Last Update: March 2020
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In the know destinations – Thailand
I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve visited Thailand. Some visits were just short beach holidays or passing through on my way to other destinations. Several, longer visits involved extensive travel for months on my way to nowhere, just exploring this wonderful country.
Although the list of Thailand’s highlights seems endless, there are still many places like Khao Lak that are not yet overrun by tourists, but certainly worth discovering. Interesting cities oozing with local culture. Small laid-back riverine towns, spectacular nature reserves and picture perfect beach locations. Not exactly hidden gems, but without the usual crowds, only visited by the few travelers in the know.
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There is an actual Khao Lak Village, but the name Khao Lak is used for a 30 km stretch of several beaches on the Andaman Coast just above Phuket. Nang Thong beach and Bang Niang in the South are the two most popular beaches, but even here you won’t find the crowds that most Phuket beaches see. The more North you venture from Khuk Khak to Pakarang and Bang Sak, the less tourists you are likely to encounter.
It must be said, the beaches are really pretty and laid-back. Nang Thong has a few 4-5 star resorts along the coast line, but because the beach is so long-stretched it still remains peaceful and family friendly. The same goes for the restaurants and night life. There’s plenty of it, but Khao Lak is not a party destination.
Reasons (not) to visit Khao Lak
Reasons to visit
Gorgeous beaches that go on for 30km
Laid-back beach destination, but with all amenities
Close to mountains and nature with hiking opportunities
Ample interesting destinations nearby such as Phuket and Phang Nga Bay
Budget as well as luxury accommodation available
Reasons not to visit
Not really authentic with the exception of the far Northern part
Geared towards tourism (not like Phuket, but still)
Ample bars, but no real party scene
Lot’s of rain from May to November
Tuk-tuks and taxis are very expensive
Disappointing food scene
How to get to Khao Lak
Phuket airport is a mere 65km away and flights from Bangkok are just a short 1h15m. Check out the Skyscanner portal to search and book a flight from Bangkok to Phuket. Sometimes flying is cheaper than buses and trains. Of course you’ll miss all the nice scenery.
Buses depart from different bus stations in Bangkok to Khao Lak every day. Prepare for a long journey of at least 13h.
For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets within in Thailand I always use the transport planning tool from 12Go.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
If you were thinking of renting a motorbike in Thailand, but somehow didn’t get to it, now is the perfect time. I haven’t seen any tuk-tuks around, only songthaew (pick-up trucks with roofed benches in the back) and taxis. They are expensive though and using either of these in any direction will set you back a few THB100.
If you’re staying at Nang Thong or Bang Niang and you just want to get to the restaurants/bar area around road 4, you won’t need transport. A short stroll will get you there.
Things to see/do in Khao Lak
Above all, do consider a trip to Phang-Nga Bay. All travel agencies in Khao Lak are touting it, so it is impossible to miss. For day trips the most convenient is to just book a tour with them as they have all the logistics covered. In the early morning they will transport you to the bay where you will transfer to a longtail boat. The sites are fantastic, with bizar shaped limestone rock formations popping up from the turquoise sea everywhere. A must-see!
Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park
Take a break from the beach to hike your way to the waterfalls in the Khao Lak-Lamru National Park (Opening hours 8:30am-4:30pm, admission THB100). The one waterfall that should not be skipped there is the Ton Chongfa waterfall, about 4 hiking km’s from the park entrance. At the end of the trail you will find several natural pools, good for swimming and a waterfall cascading down in 5 levels from 200m height.
The Similans is a group of Islands off the coast of Khao Lak and have a protected marine park status. The Islands are known for their natural beauty, abundant marine life and gorgeous dive/snorkeling sites. As a part of the protective measures the marine park is closed every year from 15th of May until 15th of October.
2 of the Islands can be visited by boat on a day trip from Tab Lamu, the port just South of Khao Lak, but recent restrictions limit the number of visitors to 3850 per day. Overnight stays are also possible, but accommodations are limited in order not to strain the ecological system on the Islands. For more information, visit this link.
Do not forget travel insurance. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. You are a million miles away from professional and reliable health care…just saying.
I use World Nomads, because they also cover a range of adventure sports and activities like scuba diving and even your motor bike rental adventures (if you follow the rules). You can buy cover online, even if your trip already started.
Where to stay in Khao Lak
Nang Thong has a few 4 and 5 star resorts on the beach and a lot of budget, as well as midrange guesthouses near the main road in the village. Bang Niang has proper budget and midrange options near the beach. To the North in Khuk Khak the resorts are generally more upscale.
During low season, from May to October, Khao Lak accommodations are known to offer incredible reductions on room rates.
The Leaf Oceanside
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
Well maintained resort with a garden setting near to the beach (100) and the main drag (350). Different room options. centered around the two swimming pools.
The Waters Khao Lak by Katathani Resort
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
Magnificent 4star hotel for a very decent rate. Close to all the restaurant/bar action, yet secluded and quiet at night. Is it possible? Yes, 400m from the beach and 300m from town.
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Where to eat in Khao Lak
There’s certainly no shortage of eateries here, especially in and around Nang Thong and Bang Niang. Still, I’m not too happy with the culinary scene as overly Westernized Thai food seems to be the norm here. And overpriced as well! Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise, this is a tourist area after all .
I just think it’s really sad that the real Thai flavors are so hard to find. I can’t believe that this is what tourists want. One restaurant after another serving the same uninspired and bland food as the neighbors. Or what about “the Viking Steakhouse”, serving a mediocre 200gram steak priced over THB700?, it’s ridiculous! Ok, I’m ranting I know, I’m sorry.
Anyway, I did some field work and was able to come up with a few good options. These are my food recommendations:
Tip Top Restaurant (Road 4 at the Northern tip of Lam Kaen beach). Nothing wrong with the curries at Tip Top. Good, strong flavors, smiling faces and reasonable prices in a cozy setting. It’s a good 5km South of Nang Thong, so you’ll have to travel a bit, but worth it, worth it, worth it!
Sawatdikan Khaoluk Restaurant (Moo7 Khao Lak National Park). Unexpected good quality Thai food in the Khao Lak Lamru National Park. Excellent, affordable seafood and great sea views as an extra bonus.
Hill Tribes Restaurant (13, Phet kasem road, Bang Niang). Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Real authentic Thai flavors. Added bonus are the Northern Thai dishes that makes this restaurant unique in the area. Great interior.
Baitong Restaurant (On the most Northern tip of the Bang Niang beach). This small beach restaurant makes me happy. Simple, but fresh, home made Thai food, prepared with passion and love.