Phuket (click map for larger version Click Here for town maps)
The best beaches are along the western / Andaman Sea coast.
Bang Tao Bay (AKA Laguna
Is an unashamed 5 star resort area with white sandy beach and man made lakes that separate many resorts. There are some good, inexpensive beach-front restaurants / shops. Although, unfortunately for guests, these often block the view from the hotel grounds (The Sheraton Grande Laguna & Laguna Beach Club "suffer" the most from these "shanty shacks"). The lakes have their own man made beaches to make up for this. But they are behind banks and so get very hot, as they are sheltered from the sea breeze. The unlicensed and uninsured jet-ski operators also make themselves a nuisance with guests trying to relax (by soliciting them for business, ogling the western women, and by renting these craft to people causing noise and significant accident risks).
The northern end is home to the exclusive Chedi and Amanpuri Resorts. Although the southern end has much more inexpensive options, and is a favorite with locals for beach visits and seafood stall vendors. During the high season, when the sea is calm, there is some good snorkeling to be had here.
Kamala is still relatively unspoiled with extremely friendly locals (the main village area inland is also the Muslim "capital" of Phuket). It is also one of the very few places in Phuket where you can find 2 / 3 star hotels on the beach, and inexpensive, genuine Thai food (The White Orchid is particularly notable, plus there are some good Thai beach-front restaurants along the southern headland on Paradise Cove). Kamala's beach stretches for 2km. And apart from the central hotel section, is practically free of sun loungers. There is still an active fishing village and good local market (Wednesdays and Saturdays). Unfortunately perhaps, local restaurants are continuously being bought out and "improved" by westerners, and the headland developed with private villas.
Home of the 3 star package Phuket tourist, fake merchandise shops, girly (for "rent") bars, seafood restaurants that quote by the 100gm (to make their expensive food seem cheaper), US Navy visits and "lady boys" (drag queen transvestites). A "great" place if you like haggling for fake goods (You should pay only 120 baht for a music / software / DVD etc. CD if you negotiate well), and watching / participating in bars with friendly ("Hello, what's your name, where do you come from, buy me one drink?") girls while watching other girls with expressionless faces dance naked on stage. Or if you like sun-bathing on beach loungers 3 or 4 deep (during high season), being pestered every 1 minute by beach salesmen, and playing "duck or die" with the reckless (and very nasty) jet-ski operators while swimming.
Despite, their names, very few Patong hotels are on the beach and some are decidedly far from it. For food, the Baan Rim Na is on a northern headland with good views, good pianist and popular tourist influenced Thai food. Just off the main coastal (Thavee Wong) road, look for the car park actually on the beach or the sidewalk down to the beach next to the (expensive, fish by the 100gm) Sidewalk Cafe. And you will find 4 beach-front restaurants, which are by far the best value in Patong (the best one seems to be Kho Tuey).
A huge, lovely beach. One of the very best. Karon has a more up-market clientele than Patong, just 5km away. It also has some well rated hotels, especially Karon Villa / Royal Wing. However, with the exception of Ruam Thep Inn and Karon Beach Resort at the southern end (on a rocky headland), and "On The Beach" (just to the north of center), none of the hotels are on the beach! They are the other side of the main road that runs along the beach! What makes this worse is the central and northern areas also have "backwater" between the beach and the road. And this backwater is infested with mosquitos (which means that "On The Beach Hotel" suffers probably the most). Karon also has an increasing number of girl (for rent) bars.
Kata actually has two beach areas; Kata Yai and Kata Noi. The larger Kata Yai beach has the likes of Club Med, Kata Beach Resort and Boathouse (the later 2 being on the beach, the boathouse has a superb restaurant), along with some smaller boutique resorts and less expensive along the headlands and away from the beach. Kata Noi has a number of beach-front hotels. The beaches here are excellent, and the town much more laid back than Karon (and no few or no girl bars). This area, along with Kamala probably represents the best 2 to 4 star opportunities for beach hotels and rest / relaxation.
