We both had a mix of expectations when starting our journey through Thailand in Phuket. The island has a reputation of being a massive tourist attraction with millions of visitors dropping by every year, destroying of what was once an authentic and local beach destination. Yet, we have also seen a great deal of amazing pictures of nice beaches and stunning sunsets that made us believe that there must still be a bit of beauty left to discover…
We stayed at Kata Beach, a beach located a bit further down south of the island and roughly a one hour ride from the international airport.
Impressions of Kata and Karon Beach
The once named “Pearl of the South” seems to have lost a great deal of its past charm. Small huts have now been replaced by large hotels and resorts and local restaurants give way to global chains such as KFC and Pizza Hut. Streets are packed with massage parlors, tour operators, bars and souvenir shops. This was actually the first impression we had once we left the hotel and went down towards the beach. The beach itself is nice. It stretches out quite far and the water was nice for having a first dip into the Andaman Sea.
The expected amount of vendors along the beach is surprisingly low as there were just a few offering clothes or snacks on the beach and a small variety of shops offering local Thai food and beverages. The beach is long enough to distribute the amount of sun-bathing tourists and it did not feel that crowded.
A bit further up north of Kata beach there is another, larger beach front called Karon Beach. Transportation between these two beaches is provided either by taxis or local buses. To reach Karon beach from Kata beach you can actually have a walk and be there in roughly 15 minutes, depending on where you start. Karon beach is also quite nice. Sand seems a bit rougher here than in Kata beach but swimming was even nicer as the waves are a bit less on this side.
Overall both beaches offer the same experience.
The average price level is relatively high for Thai standards. A regular meal costs you around 100-200 baht (5 EUR) per Person, taxis around 200 baht. We chose to take a local bus which runs up and down the roads roughly every 20-30 minutes (there is no official bus stop!). It costs 35 baht per person (less than 1 EUR) and can take you all the way to Phuket Town.
Phuket town can be reached in around 45 minutes with the local bus, as it is located on the other side of the island. Once in town you can wander around the small streets and discover the old and colorful Sino-Portoguese architecture. There are many restaurants offering various kinds of Thai cuisine and you can also find some shopping malls.
Kata and Karon Beach are nice places to stay and enjoy for a short while. We spent 4 days in the area and I would recommend to spend one day each along these two beaches, a day trip to Phuket town and perhaps another to discover surrounding beaches such as Patong (more hectic) or go and visit the big Buddha on the hill. Phuket itself seems like a nice place to stay if you are looking for an active night life, western comfort and over-priced restaurants – it then just might be your “Pearl of the South”.