Mai Khao Beach: Just south of Sarasin Bridge, stretching 11km from the top of the island to Phuket’s airport, is Mai Khao Beach. In recent years several high end resorts have followed the JW Marriott and set up shop on this once deserted beach. It is still easy to find solitude here – but beware, there are no lifeguards on the empty stretches of sand and the southwest monsoon (low season) waves can be fearsome. Between November and February, this is where the sea turtles struggle up the beach to lay their eggs and, by bizarre contrast, it is also the place to watch the planes landing and taking off right what the end of the busy runway!
Nai Yang Beach: This beach has been declared a national park, but the public still have unrestricted access to all except the northern tip. Indeed, there are countless restaurants and even some resorts lining this beach. There would be an uproar if access were to be restricted, for this once-deserted stretch of fine sand, fringed with giant casuarina trees, is where Thai residents come to picnic and ‘get away from it all’. In recent years, the scale of commercial activity has, however, been scaled back with long stretches of beach devoid of sun loungers, umbrellas and vendors.
Naithon Beach: Naithon Beach is one of the less well known and quieter beaches on Phuket’s west coast. The contrast between this beach – one of our favourites – and the beaches of Patong, Karon, Kata could not be more striking, although the construction of a large branded resort hotel at the northern end of the beach has affected the former tranquility to an extent. Otherwise, the ‘small village’ atmosphere remains and, while strolling along the smooth sandy beach, it’s hard to imagine that you are on Phuket’s west coast. The southern end of the beach is dominated by a large rock formation beyond which is an even more secluded small beach where it is not unusual to find yourself the only person there.
A few restaurants and small resorts have reopened post-Covid, but don’t expect to find any fast-food franchises or the like here.
Surin Beach: In the high season, this beach is good for swimming and snorkelling, but during the southwest monsoon the onshore winds throw up some serious waves; great for surfers who know what they’re doing.
Bang Tao & Layan Beaches: About two kilometres north of Surin village, is Bangtao, home to the exclusive Laguna hotel complex but also features a scattering of beach restaurants. The north part of the beach is quiet and has some fine coral for snorkelling. There you’ll find a lagoon and a small river estuary, which gives on to the beautiful, tranquil Layan Beach – part of which is a national park. Layan Beach was once well-known for its scattering of ‘toes in the sand’ rustic restaurants and beach bars. However, recent government activity has cleared all facilities from this beach and also blocked some of the access roads to beachside parking. If largely un-commercialised beaches are your thing, give Layan a try.
Kamala Beach: Kamala Beach, once a sleepy beach town favoured by regular independent holidaymakers from Europe has ‘grown up’ with the arrival of the Intercontinental Hotel and its various beach bars and restaurants, the Café del Mar beach club and the island’s latest Novotel. Unusually for Phuket, small resorts and restaurants line the back of this long beach, while the road behind bustles with competing shops and restaurants. With the exception of Café del Mar, however, Kamala remains lower key than its southern neighbour Patong and is perfect for family holidays. As a swimming beach, Kamala is only suitable at higher tides.
Patong Beach: Charm is not perhaps the first word that springs to mind when describing Patong, but the miles of perfect turquoise seas and powdery sand right next to all the razzmatazz manages to absorb hundreds of sun-worshippers, strollers, joggers, volleyballers etc without getting crowded.
When the sun tan lotion is no longer needed, Patong’s nightlife offers the most varied dining on the island, shops galore and the occasional bar – well to be honest, quite a lot of bars. No holiday would be complete without a visit to the pulsating glitz of Soi Bangla – where it all happens.
Karon Beach: Next door to Patong, and much less frenetic, is Karon Beach which still caters for large numbers of visitors. The 5km long, perfect sandy beach allows visitors from the frozen north to get the chill out of their bones and catch up on the latest bestseller. A great swimming beach in high season, beware the surf (and take heed of the lifeguards’ advice) during the southwest monsoon. The road behind the beach and the side roads offer plenty of places to eat and drink.
Kata Beach: This small bay with palm-lined sand and clean, clear seas framed by forested headlands and rocky extremities is truly delightful. A stretch of road right on the beach side means there has been no unsightly developments. Club Med is to be congratulated on building a beachfront hotel which is almost invisible from the seaside. Indeed, their immaculate lawns are an enhancement. The view out to sea is dominated by Koh Poo (Crab Island) – apocryphally sold several times to enthusiastic but naive developers. Kata Beach boasts countless restaurants, including the world-famous Boathouse where you dine in fine style right on the beach.
Kata Noi Beach: Kata Noi Beach is about 700 metres long, and is separated from Kata Beach, to the north, by the headland that is home to Kata Rocks.
Conveniently accessible from the main road, Kata Noi Beach with its clear waters and white soft sand is usually uncrowded. During the rainy season, this can be a dangerous place, so surfers love it. Equipment can be hired. For the rest of us don’t swim, or even paddle, if you see a red flag.
Nai Harn Beach: Delightfully framed by rocky, forest-clad hills, this is a truly beautiful bay – definitely up there with our favourites. On one flank The Nai Harn hotel climbs up the hillside, on the other the windmills of Laem Promthep (Promthep Cape) grace the skyline. There are a number of bars, restaurants and shops to welcome the hungry and thirsty sun worshippers. On this, Phuket’s most southerly beach, the waters lap gently on the firm, tan sands throughout the dry season. During the monsoon rains in contrast the crashing breakers are impressive – best admired from the safety of the beach unless surfing is your thing – and definitely not a sight to miss.
Rawai Beach: This isn’t a swimming beach. What you can find here in profusion, right on the beach, are restaurants selling all kinds of seafood. At the eastern end, is a Sea Gypsy village where there’s a daily market selling fresh fish and prawns, straight from the fishermen’s nets. Select your seafood and have it cooked for you (for a small price) in one of the restaurants lining the other side of the road. This is a great place to rent a longtail boat to visit nearby islands. Neighbouring Chalong Beach is similar to Rawai with more tour boats, some dive shops, a couple of yacht clubs and a few good seafood restaurants. It features the longest pier on the island and is where many yacht charters depart from.
Ao Yon / Cape Panwa: An ideal spot for early risers to catch the sunrise, this bay is tucked into the western side of Cape Panwa on Phuket’s east coast. Like much of the east coast, Ao Yon still retains a distinctly local feel and only a fraction of Phuket’s millions of tourists will ever come here or know about it. Due to the pearl farm activities in the bay, the water is not always so clear, but at high tide it’s possible to take a refreshing dip in the sea. Our favourite Ao Yon dining spot is the Secret Cove, where parents can enjoy a relaxed lunch and drinks while the kids frolic safely in the shallow, protected bay.