Phuket’s tourist regions all face the west coast but are pleasingly dissimilar, so its vital to work out which is suitable.
1) Patong – the most popular and, therefore, the most crowded. Parts are unashamedly sleazy, and some hotels are 1km or more from the beach, although closer to the other major drawcard: the world-class Jungceylon shopping centre. With plenty of noise, traffic and girly bars, there are better options for families. Only a handful resorts actually face the beach.
2) Bang Tao – the newest area of mostly 4- and 5-star resorts. Most of those in the southern part face the beach and are within walking distance of a main road with limited shops and cafés, but resorts based around the manmade lakes inland feel isolated, with some 1km from the beach. Roads are frustratingly convoluted, but the beach is extensive and uncrowded. There is almost nothing to do, however, but laze by the pool or sea.
3) Kamala – a low-key region, happily hindered from overdevelopment by a peculiar road design. Parts of the beach are almost empty and most facilities are along a short stretch of a minor road in the south. One unique attraction are the beachside paths lined with eateries. Ideal for families.
4) Karon – an extended beach with empty patches along the esplanade that make it appear deserted. Some misguided efforts have been made to beautify the beach and beachside paths, but it still lacks character, also because most facilities are along inland streets in the north only.
5) Kata – divided into two bays separated by a beachless headland. Hata Yai is the main area of mid-range resorts that face the main road because Club Med fronts most of the beach (which is still public). Too far to walk across the hilly headland is the smaller and more scenic Kata Noi beach, but facilities arefewer and cater to a handful of upmarket resorts.
6) Surin – a surprisingly undersized and undeveloped region that seems a world away from Phuket. Most of the handful of resorts are about 100m from the beach, while the main street has a limited range of
facilities. But it is within walking distance of a main road lined with shops mostly for Thais, and many authentic food stalls are set up on the beach.
7) Chalong Bay – resorts are now being built along the less appealing southeast coast. The beach at Chalong is generally thin and gravelly, although some parts are better than others. A far superior beach is at nearby Nai Harn, which is dominated by a yacht club. But the general area lacks tourist facilities.
8) To Escape The Crowds – Historic Phuket Town is home to the port and bus terminal, and the hub for the very limited public transport across the island. Otherwise, try resorts along the east coast, eg along Laem Phanwa peninsula; to the northwest, such as Nai Yang beach (near the airport); or at Khao Lak, an hour to the north (and not actually on Phuket island). But, of course, facilities are limited where tourists are scarce.
Getting Around Phuket
In short, local transport is deliberately diabolical, and often the most expensive in Asia. Transport is limited to tuk-tuks, small pick-up trucks with bench seats for about four people. Rates are fixed, rarely negotiable, and utterly extortionate. Considerably cheaper are motorbike taxis (ie a pillion passenger on the back of a bike) for a negotiable fare. At the beaches, ͚taxis͛ are unmetered cars, with exorbitant rates that surge depending on how wet/drunk/tired passengers are. Cars can be rented, but traffic is awful in places and the roads are confusing. Motorbikes are easy to rent and a good way to get around local areas.
Phuket is very well-connected to places all over southern Thailand, not just the tourist centres, by bus and boat. The port and main bus station are in Phuket Town. Tickets for buses, minibuses and boats that originate in Phuket Town can be bought at agencies in beach regions across the island and include transfers to the port or bus terminal (or pickup point). The airport faces the north-west coast. The only options to the airport from beach regions are a ͚taxi͛ (ie unmetered car with a driver) or the official cheap airport bus from Phuket Town. Available from the airport to the beach regions are (usually) minibuses (which are rarely offered to the airport) and metered taxis (which also don͛t service the beaches).