KHAO LAK IN BRIEF
WHY GO: Khao Lak’s natural beauty and underwater wonders attracts both divers and those looking for secluded beaches.
WHY NOT: Khao Lak’s nightlife and shopping options are rather limited, even if you can find a handful of good bars.
FAMILIES: Khao Lak’s long and peaceful beaches make it a popular choice for families. The resort is especially good for families with a little bit older kids, who can already enjoy snorkeling trips to deserted islands.
RETIREES: Older travelers tend to love Khao Lak’s down to earth atmosphere, and it’s easy accessibility. No need to endure long travels to reach this paradise; Khao Lak is just one hour taxi ride away from Phuket’s international airport.
DIVING: Khao Lak is the closest place inland to the deserted archipelago of Ko Similan, which is great for both diving and snorkeling. Similan islands can be reached on day-trips from Khao Lak, but they are best enjoyed on liveaboard safaris.
NATURE: Khao Sok National Park, Thailand’s most beautiful rainforest area, is just a one and half hours drive away from the beach resort. Even closer to Khao Lak you can find beautiful nature trails and waterfalls.
Scenic Khao Lak lures both enthusiastic divers and package tourists. The divers come for the nearby Ko Similan Islands, one of Thailand’s best diving destinations, and the sun seekers love Khao Lak’s long and peaceful beaches. Khao Lak’s light brown sandy beaches run for kilometers in length, and it won’t be hard to find a secluded stretch of beach.
Many consider Khao Lak as Thailand’s most charming package tour destination. Both go-go bars and noisy jet skis and are prohibited, and a lush jungle begins immediately behind the main road.
Orientation: Khao Lak’s Best Beaches
Khao Lak most popular beaches are Nang Thong (also called Bang La On) and Bang Niang. Both have a pretty stretch of beach and a lot of restaurants to choose from. There is no significant difference between the two; however, Bang Niang feels slightly livelier in the evenings thanks to its vibrant restaurant quarters.
North of Bang Niang lies long and peaceful Khuk Khak Beach, which has a few hotels and a handful of small restaurants – a great place to look for solitude.
Beaches get even emptier north of Khuk Khak, although the landscape becomes flatter and less dramatic as in Nang Thong and Bang Niang, where jungle covered hills add to the drama. First comes Pakarang Beach, followed by Bangsak Beach. Keep in mind that the latter beaches are already quite isolated, and far away from Khao Lak’s main areas. You will be pretty much confined to your hotel unless you have a rented vehicle at your disposal.
Some 40 kilometers north of Khao Lak proper is Ko Kho Khao Island, which is separated from the mainland only by a narrow channel. The island is dry and bare, and its beaches almost deserted.
Khao Lak’s Sights and Activities
Khao Lak is a paradise for an active holidaymaker. Nearby Ko Similan Islands and Ko Tachai offer superb snorkeling and diving, and wonderful Khao Sok rainforest is just over an hour’s drive away. Local travel agents organize both the snorkeling trips and visits to the rainforest.
There’s also pretty jungle areas and waterfalls just on Khao Lak’s doorsteps, easily accessible with a rented scooter. The most spectacular of the waterfalls is Lampi, 25 kilometers south of Khao Lak. The waterfall rushes to a small Eden-like pond, where you can have a refreshing dip amidst incredibly lush surroundings.
Culture lovers should, in turn, visit the old town of Takuapa, which has well preserved early 20th century Chino-Portuguese shop houses. During the tourist high season Takuapa’s old town hosts a lively Sunday afternoon market.
Khao Lak area has two golf courses. Located near the beaches is Thaplamu Navy golf course (despite being navy-owned, the course is open to the public) and a further afield, 25 minutes drive away, is the Thaimuang Golf Club & Marina.
Khao Lak’s Restaurants and Nightlife
You won’t go hungry in Khao Lak. The beach resort has eating options of all sorts from street kitchens to stylish restaurants, and everything in between. Dining in Khao Lak is a real delight. When it comes to restaurants, Khao Lak is just a little behind Thailand’s better known gourmet destinations of Hua Hin, Phuket and Ko Samui.
The busiest restaurant concentration is Bang Niang’s Jerung Street, where you’ll find restaurants serving seafood, Thai food, Italian cuisine, Mexican delicacies, German food, steakhouses and much more.
