Looking for a party or something calm and relaxed? Check out the best places to stay in Phuket!
The second most obvious travel hub in Thailand, after Bangkok of course, has to be Phuket. A gorgeous tropical island in the Andaman sea with beaches, hills, jungles and scenic little communities. But where is the best place to stay in Phuket? In this article, I will go over the different subcultures on the island and list some of the places that make the most sense for you to pick an accommodation from.
WHERE TO STAY IN PATONG
One of the most crowded areas on the island, a lot of tourism flocks to the city of Patong. The nightlife is unlike anywhere on the island, and if you ask me, so is the amount of hotels you can choose from. Having personally lived there myself for almost three years, I know a thing or two about Patong. Lodged between two lagoons on either side, Patong also has its own famous beach. The beach road in Patong is filled with restaurants, resorts, bars and motorcycles rentals, so naturally the beach is not as idyllic as you may expect from some of the brochures. However, a Tuk-tuk to one of the more quiet beaches nearby easily solves that problem, and in the meantime you get to take advantage of the countless restaurants, bars, shops and of course the thriving nightlife in Patong.
Choosing the right place to stay really comes down to personal preference, although I am fascinated myself by Lub-D a relatively new place close to Patong Beach. This boutique hostel combines cool design, great amenities (lightning-fast internet), a working space for digital nomads and very affordable pricing. Plus, the place houses its fair share of globetrotting Asians and young backpackers from all over the world, so you are bound to make some interesting acquaintances.
I would not recommend staying in Patong with a family, as everything here seems to be aiming for the single traveler and the party crowd in general.
NOT INTO NIGHTLIFE – MORE INTO SPORTS?
Phuket has a variety of tourist and a fast-growing group of athletes come to Phuket as a part of their training regimen. Over the years, this has become somewhat of a local industry and the best facilities by far can be found around Tiger Road. Named after Phuket’s biggest Muay Thai training facility on the island, several other Muay Thai schools have popped up in this central area. And with the training craze came a whole micro-economy targeting athletes. Personal trainers, healthy food fanatics and massage experts all make it their business to be close to Tiger Road.
Eventually, this wave of athletes grew beyond martial arts, and by now there is a regular amount of Australians and other Nationalities to be found as well, working hard on their physique. For anyone planning a fitness holiday, Tiger Road is the best place to stay in Phuket. These type of holidays are more affordable in Thailand than anywhere else, as you get to work with nutritionists, personal trainers, crossfit experts and all kinds of fitness & health consultants at much lower rates than you would find them at home.
Now, if you are going to Phuket to work on your Muay Thai, chances are your school has already taken care of your accommodation and you are all sorted out. For those coming in for a few weeks by themselves, I always advise them to get something a motorcycle ride away from Tiger Road, preferably somewhere in the hills. Not only will you get a great deal because you are outside the party area, you will also get to focus 100% on your progress!
THE BEST AREA TO STAY IN PHUKET FOR COUPLES
One of the things you will regularly see on the beaches of Phuket, is a Chinese couple of newlyweds trying to get their wedding pictures as scenic as possible. Usually, the bride is standing somewhere on a rocky ledge, screaming at her husband who is already fed up with the whole thing. Meanwhile, a photographer is quietly standing in the background, trying hard to make something out of the shoot with the remaining light he has before the sun definitely sets.
Having said that, Phuket is definitely a destination for lovers, and depending on your budget you can go all out with a private villa and pool in the Surin area, or find an even more exclusive place to stay on the millionaire mile. Villa Yin and Villa Yang (those names are NOT a coincidence!) are two eagerly named properties when it comes to luxury, but if you want to spend a little less, Laguna Resort in Phuket serves a variety of budgets.
The last time I spent some romantic time on Phuket, me and my girl made sure we changed locations every two days, and made it a game to find last minute hotels at the lowest possible rates. This is a great way to explore the island, and we always found the best area to stay in Phuket: As long as you make sure your accommodation is within a stone’s throw of a beach you simply can’t go wrong.
THE BEST PLACE TO STAY IN PHUKET FOR FAMILIES
Building on my previous example, the whole “hotel-hopping” doesn’t make sense when you are with a family. Being close to a great beach, and possibly an area where the kids can play as well is much more important than getting creative with your accommodation.
Know that Phuket also has a bit of a naughty side, and that it is best to stay away from those areas with your kids as well, unless you want to explain your 10-year old what a ladyboy is and why everyone is trying to make pictures of it. There are countless attractions on the island that are more appropriate for young kids, and planning ahead for those is probably a great idea. Especially the Elephant Sanctuary tends to be booked out days in advance.
Karon, Kata and Kamala are all great areas to spend time with your kids. There are several resorts in these areas where your kids can roam around and make friends and alternatively, Nai Harn is a beautiful beach where a lot of locals like to go as well. There are a few hotels in the area and the snorkeling is amazing too. You are less likely to meet travelers from your country but if you want to spend more time with your family alone, Nai Harn is a great bet.
And don’t forget: anywhere you would like to go is never further away than a Tuk-tuk or a long tail boat!
WHERE TO STAY IN PHUKET FOR SINGLES
If you are single in Phuket (many of its visitors are), there are several ways to celebrate your holiday. If you are mainly interested in the nightlife and want to get to know some locals, Patong is probably your best bet. Bang La road is legendary and if you start of in one of the bars, I guarantee you won’t be alone for very long. It doesn’t hurt to do a little research on the bars you frequent, to avoid awkward mistakes.
