There is a yin and yang to Phuket, Thailand’s biggest island. On its west coast there are spectacular beaches and big towns with all the nightlife experiences you could wish for – or dread, depending on your inclinations. To the east are tidal beaches – mudflats, really – which stretch for kilometres or shrink to ribbons, depending on the tides. Phuket is big enough to lose yourself in its mountainous interior or to find a beach that isn’t overwhelmed with umbrellas and supine bodies. Go on an elephant ride, take a Thai cooking lesson or just while away the days by the sea.
Car rental is cheap, so book a vehicle for a day and explore the coastline. The best swimming places are Surin Beach to the north of busy Patong, the main tourist centre, and Nai Harn to the south. Surin, especially, has some good restaurants and bars right on the sand. Between the two, stop in at Kok Chang Safari Elephant Trekking, high above Kata Beach, and enjoy a ride that offers stunning views over the coastline. End the day watching the sunset at Promthep Cape – you won’t be alone, but you will be mesmerised.
The Phi Phi Islands were devastated in 2003’s tsunami, but tourism has recovered. Take Absolutely Fantastic Holidays’ speedboat day trip to Phi Phi for a terrific glimpse of the spellbinding karst limestone scenery and the chance to swim at some delightful beaches. The tour company, unlike some, doesn’t overload its boats, so you won’t feel claustrophobic as you skip across the waves. There is swimming at a remote coral beach before lunch, followed by a dip in a shallow lagoon on Phi Phi Don and a visit to Maya Beach, where the movie The Beach was filmed. It is busy, but gloriously beautiful.
Indulge in one of Thailand’s best hotels at The Vijitt Resort, on Phuket’s quieter east coast. Rent a pool villa for the most luxurious experience; all but the deluxe rooms have private plunge pools. Beach villas enjoy views across Chalong Bay – particularly impressive at sunrise – to Coral Island, where Vijitt guests are taken on a free day trip. Take a cooking course with the head chef, dine at Baan Vijitt, the original Sino-Portuguese home of the resort’s owners, ride a horse on Friendly Beach, and use the free shuttle to head into Patong or Phuket Town.