Some of Khao Lak’s best options for genuine Thai food are Khao Niau and Hill Tribes, both in Bang Niang along the main road. Khao Lak’s best steaks are served in Joe’s Steakhouse, also in Bang Niang. Scandinavians will leave Sunshine restaurant happy on Nang Thong, where as Rusty Pelican (in Bang Niang) has a winning concept: delicious Mexican food made from scratch, and the coldest beer in town.
Khao Lak is not in general a party destination, but it has one epicenter of fun, the Happy Snapper at Nang Thong, which gaters revelers every night with a fun and funky live band.
Shopping in Khao Lak
The one thing Khao Lak really lacks is shopping opportunities. You can find basic beach wear stalls but not much else. But then again, Phuket’s shopping malls are just over an hours drive away.
Where to Stay in Khao Lak?
Most of Khao Lak’s hotels are on the middle and upper end of the market, but you can usually find good discounted prices through hotel booking sites.
A great place for cheaper accommodation is Khao Lak Seafood guesthouse along the main road on Nang Thong.
Khao Lak’s most famed hotel is the multi award winning The Sarojin Hotel, an ultimate resort for romantic couples.
Another interesting high-end option is the futuristic Casa de La Flora with its space age design.
What beach should you choose then? For the two main beaches Hotels in Nang Thong Beach are probably a little more peaceful, whereas hotels in Bang Niang Beach are perfect for those looking for a wide choice for restaurants nearby.
Khu Khak’s hotels excell in very peaceful beach life.
Transportation in Khao Lak
You can easily move around Khao Lak’s beach areas on foot or by a rented scooter. Taxis are readily available.
Travel to Khao Lak
Khao Lak is located 70 kilometers north of Phuket, and Phuket’s international Airport is just an hour’s drive away. A taxi from Phuket’s airport to Khao Lak costs around 1200 bahts, after some bargaining.
If you want to catch a bus from the airport, you have to walk to the main highway, since none of the buses stop at the airport. Khao Lak is located along the Highway 4, and all the buses traveling northbound from Phuket pass through the resort town. The buses will leave you next to your preferred beach.
Direct night bus from Bangkok to Khao Lak costs around thousand bahts.
Best Time to Travel to Khao Lak
Tourism is highly seasonal in Khao Lak. During the rainy season from May to the end of October Khao Lak turns almost to a ghost town. Hotels are empty, many restaurants close their doors, and waves turn big and challenging during the rainy season. The good side of the rainy season in Khao Lak is that you can find amazing discounts on good hotels.
Good to Know – Khao Lak and the Tsunami
The Boxing Day 2004 tsunami hit Khao Lak the hardest in Thailand; 4000 people died, around half of Thailand’s victims. This was due to Khao Lak’s shallow beaches that stirred up the wave to enormous destructive power. The whole beach resort was washed away to nothing.
Destroyed hotels have been rebuilt all the more fancier, but the locals still carry the memory of the natural disaster. Everybody lost relatives and close friends, and many lost their entire families. It’s good to remember in Khao Lak that the giant wave struck not only tourists; it wiped out whole fishing communities.
Areas around Khao Lak carry still several scars of the Tsunami. Just next to Bang Niang Beach village stands a Patrol Boat 813 two kilometers inland in the middle of a field where the monster wave carried it. The patrol boat was protecting a holiday making Thai prince, who died in the tsunami. Bang Niang hosts also a modest Tsunami Museum.
An impressive Tsunami Memorial is located in Nam Khem, 20 kilometers from Khao Lak, next to Ko Kho Khao Island. In the installation a concrete wave has engulfed a fishing boat, and relatives of the deceased have written touching messages on commemorative plates.
On the way to Nam Khem one sees entire fishing communities, whose houses are all copies of each other, built in relief efforts to replace the totally wiped out villages.
Next Destination from Khao Lak
Khao Sok, Thailand’s finest national park and the largest preserved rainforest, is an hour’s drive from Khao Lak. One can get there by organized tours, but it is also easily accessible by bus on your own.
Khuraburi’s pier is 90 kilometers north of Khao Lak, from where you can catch a boat to stunning Ko Surin Marine Park. Ko Surin is known as Thailand’s best place to snorkel.