There are few destinations in the Land of Smiles that wow like Phuket. After all, the place has a lot going for it: raucous beer bars in Patong; shimmering white sands in the Sirinat National Park; turtle-peppered reefs; opulent luxury hotels; backpacker guesthouses; hidden coves of golden sand; rugged karst mountains – the list goes on! Of course, it's the beaches that are the major pull in the so-called Pearl of the Andaman.
They go from off-the-beaten-track, secluded sands in the north, to lively, sleepless resort beaches in the south and west, encompassing everything in between. Take a look at LBW's guide to the top Phuket beaches currently on the menu…
Ah Patong: party-mad Patong! This uber-famous curve of ivory-white sand on the western edge of the island is unquestionably the most popular and talked about in all of Phuket. It's awash with neon-lit go-go bars and debaucherous cocktail joints, backed by countless hotels and guesthouses, all throbbing with fire shows and lunar parties to rival even Koh Phangan after dark. Echoing calls of 'same same but different' and the off-beats of Thai reggae serenade the scooter-packed streets by day though, and there are also some awesome spots to laze with a virgin mojito while the hangover resides. No wonder this is one of the favourite stopovers on LBW's Island Teaser West itinerary!
Karon beach on the west coast is a really popular spot to hit the Andaman. Covering a whopping three kilometers from end to end, it's actually got a trio of different sections that offer very different seaside flavours. Take the southern extreme of the sands here, which are fringed with kaleidoscopic gardens of coral reef – perfect for those eager to don the snorkels and go in search of sea turtles and rainbowfish under the water. Meanwhile, the northern end of Karon is wide and backed by the occasional beer bar, offering up plenty of places to lay the towel and stake your place for the whole day.
Kata strikes a great balance between built-up tourist resorts like Patong and the more off-the-beaten-track gems of Mai Khao. It's got all the pristine sands and palm-fringed shoreline of all the other great Phuket beaches on this list, and is also known as a fine spot for families on account of its clean waters and wide sands. Night time sees Kata aspire to its near neighbour of Karon, with a clutch of rowdy beer bars. But these are by no means off the hook, staying more chilled and relaxed than most in the region.
Big resort names like Nikki and Banyan Tree herald the long stretch of luxury resorts and all-inclusive hotels that pepper the arc of sand that is Bangtao beach – the heart of Phuket's package holidaying scene. Don't be too put off by the presence of the high-rise hotels and their huge pool-peppered gardens though, because they have nurtured a host of lively beer bars and cocktail joints along the sand, not to mention some fantastic nearby restaurants. Granted the beach isn’t Phuket's most beautiful, but it is a great place to chill, drink and rub shoulders with holidaymakers.
Picking up the mantle of luxury resorts and top-quality hotels from Bangtao is the even more exclusive Surin beach. Peppered with millionaire's villas and opulent places to stay, this one's considered the place to see and be seen in Phuket – if you've got the dosh, that is. It's easy to understand why the moneyed folk chose Surin too. The sand sparkles an alabaster-white hue, the sea changes from cobalt to turquoise, and there are plenty of hidden sunbathing spots between the mangroves – you know, perfect for escaping the paparazzi.
Lethargic and laid-back, Kamala is the Ying to Patong's Yang. Yogis and easy-going reggae-heads make this one their home – in the company of quite a few retired ex-pats and older locals to boot. The beach itself reflects the lazy vibes, with the calm waves of the Indian Ocean forever lapping at the shore, the occasional sun parasol casting its shade, and just a few little drinkeries offering sunset cocktails on their sand-side decks.
Mai Khao beach
If you like kicking back with a cold one and watching the hulking fuselages of Boeings and Airbuses as they drift down from the clouds and over the palm groves into Phuket Airport, then it's likely that Mai Khao beach (also known as Airport Beach) is the one for you. The long stretch of sand is located really close to the regional runway, comes with just a smattering of villas and beachside digs, and is often left completely empty. In fact, Mai Khao is just about as far as it's possible to get from Phuket Town, making it a fine place to find seclusion on the Andaman.
Kata Noi beach
A short dash of enticing sun-yellow sand that sits nestled between two headlands of jungle-dressed rock on the southern side of Phuket, Nai Yang beach is a handsome place to say the least. Close to the hedonistic beach bars and luxurious villas of Kata beach, the little bay is a great spot to come and sunbathe away the hangover after an evening of buckets and Chang. It's also powdery and wide, with shallow waters and light surf – great for beachcombing, lazing and swimming when things get a little too hot.
Nai Yang beach
Dressed in swaying groves of coconut palms and ironwood trees, the curve of sparkling sand that is Nai Yang beach has somehow managed to avoid the attentions of most western tourists to the so-called Pearl of the Andaman. That might be because of its location on the far northern reaches of Phuket, just a short jaunt from the airport. Or, it might be because some sections of the bay are encompassed by the Sirinath National Park, which means protected coral reefs and mudskipper-dotted mangroves take the place of raucous beach bars and restaurants.
Nai Harn beach
Boulder-peppered Nai Harn beach makes its home on the south-western edge of Phuket island. A relaxed bay of bobbing yachts and the occasional swaying parasol, it's sheltered from the swells of the Andaman by a duo of jungle-clad headlands, which sprout from the coastline in a show of verdant tropical green. Nai Harn beach is at its best during the high-season, when the spot remains relatively empty, frequented largely by locals and long-term travellers.
Can you think of any more sparkling sands deserving of a place on this list of the best Phuket beaches? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below! Or, if it's time you took to the skies and explored the gorgeous Pearl of the Andaman, why not head over to LBW's Thailand itinerary page…
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