Thursday, January 6, 2011

Khao Lak Updated

Last visited April 2012 Best restaurant view and surprisingly, some of the cheaper food in the Khao Lak area - outlook from the balcony table at MUAN LAI restaurant adjacent the main road as it drops towards Ban Nang Thong/Khao Lak town. This restaurant is now the second restaurant at the BAAN KRATING RESORT but is popular with passing tourists and locals. That's Sunset Beach below.

The area known as Khao Lak is actually a 20km stretch of mainland beaches starting about 75 km north of Phuket airport. There are 5 different beach areas along this stretch - some separated by headlands or rocks, others just merging into the next. I modified the Google image below to show the beach sequence. Might be worth clicking to expand.

Most old-timers think of Khao Lak as the NANG THONG-SUNSET BEACH area just north of the NATIONAL PARK headland bottom of image - but the true KHAO LAK BEACH is to the south of the same headland.
Heading north from Nang Thong we have BANG NIANG, KHUK KHAK, PAKARANG CAPE and PAK WEEP.
The 2 major towns are BAN NANG THONG near the southern headland which I have labelled KHAO LAK TOWN and the slightly less busy BANG NIANG a few km to the north.
It might be worth-while clicking this image to expand it.

This and following map-images modified Google Earth.

A GOOD MAP of the area showing most accommodation can be found here.


THE BEACHES


KHAO LAK BEACH
The Khao Lak strip starts in the south on the Phuket side of the high National Park headland at the true and less visited Khao Lak beach.

This is a very nice stretch of sand with lovely clear water for swimming. A handful of mid-range to high end hotels including THE MERLIN are situated at the left close to the headland.
Heading right on the beach there are a couple of small changes of direction which make for separate stretches of sand and then at far right of shot about 300m of sand which is the ocean beach for POSEIDON BUNGALOWS (see pic below). The resort itself is situated just out of shot on a lovely little estuary with views up another long beach further south to the long headland at Thap Lamu where the Similans Islands transfer boats depart.

Poseidon Bungalow's ocean beach - there is actually more the other side of that rock -image Poseidon Bungalows.

This is a shot I took of roughly the same area near the top of a very high tide in March '11

One criticism of the true Khao Lak beach is that it's a bit isolated - town in some 5 km north over the headland. True, a little service/restaurant area has developed on the inland side of the beach hotels around MERLIN and if you walk south along the beaches towards Poseidon (takes 15 minutes - hey, one morning I saw an elephant being walked along here) there are a few small places set up by local villagers selling fruit, drinks, massages and hiring beach chairs/umbrellas etc.

The true Khao Lak Beach south of the National Park headland.

NATIONAL PARK WHITE SAND BEACH
Next north is another beach probably a minority of Lak visitors see - a small stretch half way along the National Park headland.

This can be reached by a not-too-easy rock-hop north from Khao Lak beach (warning - don't be tempted to short-cut along promising-looking jungle paths that peter out - I was 2 hours overdue from a little trip to this beach for which Lady Tezza gave me hell). But the easiest access is an interesting track from inside the National Park entry gate near the restaurant very close to the highway at the top of the headland - the sign says 1.5km but it seemed a bit more - slopes mainly moderate, any steep ones quite short. A viewpoint is about one third the way along this track.
Note in my March '11 visit I also saw a signposted track WHITE SAND BEACH leading off the highway some 300m south of the National Park entry gate. I haven't had time to try this track yet, but its position promises it to be a bit shorter.
The beach is deeper than it appears in shot. Behind there were picnic tables and a structure looked like it could be used as a small cafe in peak season - deserted when I visited in late November 2010.

SUNSET BEACH
Sunset Beach from BAAN KRATING RESORT on the slopes of the National Park headland.

IF I HAD TO PICK ONE OF THESE BEACHES (that is if I was staying midrange or upmarket) I reckon I would go for Sunset. The beach here is very attractive - tucked in against the towering headland with nice sand and some outcrops of rock for character, there is a host of nice places to stay and to eat at, some right on the beachfront, others built up the headland side with panoramic views - and it has the great advantage of only being a 10-15 minute walk up to town for shopping, other restaurants etc.
Well, I did stay midrange (late Nov 2010) and did go for this beach - and actually BAAN KRATING mentioned above.

Looking south over Sunset Beach from the Nan Thong end - big headland in back has BAAN KRATING and several other resorts, and top right you can see the radio aerial at National Park HQ.

