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Phuket's famous Kata Beach is actually made up of two main beaches, the Club Med dominated Kata Yai Beach and the Kata Thani dominated Kata Noi Beach.
In both cases the large beachfront hotels dominate the landscape, moreso in the Kata Noi case as the Kata Thani is on the beach side of the road and does a good job of making beach access as difficult as possible — at least Club Med has a road between it and the sand. In both cases though, the beaches themselves are not restricted and there's plenty enough sand for everyone — once you get onto it!
Of the two beaches, Kata Yai (big Kata) is the better beach with soft, super fine sand meeting turquoise water which swings from a millpond in dry season to a small surf beach in the wet. More protected than Karon Beach to the north, Kata still gets currents and novice swimmers should be careful — if the red "Do not swim" flags are out, do not swim.
For snorkellers on Kata, the best bet is the northern end of the beach, where the rocks host coral and ample sea life. If you're on Kata Noi, hire a longtail for the trip south to Nui beach -- a sliver of sand that has good snorkelling off both the north and south headland. If you want to do Nui but want to find it yourself, just continue past Karon Viewpoint and head towards Laem Promthep to get to the entrance of Nui.
The dirt road leading 2km down to the beach has seen some improvements in the last few years but is still by no means safe. Pot holes and 60 degree drops in the road are not for the faint-hearted nor inexperienced driver. You can safely park your bike halfway down the road and walk the rest of the way — be sure to bring water with you as the hike back is strenuous. It costs 250B to enter Nui beach but it's well worth it as you get a beach chair, umbrella, towel and soft drink. The beach is one of the best in Phuket.