Holidays in Khao Lak
Khao Lak seems to still be relatively unknown. Everyone has heard of Phuket, but Khao Lak still remains very quiet and I am surprised how often visitors to Phuket have not heard of it. Khao Lak was hardly there 15 years ago and was really just getting to be an important destination in 2004 when the tsunami caused massive damage in the area. Many think of Khao Lak as an extension to Phuket as the main entry point is Phuket airport, but Khao Lak is actually in Phang Nga province and over the years has tried to find it's own identity with nice beaches and a mix of resorts and smaller lower budget bungalow operations, stretched out along about 20km of coastline with the southern end of Khao Lak being about 70-75km from Phuket airport. From our house near Phuket Town, it's less than 2 hours easy drive up the main road, past the airport, over the bridge and about another 60km from there directly North. I had always thought of Khao Lak as having little interest and had not really thought of staying there until earlier this year. There were a few trips we wanted to do and places to visit in the Khao Lak area so we booked a couple of nights, plus a night at Khao Sok National Park, which is about an hours drive from Khao Lak. A week later we had another 2 nights and we've been again recently.
First thing to sort out is a hotel! I normally use and recommend Agoda and I spent some time looking at hotels in Khao Lak, identified a few at the right price, then contacted a friend who lives in Khao Lak to get a local opinion. He then recommended a totally different hotel that can't be booked on the major online booking sites - Nangthong Bay Resort - we called them, cheekily asked for low season rate although it was still April. They agreed, so we booked - a family room with 2 bedrooms at 1500 Baht per night. And when we arrived, we liked it right away. Took the kids just a few minutes to find the pool ...
We were into relaxation mode in no time at all! This hotel, like many in Khao Lak, is right by the beach. And even those not right by the beach are normally maximum 10 minutes walk away. Khao Lak is essentially a series of small built-up areas along the main road, with side roads down to the beach. In the past we have drive through and thought "is that it?" .. and in a way that is true - there's not much in Khao Lak save for hotels, restaurants (and not an enormous choice of them, especially in low season), dive shops (which also mostly close down in low season since the main destination, the Similan Islands, is closed), tour agents and shops. It's quiet, and that's nice for a couple of days! We ended up heading back the next week for another couple of nights.
(above) Beach close to Nangthong Bay Resort - kids playing and me taking photos from my seat at the bar :)
So, what did we get up to during our little holidays in Khao Lak? Apart from just splashing in the pool, walking on the beach, hunting for shells and enjoying sunset beers at the hotel - is there time for other things?! Yes, of course and I have actually blogged about what we have done already, but this blog post ties it all together into a mini Khao Lak guide, though I admit that I don't know Khao Lak so well! One of the reasons we planned a couple of nights there was to visit Koh Tachai Island. I knew the island for diving, and have been there maybe 40 times, but never set foot on the beach, only dived there. Over the last couple of years Tachai has been more visited by day trippers, especially Thai tourists, as an alternative to the better known Similan islands. So we booked up a day trip through my friends at Easy Day Thailand.
(above) Koh Tachai - Kids loved it! More about this day on the blog : Day Trip to Koh Tachai.
Another reason for stopping in Khao Lak was to take a step back in time. My son is now 8 1/2 years old. He was born 2 weeks after "the" tsunami. I won't dwell on my thoughts on this page, but have written about it before (see Tsunami Memories). Khao Lak was hit much harder than Phuket. While about 300 people died in Phuket, the tsunami killed at least 3,000 people in the Khao Lak area including tourists, many locals, a grandson of the King too. The area just north of Khao Lak at a village called Ban Nam Khem was especially bad. A tsunami memorial has been built here which I wanted to visit, and we also wanted to stop at the police boat - it was carried more than 1km inland and has been kept there as a memorial - and now a larger memorial and museum is under construction around it. Well, we wanted to stop and pay our respects.