Sunset Beach, the National Park headland and white sand beach. My labels are a bit small, click to expand.

NANG THONG BEACH
The north end of Sunset Beach is near-right. Around the slight corner it becomes NANG THONG BEACH. I don't think there is any geographical feature separating beaches further north - NANG THONG simply merges into BANG NIANG BEACH about 2/3rds the way across image moving left (although there is another even smaller kink in the beach which may be the border - or a small creek estuary a bit further north).

Some parts of Nang Thong and northern Sunset have small rocky sections which give the beach added character.

Nang Thong is probably the most used beach section. There are a number of fine resorts both beachfront and beween the beach and the town which is maybe 500m inland. Lots of restaurants and bars in this zone too. Nang Thong has a greater concentration of budget rooms than others - although more in the town area - the days of beachside budget digs are long gone.
Moving north into BANG NIANG there are some very nice and spacious top-end and mid-range places accessed by long lanes from the highway with considerable unbuilt gaps between.

Nang Thong Beach and Khao Lak town (Ban Nang Thong)

BANG NIANG and KHUK KHAK BEACHES
BANG NIANG occupies about the middle 70% of this shot with KHUK KHAK the far LEFT 15-20 %.

About half way along BANG NIANG where the 1km long access roads arrive from Ban Bang Niang main street on the highway, there is a cluster of midrange resorts, restaurants and bars. This pattern continues along the access roads from the highway - with a few budget rooms and many shops as well. The main business area up on the highway has a good range of retail and other services but is not as big or comprehensive as Ban Nang Thong/Khao Lak town.

This is shot looking south from where the access road hits the beach from Bang Niang town.

Back on the beach moving north towards and into KHUK KHAK we have a repeat of very nice and spacious top-end and mid-range places but these are even more dispersed than to the south.
Khuk Khak is also know as KHUK KHAN. It is probably the most upmarket area with several big new developments under construction when I last visited.
If you like your beaches loooong and uninterrupted the Bang Niang - Khuk Khak strip would be just the thing. To me they are less attractive - a bit featureless and kinda exposed - I like my beaches with headlands, sections of rock yada yada. But hey, some of the resorts in these places are veeery flash - totally gorgeous - and people staying there would probably have no complaints at all.

Bang Niang beach right and Khuk Khak beach left.

This nice little inlet could be the border between Bang Niang and Khuk Khak beaches.

Khuk Khak beach appears pretty undeveloped - its mainly upmarket resorts are widely spaced and mainly behind the tree line.


LAEM PAKARANG
KHUK KHAK merges to the north into a longish headland at CAPE PAKARANG. This seems to be the last frontier development-wise even though the beach continues around most of the cape to PAK WEEP BEACH which is slightly more built up. There are a couple of high end joints on the cape looking this way, with undoubtably more to come.

I shot this from my BAAN KRATING bungalow balcony on the headland south of SUNSET BEACH - the 3x telephoto on my mighty point and shoot Canon (the flash failed 2 seconds after the warranty finished and the bastards would not repair it gratis) banging up against the rev-limiter. That white joint towards the end of the cape is some sort of tsunami tower co-ordination centre - was deserted when I called by in March '11.
Those fishing longtails in the foreground fanged around the bay off Sunset and Nang Thong beaches most of the day - they have front-loader fishing nets - seemed to work pretty well.

I shot these waxheads adjacent the tsunami centre in March '11 (expand shot to see dudes 'out the back') - believe it or not, there's a surf school operates here (I find it hard to believe dry season swell is consistent enough to support a surf school).

This is shot from near the tip of the Cape southwards back towards Khuk Khak, Bang Niang, Nang Thong and Sunset etc. Baan Krating and the National Park are approximately where the yellow arrow head is. Furthest headland is immediately south of Thap Lamu where the Similans Islands transfer boats depart.


PAK WEEP/ BANG SAK BEACHES
The PAK WEEP beach at Similana, looking onto Cape Pakarang Similana Resort .
Note the excellent and oft-praised Similana closed down some years ago for redevelopment, so that link may not work well. It was still closed with no sign of any work in March 2011 but a new Lak directory in 2012 features the place so it looks like it has finally re-opened. Unfortunately I didn't have time to go out and check it personally.

