Best for beach bums: Phuket
From high-level trekking in Morocco's Atlas Mountains to rubbing shoulders with A-listers on Hollywood Boulevard, and from rural retreats off Tuscany's beaten track to jet-set hang outs for Moscow's super-rich, our writers have been to the ends of the earth to find a world of inspiration
Saturday 07 February 2009
It seemed like the perfect plan. I would travel to Phuket with my mate, who owns the pub in the Cotswolds, four days before our wives arrived for a further fortnight. That would give us a whole four days to deal with car hire, get the fridge stocked, put the house in order. But, mostly, four days to sample Phuket's glorious nightlife sans WAGs. I enjoy spending time with my mate, who owns the pub in the Cotswolds, not least because it's his job to get people drunk every day. Since I'm a gossip columnist, he's one of my few chums whose livelihood is arguably more reprehensible than my own.
So as we careered down Kata beach in the warm evening air just a couple hours after landing at Phuket airport, we were filled with the same sort of excitement as when we arrived as squiffy-haired backpackers 10 years previously. Except the unmistakable throb of Kata's neon waterfront was strangely subdued for reasons which soon became apparent – the king's sister had died.
As anyone who has been to Thailand will tell you, members of country's royal family are viewed through the same sort of dewy-eyed goggles as Americans look upon Barack Obama, or, at the very least, Jesus Christ. There would be a mandatory period of mourning. For four days. Plan scrapped.
As good as the nightlife might be, Phuket is tailor-made for the early riser. For beach dwellers, 6am is the best time to go. The monks, fluorescent in gold and orange, will be pottering about with their food bowls on their early morning rounds searching for tasty offerings. The persistent taxi drivers are still snoozing lazily in their flip-flops. The sand will be clean, the surf ripe for some early morning body-boarding and, most of all, it's empty.
Kata, on the south peninsula, is divided into two beaches: Kata Yai and Kata Noi, both equally inviting and an ideal spot for the medium-budget traveller. Past the beach, along the Thanon Patak road, there is a fantastic day market full of some of the ugliest fish you have ever seen and trays of gorgeous vegetables laid out in row after row of rich Technicolor. Do, however, avoid the butchery section and mind out for the faint whiff of manure.
If you have hit the town the night before, you're fortunately never far from the perfect hangover cure from one of the numerous noodle bars which pack the streets. I would recommend a bowl of pad see-ew (hot noodle soup) followed by moo grob (literally thick chunks of crispy pork fat) which is great at soaking up alcohol. Give the western beers a swerve, and order a large Singha, without a doubt the best lager in the world.
A 20-minute tuk-tuk journey further round the southern tip of the island will take you to Nai Harn. It's worth the trip alone for a drink at the bar of the Royal Phuket Yacht Club, with its panoramic view of the beach. There are worse ways to spend an evening than at the Yacht Club in full few of Nai Harn's turquoise surf, enjoying a cocktail as the staff, resplendent in their pristine white ducks, pack up the sunbeds below before the last shafts of sunlight disappear for another day.
It is my favourite viewpoint in the world, the one where I escape to each day in my head as the Jubilee Line once again grinds to a stubborn halt, the one that sits in front of me as my screensaver, and the one where I asked my wife to marry me.
Should anyone be tempted to perform a similar stunt, they mix a gargantuan martini which will do just the trick.
* Tahiti and her 117 islands are barely known to UK travellers. For remote beauty the mountainous Marquesas Islands are hard to beat, with beaches that have seduced such artists and adventurers as Paul Gauguin and Robert Louis Stevenson Audley Travel offers tailor-made trips: 01993 838830
* If you like your desert island hideaway on the refined side, try the Turks and Caicos, the Caribbean's last undeveloped outpost. The exclusive Amanyara is set in 100 acres of national park and has an infinity pool with sunset views over the talcum-white beach. 00 1 649 941 8133; amanyara.com
* Come to Mnemba, a private island 4km off the coast of Zanzibar to spot film stars, supermodels and some of the best marine life in East Africa. mnemba-island.com
* You don't have to go to the tropics to feel like a castaway. The Côte D'Argent at the south-western tip of France's Atlantic coastline has 250km of white sands (the longest stretch in Europe), rugged dunes and thick Atlantic forest. And there's little development save a few (good) rustic seafood shacks. franceguide.com/uk
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