Phuket is a rather large island with most of the best beaches along the western coast on the Adaman Sea.
The largest, most popular beach is Patong, where more than half of the tourist visiting stay. It's the main tourist ghetto where streets are lined with shops, restaurants, and of course, bars.
Yes, there are plenty of those sleazy pickup bars as well.
Anything the typical tourist would need is in and around Patong, with the exception of elephant rides. That you can do a bit south of Patong.
The crescent shaped beach at Patong stretches three kilometers long and is lined completely with beach chairs for rent. During high season (December through February) they will be lined up four deep. Cost is 100 baht ($2.50) for 5 minutes or all day. You'll get a reclining lounger with a thin cushion, a small table, and a beach umbrella.
I've never really liked Patong beach. The water is often cloudy, and although swimable, it's not the cleanest.
The better tourists beaches are directly south of Patong: Karon, Kata, Kata Noi, and towards the southern tip of the island, Nai Harn. These beaches are the better choice for swimming and sunning. The water is generally cleaner than on Patong and the crowds are not as stifling. All the tourist beaches have chairs to rent at the same prices.
Our favorite tourist beach on Phuket is Nai Harn. The area around the beach is owned by the buddist enclave located on the beach. Development has been limited, although more accommodations are sprouting up a bit off the beach. There are a few restaurants and shops near the beach but not nearly as it is on Patong and the other beaches. But there is clean clear water and a bit of peace on the beach amongst the rows of beach chairs. Sailboats are moored out on the bay but there are no jet skis and powerboats buzzing around the water here.
The high end Phuket Yacht Club is at the far end of the beach. It's one of only two hotels located on the beach. The other is the All Seasons hotel.One thing you'll see alot of on Nai Harn are locals. Here are some Muslim women on the beach.
Baby fish on the beach.
Chili Basil Chicken on rice with a fried egg on top. ($1.00)
Many thais swim with their clothes on. We've seen everything from blue jeans to sweaters.
Beach chairs for rent on Nai Harn beach.
While there are hawkers on Nai Harn, it's nowhere near what it's like on Patong where you can get anything from carved wooden motocycles to minature tuk-tuks made of beer cans.
One thing you can get on practically any beach on Phuket are donuts.
Although there are plenty of signs stating that dogs are prohibited on the beach, you'll still find a few. (probably the ones that cannot read).
School kids on the beach.
Everything you read about what not to do while in Thailand states that women should not go topless on the beach. But you'll see plenty of this on all the beaches (again, maybe they cannot read). And it's usually the wrong women who choose to go without tops.
Donut saleman on the beach.
When You Go:
* At the airport, you can arrange a private car to the beaches for 500 to 700 THB. Shared minibuses are cheaper but are charged per person and will take twice as long. Phuket is a large island a ride from the airport to Nai Harn Beach on the southern tip of the island will take around 40 minutes. If you do use a private car, you can pre-book your return ride to the airport when you leave.
* While most of the "nightlife" is concentrated in and around Patong Beach, try staying at a different beach. Karon, Kata, Kata Noi, Kamala, and Nai Harn all offer cleaner water with less people than Patong. However, if you want to bar-hop every night, you're better off staying on Patong.