Phuket's best kept secrets

By Andrew Bond

Laem Singh beach is accessed by a steep hike

Every year more than five million tourists descend on Phuket, all looking for their own private experience, but the island gets very busy and visitors soon find themselves on a crowded beach, snarled in a traffic jam or struggling to find a decent hotel room. There is, however, room for everyone and all sorts of delightful sights and activities that the guidebook-toting tourists overlook.

We’ve covered the island from north to south to discover some of the hidden gems and alternative places that are worth seeking out. Here are a few suggestions

Snorkelling at Yanui beach: there is a cute little beach just below Promthep cape which you can’t miss as you drive to the viewpoint from Kata. Stop off with your rented snorkel gear and dive in. The beach is nice enough to lie on or simply go swimming, with a restaurant nearby, and you’ll see some colourful marine life among the rocks and reefs.

Laem Singh beach: this small bay and beach is hidden in the headland between Kamala and Surin and can only be reached via a steep 200m hike down some stairs. You’ll also need to rent a scooter to get to the car park on the main road, but it means less people and a feeling of being cut off from other tourists. It’s hardly a secret these days, however.

Cape Panwa and the Aquarium: this side of Phuket sees far fewer tourists since there aren’t many beaches, but it’s good for a half-day trip, driving to the aquarium at the very end. Entrance is only 100 baht (50 baht for kids) and it’s a modest collection of colourful tropical varieties which will keep the whole family amused. There are several restaurants nearby with nice views of Chalong bay, and the vistas of Makham bay as you approach the cape are nice.

Kao Rang hill: offers great views of Phuket Town and Chalong bay and doesn’t take long to ascend. There is a restaurant and fitness park up here and you’ll get a totally different experience away from the crowds of the west coast.

Chedi Wat Chalong is unique

Wat Chalong: is one of the few Buddhist temples of note on this Muslim dominated island, where culture takes a back seat to sea, sun and sand. It’s not too difficult to get to or from either Patong or Kata and it has a unique, contemporary designed chedi (pagoda) that sits nicely among the sugar palm trees.

Budget friendly Nai Yang beach: along with Mai Khao beach in the extreme north of the island’s west coast, this beach is down-to-earth, quiet and far more affordable than the rest. Here you can get a resort room within site of the beach for 1,000 baht a night, there is no traffic, no noisy bars, no crowded streets of vendors and no touts. It’s ideal if you want the beach life on a budget and can do without loads of eating choices, shopping or nightlife. The beach is equally nice, but it is miles from everywhere but the airport.

Sailing in Pha Nga bay: is world class, and it’s surprising this activity isn’t promoted more as a feature of Phuket. The bay ranks alongside the Bay of Islands in New Zealand for beauty and there are several private charters or sailing tours on offer at travel agents around the island.

Nai Harn beach and valley: at the southern tip of the island before you reach Promthep Cape is a lovely beach which has escaped development because most of its frontage belongs to a temple. It’s great for a daytrip to escape the busier beaches and you can explore the pretty inland environs which include several large reservoirs. Quite a few locals have made their home in the hidden valley here and you’ll notice the restaurants and holiday houses for rent.

Coral island: this is one of many offshore islands found on the east side of the island and one of the many dive spots in close proximity to the island. If you’re not on a dive trip, you can charter a long tail boat from Rawai with friends and be here in 30 minutes to have the beach and island mostly to yourself.

Bang Pae falls and Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre: located in the northeast of the island, these attractions are quite an effort to get to but the drive through rubber plantations shows you the original character of the island. The falls are hardly one of Thailand’s most impressive but you do get to hike up a trail in the lush jungle. At the entrance is the curious Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre where you get to hear the strange ‘whopping’ as these loveable creatures sing to each other. Great for kids.

Sometimes just exploring the routes off your tourist map and seeking out some of the far flung corners or lesser roads of the island can be an adventure. This way you get to discover the less touristy, genuine sides of the island

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