Thailand’s largest island and has been welcoming tourists for decades, which means there’s a dizzying range of options when deciding where to stay in Phuket. With dozens of paradise beaches boasting super soft sand, calm blue waters and their own selection of hotels and things to do, you can be sure that no matter how big your budget, there’s an area of this beautiful island that’s right for you. Here we run down the five best areas to stay in Phuket, from the raucous nightlife playground of Patong to the luxurious beach clubs of Bangtao and the historic colonial architecture of Phuket Town.
Where to stay in Phuket
Phuket Town is the historic yet thriving capital city of the island. Located in the northeast corner of Phuket and home to over one third of the island’s population, it’s very much a working city and there are no beach clubs or fancy resorts to be found here. What you will find, however, is a breadth of culturally stimulating places and activities squashed into the city’s Old Town, combined with buzzing markets, charming historic streets and unique eating and drinking options.
Old Town, located along and around Thalong Road, offers a stunning taste of old Asia, with thoughtfully preserved Sino-Portuguese colonial buildings now housing numerous art studios, boutique stores and trendy cafés. And when day turns to night, the city doesn’t slow down, with dozens of fantastic local restaurants to suit all budgets and some of the island’s most interesting drinking establishments and music hang-outs.
Located in the heart of the Old Town, The Memory At On On Hotel is Phuket’s oldest hotel and steeped in history. Opened in 1929, this stunning Sino-Portuguese building was fully renovated in 2012 and offers seven different accommodation options, from luxe suites to immaculate dorms.
Raya Restaurant serves up incredible southern Thai food in a wonderfully preserved old Sino-Thai mansion with tiled floors and antique-packed display cases. The crabmeat curry and coconut milk is the stuff of legend.
The brilliantly themed Zimplex brings a touch of tech to its mixology, with lab-coated bar tenders serving up ‘molecular cocktails’ in a dimly lit science lab of a bar. Nearby Music Matter is a relaxed, compact little place with a stage for live jazz jams.
Take in the incredible colonial architecture of Thai Hua Museum on Krabi Road in the Old Town. Get that ultimate Instagram shot at the disorientating Phuket Trickeye Museum that’s filled with painted backdrops that turn your 2D snaps into mind-bending 3D scenarios. Then, head up the hill and breathe in the sublime views from Phuket Town’s second highest hill, Khao Rang.
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Explore the buzzing Phuket Weekend Market (Chao Fan Market), and spend your baht on everything from incredible street food to clothing, souvenirs and plenty of bootleg goods. Skip the live animals section, though; you can’t take a parrot on a plane.
Located on Phuket’s west coast to the south of the hustle, bustle and bright lights of Patong, the two beach areas of Karan and Kata offer a more subdued and laidback base for your stay on the island. That said, there are more than enough great bars, restaurants and beautiful beaches to keep you busy here – particularly in lively central Karon which sits on a three kilometre-long stretch of sand and has all the shopping, dining and nightlife you could ask for.
Just to the south is the more family friendly and quieter Kata Beach; a beautiful long bay with a palm tree-lined white sand beach that’s fringed with great restaurants, lively nightlife and a wide choice of accommodation. It’s split into two halves; closer to Karon is Kata Noi, while Kata Yai is the prettier section where you’ll find resorts and smarter places to eat and drink.
If you’re feeling flush, the luxurious Mom Tri’s Villa Royale on Kata Noi is one of the most beautiful boutique hotels on the island, offering stunning rooms, views and food in its highly rated restaurant. The Color Kata has bright, clean and modern rooms for those on a tighter budget. In Karon, the luxurious Mandarava Hotel and Spa has five swimming pools set into the lush hillside.
For cheap eats, head to the bustling Pad Thai Shop in Karon for delicious Thai street food dishes like pad kao prao, pad see ew and of course, pad Thai. Down in Kata, Istanbul Turkish Restaurant does great kebabs, a far throw from the chic modernist minimalism of On The Rocks, where sophisticated Mediterranean-style dining comes with a view.
Ska Bar is a no-frills wooden beach bar located at the end of Kata Beach that serves great cocktails with a reggae soundtrack. For a totally different vibe, Coast Beach Club on Karon Beach is a glamorous spot perfect for a mojito or two at any time of day.
