Last Update: October 2023
Khao Lak, Thailand
Although the list of Thailand’s highlights seems endless, there are still many places that are not yet overrun by tourists, but certainly worth discovering. Interesting places oozing with local culture. Small laid-back riverside towns, spectacular nature reserves and picture perfect beach locations.
Khao Lak is in the latter category and hardly a hidden gem, as it is definitely on the tourist map. However, development is spread out across the extensive coastline giving the area a more subdued and friendly atmosphere compared to other Thai beach destinations.
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There is an actual Khao Lak Village, although its official name is Bang La On. However, the name Khao Lak is used for a string of villages with a total stretch of 25km on the Andaman Coast. Nang Tong village and Bang Niang village, both in the Southern part are the two most popular beaches. Nevertheless, even there you won’t find the crowds that, for example, Phuket beaches see. The farther North you venture from Khuk Khak to Pakarang and Bang Sak, the less tourists you are likely to encounter.
It must be said, Khao Lak has really pretty and laid-back beaches. The Southern stretch is dotted with 4 and 5 star resorts along the coast line, but there’s plenty of room for everyone and more. Khao Lak beaches are peaceful, mellow 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.
Next to tourism, Khao Lak mainly depends on agriculture. The area behind the beaches is strewn with rubber, palm oil and fruit plantations. Also fishing and shrimp farming are still an important factor for the Khao Lak economy.
Reasons (not) to visit Khao Lak
Why visit Khao Lak?
Gorgeous beaches that go on for 25km
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
Why avoid Khao Lak?
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
Lots of rain from May to November
Disappointing food scene
Tsunami Museum and Tsunami Memorial
2 hour to half day activity
This could get confusing, as there are several museums and memorials. We’ll give you the only real official Tsunami Museum and Memorial, plus one other mildly interesting location.
“Ban Nam Khem Tsunami Memorial Park” is a solemn and worthy memorial that has the names of 1,400 victims that perished carved in ceramic tiles. The 8000sqm park also has a Buddha shrine for praying and a beautiful beach that is perfect for walks and contemplating. Open everyday from 8am to 5pm and admission is free.
The Tsunami Museum, about 1.5km from the memorial park, offers an excellent experience and opportunity to understand more about he events that took place in December 2004. There’s video footage, lots of photos and maps of the area before/after. English speaking guides take you through the museum, providing context to everything that’s on display.
Two old fishing boats that washed up on land adorn the surrounding garden. The building itself is very modern and the roof also serves as a tsunami evacuation shelter. Opening days are from Wednesday to Sunday, 8:30am to 4:30pm and admission is free.
International Tsunami Museum near Bang Niang village has the Thai police boat 813 that washed up 1.25km inland on the museum exterior grounds.
To be honest, the museum and its surroundings seriously lack attention and maintenance. Furthermore, some of the photos on display are quite explicit. Still, a visit to the museum provides good information and will give you a whole new perspective on the resilience of the local population. The museum opens everyday from 9am to 9pm, admission fee: THB100.
Whole day activity
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 online with all the logistics covered. Pick-up/drop-off and lunch included and there’s even an option for a private tour.
Leave early morning for the bay where you will board a longtail boat. The views are fantastic, with numerous bizarre shaped limestone rock formations popping up from the turquoise sea everywhere. An absolute must-see!
Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park
Whole day to multiple day activity
Take a break from the beach to hike your way to the waterfalls in the nearby Khao Lak-Lamru National Park (Opening hours 8:30am-4:30pm, admission THB100). The one waterfall that should not be missed is the Ton Chongfa waterfall, about 4 hiking km 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.
There are limited accommodations in the National Park or you can even opt to rent a tent on the camping site if you want to stay overnight. We didn’t stay overnight, so I don’t know if it’s any good.
