Phuket, which has for a long time been Thailand’s premier beach destination, has now evolved into one of southeast Asia’s two most glamorous and jet-set islands (the other being Bali).
The many top-flight resorts vie with each other in opulence, often to exquisite effect: Thais tend to have a good sense of aesthetics, so the masterpieces far outnumber the monstrosities.
If you have money and like to spend it on stylish restaurants, spas and resorts, this is the place for you.
The better Phuket gets for the well-heeled, however, the worse it becomes for budget travellers, who have now been mostly banished to scruffy doss-houses in noisy, smelly back-streets.
Things To Do
Phuket is superbly equipped and placed for devotees of Thailand’s three main 5-star sports, sailing, big-game fishing and golf. Plus it is one of Thailand’s best dive bases, from where you can reach the magnificent Similan Islands, and many other top dive sites.
The best kayaking in Phang Nga bay is no longer that around James Bond Island and Koh Panek, as this area is now inundated with visitors in the high season - to get away from the crowds, kayak Koh Yao Noi instead. Koh Yao Noi provides further adventure, in the form of rock climbing and, the new adventure sports craze deep water soloing.
There follows a summary of pretty much all the worthwhile things to do on Phuket, click on an image for more info:
Phuket has many superb spas and restaurants.
We reckon there's a hotel recommendation for every type of traveller here, but if you would like some advice, please contact us.
||Phuket is blessed with an abundance of gorgeous beaches, the finest of which lie along the west coast. The island has a lot going for it, unless your idea of bliss is an empty, spotless, soundless beach. Whilst strenuous efforts are made to clean the beaches, the visitor volumes mean that it is inevitable that some traces of the packaging industry’s products will usually be on display on those stretches of beach which are not controlled by a single resort.
|Never mind, if you ever get fed up with the mess and the crowds, you can always cheer yourself up by going to an internet café, and checking out the weather back home.
The best-known of these beaches is the infamous Patong, which used to attract hippy backpackers like filings to a magnet but now, since the one-hour hotels moved in, mostly draws in a different sort of tourist. Whilst Patong is now a den of dissolution, it is also paradoxically a place where families with young children can have a great time, provided they don’t return to their resort too late, due to the outstanding family facilities in many of the superb hotels located there.
The nightlife is as raucous as that in the other two of Thailand’s trio of pandemonium P’s (Pattaya and Bangkok’s infamously seedy Patpong being the other two). For families with teenage children who want to be out and about later at night than do families with younger children, the vulgarity of Patong’s sex tourists as they troop in and out of short-time hotels make Patong an unsuitable destination. High-rolling party people should stay at the Millenium, whilst those with shallower pockets are advised to head for the Patong Premier. The Royal Phawadee is a smaller resort with a great atmosphere and is centrally located, while the Burasari is also a good choice.
Kata & Karon Beaches
These two beaches are near to Patong and have a less seedy atmosphere, but are still places many familes and couples will dislike - there is not the same density of sleeze here as there is on Patong beach, but there are still large numbers of little bar girls leading their big, foul-mouthed customers around. The Sawasdee Village resort on Kata beach is wonderful.
Mai Khao Beach
Phuket’s longest beach, Mai Khao Beach is known for its coarse sand and dangerously sharp drop off into the Andaman Sea, which makes swimming treacherous from May through November. However, the serenity of the often deserted beach makes it well worth a visit. A walk along this beach, sens hakers and regimented rows of plastic loungers, is a considerably more pleasant experience than s one on one of the more popular beaches. Nature lovers can explore the wildlife that exists within Sirinath National Park, while vacationers looking to shop ‘til they drop may find the nearby Turtle Village a more exciting way to spend the day. Luxury villas are offered at an affordable price at the Marriott Phuket Beach Club, located less than 2 miles from Mai Khao Beach.
This is a more wholesome place, and is particularly popular with familes. It has a good range of mid-range hotels, of which we reccommend, for families, the bizarrely-named Print Resort.
This is Phuket's most exclusibe beach, and is effectively the private home to to the exclusive Surin and Amanpuri resorts, both of which go to lengths to protect their guests’ privacy.
Nai Harn Beach
Nai Harn beach is still relatively pristine, thanks to its bodyguard, the Samnak Song monastery, which has repeatedly refused to sell out to developers. From the top of nearby Promthep Cape, the island’s most southerly point, the sunsets are often the fieriest imaginable, but make sure you arrive in plenty of time so that you can find a place to park, as you will be a long way from being the only one enjoying the sight.
Laem Singh Beach
Laem Sing beach is in a small, curving bay with rocky headlands at the foot of forest-fringed cliffs and is among Phuket's most beautiful spots. It's a bit of a hike down to reach it from the road, so is not recommended for small children or people with mobility problems. This difficulty of access has kept the beach quieter than other Phuket beaches, and a visit is highly recommended.
Ao Bang Thao is a large open bay with one of Phuket's longest beaches. It was once used for tin mining, but has since been developed into a luxury resort complex. Most of it is occupied by the huge Laguna complex, which comprises a golf course and five luxury hotels, including the Sheraton Grande Laguna. Family facilities here are excellent, and some decent coral has somehow survived the multitude of visiting snorkellers’ fins.
Nai Yang Beach
The often nearly empty Nai Yang beach is fringed with casuarina trees, which provide shady spots on which to spread a beach mat and collapse. Off-shore is a large coral reef which serves as a habitat for several species of sea life; if you are lucky you may even see a turtle or two, particularly in April, when baby turtles are released by the Fisheries Department. If you have some time to kill before your flight from the nearby airport, here’s a good place to do it.
This is Phuket's best romantic hideaway beach, and is home to the fab Bundarika Resort.
||Your first impression of Phuket depends on where you have arrived from. If you have just stepped off a plane from a bleak European winter on your first visit to Thailand, you will no doubt shortly conclude that the only thing separating the place from paradise is the lack of contralto-singing women with large wings flying around in white robes.
If, on the other hand, you have just come from a pristine island like Koh Yao Noi, Koh Jum or Koh Lao Liang, you may find Phuket over-developed. Not that this matters if you have deep enough pockets to stay in one of the lovely luxury resorts, which zealously clean their beachfronts every morning before their guests arise.
Dangers & Annoyances
Particularly in the monsoon season, there are strong currents on many of the beaches and drownings are not uncommon, especially on Surin beach, due to its large waves, turbulent currents and steeply-sloping seabed. Because of the hilly island’s winding roads and poor visibility, Phuket gets more than its fair share of traffic accidents. Most days someone, often a foreigner, dies in a Phuket road accident, nine out of ten of which involves a motorbike.
Having your photo taken with a cute gibbon on one of the beaches is very dangerous, not to you but to the species. During Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival celebrants go into hypnotic trances and become mediums for spirits from beyond the grave, who instruct them to pierce their bodies with all manner of household objects, Kalashnikov rifle barrels, and very large knives. If you think that you too will feel no pain with a light-bulb sticking out of your tongue or a sword out of your cheek, then by all means join in, but maybe ask your insurance company for their approval first.
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