One of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand, Phuket receives hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors each year. Unfortunately, it’s this very reason that gives the island a mixed reputation – luckily, most of the tourists are concentrated in a few hot spots.
During our time in Phuket, we were determined to get away from the crowds, and voila! Here’s our five beaches for escaping the tourist horde:
Laem Singh Beach
Located on Phuket’s West coast and nestled in the hills between Kamala and Surin, the picturesque Laem Singh beach is undoubtedly one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. Access to the beach is via two steep staircases, which may be easy to miss depending on the season, giving it the feeling of a “secret” beach.
Although signs to the beach and parking lots have sprung up, Laem Singh will always be less crowded than the other beaches, even during the peak tourist months of December and January. If you visit outside of the peak months, it’s not uncommon to be one of the only people on the beach.
Snorkelling is great around the rocks and a few other beach activities can be found during the high season, such as body boarding and beachside massages.
Phang Nga Bay
Although it can’t get any more touristy than Phang Nga Bay, it’s still possible to enjoy the fantastic scenery without mixing in with those who flock here every day.
Two of the most famous spots in the area are James Bond Island and Koh Panyee, so simply avoid these two places. Rather than joining one of the standard bus-boat tours offered by every tour agent on the island, the best way to experience Phang Nga Bay is to charter a traditional Thai long tail boat and head north. It can be done quite inexpensively, and it comes with your local Thai captain, who’ll be able to take you to the more secluded beaches and you can enjoy a relaxing day of leisurely sightseeing at your own pace.
Technically an island off Phuket’s East Coast, Ko Sire, however, feels more like a a cape or an extension of the main island. Relatively undeveloped, the island has some fantastic coastal roads offering stunning scenery of both the coast and the many rubber plantations.
A visit to Koh Sire is like taking a step back in time and witnessing what Phuket was like many years ago. The island is much more laid back than the rest of Phuket and is host to a small community of very friendly sea gypsies, known locally as chao ley (which translates to people of the sea), still living in the traditional ways of their ancestors but are more than happy to share their culture with you.
Thought to have been the original inhabitants of Phuket, the chao ley of Ko Sire are very proud of their roots and are happy to see foreigners taking an interest in their ways of life. If you’re lucky you can even try your hand at making a traditional Thai fishing net!
Nai Harn beach is a great stop on the way to the lesser known beaches of Ya Nui and Ao Sane. The beach is very popular amongst locals and long-term expats who prefer to avoid the crowds. Although a few resorts and hotels have popped up, it’s still relatively quiet. Nai Harn, along with Ao Sane, is accessible via a small road from the Royal Phuket Yacht Club’s parking lot.
The presence of a few small local restaurants and shops makes it possible to spend the entire day at Nai Harn. At the South end of the beach, a stream feeds into the sea from the lake across the road which has been turned into a concrete pond with paddle boats available for rent. Between the beach and the lake lies Wat Nai Harn and these two spots are even worth a visit in themselves (remember to dress appropriately when visiting the temple).
A small stretch of sand between Nai Harn and the Promthep Cape, Ya Nui is one of those beaches that are easy to miss if you don’t know exactly where it is. The significant lack of beach chairs, shops and big resorts is what makes Ya Nui so different to other beaches on the island.
On our first visit in 2013, there was nothing but one restaurant and a few bamboo huts on the beach. Since then, a few more small restaurants have opened up, but the beach still retains its secluded feel.
What struck me most about Ya Nui, apart from the natural beauty, were the memorial plaques at the northern end of the beach – sobering reminders of the thousands who lost their lives during the 2004 tsunami. Ya Nui and the rest of Phuket has rebuilt itself, but these plaques are testament to the tragedy that took place on this tropical island paradise.