Phuket Survival Tips

I had a great vacation in Phuket, Thailand, earlier this month. I’d like to share some tips that can be useful if you plan to travel there. If you’re looking for the stories, my friend has written a series of it (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5).

1. Book the airport transfer

A taxi can load up to 4 passengers and costs about 450 THB from the Phuket international airport to Patong Beach (one of the most popular tourist destination). If you’re travelling in group and have to take more than one cab, consider to hire a driver with a minivan for the airport transfer.

It costs about 800 THB for a luxury Lexus minivan. It can load up to 9 passengers (or 10 if you include the front seat beside the driver’s). Our driver was Mr. Liem (Niwat Panphuet). He was a gentle driver, didn’t talk much, but actually quite friendly. He will pick you up and you can pay him after he drops you at your destination.

If you want his service, you can contact him through the following:
Email: [email protected]
Mobile: +66 89 4696867, +66 81 8949080
Tel/fax: +66 76 528044

2. Take a road trip

Phuket has many beautiful beaches and wonderful sight-seeing spots. You definitely won’t want to stay only in one place and skip the chance to visit those amazing places. The best way to visit most (if not all) of them is by taking a road trip. You can rent a car and drive on your own, but you will need an international driving license for this. Or just hire a driver with a car to drive you around.

When you do, take the west coast line of Phuket from Patong Beach – Karon Beach – Kata Beach – Nai Harn Beach, and all the way to Promthep Cape at the southwest. Along the way, you can also stop at some nice viewpoints (Kata and Karon viewpoints), the Big Buddha, or Phuket Town.

Tip: it cost us 2,500 THB for a 1 day (additional cost applicable beyond 10 hours of trip) for hiring the driver and the car (petrol included). We also hired Mr. Liem  for this road trip and we totally enjoyed and loved the ride.

3. Take a boat trip

Many parts in Phuket are accessible only by boats. Make sure you spare at least one day to visit those lovely places in Phang Nga Bay (James Bond Island, Hong Island, Bamboo Island) and Phi Phi Islands (Koh Phi Phi and the world-famous Maya Beach).

The ride can be long, rough, and bumpy, so if you have a weak stomach, be sure to have some preparation or medication to calm your sickness.

4. Haggle prices from street vendors

Often, you can buy your items at 50% or less than the initial price. Don’t hesitate to bargain. The vendors are quite friendly and they’re not so aggressive.

This includes show tickets (Simon Cabaret, Fantasea, etc.) and tours (Phang Nga Bay and Phi Phi Islands). For example, the listed VIP ticket price for Simon Cabaret is 600 THB, but we managed to get it for 550 THB including 2-way transfer by Tuk Tuk (Phuket local public transportation).

5. Bring some sunscreen or sun protection

Or buy one at Phuket. If you are at the Patong Beach, you can buy from Watson’s nearby. The price was quite cheap there.

Phuket is about beach. You will stay most of the time under the sun. Be sure you have enough protection against sunburn and, more importantly, skin cancer.

6. Bring some insect/mosquitoes repellent

Some areas can be populated by mosquitoes. Bringing one may save you from clapping your hands and scratching your legs all night every night.

Exchanging your faulty iPhone

Just like every other electronics product, your iPhone can or will have problems. In my case, the home button was not responsive. Since it is a mechanical part that I interact most often, it is only natural that it eventually wore off. I was lucky it happened while it was still covered by the warranty, so I could take it for a free service from Apple. Really? No!

The fact that recent Apple consumer products like iPhone is a very integrated product makes it so there are no user-serviceable parts. In a way, people think it is bad, since you cannot have extra batteries for instance. It is made in such a way even the local Apple authorized service centers will not be able to service it for you. Instead, they will exchange your faulty iPhone with a new replacement set immediately — subject to stocks availability.

So, what is this new iPhone replacement set anyway?

Well, I do not have a certain information, so take it with a grain of salt. Based on user posts in some Apple forums and from the service center staffs, I think it can be either (most probably) refurbished or new set. It will come in a black box with nothing but the iPhone. No cables, earphones, or other accessories are included in this replacement set. In other words, they will only exchange your iPhone, not the accessories.

A refurbished set means it was once a faulty set that has been repaired by the manufacturer in a way it looks like a new one, but of course it is not. Some parts like the chassis or the battery may be new, but not everything is new.

Because of this, and the high possibility of getting a refurbished set, you better not exchange your iPhone if there is no problem with it, or you may end up having another iPhone with a worse condition. When I exchanged for the first time, two days ago, I got a replacement set that had problems during calls. More specifically, the other party often could not hear anything I said on the phone. I went and got a second replacement for this issue.

Also, you don’t always get the latest iPhone and/or iOS release. My first replacement iPhone was a week 35 production and came with iOS 4.3.5 while the second week 31 with iOS 4.3.3. I did the second exchange on a different outlet, so it really depends on the availability.

Okay, done with the blabberin’, so what do you need to do to get your faulty iPhone replaced?