Give surfing a go in the wave pool at Surf House Phuket on Kata Beach. Alternatively, just sit back and watch from the bar that looks out onto the pool. For the area’s best snorkelling, head to the rocks at the far end of Kata Noi, just south of Kata Beach.
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Climb up to the trio of bars perched in the rocks above Kata Noi for some of the best views on the island. Small Bar and After Beach are both great places to watch the sunset with an ice cold Chang in hand.
Located halfway between Patong and the airport, Bangtao is the one of the longest and most beautiful bays in Phuket. For those looking for the high-end Phuket holiday experience, this is the place to stay. The six kilometre stretch of soft white sand and crystal clear water was dominated for a long time by the luxurious Laguna complex of hotels, beach clubs and resorts, which takes up most of the central part of the beach. However, in recent years, a huge variety of restaurants, bars, shops and luxury villas have sprung up in Bangtao, meaning a stay here doesn’t just mean never leaving your resort – or breaking the bank.
North of Laguna, you’ll find a relatively untouched stretch of sand for when you want some serious peace and quiet. To the south, there are beachside Thai restaurants and a scattering of bamboo reggae shacks, with a small local fishing village tucked inland just behind, offering a contrast to the swanky beach clubs, boutique shops and fine dining that Bangtao is best known for.
The Laguna Complex comprises seven different five-star resorts; old favourite Banyan Tree offers stunning luxury villas, including some with private pools; family friendly Angsana sits on its own private inland island and has a huge pool with real sand beach, while the ultra-tranquil The Residence’s villas and duplexes give it a unique village feel. If you’re not on a five-star budget, Andaman Seaside Resort has great rooms with sea and mountain views and is less than 100 metres from the beach.
Step into the golden age of ’50s Hollywood at Siam Supper Club, where the mostly Western menu is as good as the wine list is extensive. The recent arrival Bampot Kitchen has a very contemporary vibe and is the place for unique but unpretentious cuisine.
Head up to the northern end of the bay to Layan Beach’s impeccably stylish Dream Beach Club. Located right on the sand, there are great DJs and four separate bars.
Take a wonder through Cherngtalay village, before stopping by the nearby Wat Cherngtalay temple and then making your way back to the village for top notch street food at the daily night market that moves between three locations depending on the day of the week.
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Even if you’re staying in one of the Bangtao’s more affordable places, spend a day at Xana Beach Club lounging by the pool, drinking cocktails at the swim-up bar and then dancing ’til late.
Positioned on Phuket’s western coast, just north of Patong and south of Bangtao, lies the wonderfully relaxed beachside village of Kamala. Sitting in a picture-perfect bay surrounded by steep jungle-packed hills, this fishing-village-turned-tourist-town is one of the most beautiful places in Phuket and has a vibe all of its own. Accommodation is generally mid-range, with luxury villas scattered around the mountainous southern end of the bay and new resorts cropping up on the northern side.
The noticeably quieter pace of life here attracts plenty of older visitors and families, but there’s still a decent amount to do in and around Kamala. There are plenty of great beachside restaurants and enough small backstreet bars to while away the later hours in.
At the top end, The Naka Phuket has breathtaking light-filled villas with private pools built into the cliffs at Kamala’s southern tip. The less expensive U Zenmaya has neat modern rooms with jacuzzis on every balcony and an infinity pool that seems to melt into the ocean. Baan Chaba is a great budget option, offering classic Thai bungalows just two minutes from the beach.
At the northern end of Kamala Beach, classy beach club Café Del Mar Phuket perfectly encapsulates Kamala’s mellow nightlife vibe, with sofas, cabanas and beds ready for you to really relax with a cocktail. The centrally located Bob’s Bar is the spot for your reggae fix, with no-nonsense drinks, great music and a pool table.
There are dozens of great little restaurants crowding the streets leading back from the beach in Kamala Village, but Kamala Seafood is one of the best for freshly caught fish, prawns and squid in an open-air setting. For a finer dining experience, the opulent and classy Silk Restaurant at the five-star Andara Resort specialises in seriously high-end Thai cuisine.
The calm waters and sheltered sands mean that Kamala Beach is great for swimming all year round. With less tourists than other parts of the island, it’s easy to find your own stretch of sand.
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Like we keep saying, Kamala is a place to seriously relax. So grab your book, suncream and snorkel and head to the beach for a day of serious Vitamin D therapy.