennial favourite for dinner and some retro dancing with ladyboy shows afterwards.
Reservations are necessary, especially during the high season. In Patong, try Sea Hag or Pan Yaah (on the hill north of Patong overlooking the bay) for Thai food. Western food can be found everywhere, but often with shoddy standards. Outstanding Western restaurants are Acqua (Italian), The 9th Floor (Swiss/European) and the very popular Latin-themed Churrasco Steakhouse. The latter has hands down some of the best steaks in Asia, and they’ve just opened a new Brazilian steakhouse called Rodizio Brazil, which has been an instant hit with its all-you-can-eat fixed price menu. In the South, go to Kan Eang 2 in Chalong for excellent Thai and Seafood, or Capanina (Italian) in Kata.
Casual bars to go for a drink with clients where you won’t get hassled?
First thing that comes to mind is Catch Beach Club in Surin, which is owned and run by Twin Palms. Next door is Diamond Beach Club, but that still has to prove its mettle. Nearby, in Cherngtalay, you’ll find Supper Club, which is recommended more as a drinking place than a venue for dining. In Patong, there is a new and refreshingly non-sleazy bar called Ella Bar & Bistro, which I like a lot. And the rooftop bar at La Flora Resort is a great setting for a late afternoon drink.
Any unsafe areas to avoid?
Phuket is generally very safe, but when out at night in Patong, try to avoid walking along Bangla Road (the red light mile) late at night. Lots of booze, gyrating ladies of the night, overconfident ladyboys, and the perennial heat can make for a combustible atmosphere, so street fights are quite common.
You’ve got some spare time, what’s the must-see?
Watch a sunset from any of the beaches on the west coast. Just buy a coconut, sit down around 6pm, and watch the often spectacular sunsets which cover the whole island in red and purple hues. And if you are a diver and have a spare day, Phuket offers some of the easiest and most user-friendly dive day trips anywhere. Two operators stand out – Dive Asia and Seabees. Finally, there is always a spa or massage parlour within shouting distance. Just make sure to clearly state your intentions before starting the massage, to avoid any unwelcome “happy ending” offers. Unless, of course…
Gifts to take home for family and friends?
Aside from fake watches, dodgy apparel and bootleg videos, which I am sure none of your readers will condone, people usually bring back fresh fruit or some Thai sweets. Other than that, the island is awash with souvenir shops.
How long before your flight do you really need to be at Phuket International Airport?
The absolute minimum is one hour, but Phuket Immigration is notoriously understaffed, so it can take up to or even more than half an hour to clear passport control. So a safe bet is 90 minutes, especially if you are planning to relax in the lounge, or have a bite in the very good upstairs airport restaurant which is operated by Thai Airways.
See even more handy city guides for business types like you here…