We based ourselves in Khao Lak for the duration of our time in Thailand. It was stunning, reasonably un-busy (even though we were there in the main tourist season), friendly and affordable. Plus it was only an hour north of Phuket airport, so it made traveling really easy. It’s the only area in Thailand with a massive lack of concrete, loads of beaches and un-fettered rainforest and Lamru National Park land on the other side. Because of the massive sweep of Khao Lak’s space and its interconnected beaches, it manages to retain a “small-town” feel which was really wonderful as a visitor.
Besides frequenting the beach, I’d recommend going to the Ban Niang night market, exploring both the Khao Sok and the Lamru National Parks, eating at every possible place that you can, and visiting nearby temples. I really enjoyed looking around the market, but I also have a distinct lack of haggling skills. It’s 1 part anxiety and panicking when I have to talk to someone I don’t know and 2 parts having no idea what amount of money I should offer for something. (Anyone else panic when asked to haggle?) In terms of tourists, it’s very American and English lite. The vast majority of other tourists were from Scandi countries and Germany; and the local Thai people made me feel so lazy with languages: most were trilingual, some even more so.
It would be wrong to talk about Khao Lak without addressing the elephant in the room; the 2004 Tsunami. Khao Lak was the area of Thailand that was most badly affected. Before the tsunami, it was a burgeoning tourist area just starting to rival some of its more famous Thai brothers (Ko Samui, etc). It was at the time the fast-growing tourist area in all of Thailand. And then in one day, it was completely demolished when the first 33 foot high wave washed in. I remember all the news stories that come out of that Boxing Day, but 13 years later it seemed so much more real to me. (If you’ve seen the film “The Impossible” it’s set in Khao Lak.) The official death toll in Khao Lak was around 4,000 people (including a member of the Thai Royal Family) though there are uncounted Burmese refugees that could potentially bring the toll up closer to 10,000.
We visited Police Boat 813 which was 1 of 3 boats that had been out on the water guarding Princess Ubolratana Phannawadee’s son who was out jet skiing at the time. Boat 813 was swept 2 kilometres inland by the wave and no one has moved it from where it lays now. It serves as a memorial garden of sorts, and there’s a tsunami museum nearby that only the most stony of heart could fail to weep at. Almost half of the official tsunami deaths in Khao Lak were foreign tourists, and as we walked along our beautiful beach we would stumble across the occasional tree that serves as an impromptu memorial for dozens of children and families who lost their lives playing on the beach when the tsunami swept in. Though the town has completely bounced back, it would be hard to visit now without mentioning the tsunami. It was a spectre over our trip that reminded us of just how grateful we really should be.
Have you been to this side of Thailand before?