Located up in the northwest corner of Phuket Island, impressive and uncrowded Mai Khao Beach is one of the most fascinating and unique beaches in all of Thailand. Also known as Hat Mai Khao and stretching for over 10 kilometres of Andaman Sea coastline, it is the longest beach on Phuket and passes right in front of Phuket International Airport.
Well, isn’t that a bad thing, you might ask? No, in fact, this unusual feature actually draws people from all over the country to Mai Khao Beach for their chance to watch planes skim just overhead on their way to and from the runway. Depending on the size of the plane, the time of day and whether it is taking off or landing, there are all sorts of wild and fascinating photos to be had.
Whether it be a close-up selfie that looks like you have a plane emerging from the back of your head or a more distant photo of Mai Khao Beach that seems to show a huge plane cruising just over the heads of ecstatic tourists, there are plenty of options to keep you occupied.
Also called Airport Beach or Sanambin Beach (which is simply Thai for “airport”), the low-flying planes are definitely its main claim to fame. However, there are plenty of other reasons to check out one of the quietest (with regard to tourists, not necessarily airplane noise) beaches on Phuket.
The beach is very long, rather steep with a sharp drop-off underwater and a lush collection of trees running all the way along (except at the airport, of course). The sand is soft but mainly brown and doesn’t compare with some of the powdery white sand beaches elsewhere on Phuket. Also, for half the year large waves make it a difficult place to swim.
But the sunsets are outstanding and how often do you get a chance to stand directly under a passing plane? Not that often, I’d wager.
Where is Mai Khao Beach?
Mai Khao Beach is located in the extreme northwestern corner of Ko Phuket, Thailand facing the Andaman Sea. It can be found right next to Phuket International Airport and is about a 45-minute drive to or from Phuket Town, Patong Beach and many of the other popular places on the island.
Mai Khao Beach Map
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Mai Khao Beach
Mai Khao Beach is actually part of Sirinat National Park, which means it is both protected and close to some interesting outdoor adventures. The far northern section of the beach is also known as Hat Sai Kaew (Sai Kaew Beach) and boasts plenty of lush, green vegetation.
And, while there is obviously airplane noise at the south end of the beach near the airport, all the hotels are far enough away that the planes won’t affect your sleeping schedule and the entire beach is unusually far from a main road, meaning no road noise or traffic concerns.
Unlike most Phuket beaches, Mai Khao Beach is relatively undeveloped, making it a wonderful place to stroll, lounge or just enjoy Thailand’s perfect dry season weather.
9 Great Things to Do at Mai Khao Beach
As you’d expect, the place known as Airport Beach is mainly known for its proximity to the planes coming and going so the top Mai Khao Beach things to do definitely start there.
1. Mai Khao Beach Plane Spotting
Just south across a small lagoon that often reaches the sea at high tide, you’ll find Airplane Viewpoint or Airport Viewpoint. Whatever you choose to call it, they are both the same place. This wide, sloping stretch of sand directly in front of a tall chain link fence is where most Phuket planes depart or arrive. This is also where Mai Khao Beach gives way to Nai Yang Beach to the south.
Find yourself a good spot right at the end of the runways and listen for the telltale sound of a plane revving its engine for takeoff, while still keeping a close eye on the sky for any interesting incoming planes.
We would recommend you check the Phuket International Airport flight schedule to choose a time when you will be able to see several planes, or possibly choose a specific flight to watch. In general, long-distance international flights use much larger planes, making for more dramatic photo opportunities.
Unfortunately, there is also some luck involved as the exact direction for landing or take-off is determined by current weather and wind conditions. This means that some days all the planes will land from the east (the far side of the airport), well beyond the range of your cool selfie. Of course, that probably means that planes will be taking off toward the west, right over your head, which can also be very intriguing.
In our opinion, the best photos can be had when a large plane is landing from the east, getting very low over the beach just before touching down. And – while we were there, anyway – the largest concentrations of flights took place between 9 and 10 in the morning and 5 and 6 in the afternoon (which nicely coincides with sunset on the beach).
2. Watch the People Watching the Planes on Mai Khao Beach
Of course, almost as much fun as watching the planes come and go over Mai Khao Beach is watching the people scramble to find the perfect angle, the perfect pose and even the perfect outfit for the occasion.
Although variable wind conditions meant we didn’t quite witness the most iconic plane landing we were hoping for, we still enjoyed the experience and were endlessly entertained by the rowdy festive Mai Khao Beach atmosphere (especially at sunset).
Can You Swim on Mai Khao Beach?
You can swim at Mai Khao Beach during the dry season from November to February. It may also be possible to swim on Mai Khao Beach in March and April but you’ll need to check the latest conditions first. Warning flags are posted on the beach to let people known the current situation.
May to October is monsoon season on Phuket and during this time swimming at Mai Khao Beach is not recommended, with huge waves, a treacherous undertow and dangerous riptides.
3. Explore Sirinat National Park
Sirinat National Park is the largest protected area on Phuket. It consists of 3/4 water and just 1/4 land, and covers the coast all the way from Hat Sai Kaew at the north end of Mai Khao Beach down to lovely Nai Thon Beach down around a large headland.
It features beaches, forest, marine and jungle areas that are home to a huge variety of birds, reptiles and marine life. It is also an important breeding ground for several species of turtle, especially around Nai Yang Beach. There are also numerous hiking trails to enjoy within Sirinat National Park.
While the beaches are free to visit, there is an entrance fee 200 baht per adult and 100 baht per child to enter the main section of the park.
4. Check Out the Mai Khao Turtles
The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation was established in 2002 with the mission to help protect and enable the local turtle populations. From educating the public and local businesses about sustainable practices to actively improving turtle habitats, protecting breeding grounds and unhatched eggs, this organization is crucial to ensuring the long-term safety of these terrific animals.
