Getting around Phuket Town economically is a cinch thanks to the fleet of pink buses operated by the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organization (PPAO), also known by the Thai abbreviation OrBorJor.
A type of songtaew (Thai for “two rows”, referring to the row of wooden benches lining each side of the interior), they are known locally as pohthong. Painted bright pink, the buses debuted four years ago — on 14 September 2009 — with two routes crisscrossing the length and breadth of Phuket Town. A third route running east to Koh Siray was added in 2010.
I moved to Phuket Town from the Villa 2 area on Chaofa West in July 2011 and began using the pink buses regularly soon afterwards. It’s my only method of getting to work. Unfortunately, the buses stop running around 7 PM so I’m forced to take a motorbike taxi home a couple of nights each week.
On most of my pohthong journeys, I’m the only farang. I do see other foreigners riding only very infrequently. I believe that more would try it if they knew how to use it. I’ve often thought that the PPAO should publish a brochure with the three route maps and a bit of information to encourage more expat and tourist ridership.
The fare is only 10 baht per ride and free for students wearing their uniforms. Simply wait at one of the bus stops marked by the distinctive pink signs. These indicate which route serves that particular stop — 1, 2 or 3. The buses usually come by about every fifteen minutes but do occasionally get bogged down by heavy traffic so you may have to wait a bit longer. The longest I’ve ever waited for the bus to appear was thirty minutes.
Another thing worth mentioning is that you should make sure you are standing on the correct side of the street for your destination. The first time I tried to go to Central Festival on the pink bus (Route 1), I flagged down the west-bound bus on Mae Luan Road. Well, that DOES head towards Central but doesn’t go all the way. At the Thai Hua School Intersection it swings back east towards Old Town and then south to Suphan Hin before heading north again. But I got a nice scenic “tour” of the entire route and then some!
When you see the bus approaching, you will need to flag it down. Do NOT stick out your thumb as this is a very rude gesture here. Instead, hold your arm away from your body and gently flap your hand up and down. I call it the “broken wing wave”. The bus driver will usually flick the headlights on and off to indicate he’s seen you.
When the bus stops, quickly enter the rear of the bus — be sure to hold on to the handle as you climb onto the step as some are a bit wobbly — and find an empty space on one of the benches. You need to sit down rapidly as the driver won’t wait very long before pumping on the gas. Don’t want to hold up traffic! If none of the spaces closest to the back are empty, you’ll need to move towards the front. The proper etiquette is for passengers to scoot forward when more people board but in reality most can’t be bothered.
Only when you are seated should you worry about paying the conductor. The young man or woman — usually wearing a bright pink OrBorJor polo shirt — will be sitting in the right rear corner. Some will approach you for the fare but most won’t. Don’t worry. You can pass your money along the row of fellow passengers and they, in turn, will pass you the ticket. It’s best to use exact change or even a 20- or 50-baht note. Just don’t be the passenger who pays with a thousand-baht bill and expect the conductor to have the change!
Sometimes the conductor will ask your destination, either in broken English (“Where you go?”) or Thai (“bai nai?“), but usually you can just signal to them as you get close to your stop. A simple head-nod or pointing gesture will do the trick.
During the ride itself, try not to take up too much room particularly if the bus is fairly crowded. I know, you’ll see plenty of others who sit angled so they take up two (and more!) spaces or who have their backpacks, purses, etc. occupying the one remaining spot on the entire bus! These passengers can usually be made to make room if the conductor yells at them but I’ve found that a polite “kaw tawrt” (“Excuse me”) will get them to budge. If all else fails, just try to wedge yourself in anyway — they’ll quickly move whatever baggage they have rather than risk a farang actually touching their valuable produce. Again, when you see others boarding the bus move your stuff and make room for them.
Also, take care to hold on especially after stops and when turning corners. Many of the newer bus drivers seem to had their “training” as minivan drivers and we all know what that means! Tailgating, sudden bursts of speed and even more sudden slams on the breaks, swerving through traffic to overtake slow moving cars and motorbikes, etc. Many seem to forget that they have a cargo of humans in the back. It’s a wonder that nobody has been thrown out the rear yet but I have seen a few close calls. I usually keep one hand gripped on the bench next to my left leg.
