Transportation in Phuket is not tourist-friendly, which is unfortunate and surprising given of the Thailand island among international tourists. The country has hundreds of islands, and Phuket is the largest. As on nearly every Asian island, there is no reliable mass transportation, making taxis or rentals the only realistic option.
I took a minibus from Phuket International Airport (HKT) to my lodging in Patong. A taxi would cost at least 4x the US$5.47 I paid. A taxi might have been a better choice, as the US$19 I saved is offset by the extra half-hour the minibus took in waiting for passengers to fill the vehicle and in actual transit. An Uber would have cost more than even a regular taxi, which makes the service worthless here. In almost every other served area, Uber is cheaper, often by wide margins, than competing taxicabs.
Phuket is a large island so once you are settled somewhere, the average tourist will not move much from the area. Even going to a neighboring beach only 7 kilometers away will entail an unpleasant haggle with the taxicab and motorcycle mafias. I have only begrudgingly accepted various rides, once I determined I was at their lowest price. When the provider legitimately walks away, I know the price is low enough. Alternatively, if they do not chase after me when I walk away, then I know they are indifferent to providing the service at a given price. A typical price is more than $10 for a ride of less than 10 kilometers. If you learn to ride a motorbike, then you are in much better shape.
I paid $0.65 per kilometer for a motorcycle ride without a helmet. Riding a motorcycle is a hair-raising experience in Southeast Asia. I am cheating death each time I get on one. In the United States, people sometimes say how dangerous motorcycles are when they have not ever been to Asia! Motorcycles in the U.S. have so much space that their accident rate is a fraction of what it is in Thailand or Vietnam. The $0.65/kilometer rate for an unprotected motorcycle ride is much higher than the $0.17/kilometer one pays for an UberX in neighboring Bangkok.
This artificially high market rate needs to be disrupted. To rent a motorcycle for the entire day is cheaper than a taxi ride. It costs about $6 per day. In 2011, I had never drove a motorcycle, and I fearlessly rented one for $51 for a 17-day span in Bali. I promptly crashed it, suffering a nasty gash to my right thigh. My helmet and one shoe flew off into the trees. I am still somewhat traumatized by that experience, which is why I have not driven a motorcycle since, but this Phuket situation has me reconsidering. I have already seen my first live motorcycle accident here, 15 feet away from where I was walking. In Phuket, cars, people, and motorcycles are often sharing the same precious space at once.
Like much of Thailand, Phuket is inundated with tourists, although not by Americans. The beaches are nice, although I briefly touched only a couple. The food is great. The nightlife is crazy and would give a nun a cardiac arrest.
My primary purpose on the island was SCUBA diving. I had never been before, but I chose the highest-rated shop and negotiated a rate slightly below the list price, which worked out to $411 for three days and six dives.
After diving, my world is expanded dramatically. Just like I will have trouble going to a zoo after my experiences in Africa, I cannot appreciate an aquarium after diving. Even snorkeling is a joke compared to diving because only a small percentage of sealife is visible within snorkeling range. Phuket is one of the best and cheapest places to dive so I highly recommend it. Even so, diving is one of the most expensive sports since it involves life-saving cumbersome equipment, a body of water, and travel.
Diving can also be quite anxious. The sensations of claustrophobia and disorientation from trying to simulate a fish are indescribable.