“Peaceful” doesn’t spring to mind when you think of Phuket, but it would be a shame to write off Thailand’s largest island completely.
With its city-like downtown and hordes of noisy group tours, it’s no wonder “peaceful” doesn’t spring to mind when you think of Phuket. Yet, with cheaper flights than Samui and nicer beaches than Pattaya, it would be a shame to write off Thailand’s largest island completely. Almost as far as you can get from the madding crowds of Patong (an hour’s drive, to be exact), Phuket’s northwestern Mai Khao Beach could be just what you’re looking for. The island’s longest beach enjoys a pristine 11-kilometer stretch of sand within just 15-minutes’ ride of the airport, yet luckily mostly out of hearing range.
What to do
Sirinath National Park
Mai Khao Beach By Greg Strosaker Via Flickr.com
Covering 90 sq kilometers of preserved sandy beaches (Nai Thon, Nai Yang, Mai Khao and Sai Kaew), fertile coniferous forests and azure crystal waters, this park is the key reason why this part of the island remains so untouched. It is also a sanctuary for endangered sea turtles, who come to lay eggs on the deserted sands from November to February. The absence of noisy bars and restaurants make it the perfect place to chill, while beautiful coral reefs and colorful marine life just a little offshore make for great diving. Entrance fee is B20 for Thais or B200 for foreigners.
Splash Jungle Water Park
Situated near Mai Khao Beach, this water park is home to hair-raising rides like the Boomerango (a dark tube with a 15-meter free fall) and the Super Bowl (a spinning slide that ends with a series of thrilling turns). For a slower pace, take a float down the Lazy River or explore the compact aquarium. Tickets B1,450 per person.
65 Mai Khao Soi 4, 076-372-111. Open daily 10am-5:45pm. www.splashjunglewaterpark.com
Because Mai Khao is such a get-away-from-it-all area, the shopping scene is limited to two small complexes: Turtle Village Phuket (889, Moo 3, Mai Khao, 076-390-203. Open daily 10am-11pm) sits between Marriott’s Mai Khao Beach and Anantara Vacation Club Mai Khao, offering groceries, a few retail venues and some upmarket dining spots; meanwhile, nearby Mai Khao Plaza (11 Moo 3, Mai Khao, 099-318-9524. Open daily 10am-11pm) offers slightly cheaper restaurants and outlets, covering souvenirs, fashion and antiques.
International Wake Park (IWP)
Spend a sporty afternoon on the water at this wake park, located 10 minutes’ drive from Mai Khao Beach. The park is home to two swimming pools, both overlooking the lake, and boasts a high-tech Rixen cable system to boost your wakeboarding and waterskiing game (from B1,200 for two hours, including equipment). There are also more kid-friendly activities like paddle boarding and kayaking on offer.
49/12 1, T., 2, 8310 Soi Mo Yiam, Mai Khao Rd., 067-632-8542. Open daily 9am-9pm www.iwpphuket.com
Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation
In partnership with the Phuket Marine Biological Centre and Royal Thai Navy, this conservation project on the ground floor of the JW Marriott Resort acts as a nursing home for injured sea turtles and leatherbacks, as well as providing a safe space for eggs to hatch and young turtles to gain strength before being released into the sea. The center also runs education sessions on turtles and conservation, as well as feeding sessions where you can see them up close. Free entrance.
JW Marriott Phuket, 231 Moo 3, Mai Khao Rd., Talang, 076-338-040 Ext. 3309 www.facebook.com/maikhaomarineturtlefoundation
Where to stay
The area is dotted with so many five-star resorts that we like to call it the “hi-so street”—Anantara Vacation Club Mai Khao (887 Moo 3, Mai Khao Rd., 076-337-200. From around B10,400), Marriott’s Mai Khao Beach (234 Mai Khao Rd., 076-338-000. From around B8,200) and Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa (555, Mai Khao Rd., 076-363-999. From around B3,440) are the key players, with the latter feeling like the quietest (bit.ly/2O0mzS9), tucked away at the far end of the street boasting what feels like a private beach (though it’s not).
Party in Style
If all that quiet time has you itching for a night out, you’ll have to be prepared to travel a little. For something classier than rowdy Patong, head to Nai Yang Beach (a 20-minute drive), Surin or Bang Tao (both 30-40 minutes’ drive) on the mid-west coast of the island.
The Slate Resort
At this five-star resort, the new Tongkah Tin Syndicate bar is populated with a refreshingly chic and elegant crowd compared with many other parts of the island. Although the Russian DJ and his sexy lip-syncing sidekick feel a bit out of place, the decor is exuberant: a mix of neon signs, luxuriant plants and industrial-chic steampunk architecture designed by Bill Bensley—all a nod to the island’s tin-mining past.
Nai Yang Beach, 116 Moo 1, Sakhu, 076-327-006. www.theslatephuket.com
Xana Beach Club
This is one of the swankiest beach clubs on the island, and by far the biggest thanks to its vast stretch of private beach. It’s also dedicated to bringing in big-name DJs (alumni include Paul Oakenfold and Frankie Knuckles). To mark the start of Phuket’s high season, on Dec 14 they will host a Carnival Launch Party, featuring five international DJs, Brazilian dancers and a Rio-themed catwalk show right on Bangtao Beach. For the event, the hotel will offer 30-percent off its room rates—from B6,410—with no minimum stay.
Angsana Laguna Phuket, 10 Moo 4, Srisoonthorn Rd., Cherng Talay, 076-324-101. Open daily 9am-midnight. www.xanabeachclub.com
The Twin Palms is slowly taking over Surin Beach, which means pretty wild parties and high-flying DJs. It also means the beach has become nearly private, drawing the ire of some locals. During high season, you’ll have to cough up B3,000 per day for a beach chair, which can be used as spending credit at Catch, essentially making it a minimum spend.
Surin Beach, Cherng Talay, 076-316-567. Open daily 9am-midnight. www.catchbeachclub.com