Mai Khao (หาดไม้ขาว Hat Mai Khao) is a beach on the northwestern side of Phuket, Thailand. It's also known as Airport Beach or Sanambin Beach (the Thai word for "airport"), as it's very close to the airport. The northern portion is known as Hat Sai Khao (หาดทรายแก้ว), a long sandy beach with groves of Casuarina trees along the shore.
It was once a nesting area for the endangered Giant Leatherback turtle but unfortunately due to egg poaching, resort development and pollution they no longer exist here. Mai Khao beach is often incorrectly described as 'pristine' by some of the resorts brochures and websites which in reality is far from the truth. There is much pollution scattered along the length of the beach especially during low season which to date (18th July 2011) has never been cleared except areas directly in front of the few resorts. Most of the rubbish could be avoided by regular cleaning by the National Park and sustainable wast management programs supported by improved education to protect the environment in the local schools. The area around Mai Khao is still very quiet and natural but although declared a National Park in 1981, it is seriously in danger of over development in the near future as landowners give in to the high prices offered by foreign funded developers and plans are approved by corrupt government officials without public enquiry.
Public transport is very limited or even non-existent from the airport and unless you understand and speak Thai it is easier just to get a taxi which takes about 20 minutes to the village or any of the resorts along the beach.
Mai Khao beach is easily accessible from the main 402 highway. There are few public roads but if you only want to see the beach the best way is to follow the signs to Turtle Village and carry on past the large hotels and you will find yourself on the quietest beach on Phuket. This is part of the National Park but you should not be charged for entry or parking in this area. Some resorts will not take kindly to you using their parking facilities and you will be told to leave so it's better to stick to the public roads unless you are a customer. From the village there is a road that leads directly to the beach via 'Mai Khao Dream' resort.
Ignore the taxi and hotel touts as you arrive at Phuket International Airport and walk a short distance just to the right of the building. There you will see a 'TAXI METER' kiosk where you will be able to get a taxi for a more realistic price. It should cost no more than 350 baht (less than 10 dollars) including 100 baht airport tax. If you can find a driver to turn on the meter the cost will be even less. Journey time is around 20 minutes. Some hotels in Mai Khao will offer transfers which is highly recommended as you will be sure of arriving at your chosen destination without being taken to shops and travel agents on the way where the taxi drivers earn commission just for taking you there. Taxis in Phuket are probably the most expensive in Thailand and be prepared to pay a high price in comparison to Bangkok or further north. There are local buses that will take you to Phuket town for only 50 Baht/person each way. You will have to either walk to the main 402 highway about 2 kilometers from the beach or get a lift from someone. Most of the local people are friendly and will go out of their way to help you and do not expect anything in return. The bus journey takes about 90 minutes to town and is an experience in itself but is reliable and inexpensive. Do not expect luxury or 5 star travel unless you are willing to pay. You can also board a bus from the main highway to Phang Nga, Krabi, Surat Thani or virtually anywhere in Thailand. Long distances such as Bangkok will usually require that you have paid for a ticket in advance at the bus station in Phuket or from a travel agent. Motorbike and car hire is readily available all over Phuket and best to arrange near the airport as there are many hire shops around there making the prices more competitive. A small automatic moped should cost maximum 300 Baht/day and cars such as a new Honda Jazz or small saloon around 1000 Baht/day including insurance. (read the small print) Note that you will not be insured unless you have a full driving license accompanied by an 'International Driving Permit' (IDP) covering the type of vehicle you wish to hire. The IDP must be applied for in your own country where you hold a full driving license usually costing only a few dollars.
The beach area from Nai Yang to Sarasin bridge which includes Mai Khao is part of Sirinat National Park I the undeveloped areas you will still see many plants and wildlife including rare species of birds lizards snakes fish and marine life.
Go around along beach, shopping at turtle village is the main thing, not much place to shop in this area. If you want shopping and entertainment, Mai Khao beach if definately not for you unless you are willing to travel about 1 hour each way. Patong or one of the other beaches south of the airport is more suitable for such activities. Being in the north and most undeveloped part of the island Mai Khao is a great place to stay if you like nature and long walks on the beach or just relaxing. The sea here is not safe for swimming in low season between May-November. The best time for calm seas is around January. This is also one of the the busiest months and it's a good idea to book well in advance.
All the resorts have their own restaurants on site but tend to be a bit pricey. Some great ice cream at Svensons in Turtle Village and a small overpriced supermarket where you can buy all your favorite foods from home. Bill Bentley's used to serve good bar food although very expensive and quality has suffered recently. Local restaurants are the best for value and taste and should not be avoided. Some of the best are right on the beach just before Sarasin bridge. Here you can eat authentic local food by the sea in a bamboo sala which is all freshly cooked unlike some of the hotels further south. Not a microwave oven in sight, just good authentic home cooking with generally good service even though English language can be limited. There are several other places too numerous to mention but check blogs online or just ask the locals who are not affiliated with the resorts. If you are a bit more adventurous the world is really your lobster! Many villagers will put a few tables outside their house and sell various local food which is cheap and very tasty. Around Mai Khao village there are also local markets open in the afternoons every day of the week where you can buy fresh produce for cooking in your apartment or barbecued snacks to eat on the spot and hoards of fresh fruit of every variety. If your taste requires fast foods such as KFC or McDonalds stay further south. Luckily Mai Khao has not been infected by the junk food giants up to now.
There are no bars as such in Mai Khao but any restaurant serves a good range of drinks although most are expensive. Most local shops provide tables in their forecourt where you can relax with a cold beer and chat with the locals.
Please note that some of the hotel websites contain fake images and extremely colorful and untrue descriptions. It's always best to do a bit of research before booking to avoid disappointment. Tripadvisor would be a good place to start and you can usually find a better deal with their availability search.
Camping is permitted on both Mai Khao and Nai Yang beaches. The Park's Visitor Center, located near the south end of Mai Khao, rents tents and provides some minimal facilities for campers. There are also some inexpensive bungalows for rent on Nai Yang. Contact the park at Tel: 0 7632 7407 for details.
Phuket Campground (http://phuketcampground.com)The Phuket Camp Ground is set in lush and beautiful surroundings, overlooking two tranquil lakes. Located in Maikhao at the northern tip of the island of Phuket and only a short drive to the International airport. This peacful location keeps you far away from the tourist crowds. see the map http://maps.google.co.th/maps/ms?msid=205268432811641819290.0004b629c054e72b5dca8&msa=0