Phuket is a tropical paradise, and people flock to its beaches every year from all over the world.
But not everyone is looking for the same thing in a beach. Some enjoy the crowds and the atmosphere. Some are looking for seclusion and tranquility. Others want water sports and activities.
Occasionally, however, the desired activity dictates not just the beach you want to visit, but also the time of year to visit it.
The first full moon in November typically ushers in the high season, which lasts (unofficially) until the Songkran holiday in mid-April. Allowing for slight fluctuations in the seasons, November to May are generally the best months for sun worshipers. Christmas and New Year holidays are not only the most popular time to visit, but they are also provide the most reliably perfect weather.
When the winds change and the seas start getting choppier, sun beds are replaced by surf boards, and the beaches become popular for a wholly different reason.
Whatever your preference, and whatever the season, there is a Phuket beach to suit every taste.
For good or for bad, Patong is probably Phuket’s most famous beach, so it’s a good a place to start as any.
Patong sits on a very scenic bay, with gentle sloping hills on either end of the beach. Patong is cut off by hills to the north, south and east, but the fact there is such a large expanse of flat land – easy to build on – almost certainly led to its popularity with developers, and helped to foster its growth.
The beach here is crowded, quite possibly the busiest beach on the island. Even though it is a good swimming beach, the popularity of jet skis and parasailing here means you should stay alert if you’re going in the water
Long the centre of night life on the island, the most famous (or infamous) area of Patong is Bangla Road, or Soi Bangla. A lot of bars, a lot of neon, and every bar has attractive female hostesses to pour your beer and keep you company.
While you can find the young and the old, and even families with children at all hours, you may also get the sense that – like Las Vegas – what happens on Bangla Road stays on Bangla Road.
By starting in Patong, we have begun in the middle of the island, and therefore have a choice of which way to go from Patong.
So let us first head south.
Karon Beach is the first major beach south of Patong, and is one of the longest beaches in Phuket. The area is extremely popular with tourists, and the seafront is lined with boutique and resort hotels (although these are situated across the street from the beach). It is a broad, white sand beach which is excellent for long walks or jogging, but despite the popularity of the area, people do not seem to have embraced Karon Beach as much as they have others.
The strong currents in this part of the island may be factor. Other beaches in the south of the island have a gentler surf, but more often than not Karon Beach is flying red flags indicating that it is too dangerous to swim due to the undercurrent.
In the high season, however, they have been known to rope off an area at the southern end of the beach for safe swimming.
Karon has a number of very good Thai and Western restaurants, and though nothing like Patong, it does have its own nightlife scene. While Karon and Kata beaches do not connect, the towns do, and it’s only 2 minutes up the road in a taxi to check out the bars and restaurants in Kata.
Kata Beach lies on an idyllic bay, with clear blue water and soft white sand. It is just south of Karon, but it has a different vibe – more people, but at the same time more chilled.
The beach is unofficially divided into Kata South and Kata Centre (which is actually the north end, closest to Karon). Kata South is home to most of that beach’s resort hotels.
The beach is popular year round. When the sunbathers take cover from the rains, the surfers come out in full force from May to October, taking advantage of the more active surf.
Kata has great dining options and an active nightlife. There is also shopping, a wave park (Surf House Phuket) and Dino Park Mini Golf, a jurassic-themed miniature golf course which is fun for the whole family.
KATA NOI BEACH
Kata Noi means “Little Kata” and it is aptly named. Kata Noi Beach is like Kata in miniature – same white sand, same stunning blue water, but the beach is smaller and more intimate.
The fact that it is slightly harder to reach than its larger namesake also means that it attracts fewer people. It is not empty by any means, but the crowds are smaller than on Kata.
Kata Noi also boasts some lovely resort hotels and excellent food. Like Kata, the surfers take over around May, returning the beaches to the sunbed and umbrella brigade in time for the Christmas season.
NAI HARN BEACH
Nai Harn Beach was once a well-kept secret in southern Phuket. The area was once only home to bungalows and villas, and without the throngs of the tourists, the secret stayed safe. Well, the cat is very much out of the bag today, and the popularity of Nai Harn Beach is on the rise.
Despite the influx of more visitors, Nai Harn has retained the charm that made it unique, and it remains one of our favourite beaches on the island. Like Kata and Kata Noi, Nai Harn enjoys two distinct groups of visitors throughout the year.
Beachgoers and sunbathers dominate Nai Harn from November to April. The beach is also great for swimming and snorkeling during these months. But from May to October the seas become too rough for swimming, and the surfers and kite boarders take over.
