*NB - this article originally appeared in the Sun Herald on Sunday 17 November, and subsequently here at smh.com.au. In this version, I've added an extra two beach-clubs to round out the selection.
There’s a new vibe on the Thai island of Phuket, and it’s hip, laid-back and sultry. Think sun, sand, cocktails and a chill-out beat, all served on a platter of decadence and luxury; think beautiful people, famous DJs and memorable parties under a starry sky.
Hang on a sec - we are talking about Phuket, right? That tawdry travesty with seedy girlie bars, a brazen sex industry, ugly tourists and once-beautiful beaches putrified by insensitive over-development?
Yes, it’s the very same Phuket; and the good news is, the former paradise is slowly emerging from the mire, utilising its natural assets to bring sexy back with nary a pole or ping-pong ball in sight.
While the ‘beach club’ scene has triumphed in other seaside destinations around the world (including rival Thai island Ko Samui), Phuket was a little slow on the uptake. But a recent spate of openings on the island’s west coast has transformed the social scene for both locals and tourists, and given the island destination a much needed injection of cool. And it seems the trend is here to stay, with new venues - including the international sensation Nikki Beach - heralding the peak festive season.
During the day, these swanky beachfront oases - some connected to upmarket resorts, but others stand-alone venues with pools, restaurants and bars - are chilled and family-friendly, with an emphasis on tanning, swimming and lazing as attentive staff ply guests with food, drinks and beachside comfort. As day morphs into night, so the ambience shifts; couples canoodle in cabanas and on beach cushions watching the sunset, cocktails in hand, while the music slowly crescendos into party mode. Then the club scene kicks in, with international DJs spinning discs and spurring revellers into a sweaty frenzy.
While the beach clubs tend to be (as they say in Thailand) ‘same same but different’, each one has its own ambience and unique deals to lure clientele. Here’s a taste of what’s on offer:
CATCH THE SUNSET
Nestled into the sand dunes on Surin Beach, Catch was the original Phuket beach club and the one that set the bar in terms of decor, hospitality and style. While beach barbecues and buffet lunches make it an attractive place to chill during the day, there is no pool for a post-meal dip. A popular place to watch the sun setting over the Andaman Sea, Catch really starts jumping at night as parties - including the infamous annual ‘White Party’ - featuring international DJs attract up to 700 guests.
WHERE: Surin Beach, opposite Twinpalms Phuket Resort.
OPENING HOURS: Daily 9am to 2am.
COST: Day membership ranges from 1,500 TB (A$50) pp from May-October, to 5,000 TB (A$170) in peak season (Dec-Jan), giving exclusive use of sun-beds and complimentary food and drinks up to this value. Guests of Twinpalms Resort enjoy complimentary access and sun beds.
|CATCH at Surin Beach
TRUE BLISS FOR KIDS
Happy children, happy parents - so the equation goes at Bliss Beach Club, a family-friendly venue on palm-fringed Bang Tao Bay. While mum and dad sip on Blisstinis on the wooden deck, the kids play on a grassy playground next to the pool under the supervision of trained nannies. Regular events include ‘Apertivo’ between 5-7pm on weekends (complimentary finger food with drinks), and ‘Soundwave Sunday’, Phuket’s “longest running beach party” from 2pm to 8pm.
WHERE: Bang Tao Bay, past the Sunwing Hotel.
OPENING HOURS: Daily 10am-2am
COST: No minimum spend, use of sun bed costs up to 220 TB (A$7.45) in high season.
|BLISS at Bang Tao Bay
Located on the beachfront at the Angsana Laguna (formerly Sheraton Grande Laguna), XANA (managed by the Attica group from Singapore) is arguably the coolest beach club in Thailand. Attracting top international DJs such as Paul Oakenfold, Frankie Knuckles and Ministry of Sound, it’s the place to party, with an awesome swim-up bar in a 35 metre pool, sandy dance floor, bespoke cocktails, excellent food and trendy decor, not to mention the benefit of on-site accommodation.
WHERE: Angsana Laguna, Bang Tao Bay; walk through the hotel grounds to get to the Beach Club.
OPENING HOURS: Daily 10am-12am (1am on weekends)
COST: Minimum spend from 1000 TB (A$ 34) per guest, which entitles you to a sun-bed, towels, use of facilities and credit in food and beverage to that value. Double pod loungers for two and VIP beach cabanas also available.
|XANA Beach Club
Brought to you by the people behind Bali’s famed KU DE TA bar, the funky RE KA TA Beach Club is described as an “eclectic blend of St Tropez ‘Beach Lounge’ fused with ... Miami ‘Party Beats’ for the cocktail-sipping after-dinner crowd.” As well as offering beach chill-out by day and club beats at night, RE KA TA also has its own fashion boutique, a day spa and a restaurant featuring raw foods to round out the indulgence. Don’t miss Martini & Manicure nights on Thursday, with a free express manicure and martini for the gals.
WHERE: Kata Beach, attached to The Boathouse Resort
OPENING HOURS: Daily 7am to midnight
COST: Opening special of 1000 TB (A$34) minimum spend gives you complimentary food and drinks plus access to the pool, spa and bar.
Brand spanking new at Surin Beach is ZAZADA, located on a pristine strip of white sand lapped by the Andaman Sea. Live music, soul, funk and acid jazz mixes set this bar apart from the others in terms of entertainment, while there will also be guest performers from opera singers to street performers. Day membership includes use of the beach club facilities including Surin’s only infinity pool, beach beans bags and free wi-fi.
WHERE: Northernmost tip of Surin Beach
OPENING HOURS: Daily 11am to 2am
COST: 1500 TB (A$ 50) includes use of sun beds, food and beverage credits to that value and a complimentary bottle of mineral water.
|Zazada at Surin
BIKINIS AND MARTINIS
The beats start early at BiMi (an abbreviation of Bikinis and Martinis), with DJs setting the mood from 10am each day. Described as Phuket’s only All Day Party Beach Club, it invites barefoot chic in its thatched cocktail huts and natural salas surrounded by coconut palms flanking a strip of white powder sand. Cool down under the giant rain showers, or feast on light beach snacks featuring fresh seafood and Thai flavours at the acclaimed restaurant. BiMi access passes - distributed by selected Phuket resorts - offer preferential rates and access to sunbeds.
WHERE: Surin Beach, next door to Catch Beach Club.
OPENING HOURS: Daily 10am to 7pm
COST: Sunbeds from 200 TB (A$6.75) per day.
|BiMi Day club
With its purple lighting and decor, grandiose staircase, huge shade awning and 100 beach beds, Diamond Beach Club is the most distinctive of Phuket’s beach clubs, enhanced by a restaurant featuring the talents of Michelin-starred Italian chef Bruno Nicollini. Facing west, this trendy club is the perfect spot for sundowners, with an impressive cocktail and mocktail list utilising fresh Thai fruits, fresh herbs and more than a dash of artistry. There’s also a walk-in wine cellar where an experienced sommelier will suggest wines available by the glass or bottle.
WHERE: Northern end of Surin Beach
OPENING HOURS: 10am to 2am
COST: Sunbeds from 600 TB (A$20) per day.
|Diamond Beach Club
The writer was a guest of Banyan Tree Phuket and Tourism Authority of Thailand.