With its abundance of sun, sea, and sand, the island of Phuket has always been a holiday paradise, offering calm and clamour in equal portions
The uninhibited growth and development of Phuket shows no signs of slowing down, as top-notch luxury resorts, restaurants, and bars are opening all the time. Throw in the island’s growing reputation as a stop-off for increasing numbers of superyachts and cruise liners and it’s easy to understand why Phuket will remain the flagship destination of Thailand’s tourism industry for decades to come.
The nexus of Phuket’s tourism trade is the ever-growing and ever-changing city of Patong. And with all the development and other distractions here, it’s sometimes easy to forget there’s actually a sizeable beach anchoring the city. And despite the huge crowds of sun-reddened tourists from across the globe, the scallop-shaped bay that is Patong Beach still presents visitors with fine sand, gentle waves, and warm waters. Unfortunately, it’s usually less than savoury for swimmers due to the amount of garbage that makes its way into the bay, but efforts are being made to clean things up. And the formerly out-of-control beach chair mafia has been tamed, as all businesses operating on the beaches of Phuket now have to conform to stricter licensing stipulations.
Patong is also home to the island’s most raucous nightlife scene. First time tourists are inevitably drawn to Bangla Road, and its carnival-like atmosphere makes it the most eye-popping walking street this side of Pattaya. It’s pretty seedy overall, and the carnal delights include Russian go-go bars operating alongside the Thai ones—an obvious nod to the overwhelming number of Russian tourists who flock to Phuket—but as a “tick off your list” attraction it’s worth at least one wander down this garish gauntlet.
Due south from Patong, along the western coast of Phuket, lie a pair of spectacular sprawling white sand beaches with less crowds and much bigger waves. Known as Karon and Kata (the latter is the more southern beach of the two), these gently curving bays are blessed with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of playful waves, which provide hours of amusement for young and old alike. In fact, the waves are so substantial at certain times of the year in Kata that a surfer community has developed here. Surfboards and boogie boards—also known as ‘body’ boards—can be rented for a half/full day, and surf lessons can be had, starting at around B1,500 (90 minutes).
Travelling in the opposite direction, due north of Patong, visitors will make their way past a series of scenic cliffsides overlooking the city. As the journey continues, another pair of peaceful, sandy sanctuaries await. Kamala Beach is a quiet stretch of sand with a very relaxed feel. This well-enclosed bay and fishing village is surrounded by forested hills and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. It’s a favoured spot for retirees and long-term visitors staying in nearby small hotels, villas and apartment rentals. The smaller, but equally blissful Surin Beach is just a short drive north of Kamala, and boasts a lovely expanse of fine sand and crystal clear waters, perfect for swimming and sunning, with plenty of big waves near the south end of the beach. However, the beach was recently overhauled—and all unlicensed restaurants and vendors cleared away—as plans are underway to develop the area into a memorial park.
Finally, a visit to Bang Tao Beach should appease any traveller looking to “get away from it all”. Despite its size—it’s almost 6 km long—this beach is often relatively deserted, apart from the odd luxury resort, making it a peaceful, idyllic, retreat. Look forward to modest waves, an expansive horizon, towering pines, and sun-soaked serenity.
In contrast with rampant development along coastal areas of the island, Phuket’s interior still offers many hectares of land devoted to the cultivation of rice, rubber, cashew, cacao, pineapple and coconut, as well as Phuket’s last bit of island rainforest. The Khao Phra Thaew Royal Wildlife and Forest Reserve covers a mountain range towards the northern end of the island and protects 2,333 hectares of evergreen monsoon forest. Jungle hikes to Ton Sai and Bang Pae waterfalls are a popular activity in the reserve.