You come to Phuket to relax on a beach, umbrella shading you from the ferocity of the mid-afternoon sun, cocktail in one hand, good book in another, getting ready for that next dip in the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea or a soothing beach massage. Sounds idyllic. It could be idyllic…..if the authorities got their act together and provided the sort of beach facilities expected by well-heeled tourists!
For many years, such relaxation on a sandy Phuket beach was possible and the tourists lapped it up. Following the 2004 tsunami the ancient wooden beach chairs were replaced with new plastic ones, the mishmash of umbrellas became more uniform with mostly Siam Commercial Bank sponsored gifts, the small beach bars and massage huts were rebuilt, and the vendors kept their part of the beach clean.
Over a period of time, however, the Phuket authorities lost control. Two rows of sunbeds became three, the umbrella and beds became tatty as they were never replaced, the number of annoying beach vendors grew by the day and the solitude of many beaches was destroyed by the growing number of jetskis and parasailing operations. More about those in a later post.
Certain beaches had become ugly and unsightly and in 2014 the Military Government decided to step in. Sunbeds and umbrellas were banned, all beach vending was halted; the beaches were to be returned to their natural state. Why? Beaches are public land belonging to the Crown. Local authorities had been charging money for sunbed concessions yet had no right to do so. Where the money went is anyone’s guess but it certainly wasn’t into Central Government’s coffers.
Not only this, all restaurants, beach clubs and other establishments that had encroached onto the sand were closed and many buildings destroyed. At Surin Beach, in particular, this ruined a thriving beach club atmosphere.
So we now had the situation where tourists had little comfort and no shade! After a number of compromises, beds and umbrellas returned in 2017 but only in so-called 10% zones; the rest of the beach was still to be kept in a natural state. Jetskis and parasailing operations were not affected at all so the oily, noisy, smelly machines haven’t stopped polluting the atmosphere of many of Phuket’s beaches.
As is often the case in Thailand, we have no idea whether the current status quo will exist for any length of time but at the time of writing the following beaches have beds and umbrellas for rent within the ten percent zone: Nai Yang; Bang Tao; Kamala; Patong: Karon; Kata; Kata Noi; Nai Harn.
Surin Beach, once the party beach of the hi-sos, has been declared a virgin beach, meaning absolutely no beds, umbrellas or any commerce whatsoever! And if you’re planning to visit nearby Laem Singh Beach the you may wish to forget this as a land dispute has effectively closed the beach for the foreseeable future.
Patong is the busiest beach in Phuket and if you don’t want a crowded beach with the noise of jetskis and boat engines ruining any possibility of relaxation than avoid Patong. Karon is much bigger and easy enough to find a quiet spot away from the annoyances. Kata, Kata Noi, Bangtao and Kamala are other beaches favoured by jetskis so if they bother you I’d suggest one of the other beaches. Although the Where To Stay section of Phuket Pains contains some basic information regarding certain beaches, as the situation regarding commerce on beaches can change regularly, I would recommend you research via Google for up to date information or if it’s quiet beaches you’re after, have a look here.
The monsoon changes around May and the west coast beaches take on a different character. It’s between May and October that the sea becomes dangerous and care should be taken when entering the water. Waves become bigger, rip tides are prevalent and several people drown off Phuket every year, tourists and locals alike. You should listen to lifeguards and obey any flags. Swimming zones are clearly marked with red and yellow flags. If red flags are flying, do not swim! It’s simple, it’s commonsense, but it’s also ignored by too many.
You should also be wary of jellyfish, sea lice, which can give a mild sting, usually harmless but some folk do suffer a reaction, sea urchins on a couple of rockier beaches, garbage, especially in low season, and even sewage. If there’s a discoloured stream of water then don’t take any chances. It might just be plankton but it might be something else! Beware of tourists on jetskis and don’t sunbathe in areas where the parasailers land. They’ll soon let you know if you’re in the way!
I should also mention that you shouldn’t leave your valuables unattended on the beach. I know many people that have lost phones, cameras, wallets and even passports which have been left alone when the owners decided to take a dip. It might look safe enough but……………………. Also freak waves are not uncommon and a phone soaked with saltwater is not usually salvageable.
It’s the beaches that made Phuket such a popular place for tourists. Going to the beach is a major part of any holiday on the island and swimming in the sea is part of what a tropical holiday is all about. Enjoy it……………but be safe!