Photo: A great beach!

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Welcome to northern Phuket. Sure, it's difficult to get here and even harder to get around, but the pleasures of seeking out this relatively unspoilt part of the island make it all worthwhile.

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With the call to prayer sounding from the village mosques and water buffalo grazing along the highway it's hard to believe that you're still on the same island as Patong's Bangla Road. Building a resort in this more hilly part of the island is quite the engineering feat, so they tend to be few and far apart. Farming, fishing, and rubber-making are more important than tourism in these parts, and most of the land remains in its less developed state -- rolling rubber forests.

Exploring northern Phuket is much easier if you have transportation but be sure to choose something with a little extra power -- you'll need it. You might notice a change in climate too -- even when it's sweltering on Patong Beach, mountain breezes and the shade of the rubber forests keep this area much cooler. See what happens when you don't pave everything?

Naithon Noi Beach
This is a very pretty but short stretch of sand just before Naithon Beach proper. There's only one resort here, the Andaman White Beach Resort, and they've made the pig-headed decision not to share. Until 2005 Naithon Noi was open to everyone, but the resort has now blocked off the path leading down to the beach. Unless you're a guest, the only way to access the beach is by boat and we doubt you'd get a warm welcome.

Naithon Beach
A long stretch of rather yellow, coarse sand, Naithon Beach is a great choice if you're looking for some peace and quiet. You'll find long empty swathes of beach with no deckchairs, no watersports, no vendors, and no problems! There are only a few places to eat in Naithon, and if you stay here you'll likely find yourself eating most meals at your hotel. Otherwise there's the Chao Lay Bistro, Pinocchio Pizza and Pasta (only open during the high season) and some food stalls in the village back off the beach.

Nai Yang
Nai Yang is without a doubt the most convenient of the northern beaches if you're visiting for longer than a day trip. There's a growing number of affordable guesthouses plus tour offices, mini-marts, motorbike rentals, and yet more tailor shops. Most shut down during the low season which is especially quiet in northern Phuket. Western restaurants like Green Pizza and Rodeo Steakhouse have opened along the beach road, but you'll get a more satisfying meal from the food stalls along the beach. Some have English menus, prices are low, and you get to eat sitting on a woven mat on the sand looking out on the beach.

Nai Yang is also home to the headquarters Sirinath National Park which stretches across some 90 square kilometres between Naithon Beach to the south and Mai Khao to the north. The park was established to protect Phuket's sea turtles, but they're fighting a losing battle. North of town you'll find the visitor's centre, new bungalows, and public washrooms. Camping is also permitted.

Mai Khao
Mai Khao is the longest of Phuket's beaches -- at nearly 11 km long it stretches and stretches and stretches far into the horizon. You can walk along its coarse yellow sand for hours and not see another soul. It's safe to swim during the high season but during the monsoons the waves are high and the water is rough and quite dangerous. On the upside, during monsoon a lot of junk washes up on Mai Khao, and amid the styrofoam, plastic drink bottles, and driftwood, persistent beachcombers can find large shells. Mai Khao is a protected nesting ground for sea turtles, although fewer and fewer make it back each year. As part of a conversation program hatchlings are released onto the beach during the Songkran festival each year.

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