Thailand's Khao Lak Travel Guide
It might use the same airport, but Khao Lak seems a million miles away from the bustling beaches and tourist throngs of Phuket. This stretch of coastline is part of a national park, which ensures no speedboats, jetskis or sun decks clutter up the beaches. Add in easy access to stunning islands, jungle-clad peaks and tumbling waterfalls minutes from the quiet beaches—and one of Thailand’s most dramatic national parks just a short drive away— and it’s easy to see that this destination is perfect for those looking to get back to nature.
Photos courtesy of Le Meridien Khao Lak Beach Resort & Spa
One of the best dive destinations in the world, this chain of nine islands is only 20km (or 1.5 hours by speedboat) from the mainland. Great visibility, warm waters and dramatic rocky underwater landscapes, filled with drop offs and caves, all make this a special diving and snorkeling destination, and that’s before you even consider the huge range of aquatic life that call the waters around the island home. Manta rays, turtles, sharks and barracudas are all easily spotted on the eastern side of the chain, while over 200 types of coral reef mean the western side is host to a huge proliferation of reef fish. Various tour operators can take you to the islands with most boats leaving from Taplamu Pier (around B2,500-3,000 for an organized day trip with hotel pick-up). For a real Robinson Crusoe vibe, it’s possible to stay overnight in tented accommodation on a number of the islands, while many dive operators also provide the option to stay for a few days in the area on liveaboard boats.
This chain of five islands is a national park and a divers’ paradise. Around a two-hour boat ride from Khao Lak, it is home to Thailand’s most famous diving spot, Richelieu Rock, which offers excellent chances to swim with rare Whale sharks. Feb to Apr is the best time to try and catch these majestic creatures but the island chain offers plenty more to keep you occupied. There are dense and extensive sheltered reefs making it great for snorkeling, while Surin Nua is home to one of the last surviving communities of Moken (sea gypsies). Like the Similan Islands, you can either opt for day trips, liveaboard excursions or stay over at the national park bungalows or tented accommodation. The fastest way of reaching the islands is from Khuraburi Port, which is about an hour’s drive north of Khao Lak. You can charter a private speedboat or get the daily ferry; the trip takes around 2.5 hours.
Park Closures: As national parks, both the Surin and Similan islands are only open six months a year (normally between Nov-Apr) due to rough seas and the need for the park’s fauna and flora to recover. They are due to reopen this year on Nov 1, but the date can change so do double-check first.
Khao Sok National Park
If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land but still want to experience nature at its most dramatic then your best option is to head north to Khao Sok national park. Home to the world’s oldest surviving evergreen rainforest and also the world’s largest blooming flower, the Bua Phut or Rafflesia, it is a spectacular park of soaring limestone cliffs, caves, waterfalls and picturesque lakes. From elephant trekking to ziplines to tubing down the Sok River, there are numerous different ways to explore the park and there are also plenty of trails for hikers. The number one attraction here has to be a boat trip on Cheow Larn Dam which offers the impressive sight of huge limestone pinnacles rising out of the clear water. It is possible to do a day trip to the park but if you have the time then you can also stop over at the national park-run floating bungalows lakeside (tinyurl.com/cycpo7o) or just stay outside the park in one of the numerous guesthouses. Khao Sok Riverside Lodge (www.khaosok.net) is a good option; close to the main gate, it offers simple cottages with great jungle views. Entry fees are B200 and the park is approximately a 1.5-hour drive from Khao Lak with most big hotels and tour operators offering tailored trips.
On Dec 26, 2004, the whole of the Andaman Coast was hit by the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, with Khao Lak one of the worse-affected locations. While the region and its people have bounced back remarkably, they haven’t forgotten and there are numerous memorial sites along the coast. One of the most moving and picturesque is at Ban Nam Khem located about 20 minutes north of Khao Lak towards Takuapa. Set on a headland overlooking Koh Kho Khao Island, there’s a small museum, an impressive shrine to some of those who lost their lives and a giant golden Buddha staring out over the inlet. There are also a number of small restaurants on the beach serving up simple Thai dishes and seafood. Head north from Khao Lak towards Takuapah town, turn left after the #82 kilometer stone and then follow the signs, but do go slowly as they’re well hidden and easily missed.
WHERE TO STAY
Le Meridien Khao Lak
Sat on a wonderfully empty stretch of Pakweeab Beach, Le Meridien is a vast resort that’s ideal as a family getaway. A huge water complex with slides and interconnecting waterways, a recently renovated Kids Club plus daily activities from bicycle tours to fruit carving mean there’s plenty to keep the children busy while you take it easy poolside. Relax at the spa or go for long walks along the 13km of beach with just the crabs and seabirds for company. They’ve also recently launched their new premium private villas, each with their own pool and Jacuzzi, and many offering direct beach access. 9/9 Moo 1, Tambol Kuk Kak, Phang Nga, 076-427-500. tinyurl.com/d7axme
Casa De La Flora
A member of the achingly hip Design Hotel group, this striking boutique hotel is one of the latest additions to the popular Bang Niang beachfront. Designed by leading Thai architecture firm VasLAB Studio, the 36 rooms offer a contemporary option with lots of strong lines, natural materials and boxy structures. All the rooms come with state of the art in-room entertainment systems and their own pool while the resort offers a spa, seaview restaurant and a colorful lounge bar, Ingfah, with impressive tapas dishes just across the road. 67/213 Moo 5, Khao Lak Beach, Takuapa, Phang Nga, 076-428-999. www.casadelaflora.com
This boutique option around 10 minutes north of Khao Lak town features just 56 residences and suites all designed in a contemporary Asian style. With private access to a beautiful stretch of beach, over 10 acres of carefully manicured grounds, including a striking lotus pond and a state of the art spa, this is a serene spot to get away from the crowds. 60, Moo 2, Kukkak, Takuapa, Phang Nga. www.sarojin.com
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