One of the world’s finest beach destinations

For years tourists have been thronging to Thailand’s largest island (often nicknamed the Pearl of the Andaman) in their droves, drawn to the sugar-soft sand beaches that stretch between the jutting peninsulas of its western coastline.

Yet despite the fact that Phuket is such a popular holiday spot, there are still hidden-away coves to be discovered – if you know where to look. The mountainous island is also home to the pristine Sirinat National Park and Phuket Town, a former tin trading hub with a buzzing Old Town that combines colorful Sino-Portuguese architecture with historic temples and cool, Instagram-worthy cafes.

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From cool cafes to unspoilt beaches

Brilliantly compact, Phuket Old Town (it is bordered by Ranong Road in the south and Dibuk Road in the north) is really just a handful of roads packed with stylish boutiques, souvenir shops and restaurants. Chino Cafe Gallery is a great spot for ice-cold smoothies or a snack – go for a famous bite-sized Tao Sor pastry, made with either green beans or salted egg yolks – and at the front has a small, curated selection of batik clothes and gifts.

For sweet treats, there is A Dessert Moments cafe, which has a seaside vibe and a wooden swing seat at the front, and the quaint Crepe is Crepe that serves delicious savory and sweet crepes. Or join the locals on Phang Nga Road for super-spicy green chicken curry and excellent fried rice with chilli paste shrimp (the no-frills restaurant doesn’t have an obvious name but it is to the right of second-hand bookshop South Wind Books).

When you do want to head to the ocean, low-key Freedom Beach near Patong, which is backed by dense jungle, is a good bet. The fact that it is only accessible by longtail boat means that this 300m-long bay remains relatively peaceful (speedboats and motorised watersports are also banned) even during high season. There is also laid-back Kata Noi, south of Karon beach (not to be confused with Kata, the larger, neighbouring crescent bay), which is as great for surfing as it is for sunbathing.

And further south, Ya Nui beach is a charming cove with the small, uninhabited rocky island of Koh Keyao Noi within easy kayaking distance. Above it, to one end is Phromthep Cape, one of the island’s best-known hills which gets incredibly busy with crowds at sunset (there is also a lighthouse here, from where you can see the Phi Phi islands).

If you are determined to tap into the island’s undeveloped side, head to the Sirinat National Park in the northwest. This protected coastline is split into four equally deserted beaches – Mai Khao (the longest beach in Phuket and a breeding ground for leatherback and hawksbill turtles), Nai Thon, Nai Yang and Sai Kaeo – backed by mangrove forests.

There is very little to do other than loll on the sand and swim in the sea – and that’s the point. This is one of the sweetest spots on the island and a world away from the crowds elsewhere.

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