Once a popular playground for families and avid scuba divers, this stretch of fabulous beach is now infamous as the area in Thailand most devastated by the 2004 tsunami. Today, many of the resorts and businesses have rebuilt and re-opened, but there still remain scars, with many of the coconut trees still repopulating and patches here and there were resorts and buildings simply weren’t replaced. The resort area took several years to recover to full business levels but some of the re-development has been more tasteful and better planned, adding to the appeal of this unique stretch of coast.
With a shallow bank along this stretch of the coast and 500 meters of low lying beachfront land, Khao Lak was chicken feed for the tsunami in 2004. The giant waves caused proportionately more devastation than anywhere else, with every single resort destroyed or damaged.
Unlike other areas there were no backdrop hills and first-hand accounts tell how the entire contents of Khao Lak on boxing day was picked up and washed nearly a kilometre inland. Testament to this is the large navy cruiser that was dumped besides the main highway more than 700m from the sea. It has been left there as a memorial and remains a sobering reminder to anyone arriving in this paradise like coastal resort.
Khao Lak is a one-hour drive north from Phuket International Airport. It is much closer to the Similan Islands than Phuket, making it an optimal base for a scuba diving holiday. And, since scuba divers are on boats or under the water for most of the day, the beaches are quiet and clean for non-divers and for the days in between diving.
Khao Lak beach is the most popular among foreign visitors and is good for swimming and near all the tourist amenities and hotels. The seemingly endless wild stretch of beach is much more natural than those on Phuket, less commercialised and fronted by resorts which give the beach a more exclusive feel. Bang Niang beach is not far away and is good for those looking for a bit more privacy.
Bang Sak beach is where local Thais go for picnicking, and you’ll find some charming little beachside stalls here. Thai Muang beach, about half an hour away, is located inside a national park and is nicknamed Turtle beach for the sea turtles that lay their eggs here from November to February.
Offshore, the Similan Islands are rated one of the top diving destinations in the world, and this marine park is home to vibrant hard and soft corals, unique underwater boulder formations, and an assortment of marine life including whale sharks. Khao Lak is also home to a few pretty waterfalls, as well as the Khao Lak Lamru National Park with its lush vegetation and variety of wild animals.
This park offers a wonderful appendage to the beach area which is enjoyed by few other resort locations in Thailand. The park is typified by lofty hills, waterfalls and soaring cliffs, with gorges that can be explored by canoe. And there are great opportunities for Khao Lak diving with experienced schools in the area.
The mangroves are also pretty, particularly the Klong Thap Liang estuary which can be explored with the longtail boats on offer. There are a few coastal trails and some bird and occasional wildlife can be spotted if you are lucky. Bungalows are also offered in the park headquarters.
There is plenty of accommodation in Khao Lak ranging from inexpensive bungalows to five-star luxury resorts and most are offering discounted rates, especially during the low season (approximately May to November). The main stretch in Khao Lak offers plenty of dive shops providing speedboat daytrips and liveaboard trips to the Similans. Here, you’ll also find accommodation, restaurants, and quiet bars.
Most facilities cater to foreign tourists and you’ll find shopkeepers can speak English and sometimes German and Swedish as well. Many people find Khao Lak to be a superb getaway from the bustle of Phuket and the area is definitely worth a visit.
Getting to Khao Lak
From Phuket airport you can get a taxi or shuttle directly to Khao Lak, but this is likely to be quite expensive unless you can full the vehicle. If you are staying in a decent hotel they will likely provide a free shuttle. If, however, you are on a budget, you will need to find your way to the central bus station in Phuket and catch one of the regular (almost hourly) buses north to Takua Pa which stop in Bang Niang. The driving time is about one hour and the scenery is quite pretty.