There are some conditions that you have to satisfy before you are entitled to a replacement iPhone:

  1. It must be still under warranty. Normally it is one year since the purchase and activation date. You can extend it to two years if you buy an Apple Care protection plan for your iPhone.
  2. You must have bought your iPhone in your local authorized resellers or local Apple stores (online or offline). It includes authorized telecom companies, in Singapore, they are Singtel, StarHub, and M1.
  3. It must not have a severe physical damage. Some small scratches shouldn’t matter, but your mileage may vary.
  4. It must not have been soaked in water. The service center staff usually uses a simple torch light to check for the water damage (corrosion) in your iPhone headphone and charger sockets; you can do the same before going.
  5. I am not sure if they will replace a jailbroken iPhone, but just to be on the safe side, restore it to the factory condition using iTunes.

Exchanging your iPhone

If you have satisfied the conditions, now you can go and exchange your faulty iPhone. The exchanging process usually does not take too much time (only about 15-20 minutes for me), but if there are many customers, you may have to queue for a while.
  1. Back up your iPhone using iTunes. You don’t want to reinstall all your apps manually and lose all your precious data, do you?
  2. Go to a nearest or your preferred Apple service center. Keep in mind, though, if you bought your iPhone from a telco, you need to go to the telco service center, not Apple’s. In my case I went to StarHub service center. If you bought your iPhone online in Singapore, you need to go to QCD at Tagore Building.
  3. When you hand over your iPhone to a staff, they will do the usual routines:
    • Check for water damage.
    • Check the warranty.
    • Validate your complaints. Normally they are not too strict about this, they just believe everything that you say. Nice, isn’t it? But of course, your mileage may vary.
  4. Then they will hand you a replacement set. Take your time and check it thoroughly before taking it home.
  5. Once you agree to accept the replacement set, they will do the registration, move your SIM card, and activate the phone for you. Then you can take it home with you immediately.
  6. Open iTunes and restore the last backup to your replacement iPhone. Now it will be just like your original iPhone.
That’s it, a very simple process. I can say this is a completely different level of service from Apple compared to other companies.
They will also extend your warranty to 3 months from the exchange date, so you can still come back if you find issues with your replacement set.
Power Support Anti Glare FilmOne more thing (:
I put a quite expensive Power Support film set (screen protector) on my iPhone. I don’t want to discard them and spend another $35.00 to buy a new one for my replacement iPhone. So, I asked the staff to move the film from my old iPhone to the replacement set. And surprisingly, the kind staff agreed to do it, and they did it properly (no misalignment or bubbles). They did it in two different occasions (I exchanged my phone twice). So thank you kind StarHub staffs. I don’t remember their name, but the first was a kind gentleman from StarHub VivoCity, and the second was a friendly and pretty lady at booth 8 from StarHub Plasa Singapura.
You saved me from potentially spending $70.00 (:

Selecting a note-taking app

I like love the idea of storing information in the cloud. This way, I can access it whenever and wherever as long as I have access to the Internet. I used to do it by keeping and storing my information in my Gmail account. Write an email, label it as Note, then send it to myself. Whenever I need the information, I just need to browse my emails tagged as Note or just search for it. Well, it’s simple but quite effective. I can access my mail from home, office, and even on my mobile phone, so it means that I can access my notes anytime.

There’s only one issue that I found irritating with this approach. Often I need to edit my notes or stored information in my email. But it’s an email, once sent, you can no longer edit it. With Gmail, I can only reply to the email and append some additional information. If I need to edit it, I have to copy the content and write a new mail, then delete the old one. So it’s very tedious and unintuitive if you do a lot of editing, I do.

So I started to explore some dedicated note-taking apps. There are a lot of them and it’s impossible to try them all. I have been evaluating some of the most popular for quite some time: iOS Notes (iPhone built-in app), Evernote, and Springpad. It will be impractical to use them all, so I want to narrow the choices based on some criteria that matter to me. Kindly note that this criteria may not apply to everyone, so what best for me is not necessarily best for everyone.

1. It has to be in the cloud, not (only) in my local computer or my thumb drive

In the beginning of the article, I have discussed this in the beginning of the article why this is important to me. Evernote and Springpad begin their life in the cloud, so they are native cloud applications.

Since iOS version 4.0, it’s possible to sync Notes over the air using either MobileMe or IMAP email account. If you don’t have a MobileMe account (which is subscription-based), you can use your email account as long as it supports IMAP, for example Gmail. If you decide to use Gmail, it will create a label called Notes in your mail account and it will store your notes there.


  1. iOS Notes: 20 (+20)
  2. Evernote: 20 (+20)
  3. Springpad: 20 (+20)

2. It has to be accessible via Web browser

Often, I only have access to the Internet via Web browser, for example in a public workstation, office, friend’s PC, etc. It’s not possible for me to install software on those machines. So I can only use the Web browser to access my notes.

