Phuket beaches Information
Phuket’s main beaches
The island’s northernmost and most recently ‘opened’ beach destination is Mai Khao, which at 11km is the longest beach on the island. As it’s located in Sirinath Marine National Park, development remains low key. The beach is ideal for beachcombers and ironically, plane spotters, as it stretches from the end of the runway of Phuket International Airport.
To the south of the airport, the casuarina-fringed beach of Nai Yang is popular with tourists and locals alike; there’s loads of shade courtesy of the trees, providing cool areas for picnics, complete with a selection of local food vendors supply snacks to those who didn’t pack their own lunchboxes. If you fancy something a bit more substantial, a number of restaurants, bars, and cafes line the beach road. The beach attracts windsurfers and kite boarders during the months of April through November when wind conditions are ideal and there are centres where equipment can be bought or hired, along with internationally recognized tuition.
The relatively deserted Layan Beach sits at the northern end of Bang Tao Bay. While Layan is relatively deserted, Bang Tao Beach itself couldn’t be more different. This once-active major tin mining lagoon has been converted into one of the top destination resorts on the island, while the entire 3km stretch of beach is now home to a selection of upmarket resorts complete with shops, restaurants, spa and even its own golf course, all open to non-residents.
Surin Beach remains a favourite with locals and visitors. To the north are a number of the top of the range accommodations on the island, including the exclusive Amanpuri and Chedi resorts, while behind the beach in the hills, multi-million dollar villa complexes look out over the ocean. The surroundings have attracted a number of high end restaurants, clubs and wine bars into the area, but the beachfront itself remains a great place to grab a Thai bite in less formal surroundings.
Following the hilly coastline south is Kamala Beach, where variety starts to step up a notch. Although badly damaged in the 2004 tsunami, things are back to normal and you’ll find all manner of tourist amenities along the beachfront. During the daytime the area is relatively quiet, but during the cooler evening hours, the narrow streets become a hive of activity as the restaurants and bars start to fill up. There’s a good selection of moderately priced accommodation around the beach area which is complemented by a series of luxury resort complexes immediately south, along the cape.
Going south from Kamala, along a winding hillside road, is what locals call Phuket’s Golden Mile. Here is where the first ‘serious money’ villa developments took off. Perched on the rocky cliffside, often hard to see from the road, are private homes that take your breath away – because of the size, design and sheer volume of money that has been poured into them.
At the end of the Golden Mile (although you have to backtrack to Kamala and take the inland road to get there) are Nakalay Bay and then Kalim. Nakalay is pretty much the exclusive preserve of a couple of resorts, while Kalim is a rocky shore pounded, in certain weather conditions, by spectacular waves. Home to one of the island’s most famous restaurants, Baan Rim Pa, Kalim Bay is developing as a lower cost resort alternative with close access to, but quieter than, Phuket’s ‘Big Mango’, Patong Beach.
With its brash nightlife and partying atmosphere Patong Beach is ideal for those seeking fun and adventure, both during the day and after dark, and is really kitted out to take care of tourists. There’s a huge shopping complex (Jungceylon) selling many recognisable brands of clothing and fast food along with numerous restaurants. More shops, restaurants, fast food outlets, coffee shops and tailors fill the beachfront road (and pretty much every other road in Patong), occasionally punctuated by a number of hotels and resorts. The beach itself is usually busy, as indicated by the rows of beach chairs and umbrellas available for hire. One thing you do need to be wise of here is the number of jet skis and parasail towing speedboats; it’s advisable to look for areas roped off for bathing and if you can, stay in them – but even then, keep your eyes peeled and yours ears open for the sound of an engine!
Hotels, condominiums, guest houses and even bungalows and villas abound. Prices range from a few hundred Thai Baht per night to many thousands. In general, the further back you go from the beach, the cheaper the accommodation and the less frenetic the pace of life.
Patong gives off the correct impression of being purpose-built to cater for tourism, whereas Karon and Kata, although not far behind have maintained, for the time being, a degree of individuality. The 5km long Karon Beach, has facilities concentrated at either end and a steadily increasing presence of hotels, restaurants, bars and shops behind its beach road.
