As Thailand’s largest island, Phuket has long been one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. There is no doubting the appeal of Phuket’s beaches and it’s easy to see why international tourists flock here. But if you’re looking for a quieter and less mainstream alternative, travel the short distance north to Khao Lak.
Situated in Phang Nga province just over an hour’s drive from Phuket airport, the area known as Khao Lak covers an extended section of the coastline. As regular visitors to Khao Lak will already know, there are many reasons to visit this attractive resort area on the Andaman Coast. If you’re looking for somewhere new to visit on your next Thai beach holiday, take a look at Khao Lak. In no particular order, here are 11 reasons to add Khao Lak to your Thailand itinerary.
1) Chilled out beaches
Even in the high season, Khao Lak’s long sandy beaches remain free from the kind of crowds you may see on Phuket. And because Khao Lak is made up of a number of different villages and small towns, there is no shortage of beaches to choose from. Whichever area of Khao Lak you choose to stay, you can enjoy long walks along quiet beaches.
The area that makes up Khao Lak stretches out along the coastline for approximately 30 km (20 miles). This covers a number of different beaches and small towns including:
Bang Niang, Bangsak Beach, Khao Lak Beach, Khuk Kaak Beach, Nang Thong Beach, and Pakweep Beach (aka White Sand Beach).
2) Family friendly destination
Khao Lak offers a much quieter holiday experience than nearby Phuket. While it’s true that there is much to do on Phuket for families, Khao Lak is arguably a better choice for anyone travelling with children. You won’t find rowdy nightlife, brash neon lights or thumping music here. Instead, relaxed evenings are spent at restaurants or informal beach bars.
Although you do see some solo travellers and younger backpackers in Khao Lak, this area tends to attract a different demographic. Khao Lak has traditionally been popular with couples and families, especially from Scandinavian countries. Families will still find plenty of activities to do away from the beach with trips to Little Amazon and ethical elephant experiences at Phang Nga Elephant Park amongst those that will appeal to all the family.
3) Health and wellness facilities
Thailand is renowned for the quality of its health and wellness offerings. If you’re keen to recharge your mind and body on your holiday, Khao Lak ticks all the right boxes. From a simple Thai massage on the beach through to high quality spa and wellness treatments at venues like Devasom, Khao Lak is ideal for a wellness break. Many of the best hotels in Khao Lak offer morning yoga and meditation under the guidance of experts in addition to healthy eating and detox programs.
Thailand Meaningful Wellness
Health and wellness is a niche that Thailand is keen to promote. As part of a drive to promote this sector, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has launched the Thailand Meaningful Wellness campaign. TAT has curated a collection of health resorts, spas and wellness experiences from across Thailand. Full details can be found on the Thailand Meaningful Wellness website:
4) Khao Sok National Park
Spending time in the stunning surrounds of Khao Sok National Park is one of the highlights of any visit to southern Thailand. If you’re staying in Khao Lak you can comfortably visit Khao Sok National Park as part of a day trip. This will typically include a cruise on Cheow Larn Lake so you get to experience some of the highlights of the area. But to truly do this tropical wonderland justice, try to spend at least one or two nights here.
5) Phang Nga Bay
Probably the best-known location in Phang Nga province, the dramatic seascape at Phang Nga Bay gained international fame in the 1970s thanks to the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun. The small island of Ko Khao Ping Gan in Phang Nga Bay was used as the hideout of Scaramanga (played by Christopher Lee). When Scaramanga and Bond duel on the beach, it is the needle-like limestone karst of Ko Tapu which can be seen in the background jutting out from the sea.
Tours of Phang Nga Bay can be booked from Khao Lak. The iconic ‘James Bond Island’, along with the floating village of Ko Panyee, features on most Phang Nga Bay tour itineraries.
6) Similan Islands and Surin Islands
Khao Lak is the ideal base to explore some of the best diving and snorkelling sites in the country. Boats to the Similan Islands and to the Surin Islands depart from the mainland not far from Khao Lak.
These separate collections of islands are amongst the most scenic in the country and are a memorable experience both above and below the waves. Any travel agent and most hotels in Khao Lak can organise trips for you or you can book online. Even if you don’t want to dive or snorkel, both sets of islands make for an enjoyable day trip from Khao Lak.
