Chalong; a narow beach, a big bay & Phuket's major boat harbour

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Chalong Bay has a poor, narrow beach, but a whole host of other advantages

Chalong is generally called a bay, not a beach, because its role as Phuket's biggest boat anchorage is critical to the island, while its beach role is minor. The beach is just a thin, narrow strip of filler sand between water and land. There is nothing remarkable about this beach save the views over the bay to offshore islands and anchored yachts – best enjoyed from a seaside cafe with a cool beer or glass of wine at sunset.
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Chalong Bay does, however, have a number of interesting beachfront hotels and resorts – all seen on our maps. Hotel guests who understand Phuket seek accommodation here for much more than a beach holiday. They come for a 'Phuket' vacation, for this east coast sector of the island is much less 'tourist' and 'beach', and much more 'Thai' and 'lifestyle'. Thus, while it’s not a classically beautiful beach like the famous ones at Patong and Kata on Phuket's west coast, Chalong's beach holds an entirely different set of allures and lifestyle advantages that attracts couples and families.
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The shores of this big, circular bay face most directions of the compass, giving Chalong many beaches facing many directions. The Bay is generally shallow, the beaches narrow and the sand somewhat coarser than that on the west coast beaches. Never crystal clear, the water is milky at best, and quite murky in the upper reaches. Here we focus on Chalong's western shoreline, that shown in our beach map with the beachfront hotels and resorts. The other sector of the Bay with resorts is that lining the east, facing west. The beach here is also part of the Cape Panwa peninsula , and the four beachfront hotels here are mapped and described as part of that.
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Chalong's active commercial strip; jetties, boats, resorts & restaurants

Chalong’s landmark 5-way circle marks the heart of this community, with strips of development running off on all five branches. Major shopping centres nearby include HomePro, Tesco Lotus and Makro, with many smaller convenience stores in the area. The long strip of development along the road to Rawai parallels the beach, with the local community making a living from boating, prawn breeding, lifestyle services, accommodation and tourism in various forms. A few people still eke a living from the remnant coconut and rubber plantations yet to be gobbled up by new housing estates.
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It's also on this shore that Chalong's beachfront resorts are located, facing shallow water or, at low tide, sand banks stretching out for hundreds of metres. These sandy expanses are fun for children to play or chase crabs on. Then, when the tide brings back the water this area turns into Phuket's top kite surfing venue. But even at high tide the waist-deep water is barely enough for anything but splashing about in. And not particularly clear. Forget swimming in Chalong Bay, use the pool. Living in Chalong is all about lifestyle, not beach.
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Hundreds of boats make Chalong their permanent anchorage, for the bay is completely protected from both the southwest monsoon and the northeast winds that arrive in December. The island's largest jetty, running out 700 metres to reach deep water, services so many passenger boats, dive boats and cruisers and others that there is something of a crowd here each morning. The is one of Phuket’s major points for chartering a speed boat or longtail boat for day-trips to Phang Nga Bay , the Phi Phi Islands and other destinations.
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There are quite a few restaurants and ocean-view bars near Chalong’s pier, including one the island's best-known Thai and seafood restaurants, Kan Eang @Pier and The Lighthouse, one of the old icons of this area. The small street running between the jetty and Chalong's 5-way intersection has two herbal steam baths plus an array of beer bars, many with hostesses. The offices for some tour companies are located here, along with those for the two major resorts on Racha Islands, Rayaburi Resort on the beautiful northern beach and the very upmarket on the beach facing the anchorage, The Racha .
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Chalong's beach basics; sand, water, shade, density of use, cleanliness etc

Sand: the sand on Chalong's different stretches of shore varies enormously. Along the western side where most resorts are found the sand is surprisingly fine for an enclose bay, but not very white, with occasional gravelly patches. Deep inside the bay the sand turns grey, then muddy as it approaches mangrove swamps.

T.he beach running around the whole bay is just a thin strip of sand, and is flooded completely at high tide.
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Water: The water trapped within the bay holds silt from the small rivers emptying into it, and does not flush easily with the tides – so it is never particularly clear. With a heavy concentration of housing and minor industry like prawn farms tight on the shore we can expect considerable pollution to reach the bay. The water is generally shallow along the beach, so Chalong Bay is not a swimming area.
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Shade: this varies from hotel to hotel, though in general there are few big, shady trees left along this shore. Walls and construction have replaced many. The beachfront hotels here generally provide umbrellas, and sometimes those are in the gardens, for there is little space on the narrow beach.
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Density of use: few people are ever seen on Chalong's narrow beach, even at the bigger resorts. Most guests use the resort pools and gardens.
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Jet-skis, noise & tranquillity: despite that Chalong is a densely inhabited suburb, there are few roads by the beach and no traffic noise. Since there are also no jet-skis or activities close to the beach, this is generally a very quiet and peaceful zone, enjoying pleasant views.
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Snorkelling, kayaking: the geography and water here so not lend themselves to either of these pursuits, savea little kayaking in the mangrove forests at the top of the bay. But here it's easy to rent a longtail boat to get to nearby offshore islands where clear water gives good snorkelling conditions and more interesting geography is better for kayaking.
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Kite surfing, sailing: these are the only water sports found here, for Chalong is the centre for both. Scores of sailing yachts are anchored here, and there are two small yacht clubs north of the jetty. During the windy northeast season – November to February – the protected waters of Chalong form the island's main centre for kite surfing, with a couple of kite schools operating here.
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Suitability for children: Chalong is also suitable for families and children, but not in the same way that the west coast beaches are. Since the Bay misses the beautifully clear water of the west coast beaches, swimming here is generally restricted to swimming pools. However, there are many more on-land activities to be enjoyed on this side of the island.
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Beach restaurants & bars: Chalong and its sister suburb Rawai are famed for restaurants, good value eating and especially for genuine Thai cuisine, not the tourist version often served along the west coast beaches. Restaurants here have to satisfy Thai customers, ensuring that the food is 'Thai' and not 'tourist'. International restaurants of various nationalities are also found in this area. A number of pleasant beach bars is also found in the area, particularly on the sister beach Rawai.
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Cleanliness, pollution: the beach around Chalong shores barely passes as clean, and when strolling far from a resort children have to watch out for broken glass. Prawn farms and out small industries often make a mess of the beach. The rest of the suburb has rubbish hiding behind every bush, along the roads and elsewhere, ensuring that Chalong matches the standard for Thailand – not very clean.
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Shops, markets, ATMs: since Chalong has a large urban population it also has a wide variety of shopping venues, from large super markets like Tesco-Lotus, Makro and HomePro to ever-present convenience stores like 7-Eleven. Then there are lots of small, traditional shops. Most major Thai banks have branches in the Tesco-Lotus centre.
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Car & bike rentals: it is exceptionally easy to rent either a motorcycle or car in this area, with many small agencies advertised along the main road.
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Chalong offers good restaurants, bars, lifestyle perks for big expat community

