Phuket is the ultimate beach holiday destination. From bustling Patong to laid back Nai Yang, there's a paradise for everybody. The difficulty is deciding where to stay. From north to south, these are my picks of the best beaches in Phuket.
1. Nai Yang Beach. In the far northwest of Phuket, in the Sirinat National Park, you'll find beautiful Nai Yang. I encourage those of you who bemoan Phuket as one monstrous Patong to visit here. At the northern end of the beach is a relaxed tourist town. At the southern end are Casuarina trees; these breezy trees creep down close to the high tide mark and create the perfect place to build sandcastles in the shade. Not far offshore is a large reef that delivers snorkelling year round and surf in the southwest monsoon (May to October). Nai Yang is also a popular kite boarding location.
2. Bang Tao Beach. While not the prettiest beach in Phuket, Bang Tao is laid-back and long (approximately six kilometres), and it has good beach restaurants to suit a range of tastes and budgets. Inland are a series of lakes around which are a golf course, resort, and residential estate developed by the Laguna Phuket group. Along with Nai Yang, Bang Tao is convenient to Phuket airport. Many of the jet skis that menace Phuket's central beaches are launched at Bang Tao.
3. Surin Beach. A personal favourite, Surin is a strip of sand nestled in a bay between rocky headlands. The bay begs to be lapped at sunrise by walking, jogging or swimming. Wat Surin provides atmosphere and the street food stalls in the car park provide fresh fruit, cold beer, tropical shakes, and BBQ goodies (chicken, squid, vegetables, fish balls) on sticks. Watch the sun set over the Andaman Sea and dream of India and Sri Lanka over the horizon.
Wat Surin, the Buddhist temple at Surin Beach, Phuket
4. Kamala Beach. The next beach south of Surin is Kamala. It is closer to Patong, and therefore busier, than its northern neighbours. Kamala lies in a handsome bay lined with restaurants, beauty salons and trinket stalls, and is your best bet for reasonably priced beach-front accommodation. Kamala is home to Phuket Fantasea, Phuket's cultural theme park.
5. Patong Beach. Patong is the craziest tourist beach in Phuket, perhaps in the world. If you've come to Phuket to party, look no further, hedonistic Patong is your beach. But even if partying isn't your thing, Patong is somewhere to experience nonetheless. Whatever your poison – drinking in seedy bars, dining in fine restaurants, shopping, jet skiing, parasailing, suntanning, sweet talking – you can do it to the extreme in Patong. But please don't get your photo taken with a gibbon (small ape), and if you do see someone taking a gibbon around as a tourist attraction, then please report the incident to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (details on their website).
6. Karon Beach. Not too busy, not too quiet, Karon is just right. This pretty beach is less hectic than its neighbour to the north (Patong) and more spread out than its neighbour to the south (Kata). It is a central and safe base for exploring Phuket and is home to several fine resorts.
7. Kata Beach. Beautiful and busy Kata is one of Phuket's most popular beaches. You won't run out of ideas of things to do here. The streets adjacent to the beach are packed with tour ticket sellers, dive shops, yoga studios, tailors, cafes, bars and restaurants. Reasonable diving and snorkelling can be found around Koh Pu (Jules' Island), the small round island offshore.
8. Nai Harn Beach. A favourite of yachties and surfers, Nai Harn is a charming little place between the hills on the south western tip of Phuket. Offshore there is a small island, around which there is quite good snorkelling. On the dunes, behind the umbrellas and loungers, is a strip of restaurants shaded by palms. And inland are a Buddhist temple, large lake and one of the few outdoor children's parks in Phuket. The Royal Phuket Yacht Club is at the northern end of the beach and nearby are several viewpoints, including Phromthep Cape Lookout.
9. Rawai Beach. Rawai is in the far southwest of Phuket on the eastern side of Phromthep Cape. The water isn't as clean and clear here because the beach faces the Phang Nga Bay side of Phuket. Rawai is a premier kite boarding location and is close to the renowned sailing hub, Ao Chalong. Also in the area are a number of health, yoga, and Muay Thai boxing retreats.
10. Racha Yai Bay. Although technically not on the island of Phuket, the exquisite Racha Yai Bay is postcard perfect. The bay is just ten nautical miles south of Phuket on the island of Racha Yai. A boat ride to the island makes for a memorable day trip. Diving and snorkelling are excellent on the coral reefs that fringe the bay and several walking trails lead off around the island from behind the dunes.