Nai Harn Beach
Le Royal Meridien Phuket Yacht Club was the only hotel option on this beach, and sits at the northern end amongst a string of souvenir etc. shops (some of which are taken down during low season). "Was" because a new, very cramped hotel is being built (finishes late 2001) just back from the beach area, near those same shops. Nai Harn is a favorite with the locals during the weekends. It also has a number of high season lounger / food & drink vendors during high season, but they are not aggressive and there is always plenty of room. Making this an excellent day out for tourists staying in other areas. A pair of sun loungers with sun shade will cost 100 baht for the day. A cold young coconut, 25 baht. A very cold beer, 70 baht. The beach is a superb white sand with plenty of shade back from the beach from rows of casuarina trees.
This is a very narrow beach with a road separating it and the main restaurants, accommodation and shops. The beach is nowhere near as good as the beached that face west / the Andaman Sea (those above). It does have seafood stall vendor after seafood stall vendor though on the beach, and is very popular with the locals. There is one upper market hotel, Phuket Island Resort, on and around the headland. The dividing line between Rawai, and neighboring Chalong Bay is not clear. And there are some nice little surprises along the coast (especially "The Beach House" in the grounds of the Atlas Resort) just off the main Rawai - Phuket Town road (just south of the junction for Le Royal Merdien).
Chalong is a divers port, but very little else. It has a pier from which the dinner cruise boat operates, and a very fine beach-front restaurant in the form of Kaneang 2 (off the main Rawai - Phuket Town road, just look for the "Visa Run 900 Baht" sign), which serves superb seafood at local prices. Although it is best to make sure the Singapore based coastal cruise liners are not in town, as then the place gets swamped with tour buses.
Not so much for tourists to stay, but none the less an interesting place to visit. And where you will find the ferry terminals for Krabi, Phi Phi and other islands (although this means a longtail to the smaller ones). It has a very good, large market brimming with fresh seafood, vegetables, fruit and flowers (try the juice squeezed from bamboo). Around the market are some inexpensively priced gold shops worth investigating (jewelry is sold by weight at very low prices compared with the west). There are also some excellent shops and galleries in town.
Krabi / Ao Phra Nang Area
Krabi Town, despite uniformed popular belief, is not on the coast. What is often called "Krabi Beach", is actually the village of Ao Phra Nang, etc. Krabi itself is an interesting place, and where the river estuary ferry port takes visitors to Koh Phi Phi. Some of the restaurants along the harbor front, serve exceptional seafood, especially huge Tiger Prawns. The hotels in town are a little worn, to say the least, but the Thai Hotel does have a superb (and air conditioned) restaurant. On the outskirts of town, the Krabi Royal gets many complaints, while the Krabi Meritime opposite, is of the highest standards.
Of all the Krabi Village beaches, Ao Phra Nang (previously Ao Nang), is the most accessible with the greatest range of accommodations and restaurants. Be very wary of the write-ups given by a certain major guide book though, as it seems to get everything wrong except the best beach-front restaurant. Very few of the hotels are on the beach. One exception is the Krabi Resort is, despite what it appears, next to the beach-front restaurants in the center of the village. From Ao Phra Nang, you can take a longtail boat to the superb offshore islands. The best time to go is when you see the longtails actually on Ao Phra Nang beach as, otherwise, they take you to the nearby estuary harbor, which means the seas are choppy. The beach here is superb, the food wonderful, and this has to be one of the better bargains in the area. Try Your Krabi for hotels and tour arrangements, etc.
Koh Phi Phi
There are two islands; Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Ley. The former being where the hotels are, the later being where the divers, snorkelers and Viking Caves are. If we stick with the main island, there are 3 main areas; Ton Sai Bay / Ao Lo Dalam, Hat Laem Tong, and "other"! Click Here for our Phi Phi Map.
Ton Sai Bay
Is where most hotels are based, and where most ferries come. It has a large backpacker following, although some hotels are of a pretty high standard. The streets are pretty touristy though, and the water can get dirty. Ao Lo Dalam is simply the other side of this short / narrow flat link between the two hilly areas either side). 6pm is a good time to visit the town as the restaurants all start plying their fish specials of the day. But, unfortunately, some restaurants seem to have more flies buzzing diners then they give rice grains on their plates! There are some nice beach sections at the outer perimeters of this town.