7) Fun on the water
As well as enjoying life underwater, Khao Lak is a good choice for trying paddle-boarding, kayaking and surfing. Depending on where you are staying, paddle-boarding lessons can sometimes be arranged at your hotel. If not, check out the Khao Lak SUP Hub website.
It often surprises people to find out that it is possible to surf in Thailand. Although you’re not going to get the big waves you’d see in Hawaii or other more famous surf destinations, the smaller waves are an advantage for anybody who literally wants to test the water first.
Whether you’ve surfed before or, like me (pictured above left) are a complete novice, the best place to head to first is Memories Beach Bar on Khuk Kaak Beach. This is the heart of the surf scene in Khao Lak where you’ll find gear for hire, friendly instructors, and other surfers to hang out with.
If you’d like to stay in this area, Apsara Beachfront Resort & Villa is perfect. If you’re just visiting for the day, chill out before or after surfing at the Karkinos Beach Club. The surfing season in Khao Lak runs from late April through until mid-November.
8) Feast on fabulous food
Khao Lak is a tourist area and the menus at a number of restaurants in the area do reflect that. However, that’s not to say that you can’t find outstanding places to eat. Khao Lak – and the wider Phang Nga area – is home to a surprisingly good food scene that includes Michelin-rated eateries.
Whichever beach area you are staying at in Khao Lak, you’ll find plenty of family-owned restaurants dotted around the Khao Lak coastline. If you’re in the Khuk Kaak area or Bang Niang, be sure to try the local markets there.
Wherever you are staying in Khao Lak, the food at the superb Nai Mueang restaurant in Bang Niang is well worth making a detour for. Seafood dishes are the speciality at this Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant which oozes retro charm. Enjoy fabulous dishes like stir-fried shrimps with stink beans (kung pad sataw) with shrimp paste which is made by the local Mokken community.
Devasom Khao Lak resort is another location that foodies should make a beeline for. The resort is home to two outstanding restaurants that are both open to non-guests: Takola and the Beach Grill and Bar with both venues earning praise in the Michelin Guide for Phang Nga province.
9) Easy to get to
The nearest airport to Khao Lak is Phuket. Depending on which hotel you are staying at in Khao Lak, it’s an easy 90-minute taxi journey away from Phuket airport. If you’re lucky with your time of arrival and flight path, the approach to Phuket airport can be spectacular as you fly over Phang Nga Bay and then Mai Khao Beach. Another alternative is to fly to Krabi, a scenic two hour drive away from Khao Lak.
Frequent services connect both Phuket and Krabi with Bangkok. There are also direct flights to Krabi and Phuket from Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand and Pattaya U-Tapao airport on the east coast.
Bus services connect Khao Lak with Krabi, Phuket, and Phang Nga town. There is no central bus station in Khao Lak and buses stop at different locations along the main Phetkasem Road that connects the different beach areas of Khao Lak. Unless you specifically tell the driver or conductor where you are going, the normal drop off point is the traffic lights near Nang Thong Supermarket in Bang La On.
Frequent mini-bus services travel the same route as the regular buses, but luggage space is limited and drivers are on a tighter schedule and can have a tendency to speed. If you are travelling with your family or as a couple, it’s worth spending a little extra for a private transfer to and from Khao Lak.
10) Good choice of accommodation
There is no shortage of accommodation in the Khao Lak area covering a range of budgets. From personal experience from my visits to Khao Lak, I can recommend Devasom (luxury) on Khuk Kaak Beach, The Waters Khao Lak (mid-range) on Bang Niang Beach, and To Zleep (budget) at Nang Thong Beach.
Other options worth looking at include:
- Apsara Beachfront Resort & Villa (ideal for Memories Beach Bar and surfing)
- Khao Lak Merlin
- Khao Lak Orchid
- La Flora
- La Vela
- The Sarojin
11) Andaman sunsets
Whether you’ve had a day relaxing on the beach or a day filled with activities, watching those glorious Andaman sunsets is the perfect way to end the day. Pull up a chair, top up your glass, and watch Mother Nature do her thing.