Just west of Phuket in Thailand's southwest lies the gorgeous beach resort of Karon. If you just want to relax on the beach, Karon excels, but there's more here to explore, with natural attractions on the destination's doorstep too.
Karon's main attraction is obvious. The broad, long sandy beach attracts a huge summer crowd, but isn't as packed as other nearby resorts like Patong.
From the crab fried rice at the unpretentious Pad Thai Shop to delicate curries at Red Chopsticks, Karon offers the best of contemporary Thai cuisine.
Towering over the resort, the 147-foot-tall Big Buddha is one of Karon's star attractions. The views from the peak are simply stunning.
Kok Chang Safari Elephant Trekking will get you in the saddle of friendly and humanely treated Asian elephants.
If you love to dive, Karon is perfect. Head out to nearby reefs with companies like Eco Divers who will show you the region's marine riches.
Chinese legend has it that the island province of Phuket in southern Thailand is a golden sea dragon, Hai Leng Ong, who is duty-bound to protect inhabitants and visitors with good health and prosperity. Drawn to its rich natural resources and later the tin mining and rubber trade that shaped its destiny, visitors have come to and prospered here for thousands of years. Graced with a mountainous backdrop, an ancient rainforest and the gentle sway of palms skirting its beautiful beaches, Phuket's exotic allure continues to draw millions each year - especially to the island's quintessential destination, Karon Beach. Located between the street hustle and girly bars of Patong and the quieter, more upscale Kata, family-friendly Karon is the happy medium: accommodations for all tastes, fabulous dining, great nightlife, amazing water sports and scuba diving - and room to spread out along three glorious miles of white, sandy beach.
First-time visitors to Thailand are often struck by the friendly, respectful, easy-going nature of the Thai people, traits associated with the prevailing impact of the Buddhist philosophy. A quiet, meditative visit to a Buddhist temple, such as Karon's quaint Wat Suwan Khirikhet, is done out of respect and gratitude for the Buddha's teachings. Providing a dose of tranquility for all, the small but elaborately ornate Buddhist temple and its beautiful gardens are a short walk from the north end of the beach.
While not nearly as spacious as the beach at Karon, nor as congested as the one at Patong, the laid-back resort town of Kata just south of Karon has some of the best shopping, dining spots, and day spas on the island. It also has Phuket's second most popular beach and the island's only regular surfing site, especially during the May-October monsoon season. Carved into two beaches by a jutting, rocky headland, Kata Beach and the more secluded beach of Kata Noi are as gorgeous as any strip of sand can be.
The grounds of the Karon Temple become a bustling center of activity on Tuesday and Thursday when the Karon Temple Market opens for business with an array of stalls and vendors serving up souvenirs like flower-shaped soaps and Thai-inspired scarves, and regional southern Thai delicacies like spicy, pasted skewers of fresh shrimp, colorful crayfish salad and steaming bowls of mango-sweetened sticky rice. Probably a reflection of the accepting Buddhist nature, it's a street fair where hard sells and price haggling is virtually nonexistent.
It's a postcard-perfect photograph anyone visiting Phuket will want to take: the Andaman Sea, sparkling like turquoise glass, hurling snow-white surf against the dazzling white beaches of Karon, Kata and Kata Noi from the lush, green perspective of the hills surrounding Karon Viewpoint. As spectacular in the early morning as it is romantic at sundown, this hillside perch above Kata Noi is accessed by a mountainous jungle road connecting Kata with Rawai.
High season generally lasts from November through early March. Either end of the season is ideal, with fine weather, little rain and smaller crowds.
From Phuket International Airport (HKT) a minibus should cost ฿200, while taxis usually cost about ฿650.
From Phuket, take route 402 and switch to route 4021, which takes you straight down to Karon Beach.
Regular bus services run from Phuket to Karon and cost ฿100.
There are plenty of incredible hotels in Karon, including standouts like Le Meridien, the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach, and the Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket.
Karon Beach - the third-longest beach on Phuket Island, Karon Beach offers swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing - pretty much everything you could ask from a beach.
Karon Village - bordering on the beach, Karon Village is full of lively nightspots like the Ombre Bar and Restaurant and Sanook Sports Bar.
Ban Karon - just south of the main village, Ban Karon is if anything slightly livelier, being home to restaurants like the Pad Thai Shop and attractions like Dino Park Mini Golf.
There are no buses or trams in Karon, but you can catch tuk-tuks (passenger scooters). The trip to Patong Beach will cost around ฿300.
Expect taxis to charge a flag drop of around ฿200, then ฿50 per mile.
To rent a car, try places like Grand Car Center or Tulip Car Rental. Rates will start at around ฿500 per day.
Most of Karon's best stores are located along the seafront, where you'll find boutiques like Baru Fashion, but Kata Beach to the south has slightly more shopping options.
Supermarkets in Karon include Super Cheap 24 Karon. Expect to pay around ฿50 for 12 eggs.
You'll find fantastic Thai food at the Pad Thai Shop and Mama Noi's, great curries at Red Chopsticks, and stir fries at Bai Toey. Meals should come to around ฿300.