It was once one of the fastest growing tourist areas in Thailand. Then it was hit by a massive tsunami. Now it is a charming retreat from the hustle of Phuket. With excellent accommodation options, several interesting attractions, and a growing reputation in the trade, Khao Lak is again proving to be an appealing destination for many travellers.
Before you go, you need to understand the pros and cons of this destination. The pros are nice beachside resorts, white sandy beaches, a laid-back vibe ideal for relaxing, and some enjoyable attractions. The cons are the spread-out nature of the area, a lack of tourist transport, little nightlife outside the resorts, and limited shopping opportunities. Perhaps the last two are actually cons!
Here is what makes the area appealing to me.
At the Little Amazon entrance. The sign says “Welcome to Thailand river jungle version of the Amazon. Here you will experience ancient Banyan trees, exotic animals, and other beauties Thai nature has to offer.” Perhaps this is overstating it a little bit but the one-hour trip in small inflatable canoes with a paddler/guide was fascinating.
You cruise slowly along a little river which winds gently through the swamp and you can see monkeys, egrets, monitors, mangrove snakes, and mud crabs. The huge banyan trees with their spreading roots are quite spectacular and majestic.
Unfortunately, our trip was dampened by a heavy tropical downpour but in fine weather this would be a photographer’s paradise.
Old Takua Pa town
Well known to local tourists but largely shunned by foreigners, the old Sri Takua Pa district, located about 7 km south of the main Takua Pa town, features picturesque old architecture that comes from Takua Pa’s glory days as a tin mining and port centre.
Both sides of the main Si Takua Pa Road that bisects the old town are dotted with period buildings conspicuous by their Sino-Portuguese architecture, Chinese shrines, and tea houses. The town seems to house mainly elderly people who sit chatting in front of their homes or walk or ride bicycles to the local market.
It is very much a laid-back attraction but if history or architecture have any interest to you, it is easy to spend several hours wandering around absorbing the scene.
Khao Lak beaches
The Khao Lak beaches are the main reason why many people choose this tranquil area of Phang Nga Province as their holiday destination. Khao Lak Beach is the most southerly developed strip of sand and this gives its name to the whole area from here to Banglut Beach many kilometres to the north. Stately trees line the edge of the beach and a headland blocks this beach from its neighbours to the north.
The most peopled beach is Nang Thong Beach – La On Village. The half-dozen resorts that front the beach have sea-view pools so some guests don’t ever make it all the way to the sand.
Bang Niang, immediately to the north, is the second most populous beach. There are a few longtail boats here, while resorts overlook the beach, and basic-but-cheap Thai restaurants and massage huts are found nearby.
Further north again, Khuk Khak Beach, with only a couple resorts tucked among the pine trees and palm groves, runs north to Pakarang Cape.
Police Boat Memorial
Nothing brings home the power of the 2004 Tsunami better for me than seeing Police Boat 813 that was swept 2 kilometres inland and is still sitting on site, now as a memorial. This boat and another that sunk killing all on board was anchored about a kilometre out at sea as a protection to members of the Royal Family who were holidaying in Khao Lak at the time.
Adjacent is a two-storey International Tsunami Museum created by an American university in association with the local authority. A visit here helps to put things in perspective and your entrance fee and anything you buy contributes to help the local community as most of the benefits go to victims.
The Ban Nam Khem Tsunami Memorial Centre is further north near the coast in an area that suffered very badly. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be well managed and some visitors are quite disappointed in the faded photographs and cracking concrete.
We stayed for several nights in the excellent and very friendly Khaolak Laguna Resort which fronts the Andaman Sea. The resort has villas and extremely large well-furnished rooms which are set in delightful gardens. There are several restaurants, a spa with excellent service, two beachfront swimming pools, gym, sports facilities, and a lounge with evening entertainment.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and we expect that the same could be said for several other resorts in the same general area. There is some budget accommodation in Khao Lak but this tends to be away from the beach.
Getting to Khao Lak
There are buses and vans from Phuket International Airport. It takes about one hour to reach the main part of Khao Lak. There are also buses travelling the long route 4 from Bangkok. These take about 14 hours and generally travel at night.
Images: Phensri Rutledge