Khao Sok National Park
Whole day to multiple day activity
This could easily be our most favorite place in Thailand. A man made lake surrounded by one of the oldest rainforests of the world. Stay at one of the floating rafthouses and wake up in the morning to the sound of the gibbons calling. Cruising the lake surrounded by impressive limestone rocks and exploring the jungle is such an unforgettable experience.
The park is so conveniently close to Khao Lak that it would be a shame not to visit. You’ll never forgive yourself if you miss out on the absolute must-see Khao Sok National Park.
Whole day activity
The Similans are a group of Islands about 65km off the coast of Khao Lak with 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 preservation measures the marine park closes every year from 15th of May until 15th of October.
Two of the Islands can be visited by boat on a day trip from the Thap Lamu pier just South of Khao Lak, but recent restrictions limit the number of visitors to 3850 per day. We booked our trip to the Similan Islands online so we had no problem with availability. Overnight stays are possible, but accommodations are also limited in order not to strain the ecological system on the Islands.
Make sure to include evacuations and repatriation in your travel insurance. Any serious ailment or injury will most likely involve expensive medical transport from Khao Lak to Bangkok or even Singapore, payable upfront if you lack proper insurance.
Don’t just assume that adventurous activities like trekking/hiking, diving and your motor bike rental adventures are included in your regular healthcare insurance, because I guarantee you, they’re not.
Read more about travel insurance, or at least get a non-committal instant quote right now!
Nang Tong and Bang Niang Village are the most lively areas in Khao Lak. Both have several large resorts on the beach while budget and mid range options are situated a bit more inland around the main road #4. North from Khuk Khak the beaches become more quiet and resorts are generally more upscale.
During low season, from May to October, Khao Lak accommodations offer incredible reductions on room rates. Do take into account though that a fair amount of Khao Lak businesses close down in this period.
In Nang Tong village we stayed at the The Leaf Oceanside Resort. It’s not right on the beach, but very close. The village center with all the food options is also just around the corner. This is a large 4-star accommodation and we couldn’t help feeling a bit lost in the grandness of it all. That’s all on us though, we couldn’t fault the resort as everything was impeccable. Stylish, spacious and clean room, good breakfast, well maintained premises and friendly staff. We opted for a room, but the cottages looked mighty fine as well.
Nang Tong was a bit too mellow for us so we decided to move to more lively Bang Niang Village where we found Light Khao Lak Resort in a quiet part of town. The resort is close to the beach, a short walk to the village and very friendly for our wallet.
We were very happy with our garden view bungalow. The interior is rather basic, but built with quality materials and very well maintained. Maybe the breakfast was a bit underwhelming, but there are plenty of breakfast options in the immediate area. Even with dishing out extra for breakfast off site the rates of this accommodation are great value.
There’s certainly no shortage of eateries in Khao Lak, especially in and around Nang Tong and Bang Niang village there are many restaurants and cafes to choose from. Having said that, we found the Khao Lak food scene somewhat disappointing. Toned down Thai food adapted to the alleged tourist palate seems to be the norm. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise, this is a tourist area after all .
And what’s with the zillion Italian restaurants? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind Western food at all. In fact, I love it. But at least it should be well prepared and tasty. Hard to believe that tourists would want to eat bland and uninspired spaghetti or pizza in Thailand every day.
Anyway, it’s not all bad of course. We did some field work and were able to come up with a few good options.
Tip Top Restaurant (Road 4 at the Northern tip of Lam Kaen beach). Nothing wrong with the food at Tip Top. We tried the excellent prawns (THB130) and fried noodles with pork (THB100). Good, strong flavors, smiling faces and reasonable prices in a cozy setting. It’s a good 5km South of Nang Tong, so you’ll have to travel a bit, but worth it, worth it, worth it!
Sawatdikan Khaoluk Restaurant (Moo7 Khao Lak National Park). We found this eatery when we returned from a hike in the Khao Lak Lamru National Park. The hike left us hungry so we sat down for a meal. Wow, this was so unexpected! Slightly overpriced, but still affordable and good quality seafood with spectacular sea views as a bonus, the perfect place for (late) lunch. The crab omelet was crispy on the outside and perfectly soft and fluffy on the inside as it’s supposed to with very generous crab meat for THB120.