North of Pakarang Peninsula the beaches continue - the first is PAK WEEP, an area I thought when I called by in Feb 08 as 3rd best to SUNSET BEACH and the true KHAO LAK BEACH. Still true when I visited in 2010. Very attractive with a handful of midrange and better accommodation, some local beach restaurants and other services. Some of these actually extend onto the north-facing beach area of the cape.

Ang Thong Resort restaurant and bar on a nice section of Pak Weep - camera looking towards the end of the cape. This part of the beach is actually called WHITE SAND BEACH, and yes, the sand seemed whiter than most other beaches on this page.

Other resorts and bars stretch further north into what is known as BANG SAK beach, but are not cheek by jowel.

Cape Pakarang, Pak Weep and Bang Sak

Thing is, the beaches here continue another 15km or so until KO KHO KHAO - as you travel the main coastal highway along this stretch you see not inexpensive signs pointing to at least half a dozen resorts. AGODA and SAWADEE COM - PHANG NGA HOTELS (yep, Phang Nga province extends all the way from south of Phuket to Takua Pa) will find them.

Similana resort back at Pak Weep has gained some praising posts over the years - when I checked it in 08 I found a pretty nice lower-midrange joint spilling down a not-too-steep hillside above the beach. But just after this they closed to redevelop - and as reported above, not operating in March 2011. Update Feb 2012 - this website lists details of Similana

Lotsa nice sand between the Khao Lak strip and Ko Kho Khao


KHAO LAK TOWN
This is a Nov 2010 shot of Ban Nang Thong which most people think of as Khao Lak town.

The 800m of 4 lanes plus parking is a bit of an overkill, but if the tsunami relief funds were there, why not make the most of them for future needs, maybe as an emergency landing strip or for when the entire highway is finally 4 lanes?
Lots of convenience stores, shops, travel agencies, restaurants, bars, banks/atms/money changers etc along here - plus quite a few cheaper upstairs rooms (warning - a fair few long distance trucks and buses thunder thru at night).
Less noisy are some rooms behind restaurants near the bus stop for vehicles heading south - signs out front announce them. I had one behind Gekko Restaurant in March '11 - at 400 not great value for a basic joint - but clean, had hot water. A nicer budget spot was Jai in April 2012 (300baht) which is a little further north of Gekko. More info and pix on both downpage.
More of the same in streets leading away on both sides, particularly right of pic towards the beach.
I was disappointed in restaurant prices on my latest visits - seems this place is under the influence of cashed-up northern Euro midrange and better travellers with their still overvalued for the moment but not for long EURO (I wrote that in April 2011; it's now June 2012 and the Euro is still overvalued. Although the Greeks, Italians and Spaniards may think differently) - main street restaurants in towns like this are usually the price-effective places to eat and yet I found none with mains below 100 (I'm used to paying 80 or so in budget bungalow restaurants - less in main street joints).
Similarly the short 2km taxi trip from BAAN KRATING into town was costing 300 baht. Hell, I want to go 20km for 300 in other Thai places. But no doubt 300 for 2km is cheap in Germany. Not to mention Sweden and Norway.
2km? I walked.


THE NATIONAL PARK - RESTAURANT AND MORE.
Speaking of food prices, the cheapest by far in the area are at the NATIONAL PARK HQ RESTAURANT high on the headland south of Khao Lak town. Here we are talking main courses at 4o baht + rice - typical of Thai NP restaurants which cater for lots of domestic travellers who are not going to pay inflated Farang tourist prices. A large Chang beer was 40 in Nov 2010 from memory. I'm usually real happy with 70 although you Bangkok hangers may not agree.
Note though that the size of courses at the NP is Thai orientated - about 75% of what westerners prefer.

National Park HQ is alonside the main road high on the headland directly south of Khao Lak town - about a 2.5 km moderate-slopes good-views walk. The restaurant is a short distance from the entrance gates - if you tell the guys at the NP gate you are going to the restaurant they won’t charge you the 200baht NP entrance fee. Which means you can then freeload the track to the viewpoint and even trek down to that small white sand beach I show 5th image from top of page.
The few bungalows at the NP HQ looked okay, but seemed to have staff staying in them. NP also had about a dozen tents set up just inside the entry gates one time I visited.
Note the National Park also has sections on the mountain side of the main road both south and north of HQ where you can trek to waterfalls etc. Intrepid visitor that I am, I've been too lazy to check these (so far). But crocodrilo has a waterfall shot down-page.


