Phuket is an all round great place. For the active there is diving, kayaking and trekking as well as the the adrenalin rush of bungy jumping. For those that prefer their adrenalin to travel at a more sedentary pace there are more fine beaches than you can shake a bottle of sun tan lotion at.
There are hotels and restaurants to suit every pocket. From fully self contained international class resorts to quiet little hideaways where even Robinson Crusoe would feel at home. Phuket is Thailand’s wealthiest province and it owes much of that wealth to tourism.
Patong is the nerve centre. There is little there now to remind visitors of the tragedy that struck at the end of 2005. Some new sirens and sign-posts pointing out the tsunami evacuation route. Patong is also where you’ll find the bars … and a fabulous cross-section of friendly faces to help us get the best out of our tourist dollar.
On one hand there are the girls that come down from the northeast, Nong Kai and Khon Kean seem to be popular ports of origin. But then there are beauties from the deep south, often blessed with a delicious mix of local, Indian, Arab and Malay features that have been handed down through the generations and are often burnished to a golden brown by the sun and the Andaman sea breezes.
Southern girls are also said to have a rather fiery temperament. A good friend of mine lived with one for a while and once when visiting I asked him if it were true. He proudly showed me the teeth marks in the TV remote, he proudly showed me the teeth marks in his mobile phone. I desperately tried to change the subject before he could show me any more teeth marks that he was proud of. He sucked in a large draught of beer and leaned back in his chair with an expression of contentment. “They are very passionate”, he said.
I’ve always maintained that the quality of a beach can be measured by the amount of effort it takes to get to it. But I like beaches that are remote, quiet and undeveloped. Bar girls do not. They like their creature comforts, they also like to know where their next plate of som tam is coming from. Happily, if you are bringing a take-away from one of the Bangkok bars, Phuket can provide agreeable compromises.
Most of the best beaches are along the western side of the island. This is a north to south list of the better known.
Eight kilometers of beach dominated by the Laguna development. Laguna is built on an old tin mine and consists of five luxury resorts, a golf course and a lagoon with ornamental rock gardens and waterfalls. The hotels are; Sheraton Grande, Dusit Laguna, Laguna Beach, Allamanda and Banyan Tree Phuket.
In the old days you could have been fairly sure of finding a accommodating sauna and massage usually in the basement of such hotels. Sadly, in modern era of lifestyle enhancing spas, such hotels have discovered it is more lucrative to trample mango and old tea leaves into a women’s backs than it is to take care of nagging erections.
That said if madame is going to insist on blowing $200 in the spa you could insist afterwards that it is her turn to supervise the kids while you go off for lifestyle enhancing beer and titty treatment. Though you might like to call it a scuba diving course, the best ones are all in Patong!
A comparatively undeveloped beach. Surin is quite popular with locals who like to go on the weekends for the excellent seafood restaurants. The beach has a steep drop off so it’s not a great beach for bathing but it is popular with surfers during the low season. It also has a particularly nasty rip-tide at that time of the year so unless you are a strong and confident swimmer stay out.
This is a delightful undeveloped little beach hidden from the road between Surin and Kamala. There is a small parking area and a footpath that leads down to it. Good snorkeling.
A pleasant and peaceful beach just to the south of Surin. There is a small village nearby with restaurants. The northern end of the beach is almost deserted and there is good snorkeling just off shore.
Just across the main road from Kamala is Phuket Fantasea http://www.phuket-fantasea.com/kingdom.html, a Disney-esque interpretation of Thai history and culture where the dancing elephants are not cartoons. I’ve not been, I’ve never had much interest in that kind of entertainment, but it draws visitors by the coach-load
Karon is a strange place. In a colder climate you could call it “romantically windswept”. The hotels and other buildings here are all set well back from the sea-front and there are precious few trees to provide shade when a respite from the sun is needed. Consequently this large and easily accessible beach is never very crowded.
Kata & Kata Noi
Club Med occupies the middle of the Kata beach-front. There are some good restaurants in the village at the southern end of the beach and a number of small hotels. Shallow waters make it a good family choice.
Kata Noi is a blissfully quiet beach just over the hill and down a dead end road to the south of Kata. There are a few restaurants along the road but not much else
The South and South East
Naiharn and Jungle Beach
Naiharn is one of the nicest beaches on the island. It has been protected from development by the monastic lands that occupy the centre of the beach-front. There are only two hotels, both at the northern end of the beach. One of these is “Le Royal Meridien Phuket Yacht Club”. Not a club at all but it does attract a flotilla of boats of all kinds in the peak season that dot the bay.
There are some good restaurants along the road leading to the Yacht Club.
The road passes right through the hotel and out the other side. A further kilometre along the road leads to the tranquil Jungle Beach Resort and the wonderfully rustic Ao Sane beach
Not a great place for bathing. This is where you come to hire long-tail or speed boats to take you out and around the islands or across to Krabi
Although it is fairly close to Phuket town it is a long way from almost everything else in Phuket. There are a few resorts down here it is still mostly plantation.
Phuket is a major tourist destination, consequently there are more activities available than I can possibly hope to cover here. There is go-cart racing and bungy jumping for those that like an instant adrenalin rush. Elephant and canoe treks for those that like to go at a more sedentary pace. There is climbing, cruising and fishing and of course there is diving.
There are more diving companies in Phuket than you can waggle your snorkel at. You can go from beginner to dive instructor within one holiday. I am not a diver myself so I can only pass on what people have told me are good.
Two day scuba diving courses start at around US$195, whilst 4 day open water courses start at around US$310. On completion of the longer course will will be certified as an internationally recognized PADI Open Water Diver. After the shorter course you would still need direct supervision of a PADI professional to be able to dive.
Once you are qualified, day trips that include 2-3 dives start at around US$85 though many companies offer multiple dive packages with attractive discounts.
There are numerous kayaking and sea canoe operators. The original, and by far and away the best is John Gray’s Sea Canoe. It was John Gray that first explored the ‘hongs’ or open sea caves in the spectacular Phang Nga bay.
Some of the karsts that jut out from the ocean are hollow inside. The sea has eroded caves from below while the rain eroded the island from the top. After millions of years on this the centre of the island collapses creating an unbelievably tranquil lagoon which can often only be reached at low tide. And only by canoe.
There are various packages you can join or you can have a trip tailor made to your specifications.
Rock Climbers will need to get themselves over to Railay beach in Krabi. This spectacular beach lined with equally spectacular limestone cliffs has over 700 routes all bolted and graded according to the French system.
There are routes here for everyone from beginner 5 a’s, multi-pitch 6 a’s right up to extreme 8 c’s. There are also courses for the complete beginner
Simple half day courses which include; basic rope climbing and safety techniques start at 1,000 baht. Three day courses which include; self rescue and rope technique, top rope climbing, rappelling, lead climbing and multi-pitch climbing are 6,000 baht.
Jungle treks are available into the Khao Sok national park. One day treks that includes elephant and canoe transport start at around 3,000 baht. Three day treks are around 7,000 baht and take you deep into the jungle. Four day treks can be arranged on request. Food and sleeping arrangements are included in the price.
One day fishing trips into the Andaman Sea start at around 1,800 baht. Longer trips and night fishing expeditions can be organised. Typical game fish in the area include, black marlin, barracuda, sailfish and shark.