Phuket Island has some of the best beaches in Thailand. They are the reason it’s such a popular destination for Thailand holidays. Phuket beaches vary greatly, from the thronged party capital Patong Beach to some hidden treasures tucked away in the south of the island.
The beaches of Phuket are far and away the highlight of a trip to the island, but it’s surprisingly difficult to get around them, as we’ll explain below. With this in mind, you’ll need to consider which of the beaches of Phuket is going to suit you best, as this will be the deciding factor in choosing where to stay in Phuket.
Most of the best beaches in Phuket have resorts adjoining the beach or very close by, so you’re never very far from the sand and sea. There is a huge range of places to stay in Phuket, from Phuket family resorts to quiet romantic bolt-holes for couples.
So which of the best beaches of Phuket is going to tempt you away? Read on for our complete guide.
WHERE IS PHUKET?
Phuket is an island on the west-facing coast of southern Thailand, bordering the stunning turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea.
GETTING TO PHUKET
Phuket Airport is located in the north of the island, with most Phuket resorts within an hour of it. The airport is also convenient if you’re planning to visit the beaches of Khao Lak, on the mainland to the north.
GETTING AROUND PHUKET
Phuket is one of the most expensive places in Thailand, and one of the main reasons for this is the exorbitant cost of getting around the island. This means that many visitors stick to the beach, resort and town where they’re staying for much of the time.
The cost of taxis and their motorbike counterparts, the tuk-tuks, is nothing short of extortionate. The standard fare around Patong Beach is 200 baht – 5 GBP, 6 euros or 6.5 $US. It’s the same whether you’re going a kilometre down the street or the 3 km length of the beach. We paid more for a 4km round return trip in Patong than we had for a 25 km round trip in Khao Lak two days before. If you start using taxis to get between beaches, the costs are going to stack up very quickly.
There are very few buses in Phuket that actually run between beaches. Most beaches have regular buses to Phuket town, and from there you can of course change for buses to the other beaches. This way of getting around Phuket is cost-effective (usually 30-40 baht per trip) but a return trip to another beach will usually entail four bus journeys. If you want to visit a different beach the following day, you have to go through the same routine all over again.
There is, of course, the option of car hire in Phuket, or even renting a motorbike. We’ve seen many tourists do it, but wouldn’t do so ourselves. The condition of many of the roads in Phuket is fairly poor, and then there’s the question of the other vehicles on the roads. Most of the driving there is atrocious, and if you’re driving in Phuket, it’s a risk you take.
This leaves the option of hiring a driver in Phuket. We did this for around 50 GBP a day, and got to see most of the island in safety. For the price of ten short runs around Patong, you can see most of the best beaches Phuket has to offer.
OUR PICK OF THE BEST BEACHES IN PHUKET: LAEM SINGH BEACH
Laem Singh is the nearest thing Phuket has to a tropical hideaway beach. It’s only a few kilometres north of the busy hub of Patong Beach, but feels so far removed from the noise and bustle just down the road.
Laem Singh is so different because a local landowner decided to limit access via his land. The easiest way to reach Laem Singh is by boat from nearby Surin beach, which costs 100 baht each way.
If you don’t have time to make the journey, you can console yourself with the view from the roadside lookout a few miles north of Patong. It’s a truly gorgeous place.
Getting there: by boat via Surin beach.
There aren’t too many quiet beaches in Phuket, especially with the number of tourists and pace of development. Yet Bangtao beach, in the north of the island, seems to be holding out rather well. I explored the southern end of the beach for an hour or two, where the fishing boats far outnumbered people.
It’s more developed just to the north, with several Phuket beach resorts discreetly set back from the sand. It’s the longest beach in Phuket, around 6 km (4 miles) in total, so never gets crowded. It’s the best beach at Phuket if you like a lot of space to yourself.
Patong is one of the most famous Thailand beaches, and the resort that has grown around it is second only to Pattaya for brashness, seediness and sleaze.
The beach itself is outstanding, almost 3 km (2 miles) of fantastic sand. It constantly hums with life, from the parascenders to the street food stalls to the constant buzz of the lawnmower-motor-powered tuk-tuks along the strip. It’s lively, alright!
Bangla Road – Soi Bang La – is the epicentre of Phuket nightlife, with its many bars and clubs. At night it’s full of flashing neon signs, noise and hawkers handing out fliers to sex shows. It’s not somewhere we chose to linger.
Patong is also home to many of the best hotels in Phuket, including our base for our stay in Phuket, the Patong Palace. The town tends to get quieter the further away you go from the hotspots. We were a little surprised to find that, on balance, Patong is one of the best places to stay in Phuket. This is partly because of its central location for reaching other parts of the island, and some of the most popular Phuket attractions.
