Choosing which beach to base yourself on is always tricky. Some people prefer to be in the heart of the action, while others would rather escape it. Generally the more expensive the accommodation at each beach the more popular and sought after it is, though prices vary wildly according to the location of the resort (whether its actually ‘on the beach’), how swimmable the beach is directly in front of the hotel, the quality of the resort and the proximity to other amenities. Since many of the west coast beaches are classic crescent shapes, with rocky headlands at each end, you’ll find the quieter places furthest from the centre, though you may not have the luxury of walking out of your villa directly into the sea for a morning swim. However, Phuket does get busy (and noisy), so some of these ‘less convenient’ resorts are actually well kept secrets. Everyone wants to be ‘on the beach, with a sea view’, but by choosing a hotel slightly back from the water you could be halving the room rate. Some resorts also tend to densely pack the bungalows in, compromising your privacy. Sometimes those that are tastefully hidden among hilly parts of the coast with a short walk to the beach (5 minutes) offer the best value and come with stunning views.
In short Patong is the central and most commercial point of the island’s beaches, followed by Kamala and Karon (located immediately North and South) – which have more options for ‘beachfront resorts’. Kata, a little further south is quieter and better for families while Nai Harn and Rawai are quieter still and favoured by the local expats. Each of the beaches is a 10 minute motorbike from one another, over a small headland. Bang Tao is quite far north and away from the action but unspoilt, while Nai Yang – near the airport – is quite basic but good value if you are on a budget. In Thailand all beachfront is common property and open to all. Although many resorts front the beach, it’s easy to find your way onto the beach using public thoroughfares.
None of the beaches on Phuket are specifically gay or nude friendly, in fact Thai people find any form of topless or naked bathing quite offensive, please be respectful of this.