What's it really like?
Gay Phuket combines tropical waters and white sandy beaches with intense nightlife. Phuket is Thailand’s largest island roughly the size of Singapore – and one of the biggest tourist spots in the country. As such, it has one of the biggest and most active gay communities around. Patong is the largest town on Phuket and home to most of the nightlife, both gay and straight. The island is located on the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea, and is linked to the mainland by a land bridge.
Phuket has no official gay beach. Many gay tourists spend the day at their own resort beaches, which are spread out across the island, only venturing to Patong in the evening. If you are not staying at a resort with a private beach, Patong’s status as the capital of gay Phuket means that Patong Beach is (unofficially) the gayest beach around.
Patong Beach is 3.5km long, and the gayest section is in front of La Flora Resort Patong. Naturally, La Flora is close to the gay nightclub area around Paradise Complex.
The beach bars around La Flora Resort Patong usually fly rainbow flags, making them easier to find. However, don’t expect any daytime parties: these venues offer chilled beers on the beach with deck chairs available for rent, not crazy beach parties. Wait for the nighttime for the real fun to start in Phuket.
Given Phuket’s seedy reputation, it is no wonder that getting an STI or HIV test on the island presents no great difficulty. There are plenty of walk-in clinics in Patong that offer a quick, anonymous, and relatively cheap (approx 800B) service, but many people prefer to stick to hospitals for professional staff and reliable results.
There are three private hospitals, of which Siriroj International Hospital (formerly Phuket International Hospital) and Bangkok Hospital Phuket cater most to tourists, with English-speaking staff. You may have a better service at these, but you will need an appointment.
Thailand has one of the highest prevalences of HIV in the Asia and Pacific region, and almost 50% of all new HIV infections are amongst gay or bisexual men, male sex workers, and transgender people. Approximately 9% of men who have sex with men in Thailand have HIV, with the highest incidence being in Bangkok and the second in Phuket.
Most people who visit Phuket pick an area and stick to it, due to complicated transport and the irresistible pull of their private resort beach. Every area has a distinct vibe, so choose whichever one feels best for you.
Patong – If you are visiting Phuket for its legendary nightlife, this is it. Every night, Bangla Road and the surrounding area is illuminated by garish neon lights, with pounding music coming from every bar and club along the way. Most of the large mainstream bars are very straight-oriented (you’ll be hard-pressed to find one without go-go girls dancing on the tables), so you need to head to the Paradise Complex area for something more to your liking. Everything is very close to each other, so it’s a 5-minute walk from the go-go girls to the go-go boys. Patong Beach is not the prettiest on the island (and is constantly busy), but it is still perfectly suited for watersports and lounging.
Kata – A popular alternative to Patong for those who prefer a more chilled-out vibe, Kata is a surfer haven with a pleasant local commerce and a bustling beach. There are also plenty of great spa options for a luxury massage. The area is divided between Ao Kata Yai (Big Kata Bay) and Ao Kata Noi (Little Kata Bay) – the bulk of the commerce and accommodation is in the former.
Karon – If Patong is buzzing and seedy and Kata is laid-back and sporty, Katon is somewhere in between. The nightlife is like a mini-version of Patong (minus the gay hub), but the overall town is slightly more polished to accommodate high-end luxury tourism in the resorts along the beach. Karon Beach is a beautiful stretch of golden sand, and is larger and less developed than the other two.
Phuket Town – Most visitors to Phuket skip the capital of the province entirely, which is both understandable and a pity. People go to Phuket for its beaches, tropical resorts, and gaudy bars, none of which are particularly prominent in Phuket town. Instead, a blend of traditional Thai culture, unique international influences, and fast-paced gentrification make it a trendy, picturesque urban hub that can provide a welcome break when you are tired of shots and sun loungers. There is a fun, laid-back, local nightlife to be explored,
Rawai – Rawai is on the southernmost tip of the island and has become a popular hub for expats and retirees. Though Rawai Beach is not one for lounging, nearby Nai Han Beach is a favorite with expats, boasting stunning views and significantly reduced crowds.
