Khao Lak is quite different to any other Thai beach resort I’ve been to before. The name Khao Lak actually refers to 20km coastal region that is broken up into 3 small centres and joined by a large motorway that runs all the way to Bangkok. A range of mid to high-end resorts are dispersed along the waterfront, small eateries are dotted along the sand, whilst a handful of bars are found mainly along the highway. This area was hit hard by the 2004 tsunami and my understanding is that redevelopment has taken place mainly along the main road (set back from the water) ever since.
Although it struck me as an unusual set up for a tourist area there is still much here that appeals; the miles of golden sand (almost pure white the further north you go), ease of access from Phuket International Airport, cheap eateries where you can bury your feet in the sand and fantastic snorkelling in the Surin and Similan Islands, 90 mins away by speedboat.
Although I spotted some trendy hostels popping up to cater for backpackers the crowd here currently are mostly families or couples looking for some R&R and Thai hospitality. We were in the area to get married so our days centred around hanging out at the pool, enjoying cocktails at sunset and preparing for the upcoming nuptials. Based on our 10 day holiday, and the extensive research I did beforehand, I’ve condensed my Khao Lak tips into this handy travel guide.
Getting There/Getting Around
Bang La On (the most touristy part of Khao Lak – often referred to as Khao Lak Centre) is approximately 1 hours drive from Phuket International Airport. It’s an easy drive on well-paved roads. Depending on where you are staying in Khao Lak you can expect to add a further 20 to 30 mins onto your trip. I recommend booking a transfer in advance. We used this website and found them well-priced and reliable. It is possible to get a taxi at the airport but they may not know where your hotel is – some of our group had an extra 20 minutes added to their trip after the taxi drove straight past where we were staying.
Unusually for a Thai tourist area there are no tuk tuks in Khao Lak. You can get around cheaply in the local taxi – a songthaew – which is like a truck with benches and a roof on the back. Hotels can also book you air-conditioned cars but they stop running after a certain time at night so make sure you pre-arrange a ride back in advance if you plan to stay out late.
The main thing to do in Khao Lak is flop into a sunlounger and wait for happy hour to begin. The sea can be a little rough in parts so we spent most of our time by the pool. As mentioned the prettier beaches are towards the north end of Khao Lak – ask for a taxi to White Sand Beach to see what I mean.
After reading up on all the daytrips available from Khao Lak (and spending a ridiculous amount of time in our hotel lobby trying to book one) we arranged a trip to the Surin Islands. The Surin Islands are a protected archipelago of pristine islands, 60 km away from the mainland. Our day trip involved snorkelling at 3 different reefs that were filled with bright marine life, visiting a Moken ‘Sea Gypsy’ village and stopping for lunch and a swim at the stunning Ao Mae Yai beach. Slightly closer to Khao Lak are the Similan Islands, which are also famed for their diving. You can book private and group tours through Eco Khao Lak Adventure.
In Khao Lak itself you can learn more about how the Boxing Day Tsunami effected the region at the International Tsunami Museum. A small exhibition recounts the horrors of that day in photos and video whilst a police boat just behind the museum demonstrates how far inland the ocean travelled.
One of my favourite activities in Khao Lak is getting a Thai massage on the beach. You’ll find a number of restaurants and resorts offering massage on the beachfront, as well as cheap spas along the main road. Prices start from 300 baht for a 60 minute Thai massage at these low-key joints. Treatments at the hotels are obviously a lot more pricey but if you’re staying somewhere as gorgeous as The Sarojin I recommend you indulge yourself at least once. Spa La Flora is another place that caught my eye.
We liked to tuck into cheap Thai food and beer with our feet in the sand and the sound of the waves as a backdrop so we ate a few times at Peter’s Bar, which was just along from our hotel. It’s a bare bones kind of joint with wooden tables in the sand but service was fast and friendly and prices excellent considering the location. On the main road Smile and Mojo’s were our favourite for Thai food whilst Indigo Restaurant at Ocean Breeze Resort had a great menu of Thai and Indian cuisine as well as chic beachfront seating, even if the service was a little patchy.
In Bang Niang, Soi Bang Niang is known as Food Street. There’s a range of international and local restaurants here but we felt the area lacked atmosphere. The restaurants near Bang Niang Market were the most buzzing and, of course, on market day you can feast at all the street food stalls and enjoy a few drinks at the bars dispersed around the market. (You must try the mojitos from the Mojito stand near the main entrance.)
There is little in the way of nightlife in Khao Lak. The beachfront restaurants and bars close early and the only places open late are along the busy highway. We spent a few evenings listening to live music and enjoying the frozen daiquiris at Happy Snapper and also enjoyed the food and atmosphere at Memories Beach Bar – one of the highly recommend drinking spots in Khao Lak but be warned it’s a long, dusty drive through an unlit area of jungle to get there.
There are a few souvenir stalls dotted along the main road but the best place for shopping is the Bang Niang Night Market – open till 10pm Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. We also saw signs for a new Hip Market, sponsored by Chang Beer, near Casa De La Flora but didn’t get a chance to visit it.
We split our time in Khao Lak between 2 hotels. We spent a week at The Sands – a modern, 4-star property close to a range of restaurants and 10 mins drive away from the night market. We had a great pool access suite, which was well maintained and felt very private. (Note: we were in the building nearest reception – there are 3 buildings with pool access and not all were as quiet as ours). Although it was a large resort the place never felt incredibly busy, it was easy to get a sun lounger near the pool and we never had a problem getting a seat at the bar for happy hour. The food was of a high standard in all the restaurants and the staff were very friendly and accommodating – apart from those on reception and at the tour desk who we had a few communication issues with. We booked this room during a sale on booking.com so overall it was a bargain and I would recommend it.
For the last 3 nights of our trip we stayed at The Sarojin, which is where we also held our wedding. The Sarojin is a beautiful boutique property on a gorgeous strip of white sand approximately 15 minutes away from Khao Lak Centre. From the insta-worthy pool to all day breakfast (with complimentary sparking wine thrown in) I do not have a bad word to say about this property. We had a few small problems with the wedding, mainly due to miscommunication, but as hotel guests our experience was fantastic.
We had a Spa Suite – which we were upgraded to as we were getting hitched – and it was a massive, elegant space with a spa bath in the bathroom as well as on the balcony. The food at all the Sarojin restaurants was exquisite (as was everything they served at the wedding) and the spa was simply sublime – wooden treatment huts overlooking the jungle = yes please. As we’d booked in advance we paid a premium rate for the room but our friends got a great last minute deal and paid 50% off for their rooms in April. They were so happy with their stay they emailed the owner to say so.
I’ll be sharing more of our experience staying and getting wed at The Sarojin over the coming weeks. Sign up here for updates.
Let me know if you have any more Khao Lak questions in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them.