The hotels and resorts listed are divided by beach area to simplify your choices on the island. Phuket is thick with development, so our list is but a small selection, according to each beach. Nowadays, hotels do not always publish rack rates -- instead the rates are governed by occupancy. In Phuket, the high-season peaks from December 15 to January 15, when rates are at their most expensive. If the rate is marked "from," it means no rack rate is available, and the price has been based on Internet rates for high season. In low season, rates can drop 30% to 50%.
Nai Harn Beach
Far to the south, Nai Harn Beach is a good escape, with a range of accommodations on offer. Adjacent beaches on the eastern side of the island, Rawai and Chalong, are also home to a few good, high-end resorts: Evason Phuket & Six Senses Spa (100 Vised Rd.; tel. 07637-1400; fax 07637-1401; www.sixsenses.com) is a luxury, family-friendly enclave and popular day-spa destination, with room rates starting at around 8,000B; and Mangosteen (99/4 Moo 7, Soi Mangosteen; tel. 07628-9399; fax 07628-9389; www.mangosteen-phuket.com) is a newer high-end choice, where rooms start at around 7,500B.
Moderate -- Just up the coastal road from the Royal Yacht Club are quaint seaside, forest bungalows at Baan Krating Phuket Resort (11/3 Moo 1, Viset Rd.; tel./fax 07628-8264; www.amari.com/baankrating/phuket). Affiliated with the reliable Amari group, this is a good value getaway. Rooms start at 2,800B.
Inexpensive -- Orchid Garden Guest House (49/9 Soi Ruam Nana Chat, Rawai; tel. 07638-8191) is a lush oasis of poolside garden bungalows just 2km (1 1/4 mile) from Nai Harn Beach. Good value basic accommodations start at 500B.
One of Phuket's best tourist beaches, Kata is a wide strip of soft sand and rolling surf. Rent an umbrella, get a massage, or grab a kayak or surfboard and hit the waves (there's good surf May-Oct). Unfortunately, the best beachfront real estate is taken up by the sprawling Phuket Club Med (tel. 07633-0455; www.clubmed.com), an all-inclusive, club-style resort, but the beach is open to all. After dark, Kata comes alive in the bars and music cafes along the beach roads.
Karon Beach is a popular, long stretch of beach lined with upper and midrange hotels and resorts. You'll find heaps of tailors, gift shops, bars, small restaurants and cafes, Internet service, local markets, and minimarts on the north end of the beach.
Once the popular haunt of the U.S. Navy's 9th Fleet, Patong built its nightlife on cheap sex and even cheaper beer. Today, it's Phuket's main tourist center, with plenty of cheap shopping, dining, clubbing -- and prostitution. The main strip can be unpleasant for those not used to catcalling touts, who incessantly hassle passersby, accompanied by the constant beeping of tuk-tuks attempting to take tourists for a ride (in both senses). Though one of the hardest hit of Phuket's towns in the 2004 tsunami, the damage here was fairly limited (in international media reports, Patong was often confused with Khao Lak -- 3 hours' drive farther north -- which was almost completely wiped out). With a few exceptions, mid- and high-range hotels on this busy strip were up and running soon after the tsunami, and prices are still rocketing. The town did lose some of its nicest budget options (such as Duangjit Villas and Seagull Guest House), however.
These days, sprawling Patong is a heap of what appears to be hastily built -- or where the tsunami hit, hastily rebuilt -- three-story concrete bunkers. Though some new landscaping has greatly improved a few parts of town -- especially along the beach -- once you move into the back streets, many are disappointed to find a tawdry mess of touts and tatty beer halls, interspersed with the odd smart resort or posh diner. It's not all bad: Patong has heaps of great eateries and some good accommodations options. Since the opening of the swish new JungCeylon shopping mall and the glamorous five-star Millennium Resort next door, Patong has started to move away from its sad and sordid past. With more upscale bars and restaurants opening all the time, this trend seems set to continue.
Inexpensive -- The downside of Patong's cleanup after the 2004 tsunami for budget travelers is that most places that needed to rebuild have also upgraded their facilities, so there are now virtually no inexpensive hotels left on this beach. If you need to find cheap lodgings, you'll fare better in Phuket Town or on the beaches farther south at Kata and Karon. Of the budget accommodations that remain, the following offer reasonable value.
Andatel Patong (41/9 Rat-U-Thit, 200 Pee Rd.; tel. 07629-0480; www.andatelhotel.com) is one good central option, with rooms around 1,000B to 2,000B; reservations are necessary in high season. Kelly's Hotel (47/1 Nanai Rd.; tel. 08703-12154, mobile; www.kellyshotelphuket.com) is a bit of a trek from the beach but has helpful management, a small pool, and free Wi-Fi.
Also known as Pansea Beach, this area has coconut plantations, steep slopes leading down to the beach, and small, private coves dominated by some of the most exclusive hotels on the island.
Bang Thao Bay (The Laguna Resort Complex)
Twenty minutes south of the airport and just as far north of Patong Beach on the western shore of Phuket, this isolated area is Phuket's high-end, "integrated resort" of five properties that share the island's most top-rated facilities. Among them you'll find world-class health spas, countless restaurants, and the island's best golf course. The grounds are impressively landscaped, and the hotel properties are scattered among the winding lagoons, all navigable by boat. The best thing about staying here is that you can dine at any of the fine hotel restaurants, connecting by boat or free shuttle, and be charged on one simple bill at whatever resort you choose. The three we've listed are the best, but also consider the original Laguna Beach Resort (tel. 07632-4352; www.lagunabeach-resort.com), with a similar high standard of rooms and services (popular with groups). In the high season, expect standard double rooms (with two breakfasts) to cost 8,000B; for the lowest category of suite (with breakfast), you'll pay 18,000B.
Nai Thon & Nai Yang Beaches
Nai Thon and Nai Yang Beaches form part of the Sirinath National Marine Park, which was established to protect offshore coral reefs and turtles that nest in this region. These casuarina-fringed stretches of sand are good for leaving the crowds behind, but be warned that the region is isolated, and, apart from a few upmarket resorts, there are few facilities in this remote corner of the island.
Nai Yang is known for its annual release of hatchling sea turtles into the Andaman Sea. Mature sea turtles weigh from 100 to 1,500 pounds and swim the waters around Phuket, and though the law is supposed to protect them from fishermen and poachers, who collect their eggs from beaches, their numbers are dwindling. If not for the efforts of international volunteer groups such as Naucrates (www.naucrates.org), which has spent years working out of a small conservation center at Ko Phra Thong near Khuraburi, about 100km (62 miles) north of Phuket, these creatures would probably have become extinct already. As it is, the number of Olive Ridley turtle nests has plummeted in recent years, and Thai scientists predict that they will be extinct in Thailand by 2010. Leatherback turtles fare even worse, and are rarely seen in this part of the world these days.
Nai Thon is just south of Nai Yang (closer to Laguna) and is home to a handful of resorts.
Mai Khao Beach & The Far North of Phuket
Mai Khao is a wide sweep of beach on the northeastern shore close to the airport. It is Phuket's longest beach and is the site where sea turtles lay their eggs during December and January. The eggs are coveted by Thai and Chinese people, who eat them for the supposed life-sustaining power. Efforts are being made to assist these glorious animals and protect their potential hatchlings, but unfortunately it seems a case of too little, too late.
Most just pass through the island's commercial hub, but Old Phuket culture abounds in the many Sino-Portuguese homes and unusual architecture. It's well worth a look, especially if Phuket Island is your only destination.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.