Guide to undeveloped Mai Khao Beach

Mai Khao Beach is huge and mostly empty

Hat Mai Khao is Phuket's longest beach and conveniently situated right next door to the international airport. Despite the sound of roaring jets overhead, this area of the island’s northeast is a surprisingly tranquil spot where sea turtles lay their eggs during the peak tourist season from November to February each year.

Also known as Airport Beach or Hat Sanambin (‘sanambin’ meaning ‘airport’ in Thai), there is a visitors centre (Tel: +60 (0)7 632 7407) at the southern end with toilets, showers and picnic tables for those that do not fancy any of the limited accommodation choices of the area. And from here there are a few short trails that take visitors through the casuarinas to a steep yet golden sandy bay.

For those that want to bed down in Phuket’s most secluded beach, backpackers will find camping the best budget choice with tents at around 200 baht and other basic equipment available at the aforementioned visitors centre. There are also a few basic but comfortable bungalows available around the corner on Nai Yang. More on Nai Yang.

There is also Seaside Cottages and Restaurant on the beach which feature 10 unique round en-suite timber or bamboo beach huts all set in completely natural surroundings. Those that don’t mind splashing their cash for a little luxury will find a JW Marriott resort and Spa as well as a Anantara, Sala Phuket, and brand spanking new Renaissance Resort and Spa which just opening for the 2010 season.

Swimming at Mai Khao can be hazardous as there's a strong year-round undertow which, combined with its relative remoteness, drags unsuspecting vacationers out to sea. The large resorts have sought to solve this issue but posting lifeguards and encouraging guests to only swim in their large pools, but this is not much help for those with more modest lodgings.

Video tour of Mai Khao Beach

A small upmarket shopping centre, Turtle Cove, has opened and boasts a convenience store, ice-cream parlour, smattering of good restaurants and a pub that shows live sports, along with plenty of souvenir stores and clothing boutiques. More on shopping.

But this last remaining bastion of peace on Phuket has been somewhat shattered by the arrival of West Sands, a resort with apartments and villas for rent or sale. Splash Jungle, Phuket’s first waterpark, is also incorporated into the complex and boasts five pools, a wave machine, giant water cannons, meandering river plus five enormous water slides. At 1,795 baht for adults and 1,050 baht for kids, it’s pretty expensive but definitely worth it for a treat.

Just around the northern corner from Mai Khao Beach is another pristine stretch of sand, called Hat Sai Kaeo, which looks out between Phuket and Phang Nga with the bridges over to your right. This beach is utterly deserted, but whatever you do don’t attempt to swim here as the tidal currents are extremely fierce going through the straits.

You may find a few locals coming down here on weekends and public holidays, but otherwise you’ll likely have the entire golden sweep bejewelled with green pines entirely to yourself. Of course, there is not the usual array of food vendors and convenience shops so remember to take water and provisions, or perhaps a picnic, with you before setting out.

Most of Hat Mai Khao falls within Sirinat National Park (admission 200 baht), a pristine area of 90 square-kilometres which stretches all the way to the island’s northern extreme. The park headquarters are found in Nai Yang, which offers shady pine trees and superb opportunities for swimming and sunbathing.

There is a large coral reef just offshore which serves as habitat for several species of marine life, particularly the sea turtles. Snorkelling here is recommended with equipment available from the park staff – bicycles can also be rented at 200 baht per day. More on Phuket’s national parks.

Mangrove swamps cover around 320 acres of the island’s northern tip, and an informative nature trail has been added which includes signs indicating and explaining the various species present here. The area is also the last place on Phuket where you can see giant leatherback turtles swim ashore to lay their eggs. But due to dwindling numbers, the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation now carefully collects the eggs, hatches them and raises the baby turtles until they are old enough to have a chance of surviving at sea.

Kitesurfing is popular at nearby Nai Yang in summer season, with Kiteschools KBA and Kitezone the two most trusted operators for lessons or equipment. Don't expect super strong winds here, so only the biggest kites will work. There is reef break on one side of the lagoon with waves on the other.

Hat Mai Khao is perfect for those on an overnight stopover in Phuket and don’t want to shell out on an extortionate and lengthy cab ride to the island’s popular southern resorts. Phuket Town, the island's capital, lies around 30 minutes from the airport by taxi. It still cost around 500-600bath or U$18 to get to a hotel in Mai Khao from airport, an extortionate amount for the ten-minute drive. More on Mai Khao Beach.

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