If you are more of a beach-club type of person, I would recommend the Surin area, and picking up an activity that allows you to connect with other travelers. While climbing is something that is mostly done in the nearby province of Khrabi, diving is popular on- and around Phuket, and there are plenty of courses and tours you can easily join. For a longtail boat to the nearest island, all it takes is a chat with one of the tour agents inside their little booths that you can find all over the island. Remember, Tripadvisor is your friend when it comes to getting a second-opinion, so whatever your plan is, make sure to double-check with them as well.
Patong, and of course Patong beach is a very popular beach, but for many people this is a very good reason NOT to go there in the first place. The jet ski rentals, parasailing speedboats and countless other attractions make sure there is always something to do. But in terms of quietude, other beaches are much more suitable on Phuket. Kata beach is almost equally popular, but with less hotels nearby and a very wide lagoon you will have more “disposable beach area” for you and your company. Towards the Southern side there are several surf schools active and during the monsoon season the big waves drive out local surfers who are entertaining to look at. And when there are no waves, the Surf House is a great place to have a drink and watch people play on the artificial wave.
Nai Harn and Rawai are even further south and we recommend visiting these beaches only if you have a rental car or transportation of your own. The taxi prices on the island border on the ridiculous, so as a matter of principle it is best to boycott that industry whenever you can.
Bang Tao beach is Phuket’s longest beach, which is why I prefer it above all others. Whether you want company or rather be by yourself, it’s all just a few minutes walking. The absence of hotel towers also helps, making Bang Tao my preferred beach on the island.
Pro tip: Iguana Beach is just outside Patong, extremely scenic (Instagram people!) and inaccessible to vendors of any kind. Spend your first day on the beach at Iguana Beach club to gather your bearings after a long flight.
THE DO’S AND DON’T’S
Without a doubt, the Elephant Sanctuary mentioned earlier is an activity anyone will enjoy. Not only is the attraction part of a bigger movement in South-east Asia that emphasizes sustainability, you will also learn a lot about these animals and see the different personalities that they exhibit. This is not a Zoo, it is a free-range area for these animals and the vibe is great.
If you are staying longer than a week on the island, absolutely make sure you plan a trip to any neighboring island. Phi-phi is best done with an overnight stay, as the boat ride to Phi-Phi is too long to do it twice in a single day, unless you take a speedboat.
Another popular day tour will take you to the James Bond island, where footage to “The Man With The Golden Gun” was shot. Several islands are completely deserted as well, and if you are looking for solitude, possibly with “that special someone” it is a great idea to spend the day with him or her. Find a long tail boat captain, tell him you’d like to visit a private beach and make it abundantly clear you do not want to see any other tourists there. Once you’ve agreed to a price you are good to go!
Phuket is an incredible island, combining jungle hills with glorious beaches and twisting jungle roads. Phuket city is relatively small and offers an interesting community to those people wanting to get away from the touristy feel for a while. But while there is so much to see and do, there are several things I would stay away from. The never-ending stream of tourist has created a taxi and tuk-tuk industry which is extremely spoiled.
This means that often, service is bad, expensive and the drivers can be rude and pushy. Do not expect anyone to step in if you should ever get into trouble because the police knows not to interfere. Feel free to use a Tuk-tuk or taxi, but make sure it is crystal clear where you are going and what the total amount is before you start driving. Anything else will likely result in an expensive “misunderstanding”, especially at night.
Another classic rip-off are the various “Gun Clubs” on the island. Located next to high-frequency roads, you will see billboards of foreigners holding a gun and aiming at an imaginary target behind the camera. “That looks like fun”, you think and once you are inside, you find out that the “gun club” is a poorly maintained shed with a single shooting range. The bullets are overpriced and you will be pressured to pick a gun, empty your clip and leave.
Regardless of what you are told, renting a big bike does not come with insurance
Regardless of what you are told, renting a big bike does not come with insurance and you will be liable for damages. Having had my share of accidents on smaller motorcycles I advise against these big bikes anyway, as they can be a handful. Keep in mind that the roads in Phuket are twisty, badly maintained and apart from cars driving in the opposite direction, a lot of people make up their rules as they see fit. While renting a scooter is a great way to get around the island, getting a high-displacement motorcycle is not only expensive, you will be exposing yourself to extreme risks driving them unless you have the necessary experience.
Phuket is a fantastic island, and by simply doing a little research you are practically guaranteed to have a rewarding and incredible holiday. Singles are bound to end up in Patong, whereas families are better off sticking to Karon, Kata or Kamala. I also think both couples and families tend to flock towards Surin and its beach, if they are willing to pay a little more for their accommodation. Athletes and fitness lovers should make sure they stay close to Riger road, and as such it is only natural they find an accommodation close to Nai Harn or Rawai, which are both beautiful and quiet areas, that connect well with the sporty lifestyle these kind of tourists pursue.
Oh, and don’t forget to wear sunscreen! 🙂
More Thailand: Check out other amazing things you can do in Thailand
Sacha Albarda is an copywriter/online media expert living in South-east Asia for the better part of a decade. Asked what he likes best about living there, he usually answers that it’s “the tightly organized anarchy”.