ACCOMMODATION
Two of the places I've stayed at over the years no longer operate.
HAPPY LAGOON, an ultra cheapy right on the beach at what must be southern Bang Niang (it took me quite a walk to lug my bag up from Nang Thong - I remember crossing a small estuary where an old Thai guy was charging 10baht to ferry people across on the world's smallest skiff) was wiped out by the tsunami. There is now a new Happy Lagoon on the road down from town to Nang Thong Beach - a pretty nice flashpacker into lower midrange place which has attracted some good reports, but I don't know if there is any connection.
NATURE RESORT, another good value place smack in the forest just the Phuket side of National Park HQ where I stayed in 06 shut down in 09. Seems people were not prepared to go the 3km down the headland road to the main beach areas. Sad - a nice joint.

POSEIDON BUNGALOWS
I stayed here too on my first trip last century and again on my 3rd Lak visit in 08 when the place had changed a fair bit, getting hit moderately by the tsunami. Moderately because thankfully most of the place is built up on a headland overlooking a small estuary - across which is a big expanse of beach leading abt 8km all the way up to Thap Lamu which is the port for the Similans trips, for fishing boats and a base for naval vessels from patrol boats thru to large destroyer/small cruiser types.
All of Poseidon’s old bungalows were at least 8m over the estuary, but the lower ones were cleaned up by the megawaves and have been replaced by better quality ones on the higher side of the path from restaurant to beach. Note there are a few family type ones sleeping 4 or more - not all that common in the Andaman.
The bungalows also extend further towards the beach now so that from last bungalow to sand is only about 2 minutes vs. 5 back then.
The old restaurant was a wonderful place, right down OVER the estuary on piers. It got destroyed (no-one hurt) - the new restaurant is way up top, arguably with an even better outlook north than before.
Restaurant prices here are maybe 30-50% higher than many budget restaurants and maye 20% higher than in town, still very good value by western standards. And this is a flashpacker standard place, not backpacker. At the same time, I've found some similar flashpacker joints like Sukorn Beach Bungalows and Ko Libong Beach Resort have been no dearer than backpacker for food and drink. And mid range BAAN KRATING'S MUAN LAI pictured at top of page was not much more than these.
Poseidon picked me up at Phuket airport - the 1 hour trip cost 1200baht. My bungalow was one of the cheaper 800baht fan jobs (with bathroom). At first glance it looked a bit Spartan, but it was spotless, in good condition, cosy with sufficient room for 2 and their gear but no more, a comfy queen bed and big not too hard pillows, good screens on windows and doors, quiet fan, toilet paper+soap+towels, clothes rack and moderate shelf space, good lights including reading light at bed-head, good water pressure, quiet (no roads nearby, few long tails except one local fisherman who came down the creek at 5am!), nice balcony except mine #17 was one of the few cheapies on the inland side of the path without panoramic views (although there were partial views of the bay). Bayview shot across path from balcony of Chez Tezza at Poseidon

No problems, 100m got me to the restaurant for my viewing time. Which is where I headed as soon as I stored my bag on arrival - the estuary and that looooong beach leading up to the cape past Thap Lamu sure looked nice in the moonlight, particulary after the first-for-the-trip Chang or four.

A March '11 shot from Poseidon's restaurant. Full high tide here soon after full moon (king/spring tide time). Interstingly, the casuarinas across the inlet had grown considerably since my last visit to block views of about 6km of sweeping beach, but the headland south of Thap Lamu port will never be blocked out. Bungalows closer the ocean beach such as the one below still have the full view.

Some of the cheapies at Poseidon overlooking the estuary which has little water in this low tide shot. Beach in background stretches some 8km north to a big cape. Poseidon's own ocean beach is directly behind the camera.

BTW - Poseidon is a popular place and is heavily booked, partly because it is a class act and partly because it is the base for their Similans Islands snorkelling overnight trip (see SIMILAN ISLANDS link below). This is one place I would not risk a walk-in. It is Swedish-Thai owned and has a large proportion of Swedish visitors. Staff are friendly and efficient.

Something you don't see everyday. Well maybe you do on the access road into Poseidon which also leads to a local baan near where I have in previous trips elephants being exercised on the beach.


BAAN KRATING
Mid range BAAN KRATING has several dozen pretty nice bungalows built on a steep slope in thick rainforest just south of Sunset Beach. The biggest building is its MUANG LAI great value-fantastic views restaurant (see shot top of page). If you click to expand, some of the bungalows will be clearer. Reception is out of shot right of frame.