The new-found status of Nai Harn has also attracted restauranteurs and publicans. You can sip your favourite drink while enjoying one of Phuket’s legendary sunsets, then venture to one of the many Thai or western restaurants which now call Nai Harn home.
Just north of Nai Harn is Ao Sane, one of Phuket’s hidden gems.
YA NUI BEACH
Ya Nui is an intimate and absolutely captivating beach just a stone throw south of Nai Harn, just over the hill from the Windmill Viewpoint. (In fact, you get a great view of Ya Nui from the viewpoint.) It is easy to miss it, but if you stay on Route 4030 and keep your eyes peeled, you’ll be fine.
Ya Nui sits on a secluded cove, where the beach is divided in two bays by a rock formation jutting into the water. The entrance to the bay is guarded by Koh Man, a small island about 700 metres from shore.
But just because it is a little hard to find, don’t believe for a second that you will have the beach to yourself. Popular year round, the beach attracts sunbathers and swimmers in the high season, as well as snorkelers.
For the slightly more adventurous, you can rent a kayak and paddle out to Ko Man for a few hours. The snorkeling is even better there.
Once we “round the horn” past Promthep Cape, while still on the southern tip of the island, the next stop is Rawai. This is our first beach on the eastern side of the island, although the orientation of Rawai is southerly-facing.
This is not a popular beach for swimming or sunbathing, owing to the number of long tail boats moored here at any given time. What it lacks in potential for aquatic pursuits, it more than makes up for in the lovely views and gorgeous food on offer.
One sport in which everyone partakes is sitting under the Casuarina trees, enjoying a freshly prepared seafood lunch or dinner – or just a cold drink.
If you have your own kitchen and you’re keen on preparing food yourself, then you can even buy your own seafood at the Sea Gypsy village. This is found at the east end of the beach.
Rawai is easy to find. From Nai Harn, take Route 4161 east-northeast, until it joins Route 4030. That takes you straight to Rawai. From the north is even easier. Make your way to Chalong Circle, then take the main road south (Route 4024). Carry on straight until you reach the sea.
Let us now return to where be began – in the middle, on the West Coast, in Patong – but this time we’ll head north.
If you’re heading north out of Patong, you won’t notice where Kalim Beach starts because you view is obscured by the restaurants and bars which overlook the southern end of the beach. But as continue driving it is impossible to miss the northern end of Kalim Beach because the sand comes up almost to the road.
Kalim is located at the extreme northern end of Patong Bay, but it is not a swimming beach owing the rocky seafloor, but during high tide you will notice people snorkeling here. In the low season, Kalim is a popular surfing beach.
As dinner time approaches, you will find food stalls emerging on the northern end of the beach, offering a nice alternative to the somewhat pricier restaurants occupying the southern part of Kalim.
For years, Kamala has probably best been known as the home of Phuket Fantasea – the Thai cultural theme park with its popular nightly theatrical show. Either that, or you remembered Kamala as that single traffic light which always turned red when you were traveling the coast road. And if you ever turned off the coast road to the Millionaire’s Mile, you could have seen some of the most expensive properties in Phuket.
The one thing that many in the know always appreciated about Kamala, is that unlike Patong, Kata and Karon, many of the resorts actually have direct beach access – no roads to cross. And because it is facing the Andaman Sea, there is crystal clear water and stunning sunsets during high season.
None of that has changed, but a lot has. Apart from the Millionaire’s Mile, it has always seemed to be underappreciated. Not only has hotel and condominium construction increased, but the north end of Kamala Beach is also home to two of Phuket’s hottest Beach Clubs: HQ Beach Lounge and Café del Mar.
Surin Beach is one of Phuket’s most popular beaches. The soft white sand is amazing, and azure waters of the Andaman here are always remarkably clear.
While it remains popular with tourists as well as locals, Surin is not necessarily the centre of activity it once was. Little restaurants and bars used to line the beach, and it was the original home of the Catch Beach Club.
All of this is now gone, which some people do miss, but others believe it has restored a little of Surin’s charm.
Swimming and sunbathing are the order of the day in the high season, and thankfully the beach chairs have now returned to make the latter easier. In the low season, the currents can be a little rough for safe swimming, but from May to October it is popular for surfing and kite boarding.
BANG TAO BEACH
Bang Tao has a split personality. The northern end of the beach is relatively quiet, while the southern end of the beach attracts more crowds.
