Ever since Robinson Crusoe inadvertently started the trend, the words 'beach' and 'holiday' have come to be synonymous. Eventually, hoping to make money out of the idea Hollywood created a film about one man's search for the 'perfect' beach. They came to Phuket to make the film and got into hot water with the environmentalists for using bulldozers to make their beach location more perfect. In spite of starring Leonardo di Caprio (of 'Titantic' fame) the film bombed proving two things. First, that Leonardo was no better at picking beaches than he was at choosing safe ways to cross the Atlantic and second, that judgments on beauty and beaches are very subjective. The author therefore offers his own very personal view on what is 'best'.
With only one small exception, all the Island's dozen or so beaches are located on the west coast of the island. From November to April the seas are gentle and safe but from May to October the conditions can be dangerous - that's when the surfers come to town. Don't swim if you see a red flag.
If you are reading this in Phuket you are almost certainly on or near one of the following beaches but it is worth paying a visit to the others as they all have their own distinct charm.
Charm is not perhaps the first word that springs to mind when describing Patong, but the miles of perfect turquoise seas and powdery sand right next to all the razzmatazz manages to absorb hundreds of sun-worshippers, strollers, joggers, volleyballers etc without getting crowded. When the sun tan lotion is no longer needed, Patong's nightlife offers the best dining on the island, shops galore and the occasional bar - well to be honest, quite a lot of bars. No holiday would be complete without a visit to the pulsating glitz of Soi Bangla - where it all happens.
Next door to, and much less frenetic, is Karon Beach which however, still caters for large numbers of visitors. The same serried ranks of deckchairs and beach umbrellas allow visitors from the frozen north to get the chill out of their bones and catch up on the latest bestseller. The beachfront and side roads offer plenty of places to eat and drink. There is even a football stadium.
This small bay with palm-lined sand and clean, clear seas framed by forested headlands and rocky extremities is truly delightful. A stretch of road right on the beach side means there has been no unsightly developments. Club Med is to be congratulated on building a beachfront hotel which is almost invisible from the seaside. Indeed, their immaculate lawns are an enhancement.
The view out to sea is dominated by waterless Koh Poo (Crab Island) - apocryphally sold several times to enthusiastic but naive developers.
For your soirées there are bars and restaurants inland within walking distance of the beach, where you will not be rushed off your feet. Life here is conducted at a more leisurely pace. If you think this is perfect and you could not be faulted for this, just drive further south past the famous Boathouse Hotel and when the road ends you are in Kata Noi - another jewel of a beach sleeping quietly at the end of a hilly road which goes nowhere else.
Delightfully framed by rocky, forest-clad hills, this is a truly beautiful bay. On one flank the Phuket Yacht Club Hotel climbs almost to the skyline, and another hotel dominates the foreshore. In addition there are a number of bars and restaurants to welcome the beach travelers. On this, the most southerly beach, the waters lap gently on the firm, tan sands throughout the dry season. During the monsoon rains in contrast the crashing breakers are impressive - best admired from the safety of the shore road and definitely not a sight to miss.
These are the main tourist beaches on the island. However there are other beaches where Phuket's fishermen, tour boats and longtails tend to their business - Rawai and Chalong beaches are of this ilk well worth a visit to see how the other half live - fresh seafood is a speciality at restaurants on both beaches.
To the north of Patong are the beaches of Bang Tao, Surin and Kamala, formerly small fishing villages they have become the retreat of the super-rich - dominated by six star hotel complexes and luxurious villas - their infinity pools, sea view balconies and avant garde architecture hidden from curious eyes by high walls and gates manned by security guards. The beaches though are mainly open to the public.
As you continue to the north the island, it becomes increasingly rural and the beaches fringed by casuarinas are less peopled - if you really want to get away from it all and work on the ultimate tan then this is the place for you. Just before the bridge there are half a dozen seafood restaurants right on the beach - how about King Prawns and an ice cold beer with the sand under your toes?
If like Leonardo, you are looking for the perfect beach, we wish you the very best of luck.