A locals guide to Phuket beaches

By Dave Rudd

Patong Beach - the main, brash Phuket beach

Phuket wouldn’t be attracting over four million visitors a year if it didn’t have some of the best beaches in the world. Not only that, it has fantastic variety, from the all–out manic, water sport–mad, kinky allure of Patong to the relaxing and peaceful sands of Kata Noi and Laem Sing.

Although it’s Thailand’s largest island, going from one extreme to the other won’t take you long as Phuket’s best beaches are chiefly grouped along the Andaman (west) coast and are easy to get to by car, motorbike, bicycle, taxi or bus.

Patong Beach is without doubt the islands’ best known. After suffering from extensive damage at the hands of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the beach area was quickly rebuilt and the promenade looks better than ever. While not the most dazzling beach on the island, Patong has plenty of distractions and is best known for its hedonistic nightlife and its ‘anything goes’ attitude. You might find it a crowded nightmare or exciting playground, but it does have the best facilities on offer, with plenty of watersports and backed up by an extensive tourist infrastructure.

Karon Beach is Phuket’s second beach in terms of visitor numbers and activity base, and it lies just over a headland to the south of Patong. Karon is much less in your face than its noisy neighbour and boasts a better stretch of sand. It has grown considerably in recent years and is no longer the sleepy alternative to Patong, with its burgeoning yet less visible night scene and more upmarket and exotic hotels and resorts.

Heading south again on the same beach road from Patong and now virtually adjoining Karon,Kata Beach is fast becoming a better and more laid back alternative with a much nicer beach area, cheaper prices and some excellent hotels and restaurants. Kata is more family–orientated than the other two and the sweeping, tree–lined bay – far removed from the main road – and easy–going nature of the whole area is quite refreshing. Kata is also Phuket’s best surfing beach.

An even better beach again for the more discerning beach lover looking for peace and quiet yet within shouting distance of reality, Kata Noi Beach, just south of Kata, is perhaps Phuket’s most attractive beach.

Kata Beach is altogether more laidback

The next significant beach south of Kata Noi is Nai Harn Beach, a very popular retreat for locals and on par with Kata Noi in size, beauty and peacefulness. Nai Harn is also on a no-through road and has some of Phuket’s most exclusive resorts including the upmarket Le Meridian. The snorkelling is great here and numerous yachts anchor during the high season.

Continuing to the southern tip of Phuket, Rawai BeachBeach is an up and coming hangout for locals and expats alike, backed by numerous quality seafood restaurants. The beach here isn’t as good as the others for bathing and swimming and is actually quite unsightly when the tide is fully out, yet it is worth some time if only for its intriguing atmosphere.

Heading in a northerly direction over a winding and precipitous road from Patong beach,Kamala Beach is a lot quieter and more discreet than Patong and on par with Karon. Although the town area is fairly nondescript and the beach somewhat developed, it’s a better bet for families and yet within easy reach of Patong for those who prefer a more raucous nightlife. The beach seems to stretch for miles and miles and isn’t rimmed with private resorts or bustling activity. This beach too suffered greatly from the Tsunami and all the coconut palms had to be rebuilt.

As you continue along the west coast of Phuket from Kamala, each main beach becomes less developed and more unique. Laem Sing lies between Kamala and upmarket Surin and is a real gem. It’s easy to miss this one as its way below the cliff road with the only indication being a sliver of a car park and a ‘beach this way’ sign. Laem Sing is a refreshing and relaxing change from some of the busier beaches of Phuket, although the climb down and the hike back up to the road dissuade many.

Just a short jaunt from Laem Sing, Surin Beach is more accessible and flanked by lofty villas and resorts of the well to do crowd. A line of seafood restaurants and natty shops hug the promenade, and the atmosphere of the undeveloped beach appeals to locals and tourists alike.Bang Tao Beach is just around a headland to the north of Surin and is a huge sweeping bay with extra fine, tree–lined sands. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re on a more secluded island when visiting Bang Tao, even in the high season, as it is much more sparsely populated yet several world–class hotels are hidden away here.

Phuket’s most northerly main beach lies just to the south of Phuket International Airport and is known as Nai Yang. Although not Phuket’s finest, Nai Yang Beach has the attraction of being close to the airport, is nice and quiet and is a lot cheaper than most other beaches. That said, there’s not much happening here so head south if noise is your persuasion.

Phuket’s eastern shores are fairly unattractive and uneventful in comparison with the west and there’s not much to see. The only real half–decent beaches on this side are situated on the southeast of the island, just up from Rawai. Of note is the aptly named Friendship Beach, which takes its name from the cute resort here.

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