Lady Tezza (Julie) tagged along on my Nov/Dec 2010 trip to Thailand - we decided first stop from Phuket airport on the way to Ko Kho Khao would be BAAN KRATING for 3 nights. I love it when The Lady comes - I get to stay in some pretty sweet places. Baan Krating didn't disappoint.
Julie has a TRIP REPORT of Khao Lak HERE with a fair bit of info and pix of the resort.

OTHER ACCOMMODATION
Khao Lak is mainly a midrange and better location and has a vast array of such places to stay. Of these my only experience is the above Baan Krating but booking sites like Agoda, sawadee.com etc list heaps and are the places you should be looking. Hopefully my beach descriptions etc will make deciding between them a bit easier.

JimmyK who has contributed accommodation info to other pages visited Khao Lak in late November 07. Jimmy tends to stay mid-range to high end which gives a good contrast to much of my information:
"Flew into phuket and took i hour taxi to Khao Lak Resort--its about the same drive time here as it is to patong beach, but much more scenic, and hotels in khao lak are much better value than in phuket (though not a great place for backpackers who want to party). Khao lak Resort is magnificent (5000 baht for beach view bungalow) it is built into hillside so you feel like you are in the jungle (monitor lizards were are frequent guests). This is a special hotel-maybe great for honeymoon. this is the most scenic part of "khao lak". nearby hotels were priced same or higher but not as nice. convenient town of khao lak just a 20 minute walk or 40 baht songthaew away. Moved to Chong Fah Resort. Luxury beachfront unit on Bang Niang beach was also about 5000B. the units behind us were tightly packed but our beachfront was almost on top of the water. Great, pricey food. Frankly this beach is not as nice as the one in front of khao lak resort. We then moved to Similana Resort about 8 km to the north. Great low density "treehouses" for about 4000B (mind you at all these place you can pay less if you dont opt for beachfront.) Rooms not luxurious like last places--but very nice. This has always been my favorite hotel in thailand---very isolated--though 2 5-star affairs now share this very long beach. Again at this place you feel you are in the jungle----but get there now as predictably this cozy spot will be closed in april to open a luxury resort---they paved paradise and put in a parking lot..

Thanks Jimmy. My personal interest has been more budget orientated. Besides the cheaper places I mention above I've collected a bit of info on cheaper Lak places over the years:
The NATIONAL PARK HEADQUARTERS entry and the POLICE BOX high on the approach headland to Khao Lak town has 2 independent restaurants roadside (the main NP restaurant is inside the park about 5 minutes). I ate in the one closer to Nature Resort and the food here was quite good and the usual Thai low price good value. The girl here told me she had one room for 300 (06 price), and NP Headquarters also have some budget bungalows.
The only other place I saw budget rooms that trip was down in the new town where some of the main street businesses were advertising upstairs rooms for 400 and 500. I don’t fancy a hot room with big trucks roaring close by all night.
In later trips I have seen similar rooms on the quieter streets leading away from both sides of the main street.

I have seen some positive posts about FATHER AND SONS (NOM'S) which is behind Nom's restaurant down in the village away from the highway towards the sea.
Good reports also re JAI, which is behind a restaurant in the same area as the afore-mentioned GEKKO (just north of the bus-stop at the start of the four lanes heading north). SEAFOOD RESTAURANT is another with quiter rooms in back in this area. FAMILY HOUSE is associated with it.

Rooms up this alley behind Gekko Restaurant just south of the bus stop on the inland side of the main street next to the 7/11. Sign partially hidden by tree suggests this is really called Khao Lak Inn. No matter, Ghekko staff will show you the room. If restaurant is closed in a.m, walk up the alley to people in back. Number of other similar places a little further south of here. When looking for these places, if you are north of the Siam Bank you are too far north.
UPDATE APRIL 2012 - on my latest visit I noticed the restaurant is now an art shop. The rooms up the alley where still being advertised.

