Far from the backpacking crowd: Discover Phuket

Find your version of paradise on Phuket’s best beaches

Palm trees rustling in the warm breeze. Shimmering azure water and ruby-red sunsets. Toes sinking into the softest white sand…

Suddenly, the tranquil mood is broken by a sea of rucksacks and gaggle of students. It’s easy to see why Phuket’s picture-perfect beaches are such a draw for backpackers. The good news is that, as Thailand’s largest island, there’s plenty of room for seekers of serenity on the ‘pearl of the Andaman’ – if you know where to look.

There are around 35 beaches in Phuket. But for all-round tropical perfection, the most famous ones lie along the west coast. It’s worth venturing further from your boutique retreat to reach the more ‘secret’, often deserted gems, that are generally off the well-trodden trail. Ask your hotel concierge to arrange a private car, longtail boat, luxury yacht or even helicopter to take you to some of those described below. It beats sharing a sweaty bus with people on their gap year.

Good to know… Don’t be deterred by the main coastal roads. The longest and most beautiful beaches are usually just off them.

1. Freedom Beach

Minutes from the frenetic glitz of Patong, Kata and Karon and their all-night parties is this tiny crescent of talcum-powder sand. You can only get here by boat during high season from December to June – and the only way to reach the shore is by jumping into the warm, shallow waters. So bring your swimming gear.

1. Freedom Beach

2. Banana Beach

For those ‘in the know’, huddled between Bang Tao and Naithon, is Banana Beach. Only 180 metres long, fishermen deliver their catch right onto the shore for the seafood restaurant to cook up for lunch. Snorkel to your heart’s content around the reef among moray eels and parrotfish. But check where you place your umbrella – as during high tide the waves wash up to where the tree line begins.

3. Kamala Beach

Escape to Kamala for a quiet swim, sunbathe and delicious Thai seafood dinner on the golden sand. Strangely, for somewhere relatively un-touristy, it’s home to the Phuket FantaSea Park. There’s also a big, all-day market here selling bizarre-looking fruits, vegetables and tasty snacks.

3. Kamala Beach

4. Surin Beach

Once a busy, tourist hotspot, most of the restaurants have now gone from Surin to leave behind a peaceful bay backed by parkland. Floating on your back in the crystal clear water feels wonderfully private. Bear in mind though, that May to October is when the big waves roll in – great for surfers, but not so for swimmers.

5. Natai Beach

A short drive across the bridge from Phang Nga brings you to the peaceful, unspoilt shores of Natai. You won’t find mega resorts or budget hostels interrupting the forest views in this pristine conservation area. There’s just an endless stretch of glistening sand, coconut groves and water lilies on lagoons.

6. Bang Tao Beach

As one of Phuket’s longest with no obvious development, you have six kilometres of beach to call your own, even during high season. Sloping sands bring the deep water up close to the shore. So you can dive straight in to swim, take off on a jet ski, or simply stroll along it past conifer-like casaurina trees.

6. Bang Tao Beach

Good to know… The 11-kilometre Mai Khao Beach is a plane spotter’s paradise, as jumbo jets from Phuket International Airport approach directly and dramatically above you.

7. Ao Sane

It seems like time has stood still on this exclusive beach that can only be reached through a tunnel under Nai Harn. It’s a bit more pebbly than most – but brilliant for snorkelling and scuba diving around its three sandy coves. You might be lucky enough to spot a Hawksbill Turtle while enjoying a drink or beach massage.

7. Ao Sane

Last but not least…

At Phuket’s northern tip is miniscule Haad Pak Phra beach. You won’t quite believe your eyes, or the just about tolerable smell, as local women and kids sit happily in huge gloopy pools of white jellyfish, preparing them for markets in Bangkok.

Luxury hotels in Phuket