"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."If there's one place which epitomizes the quote mentioned above, it's got to be Phuket. Yes, I do know what you're thinking―it's too crowded and it's rather uncouth. In pockets, it definitely is. But then again, we're talking about a world-class destination, favored by the rich and famous for its luxurious living and fine dining.
Being abundantly blessed by Nature, the island's USP lies in its wonderful beaches. Well, at least in some of them, if not all. The tourism boost has been a boon and a bane to the island; while the economy's been smiling, the place is turning into a crime magnet at the same time.
But we're not getting into all that at the moment. This piece is about Phuket's best beaches, and that's precisely what follows. However, keep in mind that Phuket's nastiness in the form of pesky vendors and rogue taxi drivers may tag along as well.
Patong, located on the west coast, is synonymous with everything Phuket stands for―and we're talking both, carnal and surreal. The area is abuzz with the 'mai pen rai' or 'take it easy' attitude, for when you're in Patong, everything, and we mean everything, is easy to get. From a Pad Thai breakfast off the street, to a Thai cabaret show to round off the night, nothing is impossible when you're here.
But amidst the neon lights, the souvenir shops, the sleazy ladyboy bars lies Patong's super-popular beach. Stretching 3 km, the beach holds quite a reputation for its nightlife. Which doesn't mean that families refrain from coming here. There are endless activities to indulge in, including jet-skiing, parasailing, swimming, or simply lazing on those inviting lounge chairs―you may even get a Thai massage, if you please.
If the main beach in Patong is too overwhelming for you, head to Freedom Beach, a white sand haven dotted with granite rocks and surrounded by hills covered by thick cover of green. The beach can only be accessed by boat, which means, you'll find relatively fewer crowds here. On the agenda here is soccer, volleyball, snorkeling, and sunbathing; all of which you indulge in complete peace and quiet.
Paradise Beach is another gem in the vicinity of Patong, which stands true to its name. The beach itself is tiny and rocky, with the clearest waters that are perfect for a spot of snorkeling. You can hire a boat from Patong to get here, provided the tides aren't too choppy. People take the effort to sail down here to simply view the gorgeous corals, and spend a relaxed day here―mind you, there aren't any vendors here. Yay!
Surin Beach, again, is on the west coat of Phuket, and is around 15 km away from Patong. The beach is small, but makes up in terms of scenic beauty. Like other beaches, Surin is commercialized as well―you'll find endless rows of loungers here. The atmosphere, though, is much less charged, which is a pleasant change indeed.
The tiny resort town of Surin also goes by the name of Millionaire's Row, owing to the many famous names that come here to vacation and/or own some spanking, sea-facing property here. You'll find some excellent grub for cheap over here, along with some high-end restaurants as well, and you can particularly enjoy a leisurely dinner here, as you watch the sun go down―truly, one of life's greatest pleasures.
Surin is not exactly a place for those into water sports. The sea here is a little too rocky for novice surfers, and you'll hardly find any speedboats over here. Kayaking is one activity which does find some takers, with excursions going to the Laem Singh Beach which is close by.
Karon Beach is favored by families, and you won't spot a lot of the singles crowd here. It's across the street from Hilton Phuket, so many of the hotel's guest often do the hop-skip-and-jump to get here. The beach is long and clean, and more importantly, not as crowded, which makes it perfect for long walks. If you're looking for a spot of isolation, head to the northern end of the beach, which tends to be practically deserted all the time. The nighttime markets are also a great place for some unusual finds and souvenirs to take home.
Water sports operators make their vociferous presence felt at all times on Karon. So, from parasailing and jet skiing to windsurfing and wakeboarding, you'll find plenty of exciting options here. The beach is a great spot for snorkeling as well. A favorite way to pass the evening here, according to the locals, is to play a game of volleyball, and everyone is invited to play or watch.
Karon Beach suffered a lot of damage in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but has made quite a recovery ever since, and is now one of the most remarkable beaches in Phuket.
Kata Beach is located further south from Karon, and is a gem of a spot in the shape of a cove. The street that lines the beach is lined with trees―a refreshing splash of green in searing hot Phuket. It has all the beach essentials―loungers under humongous umbrellas, water sports like surfing, parasailing, and jet skiing. You'll also find the beach staple of food carts and shacks selling some delicious Thai food here.
With all the white sand and turquoise water loveliness around you, it's really hard to be wanting anything more. But even so, snorkeling is one activity that must be enjoyed here on Kata Beach, for the water is perfectly clear, shallow, and warm. Windsurfers and Hobie Cats can be rented by the hour. The southern end of the beach is predominantly a surfer's zone. It doesn't matter if you're a beginner, the waves here are not as fierce, and you can even avail surfing lessons.
An erstwhile fishing village, Kamala has undergone a complete facelift in recent years. A stone's throw away from Padong, Kamala Beach is the antithesis of its more famous neighbor. So, if you're coming here (and you should), expect a more laid back scene, with families and couples having a relaxed day on the beach. Also, you won't be too hassled by vendors when you're here, which in Phuket, is a major plus.
The relative solitude here at Kamala Beach is a treasured quality for the locals, mostly comprising retirees and long-term holiday makers. As far as activities are concerned, this beach is quite good for scuba diving, although you need to get in touch with any of the local schools here to arrange a trip for you. Surfers usually head to the northern end of the beach which has beach break with stable sandbanks, owing to the presence of reefs. Besides, you'll also find the seaside regulars like parasailing and jet skiing.
A bit about the overall beach-scene in Phuket
- Being an island, you're never too far away from a beach when you're in Phuket. But yes, we all have our reasons for coming here, so you need to chalk out a purpose before you hit the beach.
- Padong, by a long shot is the clear winner if you're looking for action and excitement, be it water sports or nightlife.
- There are calmer spots in Phuket too, like the Freedom Beach or Paradise, depending upon your activity of choice.
- Most beaches on the island are accessible by car or motorbike. You may have to even take a ferry to reach a few beaches.