Karon is the closest main resort to the south of Patong, and its relatively quiet nightlife make it a popular choice for families. The beach is another fine west-facing beauty, a long wide stretch of sand, part of which is occupied by beach umbrellas and sun loungers. There’s also plenty of space to wander and relax without having to pay for the privilege.
There are also some of the best family resorts Phuket has, including the luxurious Centara Grand Beach Resort at the northern end of the beach and the Karon Sea Sands Resort & Spa.
Kata is another candidate for the best area to stay in Phuket, with a wide choice of resorts and hotels around the southern end of this beautiful beach. It’s just around the headland from Karon, and you can see both from the nearby Karon (sometimes confusingly referred to as Kata!) viewpoint, where you get a fine overview of both beaches and Patong.
Kata’s wonderful beach is popular year-round, with sun-worshipping and snorkelling in the dry season and surfing during the wetter months. There’s also the picture-perfect view of the headland and island just offshore at the northern end of the beach.
It’s possible to hop between Kata and Karon beaches as both are on the route to Phuket town. It’s a great choice of you’re planning to stay in Phuket with kids.
KATA NOI BEACH
‘Little Kata’ is another gem on Phuket’s west coast, just to the south of its larger namesake.
It’s another of the best places to see in Phuket, a glorious soft sandy beach with crystal-clear water, ideal for families. The outlook is similar to that at nearby Kata, and the southern end is particularly inviting.
Kata Noi also has some great sunset bars and some of the best beach hotels in Phuket. These include Katathani, which has both a family resort and a smaller adults-only resort.
Getting there: Kata Noi isn’t on the public bus (songthaew) network covering the island, so if you’re planning to see visit Kata Noi you need to walk over the steep hill from Kata. If you’re staying in Kata Noi, resort shuttle buses take you to Kata and Karon.
NAI HARN BEACH
Nai Harn is a spectacular beach at the southern end of Phuket. Despite its fairly isolated location, it’s very popular, with a street full of beach cafes, restaurants and shops on the road leading to it.
The setting of Nai Harn is magnificent, backed by a steep hill and headland, with sublime views of the coast towards Cape Promthep, the southernmost tip of the island. It’s a lovely broad sweep of sand, with the warm water ideal for swimming in the November to April season.
There are relatively few hotels and resorts in this part of the island, but one of them, the Nai Harn, is one of the very best Phuket resorts.
Getting there: Nai Harn is on the same route as the Rawai bus from Phuket city.
YA NUI BEACH
Ya Nui, sometimes referred to as Nui Beach Phuket to avoid confusion with other Nui beaches, is a small sliver of sand between Nai Harn and Cape Promthep.
It’s probably only 150-200 metres long, and was quite busy when I visited. The sand curves around from two directions, meeting a short sand bar which acts as a bridge to a rocky islet.
I’d say that this is the best beach in Phuket for photographers, and it’s all down to that picture-perfect sand bar. The tide ebbed away from both sides to reveal it, so I went looking for somewhere to view it from above. The road up to Cape Promthep gave the perfect vantage point, the sand sandwiched by stunning shallow turquoise water either side. There’s also another elevated lookout, the Windmill viewpoint, high above near the wind turbines on the other side of the beach.
The beach was busy when I was there, but there’s very little development by Phuket beach standards. There are a couple of cafes, a restaurant and a massage shelter around the trees behind the beach. And that’s pretty much it.
Rawai is the beach to the east of Cape Promthep, and it enjoys extraordinary views across the bay to Ko Lon, Ko He and a cluster of smaller islands.
It’s at the southern end of Phuket, and a world away from the sights and sounds of Patong. It’s one of the best beaches near Phuket town, which is close by and which it’s linked with by regular buses. These also run onto Nai Harn.
Rawai is ideal if you like your beach holidays fairly quiet. As well as bussing around from there, you can also charter one of the many long tail boats along the beach which run out to the islands. Rawai is a great base to start your Phuket island hopping. Local fishermen also use the beach to moor their boats.
The beach itself is very long and narrow, so wherever you sit down you’re only a few metres from a paddle in the water. In the days before Phuket tourism and development took hold, this was the locals’ favourite beach on Phuket, as it was the most easily accessible by road. If you don’t mind a relatively small patch of sand, it’s an idyllic place and the views more than make up for it. There is a good selection of restaurants and cafes along the road behind the beach.
Getting there: Regular buses run during the daytime from the Ranong Road area of Phuket old town.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.