Where simple holiday pleasure awaits.With the coming release of the film, “Tsunami,” starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, Khao Lak has again resurfaced in the mainstream spotlight. The film was shot in this area boasting 20km of lovely beaches set against a backdrop of jungle-covered mountains just about 100km north of Phuket, which was hardest hit when the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 struck Thailand. It had since made an impressive recovery and is again popular with travelers who prefer relative peace, quiet and nature rather that crowded touristic bastions.
WHY GO The main lure of Khao Lak stems from the opportunity it offers for visitors to enjoy utter peace and quiet amid a backdrop of an unspoiled natural environment. Now, you might say that can be easily said about many other Thai beach destinations as well. Indeed, that’s true, except that Khao Lak has less tourist crowds and is less commercialized – for the moment, at least. As one travel guide succinctly puts it, the attractions of Khao Lak are many but they are not flashy. It’s relatively tame, even boring, compared to Patong (Phuket), Chaweng (Samui), or even Ao Nang (Krabi) – that is, if you’re after exotic nightlife or rowdy full moon parties. You go to Khao Lak to relax, to de-stress, to recharge – and maybe avail of the many tropical activities that are so easily accessible to all. And numerous resorts and tourist facilities serve all your needs well, especially if you’re coming with family or loved ones.
WHAT TO DO Doing nothing is a great idea, if that’s what you have in mind. Otherwise, great offshore diving easily comes to mind as the top “to-do” reason.
The Similan Islands and Surin Islands, home to some of the best diving in Asia, are just offshore nearby, so why not take advantage of this. There are other several local divesites to choose from and competent local companies to guide you. But if you’re not the adventurous type or sport freak, you can still find things to make your visit worthwhile and enjoyable, such as the uncrowded parks, the lush green mountains, the roads and beaches – the natural surroundings are all relatively unspoiled. As in other Thai beach destinations, you can swim, snorkel, kayak, go beachcombing, bike, nature trek, golf, massage, do spa, and learn a lot of many unique Thai ways of living. These are all easily available if you are interested. Otherwise, you can just enjoy the facilities of the many lovely resorts scattered around chiefly around the main urban areas of Bang la On, Bang Niang, and Khuk Khak.
WHAT TO SEE If you want to see and explore more of the area, attractions include Lampi Waterfall, a very lovely waterfall about 30 minutes south of Khao Lak just off Highway 4 (turn off at Km820). Great for early morning visits. Swimming is allowed. Khao Lak Lam Ru National Park, one of the kingdom’s protected green realms is another great see. It is located at Km798.5, at the top of the Khao Lak headland, adjacent to police checkpoint. The park is within walking distance of many resorts in Bang la On. Across the road from park headquarters is a Buddhist shrine to the Khao Lak god. Another waterfall worth seeing is Chong Fah Waterfall, 7 km inland off Route 4, at the northern end of Bang Niang. For those looking for some vestiges of the tsunami disaster, one only needs to go to central Bang Niang, where Police Boat 813, one of two police boats guarding Phum Jensen, son of former royal princess Ubol Ratana at the time of the 2004 tsunami, which was swept approximately 2km inland. It has been left where the tsunami deposited it as a memorial and historical landmark. The Cheow Lan Lake and Rachaphrapha Dam offers superb views over the lake to the limestone ridges. They are located just two hours north of Khao Lak off highway 401. Boat trips are available. Another national park, the Khao Sok National Park, offers jungle trekking river rafting and waterfall visits. It is located just over an hour north of the Khao Lak area on Route 4. You might also want to visit Takuapa and the Old Town. The town was a center for tin mining in the 20s and 30s, and its history can still be glimpsed by the surviving Sino-Portuguese architecture and quaint shops that gives the town a distinct character, among other things.
Similan Islands – this an archipelago of nine islands is a protected Thai national park hugely popular among divers owing to the spectacular underwater scenery. Park is open December to May, closed to visitors the rest of the year. Local dive companies can arrange visits. Surin Islands – is composed of five stunningly beautiful islands 100km north of the Similans. Open to visitors from Nov. 16 to May 15 May. Local dive companies can arrange visits.
STAY & SLEEP
Resort guests will have no problem looking for a place serving decent even great meals, but if you want to venture outside your hotel, here are some places to go: O’Rendez-vous (5/42 Moo 7, Bang La On opposite Andaburi Resort, next to Sea Dragon Dive Center/ 083-590-8002); Green Pepper (67/145 Moo 5, Bang Niang/ 085-655-7626); Hill Tribe Restaurant (13/22 Moo 6, Bang Niang next to RT Hotel, 500 m south of the market/ 086 283 0933); Ingfah, Bang Niang Beach (across from Casa de La Flora)/ 076 428 99); Lucky Seafood (60/18 Moo 5, Bang Niang/ 083 639 97310; Shire’s Pie Shop at Central Bang Niang serves English breakfast; Takieng Restaurant (26/43 Moo 5, Bang Niang just north of the Police Boat ); Mama’s Greeting, on the beach of JW Marriott Khao Lak beachfront; Phen Restaurant, Khuk Khak Beach; Pizza Pasta & Steak (across from Khuk Khak 7-11 on the sea side of road/ 087 269-3928)
For the most part the top-end resort has bar and restaurants great for chilling out and sipping your favorite holiday drink, but not a few guests enjoy drinking outside probably because it affords them the opportunity to meet locals and other like-minded people – for making connections, asking questions, learning of new places — outside their comfort circle and also because often times, the drinks outside are more adventurous and cheaper. For the most part Singha is only Bt60 or Bt70. Some options: Walker’s Inn, 26/61 Moo 7, Bang La On/084-8402-689); Gecko Bar (Central Bang Niang); Jungle Bar and Restaurant (Jerung St, Bang Niang/ 081-968-2443); Mars Bar, Central Bang Niang (across the highway from the Tsunami Museum); Mr. Chay Bar, Bang Niang Market (central Bang Niang on the sea side of highway); Moo Moo Cabaret Show, Central Bang /076-486-1560: Rusty Pelican Mexican Café (67/139 Moo 5, Bang Niang /087-192-1085); Song’s Bar, (central Bang Niang, behind 7-11 on north side of market); and Tha Bar (Bang Niang, inland side, near Riverside Guesthouse). Note: These listings are not all-inclusive and some places may be closed during the season of your stay.
WHEN TO GO
Simply speaking, Khao Lak has two seasons: rainy from April to October and dry, from November to March. November is the certainly an ideal season to visit.
By plane: The easiest way is to fly into either Phuket (the closest alternative) or Krabi and go to Khao Lak from there. Both airports serve international as well as domestic destinations. Khao Lak is about 80km from the Phuket International Airport. Bus fares vary from Bt80 to Bt100; some are air-conditioned, others not. Most resorts have transfer services to pick you up and send you back to airport.
By train: Only for the more adventurous. The nearest train station is at Suratthani on the east coast, making this a less convenient option than just hopping on bus.
By bus: No buses from Bangkok serve Khao Lak directly but the region is served well by buses originating not only from Bangkok but also Chumphon, Phuket, Ranong, Suratthani, and Takuapa. Buses depart Bangkok to Phang Nga from the southern bus terminal Sai Tai Mai for a 12-hour overnight trip and from there you must change bus to go to Khao Lak. Warning: Getting to Sai Tai Bus Terminal can be a pain if you’re not familiar with the Bangkok traffic.