When deciding where to stay in Phuket, I wanted a mixture between laid back and nightlife. I did so much research before settling on a destination and am glad I did. To save you that time, I’ll summarise what Karon Beach can offer.
Karon Beach is the third longest beach in Phuket at just over 3km long. At the northern part, the beach is lined with volleyball nets and beachfront restaurants. The southern part is lined mainly by trees, offering much needed shade. Karon Beach has the reputation of the squeakiest sand in Phuket; you can hear it squeak beneath your feet. The snorkelling at Karon Beach was incredible. I was there in March, and there were far more jellyfish than I would have liked! After initially making the mistake of thinking they were plastic bags floating in the ocean, I soon realised they were in fact creatures making small marks on my arms. But the snorkelling was good enough to make me endure the low-level pain of the stings.
There are enough restaurants in Karon Beach to eat somewhere different every day for a very long time. All budgets and tastes are catered for. At the south end of the beach, there are higher end restaurants with a view. In the north, there are lower budget places that serve international food (pizza and fries to those of you who are craving a taste of western!) In between, on the beach road, there are great hotel restaurants. I ate at On the Rock one night which had the most amazing setting and view. You usually have to make a reservation beforehand.
Kata Beach is just up the road from Karon. During the low season, Kata is known as the ‘Surfing Mecca’ of Phuket. It has a surfing simulator at Surf House Kata, which is on the beach road. Even if you’re not surfing yourself (how could you say no?!) it’s got a great vibe and is fun to watch others. It’s around $25 for an hours surf, although the price does depend on the time of day. Going in the morning works out slightly cheaper. At the south end of Karon, closer to Kata, is the Dino Park mini golf where you can also eat at the Flintstones-themed restaurant.
You can easily find things to do in Karon and Kata. Kata is slightly more happening than Karon, but not to the extent that you’ll be bored in Karon. They are so close to each other that you can walk between them, meaning there is always something to do. If the walk is too long, or it is just too hot, you won’t have any difficulty finding a tuk-tuk to take you the short distance.
Karon also has the Temple Market, which is set in the grounds of Wat Karon. It opens every Tuesday and Friday, and like most Phuket markets, starts late in the afternoon when the heat becomes more bearable, and goes on until around 10pm. You can find all the typical products you usually find in a Thai market; from touristy t-shirts and bags to fake watches and electronic goods. You can find a few stalls selling more skilfully crafted products by Thai artists. One thing that definitely isn’t fake is the food on offer here. The street food section, which is near the temple’s main entrance, is an excellent opportunity to discover new flavours. The market is similar to the famous Phuket Weekend Market held in Phuket Town on Saturdays and Sundays but on a smaller scale. While it is bustling with tourists, and a lot of the goods for sale are aimed at them, it does have an authentic Thai feel to its atmosphere.
Everyone knows Thailand is great at offering affordable accommodation for all budgets, but I found that especially true at Karon Beach. The hotels are a fraction of a price they would be in Europe or USA, and the standard is very high, especially the luxury beachfront hotels. I stayed at Novotel Phuket Karon Resort and Spa and couldn’t recommend it more. If you’re looking for something cheaper, try Channalai Hillside Resort. It is a ten minute walk outside of town but the views from the rooftop pool more than make up for this as you can see not only the ocean but if you look behind you, you can glimpse the Big Buddha sitting on top of the Nakkerd Hills.
Patong Beach is where the action is if you’re into clubs and bars that stay open until the early hours. It is just over 7km away from Karon Beach, and a tuk-tuk ride is usually around 400baht ($12). For us, it was perfect that we could visit for the night, but could escape when it all got a bit too much! If you’re staying at Karon, you’re better off spending your beach days there, as Patong is not only busier and less tranquil but in my experience, the vendors are a bit pushier.
As you’ll know, Phuket has a reputation for sleazy old westerners (not my choice of words) and this was something I was aware of beforehand. It is right that there are a noticeable amount of western men traveling alone, more so than in other areas of Thailand that I had previously visited (aside from Bangkok, obviously). If you are a western man on your own, prepare yourself for a fair amount of attention! I wouldn’t personally be put off by this, but if for some reason you are, even more reason to avoid staying in Patong.
If you want to be in the midst of the action and nightlife, then choose Patong but be warned! There are endless amounts of day trips from the Karon Beach area, either arranged with a tour operator or by yourself if you have a car (or a moped, if you're brave!) Karon Beach is the perfect destination if you want to experience real Thailand. The area is easy to get to, in that the island has it’s own airport and it has a great balance of amazing beaches and things to do.