The beautiful Thai island is home to friendly locals, year-round sunshine and great resorts. Travel editor Winsor Dobbin reports on three very different beach destinations.
Best for gourmets
Phuket’s first five-star beach hotel, The Nai Harn, has undergone a complete refurbishment and offers luxury accommodation overlooking one of Phuket’s finest beaches on the southern tip of the island.
Laze on a daybed from your private balcony overlooking the Andaman Sea, or indulge in a range of eateries and bars that include the new Hansha open-air restaurant — Phuket’s first rooftop and sea-view sushi and sashimi bar. Integrated into the hotel’s Reflections rooftop lounge, Hansha overlooks the azure blue waters of Nai Harn Bay. Think dishes featuring tuna, Hokkaido scallops, octopus, roasted eel, kingfish, surf clam, red snapper and shrimp.
Other eateries within the resort include Cosmo Restaurant with its impressive spread of international flavours and spectacular buffet breakfasts, as well as “Taste of the South of Thailand” specials.
The chic Rock Salt restaurant is located on rocks overlooking the water with a menu that takes diners on a diverse culinary journey through Eastern Mediterranean and North African cuisine. For those after a simpler meal, it also offers dishes such as moules meuniere or freshly cooked local fish, caught earlier in the day by sea gypsy fishermen and served with a chilli sauce.
The wine list here is selected exclusively by international expert James Suckling and features an excellent range of rosés that are perfect for summer refreshment, as well as a selection of locally-influenced cocktails.
Rock Salt specialities include oyster platters, grilled meats and seafood from the charcoal barbecue.
The staff at Nai Harn are absolutely outstanding, and the resort offers a blend of romance, adventure and indulgence. It is the most historic hotel in Phuket, fit with all the luxuries including a spa and cooking school, as well as the chance to take a luxury speedboat to James Bond Island while staying in a suite that was occupied by Roger Moore or Christopher Lee during filming of The Man with the Golden Gun.
The Nai Harn Phuket, 23/3 Moo 1, Vises Road, Rawai. +66 7638 0200. www.thenaiharn.com.
Best for families
With rooms starting from around $60 a night online, the Manathai Surin Phuket is a mid-range boutique hotel that sits around 100 metres back from the sleepy Surin Beach. It is an ideal base from which to explore Phuket and is perfect for families.
With two swimming pools, activities that include a cooking school and luxury spa, and food stalls just a stroll away, there is plenty to keep both children and adults occupied.
Surin Beach is a magnificently long and uncluttered beach, perfect for children and good for snorkelling, kayaking or boogie boarding.
The on-site Pad Thai Restaurant offers an intriguing mix of Thai and western dishes and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Enjoy a traditional western breakfast, or opt for a spicy noodle soup or traditional Thai porridge.
Within a few minutes’ walk are several family-friendly restaurants and a wine bar, while the hotel offers excellent cooking classes with one of the resort’s top chefs.
There are two on-site pools and spacious, well-equipped rooms, including satellite TV stations offering a range of movies. Kids will enjoy looking at the traditional local fishing boats.
The front desk can arrange trips to the island’s aquariums, gardens and Buddhist temples with activities on offer including exploring sea caves in a canoe; walking tours of historic Phuket Old Town, elephant safaris, zorbing and bungee jumping.
There are plenty of souvenir shops and massage joints within a few minutes of the Manathai, which is a delightful small hotel with warm and helpful staff, great value and a lovely location.
Best for romance
Sala Phuket is located on one of Phuket’s quietest and cleanest beaches, just a 20-minute drive from the international airport.
There is no wonder it is a popular wedding destination – the setting is simply stunning.
This deluxe pool villa resort features private swimming pools in 63 of its 79 rooms, villas and suites, along with beautiful day beds and outdoor showers. You can enjoy complete privacy if you opt for in-villa dining, but you’d miss out on the spectacular sunsets from the poolside Sala restaurant.
There is a wide range of traditional Thai and western dishes on offer, including the signature Kanom Jin dish – rice noodles served with spicy red coconut curry, slowly simmered with daily market fish and infused with ginger, kaffir lime leaf and shrimp paste.
The vibe here is chilled, with Sino-Portuguese architecture combining with modern five-star facilities. A year-round beachfront bar and rooftop dining during summer offer cool spots for a cocktail or glass of wine from an award-winning list.
Mai Khao beach is great for a sunset stroll, and is often almost deserted.
Activities on offer for couples include snorkelling, elephant trekking, cooking classes and yoga, while on-site facilities include a gym, library, business centre, sea kayaks, bicycles, two beach-front pools and steam rooms, with high-speed wireless internet for those who simply must stay in touch.
Accommodation choices in this tranquil sanctuary include the signature pool villas and both one and two-bedroom pool suites. As a special treat, guests can enjoy a long-tail boat day trip to the limestone cliffs of Phang Nga.
Sala Phuket, 333 Moo 3, Mai Khao, Thalang, Phuket. +66 7633 8888. www.salaphuket.com
The writer travelled with assistance from Singapore Airways. SIA has operated services to Australia since 1967 and has grown from twice-weekly flights to Perth and Sydney to operating 126 weekly flights from six Australian cities. Alongside its regional wing, SilkAir, and low-cost carriers, Scoot and TigerAir Singapore, SIA provides Australian travellers with access to a global network of 131 destinations in 36 countries through the world famous Changi Airport hub, including Phuket.