the best & worst of this big, diverse tropical island

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Phuket is a big island with many different beaches and levels of development. Few visitors get a full view of the island, with many leaving with the idea that the island is completely over-developed. Yet others leaving thinking it is something close to a beach paradise. Here we take a wide overview of Phuket in its entirety, looking at both the best and the worst of this famous beach destination and its true beachfront resorts. There are plenty of positives, as well as negatives, as we will illustrate.

Pros – such a famous island has a good few

Beaches exceptionally beautiful; great sand, the clearest water

With Phuket being an island, it gets washed by the clear waters of the deep ocean, and the water here is considerably clearer than that along most mainland beaches. The sand is exceptionally fine because the west coast is exposed to the direct force of the waves of the annual monsoon. Also, because the island is quite rugged with mountains falling directly into the ocean, many pretty bays have been formed between headlands, creating exceptionally beautiful tropical beach settings.

huge variety of beaches, from very active to isolated

Phuket is a big island – some 50 kilometres long – with dozens of beaches in varied geographical settings. This creates a wide variety in appearance, while the levels of development range from active, and even crowded Patong Beach, to isolated and undeveloped Mai Khao Beach. Then there are also many smaller, little-known beaches scattered on all shores, some with resorts, others without any development at all.

huge variety of accommodations

There are over 800 accommodation establishments on Phuket, and these cover the entire spectrum; city hotels, small backpacker beach bungalows, mid-size boutique establishments to 5-star beach resorts and famous, 5-star international chain hotels. But beware, only 8% of that huge number of hotels & resorts is really on a beach.

some of the world's best beachfront resorts

Thai hotels are often praised for the high standards of their service, and here in the beach resorts it is the same; the service is among the best in the world. The quality of design and construction of Thai beach resorts is also second to none. When these attributes are set into the many beautiful beach environments that Phuket enjoys, the result is beach resorts of superb, world-class quality.

part of an amazingly beautiful geographic region

Right behind Phuket is Phang Nga Bay, with its amazing vertical, rock-stack mountains rising for calm waters. To the north and south are scores of beautiful islands, some formed by huge granite boulders. Others are 'mainland' islands of completely different origins. The Andaman Sea that washes them all is an amazingly calm, little sea with many unique properties. The lush tropical foliage that covers everything above water is only matched in beauty by the colourful coral reefs below. The Andaman coast of Thailand is truly an amazingly beautiful region, with many great environments to explore and enjoy.

so many attractions & things to do and see

Phuket is what we call a 'mature' resort, one that has had almost two generations of development. With that has come a whole array of attractions for visitors to enjoy, be it riding an elephant or an ATV vehicle, taking in a cabaret of transvestites or watching dancing jumbos. Or go diving, sailing, elephant trekking, fishing or kite surfing. Phuket has spas by the dozen, and beach masseuses by the hundred. Visit modern shopping malls and traditional Asian markets. The food is among the best in the world, and restaurants in which to enjoy it are set into all kinds of beautiful locations. Try the wild nightlife, or hide out on a tranquil beach. The list of things to do and see, along with the places to visit, goes on and on. Phuket can offer a beach holiday with endless things to do by day or night, or a tranquil resort on a remote beach for pure chill-out. See more things to do on Phuket.

many lifestyle activities; shopping, entertainment, hospitals

The lifestyle attractions that Phuket offers are extensive; shopping centres of all kinds, high class restaurants, beach clubs and golf clubs, world-class hospitals offering 'medical tourism', marinas with modern yachts for charter. These are attractions that draw more than tourists, for thousands of people from cold climates settle into Phuket for a few months each year to escape the northern winter.

Thai food, in Thailand, is simply the best in the world

Thai food may be available all around the planet, but there is simply no way to get it as good as ordering it right here in Thailand. While Phuket cannot rival Bangkok as a culinary centre, it still has many excellent eateries where the best of Thai cuisine can be found. But do be warned, to get real Thai flavours that satisfy the local Thais, you generally have to leave the touristy west coast and head across the mountains to find restaurants catering to the locals rather than tourists. Try one of our restaurant recommendations on Khao Rang hill near Phuket town.

Phuket town; Chinese & Thai cultures, dining, entertainment, shopping

Phuket town is quite a different world to that in which most of the beach resorts reside, and can add new dimensions to a visit to Phuket. Here you can tour the markets, temples and shopping centres, or try some of the many dining and entertainment establishments. Otherwise take in the cultural experience of visiting the old Chinese town. We offer many ideas on things to do in Phuket town, including tips on taking a walking tour through the well-preserved and beautiful old Chinese row houses.

Cons – Phuket has its share of these too

only 8% of total hotels really on the beach

For an island with over 800 accommodation establishments it is surprising to find that a mere 8% pass True Beachfront's qualifications – no road between the hotel and the beach. Patong Beach is the most glaring example; there are over 240 accommodation establishments here, yet only three are really on Patong Beach. See our beach map of Patong.

