Nightlife in Phuket, which attracts a fair proportion of older, upmarket package tourists, is nothing to write home about. What action there is tends to appeal to the lowest common denominator. A huge billboard advertising "Extasy-a-go-go" now welcomes you to Patong, a resort whose hostess bars and strip joints make it the seediest scene between Bangkok and Hat Yai, attracting an increasing number of single Western men. Most of Patong's nightlife is packed into the strip of neon-lit open-air bar-beers along Soi Bangla and the tiny alleys that lead off it. The gay entertainment district is mainly concentrated around the network of small alleys and dozens of bar-beers in front of Paradise Hotel on Raja Uthit Road.Karon's best bars are sprinkled along Taina Road on the Karon/Kata headland; most are small, genial places, usually with just a handful of tables, a reasonable selection of beers and bar snacks, and a pool table. Though there are as yet no go-go bars on Karon, there are little knots of bar-beers with hostess service around the Islandia hotel on the northern curve of Patak Road and around the Thavorn Palm in the central beachfront.If you're looking for bright lights, crowds and pounding music on all sides, then head for Patong Beach. What, until 20 years ago, was a little fishing village on one of the loveliest beaches in the world, has evolved into a rollicking resort city. Aside from a huge range of restaurants of all sorts, you have a choice of beer-bar clusters, go-go bars, discotheques and transvestite cabarets. Or you might opt for a quiet piano bar at one of the resort's classier hotels, like the Novotel Phuket Resort or the Holiday Inn Resort.
Some of the other beaches have more subdued, less extensive nightlife centres. Dinner with music at the Regatta Bar and Grill, at the Phuket Yacht Club, on Nai Harn Beach, for instance, makes an unforgettable evening. The Boathouse, on Kata Beach, has an amazing wine cellar, an excellent Thai kitchen, another incomparable setting, and first-rate music -- unobtrusive and highly professional. For a more casual evening out, you could try Chalong Beach, where Jimmy's Lighthouse overlooks the yacht anchorage and serves an extensive range of tasty dishes. Tuesday nights there are pool tournaments, open to all. On Sundays, there are often fun yacht races. Kan Eang, on the same beach, offers very good Thai food at reasonable prices.
Other things to do at night include classical Thai dance and music performances with your dinner. Just a couple of ideal venues are Sala Thai, at Marina Cottage, Kata/Karon, and Old Siam, in the Thavorn Palm Beach Resort, on Karon Beach.Or head into Phuket Town to check out some of the music pubs. Places like the Timber Hut, the PRC (Phuket Riders' Club) and the Candy Pub offer fun atmospheres with live rock 'n' roll and Thai food if you want it. Another option is the Thai-style "coffeeshops" -- nightclubs where ladies in fancy dresses take turns getting up to sing Thai songs while customers eat and drink and, occasionally, entice singers to join them at their tables. Later at night there are sometimes farcical skits on stage and other types of entertainment.
If eating, drinking, listening to music, and dancing aren't enough for you, then there are other sides to Phuket nightlife. Try night-fishing for sharks, for example, or the catapult bungee in front of the Expat Hotel, on Patong Beach. You could also combine a Thai dinner and a night dive off a beach.
Nightclub 89/17 Raja Uthit Rd, Patong. Cavernous disco, which plays Western and Thai pop and shows videos on its huge screen Phuket Simon Cabaret - Transvestite extravaganza Patong Gorgeously feminine transsexuals perform song-and-dance numbers in outrageously flamboyant costumes - all very Hollywood and not at all sleazy. (B500)
Dino Park - Mini-golf
Next to Marina Cottages on the Kata/Karon headland For non-alcoholic, non-sleazy entertainment, go for a round of mini-golf at this pseudo-prehistoric theme park. (open till midnight; B200.) .
Blue Fin - Bar
Taina Road, Kata/Karon headland. One of the longer-running Taina Road bars, where a mixed crowd of local drinkers and sociable tourists down bottles of Singha beer and take each other on at pool.
Old Siam - Restaurant featuring classical Thai dance
Beachfront road, Karon (tel 076/396090). A chance to savour traditional Thai culture at this large but fairly elegant teak-wood restaurant, renowned for its refined Royal Northern Thai cuisine and its twice-weekly performances of classical Thai dance (Wed & Sat).