Kata’s beach road is a quiet affair that you can easily miss – simply because there is absolutely nothing on it but the frontage of one of Kata’s first resorts, Club Med. Kata’s facilities are mainly grouped at the north end and south end of the bay, on or near the main through road – although development is starting to join the dots.
Kata Noi, south over a steep hill and the favourite of the island’s surfers, was until recently one of Phuket’s sleepier destinations with just one resort hotel and a few independent bars, shops and restaurants. Times change! If you visited Kata Noi about five years ago, you would not recognise it today.
For those on a mission to drive along Phuket’s west coast, taking in all the beaches along the way, this is the end of the road. Here you need to back-track and go inland for a while to get around the rocky headland at the southern end of Kata Noi Bay. Don't forget to stop off at the view point on the way for a spectacular view of 'the three bays' – Kata Noi, Kata & Karon. Make sure the batteries in your camera are charged.
Aside from having one large and a couple of smaller resorts at its northern end, Nai Harn is a quiet place to enjoy relaxing on the beach in some of Phuket’s most beautiful surroundings. There are a few vendors and some recently established restaurants beneath the fir trees behind the beach as well as a few more scattered around near the resort entrances. There is also a great selection of restaurants and cafés further inland, but though still classified as being in Nai Harn they are more than a walk away from the beach itself.
Tucked away just west of the main Nai Harn beach is Ao Sane, home to a couple of resorts – one a real 'cheapy', the other 'up there' price-wise – and a couple of the nicest little beaches on the island, sharing Nai Harn Bay with the main beach, but invisible from it. To get there, drive through the security entrance to the classy Phuket Yacht Club resort, keep going through the car park, under the hotel building and through the hotel's service area until you reach a rough single track road. Yes, really! They built this hotel over and on a public road. A spectacular drive (but best avoided at night), the rough winding road will eventually take you to the beach.
Rawai Beach was the first beach on Phuket to gear up for tourism. Strange, then, that Rawai is not a swimming beach. Just shows that they still hadn't got with that programme 30 years ago...
The beach road was (and still is) a favourite with local Thais who you’ll find sitting on the ground at ‘temporary’ low tables behind the sea wall enjoying some of the best seafood on the island, while gazing out over the islands dotted around Chalong Bay.
Recently, along with the environs of Nai Harn, Rawai has become a favourite place with expatriates and regular visitors, who prefer the slower pace of southern Phuket life – not to mention the vast choice of great restaurants and pubs/bars in the area.
Although Chalong Bay is not really a beach destination, it does warrant a mention as, slowly but surely, tourist amenities such as bars and restaurants are on the rise – plus they are rarely overcrowded so getting a table is not a challenge. Chalong’s main function is as a place with protected moorings for yachts and as a departure point for tourist and dive trip boats, although it is also home the island’s major yacht club – Ao Chalong Yacht Club – which always offers visitors a warm welcome to its waterside bar and restaurant, open seven days a week.
Across the bay from Chalong are the beaches of Ao Yon and Cape Panwa. Ao Yon is still a sleepy, all-tide beach (actually two beaches with a headland between), where people can still live in bungalows on the beach for just a few thousand Thai Baht per month! A true relic!
Going around the headland is Phuket’s last beach going north – Cape Panwa. Although there are no private beaches in Thailand, you would not guess it with this one. Accessed only through the Cape Panwa Resort, down a steep hillside serviced by the resort’s funicular railway, it's rare to find anyone who is not a hotel guest on this one.
That's it for beaches on 'mainland' Phuket. Going north from here, you need to get out onto the many, many stunning and varied islands off the east coast of Phuket and into Phang Nga Bay if you're looking for somewhere to catch some rays and to take a cooling dip. This coast, is however, home to the island's four marinas: Royal Phuket Marina, Boat Lagoon Marina, Ao Po Grand Marina and Yacht Haven Marina. All have some form of restaurant facilities and are worth visiting while you're driving around the island, if only to see how the 'other half' live. And, of course, to experience that 'other half', there is always a yacht charter – without doubt the best way to see the islands, and surprisingly cost-effective for a group of 4-8 people. The most suitable kind of yacht to charter for these waters, able in some cases to pull right up to the beach, is indisputably a sailing catamaran.
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