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At over eight kilometres long, Bang Tao is the second longest beach on Phuket. The northern half of the beach has been annexed by the ultra-luxurious Laguna Complex of five-star hotels, but there's still plenty of sand to share. Travellers without a super-sized budget shouldn't be scared off by this mega-resort as the southern stretch is home to enough mid-range options that Bang Tao is still worth considering.
The area around Bang Tao was formerly tin-mining country and the Laguna Complex's artificial lakes are actually filled-in pits. Much of northern Phuket, Bang Tao included, was almost completely abandoned when the mines ran dry. It wasn't until droves of tourists began to arrive that interest in Bang Tao was re-sparked, and parcels of land were quickly (and sometimes illicitly) snatched up by property developers.
To this day controversy surrounds ownership of some parcels of land in both the Bang Tao area and sections of Khao Lak. Corrupt politicians and other people of influence have, across the country, often tried to take advantage of Thailand's sometimes vague land title system and Phuket has some prime examples of this type of abuse.
But swathes of dodgy land deals shouldn't bother slowly bronzing tourists and Bang Tao remains a fine area for a bit of bronzing. The beach is long and the waters calm. There's plentiful shade and in high season this area is a hit for water-sports.
From a traveller's perspective, the focus is firmly settled on southern Bang Tao where there is a strip of small resorts lining the beach and a small village set further inland. Although you may not realise it until you've heard the call to prayer ringing out from the village mosque, this is a predominantly Muslim area and their conservative beliefs should be respected. If you plan to wander off the beach and into the village please remember to dress appropriately. No one will abuse you for wearing a bikini and sarong to the convenience store, but it's impolite and inconsiderate.
During the high season the sea at Bang Tao is calm and perfect for swimming and water sports. While it is possible to swim here year round, swells and under-currents are common during the rainy season. Red flags are erected on the beach when swimming is dangerous, and you should heed their warning to keep out of the water.
For surfing, the northern end of the beach is more exposed to both the wind and the swell, and the waves, while bigger, can get pretty very mushy and unpredictable.
Jet skis can be hired on Bang Tao, but as with anywhere on Phuket, you're supposed to have a Second Class Helmsman's license to operate one -- the easiest way to avoid any problems is to ride as a passenger. Don't forget the life jacket.