Phuket suffers the same blight that hurts or destroys beaches the world over – roads built right along the top of the sand of so many of its beaches. So choose carefully if you want your beach resort really on a beach.

the famous beaches are becoming crowded

Patong, Kata and Karon are the most famous beaches in Phuket, for a very good reason; they are among the most beautiful on the island, each set between headlands with a high mountain rising behind. But they can get quite crowded in the peak season – not crowded in the manner of Mediterranean or Chinese beaches, mind you, but there are still many more people on these beaches than some visitors want to find. But Phuket has so many choices in beaches, from these three bustling ones to others that are virtually deserted even during the high season. For a lonely choice with good resorts see Mai Khao Beach.

the island is becoming heavily urbanized & very ugly

The modern development of Phuket is simply ugly. The once-beautiful rice fields, wetlands and other green areas have been turned into tasteless rows of shop-houses and other barren concrete landscapes. Trees hardly get root space in the new urban planning, or when they do it is usually as small decorative trees like palms and bushes, not big shady trees that can cool the environment and provide leisure space for children. The entire centre of the island is now undergoing this ugly transformation, while the areas behind the beaches are also suffering similar fates. See our view of Phuket's future at what Phuket will look like in future.

public transport around the island is very poor

Phuket suffers from a lack of good public transport, and the government knows it. Various attempts to establish networks of reliable, private bus services have failed, though there are a few buses here and there. The introduction of meter taxis has also been something of a failure, for they are few in number, and often the drivers refuse to turn on the metres for foreigners, as the law decrees they should. Many tourists join the locals on the slow 'song taew' buses – converted trucks that are entered through the back. These run between Phuket town and the major beaches, picking up and dropping off randomly along the way.

tuk-tuk drivers aggressive, rude & sometimes dangerous

A mafia-like network of tuk-tuk drivers controls virtually all transport on Phuket's tourist beaches, charging the highest transport prices in the country – despite that they offer non-air conditioned services in dinky little vehicles. They are always greedy, often rude and argumentive, and sometimes violent. The government has tried to break their shameful grip on the tourist industry, but so far without success. When dealing with these guys, beware, especially late at night when their greed becomes especially rampant.

many non-beachfront hotels willing to deceive customers

Not only is a huge majority of beach hotels in Phuket built on the wrong side of a big road, many of their websites fail to show or mention this. Isn't omission another form of misleading, or even dishonest advertising? Many describe themselves in obscure terms like 'right by the beach', while others use the description 'beachfront', when it is simply not true when we consider the road in front. Be sure to check our maps before booking a beach hotel in Phuket – if you want 'true beachfront'.

jet-ski rip-offs are common

Jet skis are the bane of 100s, providing pleasure for the tiny few. There have been many attempts to rid Phuket of jet skis, all of which have failed in this country of weak government. Jet ski owners have been for pulling scams on tourists for years, accusing renters of their machines of damaging them, then extorting large sums of money as a result. Some of the scams are quite cunning, and difficult for a tourist to avoid. See how they catch unsuspecting tourists here on Phuket's jet-ski scams.

beware the jewellery scams

Sometimes, when you get into a taxi or tuk-tuk the driver will quickly steer you into a jewellery shop – whether you want it or not, or even against your protests. They get paid for every visitor that can deliver to the front door of some of the jewellery stores here.. Also, tourist guides collect commissions of up to 40% of sales to the tourists they introduce to these large, legitimate-looking stores. Phuket is not the place to buy jewellery of any kind – Bangkok is. See our page about the various scams on Phuket at Jewellery scams on Phuket.

kratoeys in Patong sometimes dangerous

The kratoeys – ladyboys – of Patong are so famous they are one of the big nightlife attractions here. Each evening as they strut and parade down Soi Bangla tourists flock to have their photos taken with them. But beware, the kratoeys might have lady-like bodies, but they have very masculine tempers – hot and often aggressive. Drunken tourists who take a beautiful one back to their hotel room believing it to be a real girl regularly get big shocks, and sometimes bloody fights. It's a situation average tourists will never find themselves in. But others beware. See more photos of the kratoeys in Soi Bangla.

traffic jams in many parts of the island

Traffic jams each morning and evening: it's the story of towns and cities all over Thailand, and even this island sold as 'tropical paradise' can't escape the blight of too many cars, not enough roads and little planning. While the biggest jams are those near Phuket Town during the twice daily rush hours, Patong too suffers during the peak seasons.

the polluted water on Patong Beach

Patong Beach suffers the worst pollution of any beach in Phuket, with the Pollution Control Department of the Thai government giving it just two stars from a possible five on the polluted-pristine scale. At this low level the water can be hazardous to health. It's not always badly polluted, though after rain putrid water washes out of the small stream at the south end of the beach, carrying sewage run-off and rubbish from all of the Patong town area into the sea. When the water looks discoloured, swim in your hotels swimming pool, or head for another beach.

by John Everingham