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Surin Beach lies a few kilometres north of Kamala, and has one of the most beautiful beaches on Phuket. A public park developed from a long-closed golf course has kept the hotels well away from the sand, and it's a shame that other beaches on Phuket haven't developed in a similar manner.
Known as Phuket’s five-star beach, 800-metre Surin has long attracted the rich, royal and famous. The old golf course was once a favoured playing ground for Thai elites dressed in crisp white, and locals still talk about HM the King of Thailand’s visit to the beach in the 1950s. An elaborate pavilion has since been built in his honour near the beach entrance.
After the luxury Amanpuri resort opened in the late 1980s, upscale restaurants popped up beachside and pricey private villas spread over the hills near the beach. Even so, those of us without celebrity-sized bank accounts will still find plenty to enjoy here.
During peak season from November to April the crystal clear water is calm and suitable for swimming and snorkelling. The bay here is deeper than other west-coast beaches though, making it less ideal for swimming families than nearby Kamala or Patong beaches. The rocks at the far ends of the beach are good for spotting colourful aquatic creatures like the abundant parrot fish, although the coral reefs aren’t as plentiful as they once were.
During the southwest monsoon (May-October) the waves can be a metre or more high. They're perfect for a little bit of surfing, but can make swimming conditions treacherous. Surin Beach gets reasonable waves at both its northern and southern end, but watch out for the rocky section at the centre -- it's nasty. There are sudden drop-offs in the water's depth as well as rip tides, and Surin Beach claims a few lives each year. If there are red flags flying on the beach do not go in the water. Though there’s now a lifeguard stand year round, children should be watched very closely.
The 2004 Asian tsunami wiped out Surin’s small beachside shops and restaurants, but these were rebuilt and seemed to grow grander and larger with each passing year. Restaurants started spilling onto the sands to satisfy the growing number of beach-goers looking for deluxe sun loungers and cocktail service. By the end of 2013, Surin’s soft golden sands were almost entirely covered by rows of umbrellas and sunbeds, swanky bars and even retaining walls built by restaurants wanting to keep their beach tables level.
This all came to a screeching halt in June 2014, when Surin was the first of several beaches on Phuket to be cleared of commercial activity in a post-coup Thai army operation. All structures, umbrellas and sunbeds were forced off the sands and the beach clubs and restaurants had to hem in their operations to the inland side of the beach footpath only. Some were shut down completely.
The rules on what's permitted on Surin beach have been in flux in the months following the beach clearouts, but by July 2015 Surin still had a row of beachside eateries plus mobile food vendors in the car park, beach massage service on mats in the shade, and limited umbrella and mattress rental services in zones. Umbrella rental is 100 baht a day, or 200 baht for an umbrella with two mattresses. And, unfortunately, jet-ski rentals are still allowed.
According to news reports, the remaining beach clubs, shops and restaurants along the beach may yet be forced to close and be replaced by government-run services, but so far no there are no signs of this happening.
Surin has two parts: the area that faces the beach, which is given over to resorts and hotels, and a small, more local section back over the hill where, just as the ocean slips out of sight, the prices drop off nicely. You'll find some cheap and cheerful eats back here, along with a supermarket and a couple of budgetish places to stay. You don't need to be paying top dollar to stay in Surin.
The beach is wedged between two headlands -- Laem Singh to the south and Laem Son to the north. The latter is home to Pansea Beach and a couple of super-high-end resorts, while the southern headland has the lovely Laem Singh beach, which can only be reached by boat or on foot. Both are within long-walking distance of Surin Beach so don't feel you're restricted to just the main strip of sand.
Pansea is technically a public beach, though security staff at the Amanpuri celebrity enclave may try to tell you otherwise. Try not to look like a paparazzi and they might let you linger on.
By Stuart McDonald.