Krua Pi Bao (200m from the Bang Niang market, which by the way is a good place to eat Thai food as well) If your aim is fancy wining and dining, don’t come here. If you want to rub shoulders with the locals and eat some real Thai food than yes, this is your go to. Nothing fancy, just authentic Thai flavors. Crispy pork belly over rice for THB50, green papaya salad (Som Tam) for THB60, very spicy. Fortunately the beers to extinguish the chili blaze are only THB50.
Another local favorite in Bang Niang is Mae Pa restaurant, about 700m South of the Bang Niang market on road#4. Looks like a dime a dozen Thai eatery, but the food is one in a million. The menu features all the usual suspect Thai dishes, but prepared so much better. The massaman beef curry and panang seafood curry (both THB180) were outstanding. They also serve lighter dishes, such as fried rice and fried noodles for THB70. The locals love it, and you know what they say about that…
Phuket airport is a mere 65km away from Khao Lak. Regular 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 several bus stations in Bangkok to Khao Lak every day. Prepare for a long journey between 12-15h. Do not buy your bus ticket on Khao San road in Bangkok. We heard one too many reports of travelers that were scammed and left stranded. Don’t be that guy. Instead, use the transport planner from 12Go.asia below to check the bus schedules and book your seat online.
Getting Around Khao Lak
When staying at Nang Tong or Bang Niang village 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.
Road #4 connects all the villages in Khao Lak. Local Songthaews (pick-up trucks with roofed benches in the back) drive up and down road#4 from early morning to late afternoon. Just signal the driver and he will stop to pick you up. Tell him your destination and he will name a price. Usually, the next village will be around THB20 and longer stretches around THB50. Next, pay the driver, hop in the back and knock on the roof when you want to hop off.
Local taxis can normally be found anywhere in the busier parts of each village. Their prices are higher than what you might be used to in Bangkok. However, they are also more trustworthy than Bangkok taxis. Once you negotiate a price (always negotiate) they will stick to it. You can take THB350 to the next village or THB2500 for 2 hours and THB700 for each next hour as a direction.
Public buses to Phuket airport and the Khao Sok National Park also frequent road #4. Although you can hail them from anywhere on road #4, it’s best to ask your accommodation where the designated stops are. No need to buy a ticket beforehand, a ticket seller will approach you on the bus.
If you were thinking of renting a motorbike in Thailand, but somehow didn’t get to it, now is the perfect time. You can rent a motorbike in Khao Lak for as low as THB300 per day. Beware though that most rental shops require you to leave your passport as a collateral.
Note that proper document requirements for tourists riding a motorbike are very confusing. Not having the right documents will most likely invalidate all insurance you might have. Check out the regulations on driving a motorbike in Thailand.
Most convenient would be to rent a car. This way you’ll always have comfortable transport available. You can rent a car at the Phuket airport and drive to Khao Lak or rent a car in Khao Lak upon arrival. Here’s how to rent a car in Thailand.
Khao Lak is definitely worth going to if you’re looking for long stretched tropical beaches that are not overcrowded and family friendly. The vibe is more subdued and mellow compared to other Thai beach destinations and Khao Lak is by no means a party destination.
Weather-wise, January, February and March are the best months. However, this coincides with peak season and accommodation rates will be at their highest. Therefore, the shoulder months December and April are good alternatives.
Khao Lak is not necessarily better than Phuket, but it is different. The beaches are equally gorgeous, but nightlife is modest compared to some of the popular Phuket locations. Overall, Khao Lak is also less crowded and cheaper than Phuket.
During the monsoon from June to October the sea at Khao Lak can be wild and dangerous. At some days during this period it is not safe to swim. For the rest of the year it’s perfectly fine.
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