Khao Lak is a small beach resort on west coast of south Thailand that is often overlooked by tourists and holidaymakers. But what Khao Lak lacks in mainstream appeal, it makes up for with its calm, quiet atmosphere and stunning beaches – plus it’s closeness to the Similan Islands which are a huge attraction for day trips, snorkelling and diving. All this combined with the mouthwatering seafood and selection of great bars make it a place that should be on everybody’s list of places to visit in Thailand.
Khao Lak is around 2 hours driving from Krabi, another hugely popular resort in the south of Thailand. It is on Thailand’s west coast next to the Andaman sea and Andaman Islands. Planes do not fly directly to Khao Lak but instead airlines such as Nok Air offer a transfer service with a mini van. Alternatively there are plenty of private taxis and mini vans that do trips from Krabi to Khao Lak, so it’s possible to fly from Bangkok to Krabi, spend time there, then take a ride to Khao Lak.
Perhaps one of the most refreshing things about Khao Lak is the range of tourists. There are very few backpackers, no sex tourists, and no drunken young people, and also hardly any British people. Most holidaymakers are middle aged couples relaxing on beach holidays and package trips. Most are from continental Europe – Sweden, Germany, Belgian and Russia – and there are also Chinese families, though these China tourists tend to stay in large out of town resorts and don’t get involved with the night life in the main central areas.
Khao Lak has a large number of beautiful beaches in its coats which makes it ideal for holidaymakers who want to wind down in the sun. But perhaps the biggest attraction for tourists is the closeness to the Similan Islands. This small cluster of islands are breathtaking – and they are a national park in Thailand and one of the best places in the world for snorkelling and diving.
There are dozens of tour shops in Khao Lak that offer day trips to the Islands, as well as overnights stays on the Island of liveaboard boats for the serious snorkekllers and divers.
Khao Lak is also home to Thailand’s largest wooded area. It’s a a beautiful rainforest jungle and ideal to mountain climbs. Again, all the tour package shops in the town offer day trips here.
A couple of days every week there is also a large and bustling market in the Bang Niang district. This has lots of clothes, gifts, food and some bars, too.
Perhaps surprising for such a small town is the amount of restaurants there are. There are lots of Thai restaurants with dishes that could rival even the best in Bangkok – with seafood here being especially fresh – plus Italian and Indian restaurants in the area.
Bars in Khao Lak close earlier than in larger city areas like Bangkok and Chang Mai, but that doesn’t mean nighlife is dead – in fact, it’s actually quite good. Monkey Bar in Nang Thong is highly recommended for live music while Pirate Bar in Bang Niang is great to relax with beer and play pool. While the Moo Moo ladyboy cabaret show is a good night’s entertainment – or the more adventurous people can wander out to the local Thai nightclub which has crazy lights and a big stage with a young Thai band.
Read more about nightlife in Khao Lak.
Khao Lak was one of the worst affected areas in the boxing day tsunami on December 26, 2004. The killer wave wiped out hundreds of buildings from the beach up to the main road about 1.5km away. A map in one of the museums in Bang Niang marks out the names of the buildings that were destroyed. Before and after pictures show the area reduced to wasteland. 4,000 people were killed in Khao Lak, including the King’s grandson Bhumi Jensen who was staying at La Flora resort and jetskiing in the sea at the time.
There are two or three small museums with pictures and videos of the devastation. There is also a memorial built around the final resting place of the Thai navy patrol boat 813 which was moored 1km from the shore and washed inland some 2km from Bang Niang Beach.
There are two main tourist areas in Khao Lak – Bang Niang and Nang Thong. They’re only about 2km apart on the main road, but this is fairly long 20 minute walk in the heat of the day or after a big meal and a few beers at night. Bang Niang has more restaurants and is home to the large market, while the Nang Thong area has slightly better bars. It’s easy enough to travel between the two on a rented motorbike or by taxi (150 baht is the standard fixed price of taxis up and down the road) and tastes will always differ. Wherever the hotel is situated, make sure to visit both places for nightlife.
Khao Lak is not as well knows as Phuket and Krabi – but it is just as nice to visit. It’s ideal for couples who want to relax for a week or two as it’s quiet and has plenty of beaches, a must for any snorkelling and diving fans, and also a top destination for anybody who wants to combine it with trips to Phuket or Krabi.