We have been to Phuket a handful of times in the past but it wasn’t until our recent visit where we venture to the southern beaches, famous for white sands and over-development. Phuket Island, which is in fact not much smaller in size to Singapore, is mostly developed in the south, and these areas, travelling through Kata, Karon and Patong, can at times be overly touristy with beaches strewn with beach loungers and hard-sell. We therefore prefer to escape the south to Phuket villa rentals which are found throughout the island. As personally I wouldn’t recommend any of the southern beaches in Phuket, although they’re probably fine if arriving from abroad, for a beach break, western comforts, hedonism and nightlife. Otherwise I would personally avoid the southern beaches altogether. In past travels we’ve come across a handful of alternative experiences on, and around, the island and in the Phangnga region and regardless of where we stay, we will always be offered the same tours, excursions and opportunities to experience the adventures and scenes of the Andaman. Therefore we would much prefer a nice serene area, and a luxury pool villa to get away from it all.
One of the more obvious alternatives, but by far not the only, would be to travel to the north of the island, from the airport, and in doing so Mai Khao Beach is hard to look past. This area offers a serene escape and the beach here is so quiet and laidback that it feels like a completely different island in comparison. An area void of tourism, yet with just enough excitement to keep you entertained. There have only been a handful of resorts developed in the area, almost all high-end, and very few tourists see past the boundaries of their resorts. This means the beaches are clean and tourist free and have little more than twigs, footprints and sand crabs. During our more recent stay on Mai Khao Beach we explored the area by bike, by circling the perimeter of a somewhat forgotten lake before following the beach road, passing pretty much nobody. A morning rain shower had just hit, and the sun was beating down on the lawns and garden lizards which came out to bask on the paths and rocks lining the beach front. There are loads of them, and then hopping between the trees and grass below are the hoopoe birds which pick at grubs with their long pointy bills. The abundance of island wildlife is fascinating. We’ve now stayed here twice But Mai Khao beach is just one example of how to escape to a more serene and tranquil area of this multifaceted and diverse island paradise.
There are of course umpteen options for escape and we have covered quite a few in the past. And even on the very south coast there are lesser known beaches and small fisherman villages to explore. We did once explore further in this area, by motorbike, where a sunset tour took us past some of the most idyllic, yet not developed, landscapes, as the south is best known for its beautiful beaches. And this is also where Phuket Old Town is, one of the more intriguing attractions in Phuket, and certainly when it comes to culture and heritage. This is the old city of Phuket, an area of century old Sino-Portuguese architecture, old colonial shophouses, quaint Chinese temples and a bit of old world charm. This is an area which highlights the diversity of Phuket and its surroundings and it only really brings only a trickle of travellers rather than the tourist crowds of the island’s resort beaches. It has even become a bit artsy and hipster, reminding me a bit of Georgetown, Penang, but not quite as overbearing.
There are almost too many options to choose from in Phuket and it is a destination we can always keep coming back to. Some of the other intriguing getaways with embarked on include Ko Yao Yai an island found just twenty minutes east of Phuket in Phang Nga Bay with unique charm in culture and almost empty of tourists. It has a 90% Muslim population where many locals are of Malay or Indonesian heritage, and this is reflected culturally in dress, architecture and halal ways. Traditional trades here are in fishing and farming, and among unique island sites are the drying of anchovies (pla ching chang) and cashew nut trees. Then there is Koh Maphrao just off the same coast and is an island which feels untouched and a short visit finds unique and authentic local life where the locals appear somewhat surprised even to see a tourist pottering beyond the safety of resorts. On the beach we watched as local kids launched their fishing boats, and fishermen fixed nets and chiselled on old wooden boats. The communities are local fishing communities, and then travelling inland finds dense forests and seemingly endless rubber tree plantations. And opposite on the mainland is one of my favourite spots for a feed at Laem Hin Pier with floating restaurants and cheap Southern Thai food at Laem Hin Seafood. In short, there is just so much to explore and to choose from when staying in Phuket.