And now for the routes:
Route 1 starts from the rear parking garage (lower level) at Big C and terminates at the Micro Bus Station near Phuket Vocational College in the Suphan Hin area. Major stops along the way include those near the sputh and east entrances of Central Festival, the KFC entrance of Big C, across the street (north) from Tesco-Lotus, Sam Kong Shrine, across the street from Bangkok International Hospital, opposite Vachira Hospital, Phuket Wittayalai School, Phuket Cable Company, the Kao Rang Intersection, Jui Tui Shrine, Suriyadet Circle (the fountain near the entrance to Ranong Road, — which leads to the local bus “station”), Sintawee Hotel on Phang Nga Road, the old long-ditance bus station (Bus Terminal 1 from where you can hop aboard anothr pink bus which will take you to Terminal 2 — the new(er) long-distnce bus station), south along Montree Road through Surin Circle (the clock tower) to Robinson’s and McDonald’s, Bang Niew Shrine, The Bale (which is fairly close to the Phuket Immigration Office), Sapan Hin Recreational Area, Chalermprakiat School, and — finally Phuket Vocational College.
Route 1‘s return trip is essentially the same but from Surin Circle it travels north on Phuket Road and turns west on Rasada Road with a stop at the Tavorn Hotel (check out the local history “museum” in the lobby!) before continuing on to the Downtown Market on Ranong Road. Prior to the construction starting on the Dowroong Intersection underpass, the bus stopped at the old Homeworks center (since renamed Central Festival East) and across the street from the south entrance to Central Festival. But until that construction mess clears up in another year-and-a-half or so, the buses now turn onto the two lane road between Index and the Farang Restaurant for a shortcut to Big C. If the timing is right, you can then hop aboard an outgoing pink bus for a free transfer the rest of the way to Central (show the conductor your previously-purchased ticket).
Having never ridden on Route 2 or 3, I will just list the stops as copied from one of the PPAO billboard maps.
Route 2: Super Cheap Shopping Center, Phuket Rajabhat University, Phuket Wittayalai School, Phuket Amphoe (District Office) Intersection, Satree Phuket School, Provincial Hall, Bus Terminal 1 – Explore Shopping Arcade (also known as Expo) – Kasat Fresh Market (behind Robinson’s Shopping Center), Bang Niew Intersection, Laem Chan Health Center, Simummuang Market on Chaofa Road. Returning north, there are stops outside of both Mission Hospital and Bus Terminal 2.
Route 3: Sapan Hin, Chalermprakiat School, Phuket Transport Office, Muang Phuket Municipal School, Bangkok Road, Suriyadet Circle, Yaowarat Road, Phuttamongkolnimit School, Phuket Amphoe (District Office) Intersection, Satree Phuket School, Phuket Provincial Prison, Post Office/Philatelic Museum, Bus Terminal 1, PPAO Hospital, Phuket Housing Community, Rassada Port, Koh Siray, and Laem Tukkae. The return route is similar except that the bus continues west on Mae Luan Road from the District Office (rather than turning south on Yaowarat Road), turning south (left) at the Kao Rang Intersection, going through the Jui Tui Intersection and turning left (easterly) at Yee Teng Intersection onto Bangkok Road and soon making a right turn (south) back on Puhunporn Road near Muang Phuket Municipal School and finishing again at Sapan Hin.
There’s actually a fouth route, the aforementioned link between Bus Terminal 1 on Phang Nga Road east of Old Town (which was the site of a Japanese camp during World War II, blieve it or not!) and the controversial, recently-opened, Bus Terminal 2. This bus, at the same low rate of 10 baht, is essentially an “express”. You can’t flag one down from streetside — you can only board from either bus station — but ome of the conductor will let you get off at various points along the route. It’s far less expensive than taking a motorbike taxi or tuk-tuk and easier to carry you luggage as well!
Someday soon, I plan to ride Routes 2 and 3 in their entirety to get a better feel for what lies along the way. I probably won’t take any photos from the buses themselves, however. I’m usually too shy and don’t want to look like a tourist!
At any rate, I recommend using these buses if you have some time to spend and want to see a bit more of Phuket Town than you can while hanging onto the back of a motorbike taxi, fearing for dear life.