Hat Laem Dong
Has a ferry "terminal" point for fast ferries from Phuket. It also has about 5 hotels and a sea gypsy village. So it can get a bit noisy, dirty and overcrowded. The Palm Beach has done an excellent job in convincing travel guides and tour operators that it is the quality option on Phi Phi. But it is quite cramped and right next to the gypsy village, which is where the ferry also comes in. The beach is nice, but busy and often suffers from litter. The area to the north of the beach is much better (around Phi Phi Natural Resort Hotel).
Other Phi Phi Areas
Despite rhetoric about building restrictions. New, bungalow style, basic accommodations are appearing on the smaller bays around the island (these can only be reached by longtail boat). The only exception to these recent additions is the superb Pee Pee Island Village, which is spacious and occupies probably the nicest beach / bay on Phi Phi (Loh Ba Gao - aquamarine waters and good year round snorkeling on account of being on the sheltered leeward side of the island). As a captive audience, prices are high here for seafood and drinks. But canny guests buy the cheaper menu items, eat seafood at Ton Sai, and bring back cases of beer etc. for their in-room refrigerators!
North Of Phuket
Just north of Phuket is Phang-Nga, with its evocative and beautiful limestone outcrops, set within superb waters. This area is certainly worth a day out by boat. But avoid the "James Bond Island" and "Stilted Fishing Village" tours, as you will definitely be amongst the tourist and hawker hoards! Click Here for a dedicated Phang-Nga Marine Park site.
Within Phang-Nga province, there is also the wonderful coastal Khao Lak National Park. And a number of hotels have now set up around the park; the most notable being the superb Similana. From here, you can take a tour to the Surin Islands, renowned amongst snorkelers. Trips also go to the Similan Islands, one of the top 5 dive spots in the world. But this will require more than a day, which is why so many dive operations (most are based in Phuket) use liveaboards to get there. If you are going to dive however, it is advisable to use one that subscribes to the SSS decompression service, otherwise accidents might be expensive or dangerous.
Ranong to the north, is an area of considerable natural beauty. But most recognized for its day trip operations to Burma / Myanmar. Either just to go, for visa reasons, or to gamble at the Andaman Casino. Ranong Province has a lot of rain-forest by token of the fact it is the province with the highest rainfall in Thailand. Click Here for more information about this area.
South Of Krabi - Koh Lanta
Koh Lanta is another backpacker destination that is starting to "struggle" to become a mainstream tourist area. The main tourist beaches of Hat Khlong Dao and Hat Phra Ae are where you will find most accommodations. And most are bungalow style (often tin huts, reminiscent of 1960's British holiday camps), and many with aircon options. Again the tour books seem to have got this place wrong too regarding which are the better hotels, so do not go by them. Travel books also warn you that the road past Hat Phra Ae gets worse, when it actually gets better. And takes you to the very nice (poor beach though) and interesting area around Ban Ko Lanta (On the road there, stop at the superb little restaurant on the hill going down with sweeping views of the smaller islands). A fair site on Koh Lanta can be found here.
Try Sunrise Divers in Phuket - One of the friendliest operations in Phuket,
or Dive The World Thailand - With a superb range of courses, trips and even liveaboards.
Scuba Diving De is a superb site regarding Phuket, the Andaman Sea, and the Similan Islands with both English and German pages.
One of the most established dive operators in Phuket is Sea Bees of Kata, who have both a Phuket Scuba Diving site / operation, plus run Thailand Diving Liveaboards.
Or maybe try one of the others, such as Scuba Cat.
But, maybe you wont want to go diving after reading Lars Bindholt's "Sharks of Thailand"!
If you would like to get out on the ocean, try the appropriately named Phuket Sailing .Com for cruises around Cruises in Thailand, Myanmar & Malaysia.
Fancy a river boat cruise around / up some of Phang Nga's rivers, estuaries, caves, islands and beaches? Then try River Rovers!
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