Thailand’s biggest island is as famous for its deserted beaches as its wild nightlife, so holidays to Phuket are all about variety.
Just off Thailand’s southwest coast, Phuket is heaving with 40 kilometres of beaches that bear the country’s trademark white sands and hammock-strung palms. But that’s about the only thing these sandy stretches have in common – in terms of their vibe, they couldn’t be more different.
Sun, sea and solitary
At Bang Tao Beach – a long stretch of quiet coastline peppered with deserted sunbathing spots – shops lean more towards quality antiques than touristy souvenirs. The sleepy beach scene here, and at the footprint-free sands of Mai Khao Beach in the north, defines the phrase ‘getting away from it all’.
Kicking back on peaceful Bang Tao Beach, you’d never know it was a 30-minute drive from the bright lights of Patong, the west coast’s liveliest party town. Chock-full of restaurants, bars and live music venues, this place is serious about having a good time.
Things to See and Do in Phuket
King of variety
It would be handy if Phuket came with its own beach menu, because with 40 kilometres of the sandy stuff to choose from you’re spoilt for choice. There are miles of footprint-free stretches where you can kick back with nothing but long tail boats for company. But if you want something livelier, there are just as many places packed with watersports, bars and restaurants.
The big beach
As you’d expect from Phuket’s party capital, Patong’s beach is one lively stretch of sand. It runs 3.5 kilometres down the island’s west coast and you’ll find watersports, restaurants and beach shacks all the way along it. The action here isn’t just limited to daylight hours – the town’s noisy strip of shops and party-all-night bars is a stone’s throw from the seafront.
The secret beach
If you like your beaches with a hint of in-the-know exclusivity, head for Freedom Beach. Accessed by long tail boat from Tri Trang Beach or Patong, this peaceful beauty spot has white, powdery sands, and a lush green hill as its backdrop. It’s a no-go zone for vendors or watersports. In fact, you’ll find little more here than swaying palms and a quiet restaurant or two.
The busy, anything-goes Phuket Weekend Market is a place to experience as much as a place to shop. You’ll find it on Chao Fa West Road, just outside Phuket Town, on weekend evenings, hawking everything from deep-fried insects to fashion accessories. Handicraft and souvenir stalls are thick on the ground in the streets behind Kata Beach, too. Head here late afternoon to browse low-price textiles, jewellery and sunglasses.
Phuket is home to a handful of shopping malls, but the glossiest is the Jungceylon in Patong. This 300-store complex ticks off crafts, fashion labels, perfume, watches and TVs. If it’s chic souvenirs you’re after, pick up carved wooden elephants and hand-woven textiles at Laguna Phuket, near Bang Tao Beach, or head to Turtle Village, in Mai Khao for silk wall hangings and Thai art.
You won’t find many genuine designer labels in Phuket, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shop like a celeb. From one-of-a-kind shirts to bespoke ball gowns, tailor-made outfits are easy to come by. You’ll find a smattering of tailors in just about every resort on the island, where made-to-measure outfits can be whipped up in a few days at a fraction of the price you’d pay at home.
If you’re after a quiet evening, the restaurants near Kata Beach are a good bet. Before the bars get busy around midnight, it’s a good spot for people-watching. Mai Khao is the best place for gourmet dining – the luxury hotels dotted along the shoreline here are great for beachfront meals and cocktails.
Ex-pats have shaped the nightlife in parts of Bang Tao, where late-night sports bars show football on big screens. Over in Phuket Town, you can party with the locals at kitsch clubs and karaoke bars. But if you really want lively, Patong’s Bangla Road redefines the word. This neon-lit strip of adult-only bars, discos and live-music venues is the favourite spot for a wild night out.
Pad Thai is served the world over, but nothing beats a bowl of the stuff on its home turf. Noodles are stir fried with eggs, chillies and fish sauce, muddled with chicken or tofu, and sprinkled with crushed peanuts.
Swap your cornflakes for a Phuket breakfast of Kanom Jeen– a spicy curry, usually fish based, served with noodles and vegetables.
Gai Phad Med Mamuang
Spicy chicken and cashew nuts, known as Gai Phad Med Mamuang, is a staple Thai dish. It’s a stir-fried combo of chicken, Thai-grown cashews, fresh chillies and soy sauce.
Thai iced tea
Tropical temperatures and spicy food call for drinks of the iced variety. Cool off with a glass of Thai iced tea, known as cha yen – a strong black tea sweetened with sugar and milk then poured over ice.
This Thai-brewed rum is the country’s most-guzzled spirit. In touristy bars it’s served in pint-sized buckets with soft mixers, but you’ll feel a lot better in the morning if you stick to splashing it in a glass of fruit juice.
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Tri Trang Beach
Tri Trang Beach steers well clear of the spotlight, and instead cuts its teeth as a proper under-the-radar resort. All eyes are on its better-known buddy, Patong, which is a five-minute drive around the headland. You can hop here for full-moon parties or stay put for peaceful beach strolls – whatever takes your fancy.
Bang Tao Beach has hollowed out a big wedge of Phuket’s west coast. It’s got textbook Thai sands, tucked in by mountains on both sides. The belt’s backed by trees, but the greenery’s sometimes substituted for a plush hotel or two. In fact, it’s got one of Thailand’s biggest and fanciest resort complexes on its turf.
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