Stretching ca. 6 km along the west coast, Bang Tao is the second longest beach in Phuket. It is only half an hour from the airport, and is also home to the Laguna Resorts, which have inspired further quality developments in the area.
Bang Tao Beach is also home to four popular beach clubs, any one of which is a great place to while away an afternoon or evening. The Catch Beach Club (mentioned above) was the original such club on the island, and after closing in Surin, Catch reinvented itself here in Bang Tao.
The resorts keep the beach popular year-round, and when the umbrellas come down at the end of high season, Bang Tao still attracts tourists and residents to its beach clubs.
A few years ago, we may have included this under “Hidden Beaches”, but even then its proximity to luxury homes and resorts, combined with the fact that it is better-known (and more accessible) than those more secluded Phuket hideaways, meant it earns its place on the “main list”.
Situated at the northern end of Bang Tao, Layan Beach was once a well-kept secret. It’s most iconic feature was the small island at the northern end of the beach, which you could walk to during low tide.
Once it was home to many bamboo-hut bars and small seafood restaurants, where you sat in plastic chairs right on the sand. Most of that is gone now, which is a shame.
But Layan was simply too beautiful a spot to be ignored. Now home to the Dream Beach Club, Layan has received a new lease on (night)life.
NAI THON BEACH
Naithon Beach is a bit of an enigma. It is gorgeous stretch of beach, only 10 minutes from the airport, which has been largely overlooked by developers.
Tucked in between two patches of unspoiled jungle, the drive to the beach is almost as impressive as the beach itself. It is remarkable how accessible the beach can be, while still giving you the feeling of isolation.
There are hotels, just not many, and some residential property developers have started to discover Nai Thon, but for the most part it is as peaceful and traditional as it’s always been.
Small bars and restaurants line the road across from the beach, but you don’t feel inundated. And except on weekends it is usually not a problem to find a parking spot under the trees.
This is a wonderful beach for swimming, although only in the high season, and there is also a dive shop for anyone keen to explore the area underwater.
Another feature of Nai Thon, and a very unique one at that, is the Phuket Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.
Here you can get close to the animals, feed them and even bathe them. The sanctuary is trying to change people’s mentality about these remarkable creatures, so there are no elephant rides.
It is different approach to these wonderful creatures, and is well worth a visit. Word of warning: dress appropriately because you will get wet and muddy with your new friends!
NAI YANG BEACH
Nai Yang Beach is one of the closest beaches to the airport, but is largely underappreciated as a tourist destination. Although that is starting to change. There are a few developments in the area, and people who stay here seem to like coming back.
Let’s face it, anyone who is only spending a weekend in Phuket obviously wants to spend as much of that time relaxing as possible.
Why spend an hour to an hour and a half just reaching your hotel, when in that time you could have already enjoyed a west coast sunset, watched about a dozen planes land, and finished your second or third cocktail?
Part of the enjoyment of Nai Yang is that the beach sits next to the Sirinath National Park, which keeps a cap on development and discourages overcrowding.
Given everything Nai Yang has going for it, it should come as no surprise that there is some planned development in the vicinity. This could the next up-and-coming area for property investment on the island.
MAI KHAO BEACH
Mai Khao, in the north of Phuket, boasts the longest stretch of beach in all of Phuket (11 km). As it forms part of the Sirinat National Park, it has also been spared the development seen at some of the beaches further south.
It is home to some of the most luxurious resorts on the island, but their sprawling and well-spaced grounds help to make this stretch of the Andaman coast far less densely packed with tourists, allowing visitors to better enjoy the open expanse of Mai Khao Beach.
The beach here does drop off sharply into the sea just a short distance from the shore, so you must take care if you’re not a strong swimmer. In low season, the surf here is very rough, and swimming of any kind is not recommended.
Mai Khao is one of the only Phuket beaches where sea turtles still nest, making its preservation a matter of the greatest importance. Because sea turtles are endangered species, and given the risks to their eggs from natural and human threats, the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation was formed to help ensure the preservation of these remarkable reptiles.
The eggs are gathered and hatched under safe conditions by marine biologists. Once the hatchlings are deemed strong enough to “make it on their own” they are released into the Andaman Sea. The Mai Khao Turtle Release takes place every year around the Songkran holiday in mid-April. See More Here.
Whether you are a sun bather, swimmer, a snorkeler or surfer, a holiday in Phuket has the beach for you.
We’ve mentioned all the main beaches above, but Phuket also has many hidden gems too. Ifyou are looking for a beach off the beaten path, see our article: Phuket’s Hidden Beaches.