Phuket 101: A Full Guide to Beaches, Nightlife and More

phuket-panoramaThailand’s biggest island, Phuket is also its most popular vacation destination. Home to some of the world’s best beaches, amazing beach clubs, wild nightlife and amazing food, Phuket has something to offer for every type of traveler.

Our guide to Phuket covers all of the island’s most popular beaches, as well as the best places to stay, things to do and areas to visit.

Phuket Beaches

Phuket’s most popular beaches can be found on the western side of the island. Most of the beaches are connected by a coastal road that stretches from Kamala and Surin all the way down south to Nai Harn and Rawai.

We’ve covered all of Phuket’s top beaches below:

Patong

Patong is Phuket’s busiest and most developed beach. It’s the island’s nightlife capital, with a mix of nightclubs, beer bars and go-go bars. This is where you can find Phuket’s infamous Bangla Road. Expect lots of crowds, plenty of touts and the most “touristy” feel of any beach on Phuket.

The beach at Patong is nice, but not world class. Still, there’s a great range of hotels here, from five star resorts to some of the island’s cheapest accommodation. If you’re planning on meeting someone new here, this is also where you’ll find most of Phuket’s guest friendly accommodation.

All in all, Patong is the best part of Phuket to stay in if you’re visiting for the nightlife and don’t mind a touristy, busy vibe.

Karon

Located just south of Patong, Karon is chilled out, peaceful and aimed primarily at families and couples. The beach is long and less developed than Patong, but still has its fair share of hotels and resorts. The vibe is calm and easygoing, aimed more at families than hardcore partygoers.

All in all, Karon is best for couples and families that want a long, sandy beach with a good mix of restaurants, cafes and other places to eat, but don’t want the loud nightlife or huge crowds of Patong.

Kata

Further south of Karon is Kata, one of Phuket’s most popular beaches. Another good option for couples and families, Kata is more developed than Karon but doesn’t have the same level of mass development as ultra-busy Patong.

Kata Beach is split into two areas. Kata Yai, the bigger of the two beaches, is a great place to swim and a decent surfing spot during low season. Kata Noi, the smaller beach, has a more upmarket feel and is home to several of Phuket’s most luxurious hotels, including the stunning Shore at Katathani resort.

Nai Harn

More popular with locals and expats than tourists, Nai Harn is Phuket’s southernmost beach. The level of development here is lower than on the other beaches and the vibe is much more local, with a variety of seafood restaurants and other dining options right by the water.

While the rough waves here mean Nai Harn isn’t ideal for swimming, it’s a great surf beach and a fun place to enjoy Phuket’s great weather. It’s also a good beach for avoiding the huge crowds on Patong, Karon and Kata if you’re visiting in high season.

Things To Do

Tired of going to the beach? Don’t worry. Phuket has a lot more to do than just spend time in the sun and on the sand. Some of the island’s most popular activities include:

  • Elephant Trekking with KokChang Safari Elephant Trekking, which lets you get up and close with elephants in a safe, humane environment.
  • Cable Wakeboarding and Waterskiing at Phuket Wake Park, Southern Thailand’s biggest cable ski park.
  • Experience a Thai Culture Show at Phuket FantaSea, Phuket’s most popular theme park and show, held in Kamala Beach.
  • Explore Underwater with a snorkeling and island tour by Offspray Leisure, which visits some of the most popular islands and snorkeling locations around Phuket.

Nightlife

Phuket is one of Thailand’s nightlife capitals, with some of the country’s best bars, nightclubs and other nightspots. While it isn’t as huge as Bangkok or as wild as Pattaya, Phuket’s nightlife scene is a major attraction for many visitors to the island.

Almost all of Phuket’s nightlife can be found in Patong, with the majority of bars and clubs around Soi Bangla. This is also where most of the island’s “naughy” nightlife can be found. If you’re planning on partying in Phuket, you’ll want to stay in Patong so that you’re close to the action.

You can also find nightlife in Karon, Kata, Nai Harn and Rawai, although it’s smaller and much quieter than the bustling nightlife of Patong.

Gear Recommendations for Travel in Thailand

Thailand is one of the world’s most popular backpacking destinations, and as a result it suffers from a familiar problem for travelers: people severely overpack.

If you’ve traveled in Thailand before, you’ve no doubt seen the type of people I’m talking about. They walk around Khao San Road with massive backpacks — often two, with one on their back and a second, smaller backpack on their front.

Even if you’re backpacking around Thailand as a budget traveler, you don’t need to pack as much as you think. Most of the items you’ll need for your journey are available here, often at a lower cost to back home. You can save a lot of money, discomfort and baggage fees by packing light and picking up the extras once you arrive.

Before we share our gear recommendations, here’s what you don’t need to pack for your trip to Thailand:

  • Non-prescription medicines (they’re all available here at a lower cost to any Western country)
  • More than 4-5 t-shirts, pairs of shorts and underwear. Laundry services are abundant in Thailand and you can buy extra clothes from the markets for very low prices.
  • Travel guides. Books are heavy and cumbersome. Pack a tablet or install the Kindle app on your phone, then read your guides digitally to save weight.
  • A money belt. Thailand isn’t 100% crime-free, but it’s a safe destination and you’ll be find keeping your wallet in your pocket or bag.
  • A backpack. Unless you’re going to explore the islands, you can travel around Thailand using a wheeled travel bag, at least in most major cities. Only use a backpack if you plan on visiting the islands.
  • Sunscreen, toothbrushes and other toiletries. They’re all available in 7/11, again at a much lower cost than back home.

As for what to bring, here are our recommendations for items that aren’t easily available in Thailand or are only available at a high price:

  • Luggage. If you need to buy another backpack or bag here, expect to pay a higher price than average.
  • Boots, shoes and other leather goods. Any imported fashion products in Thailand are more expensive than back home, so we recommend bringing a good pair of walking boots (especially if you plan to visit the North) and a good leather belt for wearing with jeans from home.
  • Technology. Smartphones, computers, cameras and other consumer electronics cost more in Thailand than they do in most Western countries, so buy your tech before you travel.
  • Winter clothing. Thailand is a tropical country, but the North can get quite cold during the cool season. Since good quality winter clothing isn’t readily available, it’s better to bring a thin, breathable jacket from home instead of buying one after you arrive.

On the whole, there’s no need to pack too heavily when you visit Thailand, since everything you could need is easy to find (if, in the case of imported products, a bit expensive). Bring a mid-sized suitcase or light backpack with enough clothing to last you for five days at a time and you’ll have a great trip without the weight, discomfort and back pain of the travelers you see with supersized backpacks.