Main street restaurant area of Jai Bungalow where I stayed a few nights in April 2012. Bungalows are spread around a garden area behind restaurant. Basic but clean 300 baht jobs, spacious, towels, soap but no bottled water, okay bathroom with western toilet, cold shower. Quiet area. Jai is towards the northern end of the shopping strip on the inland side. Walk maybe 200m back north from where the south bound buses stop. From buses heading north maybe 250-300m further on the other side of the road. Jai has a 7-11 and a bigger supermarket directly across the street, several ATMs and money changers nearby. Restaurant had good food, huge menu list, attracted lots of outsiders, prices pretty average for Khao Lak which is maybe 20% higher than you would pay in Trang or Krabi town.

A real nice looking place which appears flashpacker - lower midrange is the afore-menioined new HAPPY LAGOON midway between the main part of the township and the beach on the main beach access road - its website shows aircon rooms for 1200 (Dec 08) high season, but several posters have said the fan rooms are very good value. Got a pool.

SimilanDiver gave this info about budget places in 07:
"Right here in Khao Lak on the main road there are several choices, ranging from budget places like SRI GUESTHOUSE (make sure you don't stay there on the nights when the bar about 10m away has it's DJ's playing). There are also some nice places with big rooms above the stores along the main road. With a bit of haggling you can find good rooms with AC and TV for 500 a night."

In nov 09 SimilanDiver
praised cheapie PHU KHAO LAK as the current best deal, set in a coconut grove and meticulously maintained, one of the best restaurants in town

Matt and Suzzie sent me this info on cheapies in Jan 09:
Cheap place to stay at Ban La-On (Nang Thong Beach) - Opposite Jai Restaurant there's a family-run mini-mart across the road, they have a few little chalets behind the shop. Some are better than others. We stayed a month in one post-tsunami fer 300baht while we were working in Lak . A year later (2006) we went back again and blagged them down from 350 to 300 again. Again, some are shabby so it's worth checking a few out. They're basic (bed, fan, table, bathroom with cold shower, western toilet and bucket for flush), but suitable enough fer a stay of a few days (we were close to going insane in there after a month!), and a good cheap option for Ban La-On. You can use yer own padlock on the outside, so they're quite secure too. They are neither named or sign-posted; ask them at the mini-mart. The guy (he is always shirtless) is a bit grumpy, but you can lighten him up with a laugh or two.
Jai themselves have a few chalets that are quite nice but a bit pricier. Again, if you plan a longer stay they'll give you a better price.
Khao Lak Seafood next door is a great place to eat with a fantastic menu.
Another nod goes to Lemuan Seafood further down the road (opposite D-Supermart) - the ladies there are good fun and a bit dotty. If yer a regular they'll make a lot of fuss over you.

KHAO LAK SEAFOOD - Cocodrilo spent time in Lak prior to her live-aboard snorkelling trip to the Similans in dec 09 (see READERS' TRIP REPORTS) and sent me the following pix and info:

I stayed at Khao lak Seafood family house. While I loved the food there, they were always so busy the service was marginal. Also lots of people with babies in strollers dining there, which I do not want to see (nor hear) while on vacation.

The guesthouse was great, though, and right next to a mountain where you could hear all sorts of cool insect, gecko and bird sounds at night.

Inland from Bang Niang is Chong Fa Falls.

Tezza shot snuck in here to show the area's other main falls - the one further south at Tong Pling a short distance in from the main highway behind the true Khao Lak Beach. In typical Thailand falls style, less than whelming. Note an overhead bridge here leading to a trekking track on the north side of the pool The bridge was closed in March '11 because of disrepair - apparently the track follows the river downstream.

This is the abandoned patrol boat washed some 500m+ inland during the tsunami. It is adjacent the highway (inland side) a short distance north of the main Khao Lak shopping area.

AMSTERDAM RESORT - Surins Trip Report writer boleslav stayed in this budget/flashpacker place up from the beach a bit in Bang Niang - it seems this joint can organise pretty good transport to the Surins. There is a link to Amsterdam's website on boleslav's report.

UPDATE FEB 2012 - I was just shown this website compiled by the Sea Dragon Dive Center which has details of most Lak area accommodation over all price ranges - one of the best I've seen.

THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND LAK

SIMILANS ISLANDS TRIPS - Lak is the base for both daytrips and to organise transport/overnight stays on the Similans a good 40km offshore. Boats actually leave from the busy small port at Thap Lamu about 10km south.

SURINS TRIPS - you can also organise visits to the Surins from Lak but they are a long way north - the main mainland base and pier is at Kuraburi about 50km up the coast.

DIVING - is a big activity out of Lak with several dive operations in town and at various resorts. Most dive boats also leave from Thap Lamu.

