Oct 16 2012
Ao Chalong is a bustling harbour on Phuket’s southeast coast and one of the island’s main launching points for dive and snorkel trips. Chalong means “celebrate” in Thai, but unlike Patong Beach, its hedonistic west-coast cousin, it’s far from being a party zone.
Chalong Bay’s coastline runs from Rawai Beach to the south and over to Cape Panwa. At the heart of the bay sits a 720-metre-long pier. With Koh Lone sitting in the middle, the bay is well sheltered and hundreds of boats from rickety longtails to sleek yachts are moored here on any given day. Being a hub for boats means the water is murky and not suitable for swimming. The beach is sandy but grimy and not appealing for a sunbathing session.
The pier and the ridiculously narrow roads leading to it are madness in the early hours and in the late afternoon when trucks and minivans full of daytrippers cruising out to Coral, Raya and other islands nearby fight their way in and out. Avoid visiting the Chalong pier area at these times if you don’t need to be here.
In the high season months from November to May, the Tigerline ferry service, which stops at Phi Phi, Lanta, Lipe, Langkawi in Malaysia and several small islands of the Andaman in between, operates from this pier.
Some good restaurants are within easy walking distance from the pier, as well as a sprinkling of bars ranging in style from grungy to glitzy, a 7-eleven and other mini-marts, and an assortment of rooms for rent — nothing fancy. There’s a big car park with paid parking spaces at the pier entrance. The pier itself is a favoured spot for joggers and in the cooler evening hours couples, families and teens gather and stroll along its concrete walkway.
Dive shops dominate the pier road trade, while there’s a row of about a half-dozen cheapie beer bars along one section. Pier 42 cafe and guesthouse is probably the hippest place to eat and stay along the pier road. It’s popular with the diving crowd.
Kan Eang @ Pier restaurant next to the pier serves Thai, Japanese and Western food while a swanky new beach club, O2, the same brand as O2 on Samui, just opened next door.
Within a short walk along the waterfront from the pier is The Lighthouse restaurant, which also has some rooms for rent upstairs. Within a kilometre further north is Kan Eang 2 and the Ao Chalong Yacht Club, the latter worth checking out if you’re keen to try some sailing. The club operates a restaurant and bar that’s open to all and it holds regular weekend races — the scene here is unpretentious.
The pier road leads to a five-way roundabout, Hayeak Chalong or Chalong Circle, with turnoffs to Rawai beach, Kata and Karon beaches, and to Chaofa West (Nok) and Chaofa East (Nai), two roads running parallel paths to Phuket Town.
On the road leading to Kata-Karon is a tourist complex that, aside from a go-kart track that’s great for kids, is a one-stop shop for dubious tourist activities: a shooting range, paintball, ATV riding, elephant riding and baby elephant feeding, and worst of all: a monkey “school” where the only learning opportunity is to see firsthand how callous humans can be to their primate brethren. (If you want an up-close look at monkeys, go to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre instead.)
Just beyond the circle down Chaofa West Road is the Home Pro Village shopping centre and the island’s priciest supermarket, Villa Market, where homesick Australians go for their Vegemite fix. Home Pro sits on a plot of land that used to be an open field with a large local night market. Times change. Now there’s a KFC, MK Restaurant, a (real) Crocs outlet and the huge anchor store, Home Pro, with 6,000 square metres of floor space selling home furnishings and supplies.
Going inland, Chalong sub-district encompasses an area from the circle up towards Phuket Town. Chalong is home to two of Phuket’s most famous sacred sites, Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha. Aside from these attractions and the pier, Chalong remains fairly well off the tourist map. There are a lot of expats living in the area though, so it’s not uncommon for even the tiniest noodle shops to have signs and menus in English — or Russian.
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Tags: ao chalong