Chalong blends with its neighbours Rawai & Nai Harn to form one of Phuket's most desired suburban neighbourhoods. Several thousand expat foreigners have settled here among a mixed community of Thai Buddhists, Muslims and Chinese merchants. This is an area of low rolling hills set between beaches and mountains, covered in rubber plantations that are being cut slowly but surely for housing. There are a few small commercial and shopping centres here, while most of the area has low density housing and a reasonable cover of trees.
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The suburbs of Chalong-Rawai-Nai Harn boast many lifestyle attractions aimed at both expat and Thai markets, and to a lesser extent, tourists. A wide array of restaurants and bars comprise the obvious, high profile lifestyle perks. One can drink and dine by beach or ocean in numerous locations, at all price ranges. There are hilltop dining choices with great views and American fast-food outlets in a couple of small shopping malls. There are bakeries, coffee shops, delicatessens and all manner of other specialist restaurants. Another popular attraction is the choice of herbal steam baths, with massage at local prices. In this trendy area you can also find beauty services, meditation, exercise and alternative health centres. Many are run by 'new-age' expatriates from far flung corners of the globe.
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The cold of the European winter sends large numbers of retirees scurrying to Phuket for months at a time. These southern suburbs are favourites of long-term visitors, who generally avoid the more expensive tourist hotels on the west coast by renting houses by the month in Chalong, Rawai and Nai Harn . This growing, multi-national group of long-term visitors brings a significant bonus to the tills of local restaurants and bars.
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Phuket's other major expat residential centre lies behind Bang Tao and Surin beaches, well to the north. This area has many more million dollar villas and high-end estates, and is considered more up-market than the south end of the island. Higher prices in northern restaurants and bars also reflect the more elite tastes and deeper pockets there.
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Restaurants in the Chalong area live off regular customers – unlike the tourism venues of the west coast whose clients are forever replaced with new, unwitting arrivals. Tourists can be over-charged for poor quality food, but not regular customers. Chalong's restaurants have to be good, or very good, to survive in the highly competitive Thai dining market. There is an excellent choice of quality Thai and other foods here, with restaurant owners ever vigilant to protect their reputations with both Thais and expats.
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Those who live on the east side of Phuket rarely eat on the touristy West coast. But visitors in the beach hotels of the west coast should definitely venture east to find a higher standard of cuisine at lower prices. Some of the fine dining experiences in Chalong and Rawai can show visitors an entirely different face of this large and varied island.
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Word is spreading among foreigners visitors, and each year sees more and more move their holiday bookings from the west to the east coast. More hotels and resorts open here each year, and as our map shows, there are now several good beachfront choices on Chalong Bay. Perhaps the most up-market of these, The Vijitt, has been named to our list of Phuket’s Top 10 tranquil resorts despite that it is located in a built-up suburb. There’s good reason for that.
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Also, for more details of accommodations in this area see the separate page on Chalong's beachfront hotels.
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Chalong’s sister Rawai Beach

This nearby neighbour is closely identified with Chalong, such that the wider areas is often referred to as Rawai-Chalong. Though Rawai has a better-known beach than Chalong, it has a busy road running the length of the sand, and has no beachfront resorts. It has, however, lots of restaurants, bars and other lifestyle services that are popular with foreign expatriates living in this area.
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One of the top tourist spots here is the sea gypsy seafood market, right where the main road runs directly into the ocean at the bottom of the island. Here the local fishermen sell their catch directly to tourists on the beach. The tourists, largely Chinese and other Asians, then turn around and give their fish, crabs and squid to one of a half dozen restaurants that cook it for them for a fee.
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The sea gypsies have learned to charge ample tourist prices, and not all the fish is really from here. But the tourists love it, and can eat seafood at prices they can’t dream of back home.
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The sea gypsies have been fighting to hold onto their land, despite that they have lived there for generations. See more about this sad, poorly-integrated minority and their struggles to keep their homes.
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by John Everingham
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need advice about Thai beaches, beachfront hotels etc? try this for free.
Ask John E, the author here. He has photographed 1,100+ hotels on virtually every beach in Thailand with beachfront accommodation (and more in regional countries) over the past 30 years. “I try to answer all queries, and help as best I can.” E-mail: john@beachf.com