SNORKELLING - the Similans are arguably the best snorkelling sites in Thailand. Back on the coast things are pretty ordinary but novices will find enough fish around the rocks off Sunset and Nang Thong beaches to keep them interested. The rocks of the National Park headland likewise have a bit of fringing coral and fishies. I read somewhere that the big reef off the tip of Pakarang Cape has okay snorkelling but I haven't checked this fairly isolated from other Lak areas place.

NATIONAL PARK VISITS - I have already mentioned the trek down to the headland white sand beach from NP HQ. The inland sections of the park to the north and south also have treks and a couple of okay waterfalls for a splash around.
KHAO SOK NATIONAL PARK is maybe 60km away and can be daytripped from Lak.

PHANG NGA BAY MARINE NATIONAL PARK daytrips are also offered by all hotel and main street tour desks.

OTHERS - I've seen elephant rides offered, there is a big golf course just south of the true Khao Lak beach, deep sea fishing trips are possible. My favourite is to hire a motorcycle and cruise the various beach areas.


GETTING TO LAK FROM BANGKOK - easiest access is to fly to Phuket and make your way the 80km or so north as below. Some buses run Bangkok-Phuket via Ranong and Lak, but more go the near/Surathani route which goes nowhere near Lak.

From PHUKET - any Takua Pa and Ranong bus passes Lak. Some but not all Surathani bound public buses also pass. Note these Surathani buses also continue on to pass Khao Sok National Park about 90-120 minutes up the road. Some Bangkok bound buses (those that go via Rangong rather than near Surathani) pass thru Lak.

Buses starting south of Phuket for Ranong and Takua Pa tend to bypass Khao Lak on direct mountain roads to Takua Pa.

Access from PHUKET AIRPORT is a bit tricky. No problems for upmarket travelers with heaps of taxis - and the always available limo service++. Lots of the costlier accommodation in Lak have a pick-up service - check their websites for current prices. But for budget travelers the Phuket bus station is about an hour in the opposite direction to Lak, which wastes a lot of time and some money. No problems. TT poster Tagemi said he got a motorbike taxi from the airport out the few km to the main road bus stop - there is a food stall there and the vendors were happy to put him on the right bus (he was going to Krabi, but the Lak bound buses use the same road). It would be good politics to buy something from the stallholders to start with of course.

++ In late Nov 2010 I approached the limo counter inside ARRIVALS at Phuket Airport with 1500 b in my mitt. I knew the current website price was 1700 - the guy showed me a price list with 2000 - I showed him my 1500 and said I was heading outside to the taxi counter. He accepted 1500 instantly. No Beemers or Mercs - my limo was a current Camry. Nice ride just on one hour 9pm, would take a bit longer daytime. Going the other way I saw a desk, main street in Khao Lak town Nov 2010 offering car and driver to Phuket airport for 1000.
Lots of people travel up from KRABI to Lak. Using public buses sees an indirect main road route and often a need to change buses. Good news is that a minibus goes a direct shorter route using good county back-roads, starting abt 1100 and taking around 3 hours including one rest/eats stop. Cost in March 08 was 300 baht and any guesthouse or travel agent in Krabi town/Railay/Ao Nang etc can book you on, with a pick up shuttle around Krabi town to the depot where you wait around for 10-30 minutes while they organize things. You can also be picked up at the new Krabi pier if you have come off a PP or Lanta ferry. I’m not sure if they send a connecting shuttle out to Ao Nang for pick ups.


GETTING AROUND LAK
As said before, taxi prices tend to be geared towards European ability to pay.
Regular songthaews run up and down the strip, but maybe not as regular as a lot of people would like. There are heaps of songthaews parked beside the road with their drivers hopeful you will charter them as taxis.
Full size Takua Pa to Phuket and Surathani to Phuket all-stops buses also come thru every 30-40 minutes.
I found one of the best ways of accessing more far flung parts of the area is by hire motorcycle. You can maybe double the 150 per day you paid on Phuket.

If you visit Khao Lak you might also be interested in nearby:

SIMILAN ISLANDS

SURIN ISLANDS

PHUKET

KRABI-RAILAY-AO NANG-TON SAI

KO KHO KHAO
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If you have any questions or comments, please post them on THE FORUM rather than below. I don't get a chance to check all threads daily, but unless I'm travelling I'll try to monitor THE FORUM regularly.

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