Since Evernote and Springpad originated from the cloud, naturally they are Web-accessible. But, unlike Springpad, the Evernote Web app is very plain in both presentation and functionality. For example, you can’t even make a check list using the Evernote Web app. The Springpad Web app, on the other hand, is very beautiful. It gives you the possibility to change themes, rearrange your desktop, and of course, it has most (if not all) functionalities of Springpad.

Evernote Web app has a major drawback, though. It won’t allow you to create checklists. You can only create ones in the separately downloadable desktop apps (available for Windows and Mac OS X), or from third-party applications that offer synchronization to Evernote. Very inconvenient. But if you already have some checklists (created by the desktop apps or third-party apps), the Web app allows you to actually check or uncheck the items in the lists.

iOS Notes is limited in this category. You can only create or edit your notes using the iOS app. Of course, if your email account — where your notes are kept — has a Web interface, like Gmail, you can still read the notes there.


  1. Springpad: 40 (+20)
  2. Evernote: 35 (+15)
  3. iOS Notes: 30 (+10)

3. It has to be accessible via iPhone

I have an iPhone, so it has to be accessible on it. All four candidates have an iPhone app. So I’ll evaluate on the functionality of the iPhone app.

Evernote had a very simple and straight-forward UI. After the recent major update (Evernote 4.0 for iOS), it sports a complete UI redesign that is very nice, but still simple to use. Evernote makes use the power of iPhone and allows you to take images and voice notes directly from the app. If you have common files (pdf, word, excel) attached in a note, it will be able to open it in the built-in viewer.

The best thing for me is that it automatically geo-tag your notes. So you can for example, find the notes that you created at home or at work, or take a picture of a cool place that you’d like to revisit later. The notes will be pinned in the built-in map.

The only important thing I find very lacking from Evernote iPhone app is like the Web app, you cannot create checklists. You can only check or uncheck items in the checklists you have created by other means.

Springpad has a very good-looking iPhone app. The UI resembles the Web version. When you change the theme either on your phone or on the Web, it will be reflected on the other, even on the iPad. Functionality wise it has almost everything what the Web app offers. It even has some additional features unique to smartphones, such as the bar code scanning and location-based discovery using the iPhone location service. Like Evernote, you can also take pictures or record voice notes. It also has a built-in viewer for common files (pdf, word, excel) to open your notes’ attachments.

The good news is, unlike Evernote, it allows you to create and manage checklists directly in the iPhone app. And it’s beautiful, too.

The bad news is, unlike Evernote, it won’t geo-tag your notes.

iOS Notes has a very limited features, though. In fact, it was created only to write and read text notes. No more. You cannot keep images, voice, attachments, or even rich text formatting. It’s very plain and simple. It may be enough for some people, but, for my needs, I find it lacking a lot of things offered by the other two.


  1. Springpad: 55 (+15)
  2. Evernote: 50 (+15)
  3. iOS Notes: 30 (+10)

4. It has to allow me categorize or tag my notes

Both Springpad and Evernote allow you to create notebooks to organize your notes. They also allow you to put unlimited number of tags to any note. In turn, you can browse for notes by the notebooks or tags.

iOS Notes simply doesn’t have any feature to categorize your notes.


  1. Springpad: 75 (+20)
  2. Evernote: 70 (+20)
  3. iOS Notes: 30 (+0)

5. It has to be searchable.

When you have thousands of notes, it’s sometimes too hard to browse to find something. Searching is often faster. All three apps offer this feature. You can search notes by typing keywords. But, Evernote takes it a further away. It actually allows you to search for text saved in images. Yes, that’s right. Evernote has OCR capability. It scans images for texts when they are uploaded to the server and make them searchable.

Moreover, Evernote seems to have a better search engine in the app. It allows you to find as you type (read: faster). It also searches for the body of text notes, not only the title or tags like Springpad.


  1. Evernote: 90 (+20)
  2. Springpad: 90 (+15)
  3. iOS Notes: 45 (+15)

6. Price

Last but not least, it’s about the price you have to pay to use the apps.

iOS Notes comes with any iPhone you buy, so the app its-self is free.

Springpad is free without any limitation in space and features.

Evernote has two editions: free and premium. The free service limits the usage to (currently) 60 MB/month. The premium service ups the limit to 1,000 MB/month, but you have to pay US$ 5 per month or US$ 45 per year. In addition to the more usage limit, the premium service provides faster text recognition in images and searching within PDF files. It’s also important to note that the iPhone app with the free account has limited offline capabilities. You often needs Internet connection when you try to access your notes. The premium account will let you make the entire notebooks offline.


  1. Springpad: 110(+20)
  2. Evernote: 100 (+10)
  3. iOS Notes: 65(+20)


Springpad wins by a small lead over Evernote and is currently the app and service of my choice for note-taking. Still, Evernote has some killer features (geo-tagging, images searching) that make me unable to leave it completely.

The built-in iOS app simply can’t cut it. If you are serious about taking notes, you shouldn’t use this and explore other possibilities.

by Denni Gautama