While it is possible to encounter baby turtles or egg-laying adult turtles at any time of year, each April during the national Songkran Festival thousands of yearling turtles are released into the wild on Mai Khao Beach as part of a public awareness initiative.
5. Enjoy Splash Jungle Water Park
For a fun addition to your Mai Khao Beach airplane viewing and Sirinat National Park adventure you can head to the wild and wacky Splash Jungle Water Park. It is a bit pricey, even for Phuket, with day passes going for 1,450 baht/adult and 700 baht/child (children under 5 free).
However, it is an impressive and extensive water park, with loads of pools, slides, activities and even themed sections from all over the world (including the North Pole, obviously). Families who want to maximize their time in the park can even spend the night at the Splash Beach Resort.
6. Eat and Drink on Mai Khao Beach
Just north of the airport and Airplane Viewpoint there is a large collection of food and drink stalls catering to those putting in long days of photo seeking. In this informal gathering of entrepreneurs just behind Mai Khao Beach you can pick up everything from fried noodles to fresh pastries to buckets of beer for the beach (including ice!).
7. Rent a Bike
A path runs just behind the sand along most of Mai Khao Beach. While it is certainly possible to walk the entire distance as well, it would definitely take you many hours to cover the entire distance to or from the north end. Meanwhile, on a bike you could do it in just an hour or so.
8. Hit the Links at Blue Canyon Golf Course
The world-class Blue Canyon Country Club is located very close to Mai Khao Beach, to the delight of avid golfers spending time on Phuket. With two separate 18-hole courses, a stunning clubhouse and notable history (Tiger Woods won the Johnnie Walker Classic here in 1998), Blue Canyon is a memorable experience for any travelling golfer.
9. Marvel at Wat Mai Khao
If checking out a little Thai culture strikes your fancy, head over to the rather enormous Wat Mai Khao, a classic Buddhist temple. You can admire the magnificent buildings, wander the peaceful natural surroundings and witness real Buddhist monks live and uncensored (within reason).
Where to Stay: Mai Khao Beach Hotels
We stayed at Coriacea Boutique Resort and were quite impressed. With a quiet location 50 metres from the beach, a nice pool, excellent restaurant and large, modern rooms, it is one of the best value options on Mai Khao Beach.
Check prices and availability at Coriacea Boutique Resort
Another excellent budget resort (budget by Phuket standards, anyway) is Mai Khao Beach Residence. It is located a block back from the beach, which is mainly why it is so affordable. The rooms are modern with balconies and there is a nice pool and garden area.
Check prices and availability at Mai Khao Beach Residence
Finally, if money is no object and you want to experience the most luxurious Phuket resort on Mai Khao Beach, treat yourself to a stay at the very exclusive, very expensive 5-star Maikhao Dream Villa Resort and Spa. Perfect location, elegant hotel and first-class service.
Check prices and availability at Maikhao Dream Villa Resort and Spa
How to Get to Mai Khao Beach
Mai Khao Beach is located in the northwestern corner of Phuket very close to Phuket International Airport. Many people end up staying here either before or after a flight. Even though many of the hotels are within easy walking distance of the airport grounds and Airport Viewpoint, you have to go all the way around to reach the airport entrance so it is roughly 15-30 minutes by car depending on how far up the beach you’re staying.
Although there are buses on Phuket, service is limited, especially in this part of the island. Taxis are generally the easiest way to get around on Phuket. Taxis to the airport prearranged through hotels usually cost around 500 baht ($US15), although you may be able to negotiate a slightly cheaper price on your own. Tuk-tuks are less comfortable (and have less space for luggage) but are cheaper and more fun.
Some people also choose to rent a car at the airport to provide extra freedom for exploring the rest of Phuket. We find that Discover Cars usually has the best deals in the area.
Another option is to rent a motorbike (scooter/moped). These usually cost 200-300B/day but are best suited to short journeys rather than long trips all the way around the island.
And if you want to see more of Phuket but don’t really want to drive yourself (remember, they drive on the left-hand side in Thailand), most hotels can arrange for a private car and driver for a very reasonable price (usually 300-500B/hr).
How to Get Around Mai Khao Beach
There are four options for getting from one end of the beach to the other:
There is a nice, flat path running most of the way just behind the beach that tuk-tuks are allowed on (but not cars or motorbikes). These small, 3-wheeled vehicles are generally far cheaper than taxis as well.
Many hotels and shops rent out bikes at very low prices (or offer them to guests for free, like at Coriacea Boutique Resort). The path behind Mai Khao Beach is relatively flat so a bike can actually be a very good choice.
Depending on where you stay, walking along Mai Khao Beach is a great option. It is a pleasant activity on any section of the beach but considering the extreme length it may be too far to walk from your hotel all the way to Airplane Viewpoint.
When to Go: Mai Khao Beach Weather
As a tropical island, the temperature on Phuket doesn’t change much throughout the year, although it does get a bit hotter from Feb-Apr (32C/24C high/low) compared to the rest of the year (29/25).
Rainy season lasts from May to October, with September-October getting the worst of it and November being a transition month when you can get a bit of anything. There is very little rain from December to April but it gets hotter and more humid through the winter, peaking in April when it can feel a bit like an oven.
Mai Khao Beach Summary
While other Thai beaches might outdo Mai Khao Beach for soft, white sand and classic palm tree vistas, it surely offers one of the most unique experiences in the country. Along with clear water, a beautiful national park and gorgeous sunsets, it is one of the only places we’ve ever been where you stand directly under passing planes.
Yes, it is weird and a bit goofy, but the photos are pretty cool and once you throw in the very convenient access to the airport, Mai Khao Beach is both a fun and practical place to spend some time before or after your Phuket flight.
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