A Guide to Kata & Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

I’ll start by saying that it’s largely chance that brought us to Phuket. MJ and I were ready to write off Phuket as a tourist-heavy, crowded beach with little to do other than party. Given that we were headed to Ko Phi Phi immediately after to do just that, we almost skipped Phuket all together. 

In the end, I’m glad we didn’t. 

Phuket is one of the bigger islands off of Southern Thailand and there are many ways to see it. Here’s our take.

IMG_0879.jpg

 

Patong Beach

I know, I know, starting with the obvious here. 

Patong Beach is without a doubt the most famous beach and tourist attraction on Phuket Island. This city is a haven for backpackers is probably one of the best places to meet and party with your fellow budget travelers. 

The place essentially is a 24/7 happy hour.

There are no shortage of bars and clubs on Patong Beach. As soon as the sun goes down, head to Bangla Road and duck into any one of the tens of bars and restaurants offering food, seemingly endless happy hour deals, and live entertainment. 

Not sure where to start your night? We stayed at Slumber Party Backpackers in Patong, which offers amazingly comfortable rooms and a different party itinerary for every night of the week. If you happen to wander over on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, join their pub crawl and see how long you can keep up (spoiler alert: I personally did not impress anyone). 

What else is there to do other than party? Patong Beach is the perfect place to lay out for a nap (go on, you’ve earned it), grab an icy fruit juice (COCONUT!), or even give parasailing a try.

Still not tired? Check out Patong’s night market for some of the most delicious and cheap eats you’ll find in the city. 

IMG_6259.JPG

 

Kata Beach

All right, so maybe you’re a little partied out and are looking for a more relaxing place to spend your time in Phuket. Allow me to direct your attention to…

Kata Beach is yet another stunningly beautiful beach town about 25-30 minutes south of Patong Beach. While it’s also got its fair share of tourists and nightlife, Kata is definitely the calmer of the two. 

You’ll have more room on the beach, less noise at night, and less traffic on the road if you’re looking to explore the city on foot, something I didn’t get to do but a friend highly recommended. 

After a few crazy nights in Patong, Kata was the perfect place to wind down with a beer on the beach at sunset.

IMG_0875.jpg
IMG_0890.jpg

 

 

Exmouth

There were many things that inspired us to road trip Australia’s western coast, including the remoteness, the national parks, and the romantic idea of driving an empty road in the desert. No single motivator was quite as strong as the desire to dive Ningaloo Reef in Exmouth. 

Exmouth is a tiny, tiny town about 13 hours and 1,247 kilometers north of Perth. It originated as a United States Communication Station in the 1960’s and while the base has since been turned over to the Australian government, the town has been there ever since. Now, Exmouth is famous for one thing and one thing only: some of the best diving in all of Australia, maybe even in the world. 

The area garnered this reputation from two key attractions: Ningaloo Reef and the persistent opportunity to dive with whale sharks, which migrate up Australia’s coast through Ningaloo every year between March and September. While we were disappointed to have just missed the chance to see these fantastic giants, we did manage to arrive just in time for sea turtle mating season, which kind of made up for it. 

On our way in to town we stopped at our chosen dive shop: Dive Ningaloo. We cannot recommend this company enough - we did a total of five dives with them over the course of three days and loved the experience. We also got the chance to dive Navy Pier with these guys, which is listed as one of the world’s top 10 dive sites (totally deserved).  

Navy Pier

Navy Pier is a dive site that is directly under and around the jetty on the active military base in Exmouth. Dive Ningaloo has exclusive rights to dive on these premises, another key reason we chose to dive with them. There are many rules and regulations in place due to the nature of the base, so if you choose to do this dive make sure you listen to what they have to say!

edit-2371.jpg

 

The dive is shallow and easy, only about 15 meters, and there isn’t much current. Typically, visibility can be quite low on this shore dive, but we got extremely lucky and had unusually high vis. Before we even could jump in the water we were watching dolphins play around just under the jetty. Then we got to jump in…

 

No fishing and lack of human visitors has made this dive site truly remarkable in its diversity. In the 45 minutes we were underwater we saw everything from grey reef sharks, sting rays, enormous groupers, fantastically colorful nudibranchs, flat worms, wobbegong sharks, and the largest hawksbill sea turtle any of us, including our guide, had ever seen. 

edit-0122430.jpg

 

We both agreed it was one of the best dives we had ever done. If you get the chance to dive in Exmouth, DO NOT miss this dive. YOU WILL REGRET IT AND FEEL FOOLISH IF YOU MISS THE CHANCE TO DIVE THIS DIVE. Friendly advice. 

Also, keep your eyes open for the BFG (big friendly grouper) who lives under the jetty. This is the single largest fish I have ever seen in my life and he’ll come right up and say hello if you let him. 

Murion Islands

Our first day trip with Dive Ningaloo was to the Murion Islands. These two deserted islands offer an unbelievable amount of coral, micro life (like our friends the nudibranchs), and tropical fish. We didn’t catch a glimpse of any when we went, but you can also spot big rays and whale sharks out there when it’s the right time of year!

edit-6999.jpg
edit-7019.jpg

 

One thing we did manage to see is a ton of turtles. You couldn’t miss them because they were everywhere. Remember how I said it was sea turtle mating season when we went in October/November? The Murion Islands seem to be a personal favorite of theirs. We stopped for lunch and were able to snorkel to the beach to get a glimpse of them up close and it became a game of who could see the most. There must have been over 25 around that beach alone. 

edit-0042503.jpg

 

Take away: if you visit Exmouth and are bummed that you’ve also just managed to miss whale shark season, stick around for the turtles and they’ll more than make up for it. On our last night in town I managed to get up close and personal with a female digging her nest on the beach near the Jurabi Turtle Centre - it was sensational! 

If you do decide to pay the ladies a visit during this season, be respectful and keep noise to a minimum and white lights off. It disturbs them and then you’re that asshole who ruined it for everyone else trying to catch a glimpse of the magic. Don’t be that guy. RED LIGHTS ONLY!! 

Ningaloo Reef

Aside from the whale sharks cruising through during the winter season, the main diving attraction of Exmouth is definitely Ningaloo Reef. The entire Ningaloo Coast is listed as a protected World Heritage Site and is both the largest fringing coral reef in Australia and the only large reef in the world found so close to land. You can snorkel or dive this reef right from the beach if you want!

The most popular way to see the reef is to hop on a boat for a day (or two) from either Coral Bay or Exmouth. You see slightly different sides to the reef and we were told that you’re more likely to see big mantas from Coral Bay. 

We didn’t get to see any of these gentle giants since we got our first stroke of bad luck and had a particularly windy day that made diving too far out in the reef impossible, but we still got an eyeful with sharks, rays, an octopus (!!), and even a sea snake streaking towards the surface above us. 

edit-2461.jpg
edit-2563.jpg

 

Exmouth is a sensational place to dive and to stay. The town absolutely explodes with activity during peak season, so if you’re interested in heading there during whale shark season make sure you book in advance - it does fill up! As for us, I think it’s safe to say that the only thing we can do, since we missed them this time around, is find our way back to the west coast another time.