Patong is the main tourist beach with hotels lined up into the hills. Shops, nightclubs, and bars fill the streets close to the beach. Restaurants are everywhere serving up anything from Italian, Indian, to Sushi. There are of course Thai restaurants as well with an emphasis on seafood (fresh fish, squid, lobsters (Phuket lobsters have no claws), shrimp and prawns).
Patong beach was the hardest hit area in Thailand during the tsunami of 2004. Some of the most dramatic footage of the tsunami, seen over and over again on television, was taken by tourists in their hotels near the beach. The bulk of the Thailand causalties took place there.
Today the area is completely back to normal with it's shop-lined streets and a whole new fleet of tuk-tuks.
To escape the tourist ghetto of Patong, we usually head to Nai Harn,a small crescent shaped beach on the southern tip of the island. Originally, the beach was owned by a Buddhist enclave located just off the sandy beach in a lightly forested area. Development was kept to a minimum and today there are still only two hotels on the beach. Our first two visits to Nai Harn Beach were in 1999 and 2000, and we stayed at the only hotel on the beach at the time, The Royal Phuket Yacht Club. The hotel is terraced along a slope on the northern end of the beach. All 110 rooms have a private terrace, many larger than the room itself, overlooking the sea. Even during high season, the hotel never seemed more than half full.
Nai Harn is also a beach where more local Thais seem to frequent. Usually appearing in small groups, especially around sunset or on days that were a bit overcast, they would find shady spots to hang out at before they make their way into the water. Many Thais we saw went right into the water fully clothed. They didn't have on their "best" clothes but it was not unusual to see whole families in the water with jeans and shirts on.Alan on Nai Harn Beach
As far as tourist beaches go, Nai Harn is difficult to beat. The water is warm and clean, some decent snorkeling on the north and south ends of the beach, and no jet skis for rent. We would spend our days, just about every day, on the beach. The scenery would change as people come and go. We'd read, write, swim, nap, eat, all right on the beach.
Beach chairs do line the beach and we'd rent them for around $3.00 a day. The island standard price doubled from 50 baht per day ($1.50) to 100 baht per day about a year and a half ago and there was some talk of doubling it yet again when we were there last year, but I don't know what's become of it.
The price of tourism is showing on the island though. Everything is slowly being stretched to the limit. With more and more areas being developed for tourism, the beaches are getting packed with tourists and natural resources are becoming scarce, especially water. We did talk with a woman running a small laundry who was complaining she was only allowed to turn her water on for three hours a day to do laundry, and when she did, most of the water flowing from her tap was dirty. That's not what you want when you're in the laundry business.
The tourist industry is trying to combat some of the effects of tourism on the island of Phuket by raising prices; from accommodations, to food, to beach chair rentals, in hopes of driving out some of the bottom budget travelers. Unfortunately, with over 5 million visitors to the island last year, it's still more than the island can currently sustain for any extended period of time.
I'd say it's relatively safe to eat on the beach. There is no running water but everything is usually iced-down before cooking.
And there is always Durian, as well as beetles, crickets, and other assorted grubs.
Built in 2001, this lower priced alternative to the Royal Phuket Yacht Club has been our choice of places to stay at Nai Harn. Rates today run around $69 per night compared with $375 at the Royal Phuket Yacht Club next door. During high season the hotel is usually filled with mostly Europeans, the majority of which are mature German couples. We're usually the odd pair at the hotel and not much attention is paid to us. The rooms are clean and comfortable and the breakfast buffet is good. It's right across the road from the beach and we usually spend a month or more there without being the least bit bored.
Club One Seven in the Patong Beach area.
The original Club One Seven was wiped out during the tsunami. The owners relocated to a street on the southern end of the Patong area, just a 5 minute walk to the beach. If you want to stay in the Patong area and don't need to be in the thick of things, this would be a good choice. It's a small gay owned and staffed 15 room property away from all of the night noise of Patong.
If you're looking for a quiet deserted beach destination, Phuket is probably not for you. Most beaches on the island are "tourist beaches" set up for as many people as the beach can bear. We've only been there during the high season (November through March) and it's usually full of people escaping cold winters back home.
If you do decide to go, breeze through Patong and stay at Nai Harn. November and March are probably the best times to go.
Nai Harn Beach, Thailand time
**Memories: Christmas 1999, midnights on the beach
**Visits: Winters, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006
**Links: Nai Harn Beach at Phuket Dot Com