Surin – Surin Beach is possibly the most gorgeous on the island, which goes towards explaining why it is also home to its most exclusive and high-end resorts. If you have the budget, Surin is as lovely (and Insta-worthy) as it gets, but there is not much for budget and mid-range travelers in the area.
Bang Tao – Bang Tao is home to many bungalow hotels and resorts. Between them, these offer enough entertainment and activities – as well as some of Phuket’s finest restaurants – that most visitors don’t bother leaving. This is a popular destination for families, so the vibe may not be ideal for people traveling alone or with friends.
Phuket is a large island, and walking between towns is out of the question. Most of the beach towns are however small enough to walk around in, meaning that if you are staying in place you will be able to avoid spending too much money on overpriced taxis and tuk-tuks. Some resorts will offer shuttle services to nearby beaches and towns: enquire before booking to help you plan your stay.
From Phuket International Airport – Getting a metered taxi from the airport is by far the most convenient option. The airport is in the north of the island, about 45-50 minutes away from the southern beaches and Phuket town. It should be no more than 700B ($22) for a taxi to anywhere on the island. There is also a public bus to Phuket town that departs regularly throughout the day (1 -1.5-hour intervals): find out more about it here.
Taxis – Up until 2014, Phuket’s taxis were controlled by a shadowy “taxi mafia” that inflated the cost of all transport across the island. The Thai military has cracked down on the organization, meaning taxis now operate on a legal maximum price. You can negotiate down from that price if you feel up to it, but you will most likely be overcharged. Be particularly careful if you are traveling between beaches at night, as taxi drivers have been known to charge extortionate prices from gullible and/or drunk tourists. There are almost no metered taxis in Phuket, so your best option is to take a note of the number of the metered taxi you got from the airport and call it to schedule pick ups and drop offs during your stay.
GrabTaxi – Since Uber’s brief stint on the island ended, GrabTaxi is the main mobile app option in Phuket. Download the app and hail a taxi to you from anywhere on the island. Expect to pay similar prices than a regular taxi, but you may be left waiting for a while depending on the time of day.
Tuk-tuks – Common but generally considered to be the worst way to get around. You may end up paying significantly more than a taxi, for a significantly less comfortable ride.
Songthaew – Songthaews, or sorng-taa-ou, are a familiar sight throughout Thailand’s islands. Somewhere between a bus and a tuk-tuk, they are cheaper than a taxi but can be relatively cramped and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, they are beloved by tourists and a good place to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers. Phuket’s network of songthaews goes from Phuket town to the main beaches, but not between the towns themselves: you will need a taxi for that. Catch a songthaew in Phuket town near the fresh market on Ranong Road; the destination is written across the side of the vehicle. They depart approximately every 30 minutes, from 6 am to 6 pm, but the driver will usually wait for it to be full before leaving. Fares start at 15B. To get one to Phuket town, ask your hotel where you can most easily hail one from.
Buses – There is a limited network of public, air-conditioned buses with a fixed 10B fare within Phuket town. Long-distance buses connect the island with several major cities on the mainland, including overnight sleeper services to Bangkok and bus+ferry packages to reach the eastern islands like Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. Make sure you go to the correct bus station, as there are two Phuket Bus Terminals. You want Bus Station 2, the newest one, for most long-distance air-conditioned services.
Car or Motorbike Rental – Many tourists choose to avoid the overpriced taxi and tuk-tuk fares by renting a car or motorbike when on the island. While this is a good option if you want to explore the island independently, it is worth noting that Thailand has some infamously dangerous roads and infamously reckless drivers. If you are thinking of renting a motorbike – a tourist rite of passage of sorts in Thailand – bear in mind that accidents are common and rental does not tend to include insurance. Also, this should go without saying, but do not rent a motorbike if you have never driven one before. Yes, people do it all the time, and yes some rental companies will turn a blind eye, but it is illegal and not a particularly smart move.
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