(above) Tsunami memorial. The wall is embedded with names, and some photos too. People who died. Our kids know about the tsunami. I think this place made them think for a while. More information on the blog : Khao Lak Tsunami Memorials.
(above) The police patrol boat that was carried inland by the tsunami
Restaurants - Well, we tried a few different places. There are quite a lot of restaurants up on the main road, but Khao Lak is so spread out, it's good to have transport to check out different eateries. We had cheap Thai food and noodles a few times at a place on the main road. We have been twice to a pizzeria called La Piccola Maria - good pizza. It was closed on our most recent low season visit in July. And we at a couple of times at the hotel (Nangthong Bay Resort) - breakfasts were OK and Thai food for dinner decent too. Also went to a place which as I recall was called Jumbo Steak, which was good (on the main road in the Bang Niang area of Khao Lak).
(above) Cheap local place to eat in Khao Lak on the main road in the Nangthong area
(above) View from the Nangthong Bay Resort restaurant. When the weather was still good at the end of high season we could eat there right by the sea. In low season when wind and waves can be an issue, this part of the restaurant is not open. Great spot for a few sunset beers! The beach at this point (Nangthong Beach) is a bit rocky) - further north at Bang Niang it's not rocky. Myself, I like it this way - and the kids liked to go looking in rock pools and looking for shells.
(above) The kids checking rockpools at Nangthong Beach
So, yeh, some of our time there was spent relaxing, by the beach, preferably with a cold beer in hand. But we did other stuff too! In the Khao Lak area there are several waterfalls, some we have not seen yet. The most impressive was at Ton Prai Waterfall, especially on our visit in July after some rain had fallen. Ton Prai is about 30km south of Khao Lak so we stopped on the way home to Phuket. There's a parking area and a 700m walk through the jungle to the waterfall.
(above) Ton Prai Waterfall
About 1 hour drive North of Khao Lak is a National Park that seems to get few visitors - Sri Phang Nga National Park is jungle, rivers and waterfalls. We had been before, and have been twice this year as a little trip from Khao Lak. Still need to go again, as the park has several waterfalls and I want to see more of them. The best waterfall is called Tamnang, about a 500m walk from a small car park. There's a pool of water full of fish under the waterfall. You can feed them or swim with them. And there's a good, cheap Thai restaurant at the park headquarters.
(above) Tamnang Waterfall - more information on the blog - see Sri Phang Nga National Park.
Now, all of the above can also be done as trips from Phuket, though some of them are long trips! Khao Lak is (I think) worth a few days mixed in with a stay in Phuket. You can also do trips from Khao Lak to Phang Nga Bay and Khao Lak is easily close enough for a day trip to Khao Sok National Park, which we have visited a number of times. On our visit to Khao Lak at the end of April, we had 2 nights at Khao Lak, and 1 night at the Cliff and River Resort in Khao Sok.
(above) Double rainbow as seen from our room at the Cliff and River in Khao Sok. Very relaxing place to stay.
And there's another place I recommend visiting. North of Khao Lak is the town of Takua Pa, and a few km from the main town is the old town of Takua Pa (also called Sri Takua Pa). Can be a place to stop between Khao Lak and Khao Sok. It looks like the old part of Phuket Town, but it's really quiet. Old shophouses built around the turn of the 20th century, just like old Phuket. The similarity is because there were tin mines here just like in Phuket. Interesting place....
(above) Hardware shop owner in Old Takua Pa
I think we'll have some more short Khao Lak trips! Not a long drive from Phuket, a place we can go and relax for a couple of days. I'm not saying that Phuket is stressful, but you know, we have a "normal life" in Phuket with work and a home to look after and school .. so a couple of days of pool, beach, waterfalls is sometimes needed ... Let's go kids, dinner time!
Khao Lak - More Information
Khao Lak Hotels at Agoda.com
Dive Trips to the Similan Islands
Tour Booking - Easy Day Thailand
Khao Lak Area - Location Map
View Khao Lak (and surrounding area) in a larger map
Khao Lak Hotel Information