Holidays to Khao Lak showcase Thailand’s native side. This part of the country is characterised by unspoilt beaches, virgin forests and world-class scuba diving spots.
Thailand’s southwest coast
On Thailand’s southwest coast, Khao Lak is in the business of recharging batteries. The beaches are completely unfurnished, so all you get is long runways of powdery white sand. And the waters here attract scuba divers from around the world. The sea is mineral-water clear, so visibility can reach up to 30 metres.
A hat-trick of national parks
It’s not just the coastline that deserves your attention, though. Three national parks nuzzle up to Khao Lak’s shore. The most popular is Khao Lak Lam Ru National Park, which spans 125 square kilometres and is made up of mangroves, waterfalls, jungle and 1,000-metre-high hills.
Accommodation in Khao Lak doesn’t stray far from the beach. Most of the hotels have been designed to blend into the natural environment, so they’re camouflaged from view. It’s in these boltholes that most of the evening entertainment happens, too. Traditional Thai meals are served in sea-view restaurants and cocktails are sipped in sand-side bars.
Bang La On
That’s not to say there’s nothing going on outside the hotels. Khao Lak’s centre, known as Bang La On, has a handful of restaurants and bars, where you can get everything from French cuisine to shisha pipes.
Things to See and Do in Khao Lak
Twenty-twenty vision isn’t enough to see from one end of the Khao Lak coastal region to the next. This stretch of shore is 20 kilometres long and one beach blends into the next. The Khao Lak seaside faces west, too, which means the beaches here are in prime positions for sunsets.
The big beach
Although it’s sometimes hard to work out where one beach starts and another one ends in Khao Lak, Thai Muang Beach is probably the most entitled to the name of Khao Lak’s biggest beach. It’s 13 kilometres long and protected by national park status.
The secret beach
Tourism is almost in totally absent in Ko Miang, one of the Similan Islands that lies off the coast of Khao Lak. The most it amounts to is a few stilted bungalows on the beach and a couple of dive boat moorings a hundred or so metres from the shore. The beach itself is untouched, save for the odd tent that springs up now and again. You can charter a long tail boat for the day from one of the companies in Bang La On and ask your captain to take you here.
There are a few markets in the Khao Lak area. Foodies should head to the night market in the old town of Takua Pa on a Sunday evening. Most tourists tend to keep this place in their peripheral vision, so the food isn’t watered-down to suit foreign tastes. For souvenirs, make your way to Ban Niang night market on a Wednesday or Saturday. You can pocket Thai liquor, clothes and handicrafts from the stalls here.
Every textile item at the Saori Foundation Centre, in Ban Muang, a few miles north of Khao Lak village, has a story woven in with it. The embroidery and woven products on sale here are made by the survivors of the Boxing Day tsunami. It was set up in 2005 by a Buddhist monk, as a means of rehabilitation for locals who went through the disaster. Designs are individual to each worker.
Shopping doesn’t tend to get given more than a second thought in Khao Lak. You’ll find the biggest selection of shops in Khao Lak village. There are a few t-shirt stores in the centre of town and a few fashion boutiques along Highway 4. For anything more, you’ll need to travel to Phuket and more touristy resorts like Patong Beach.
For a lot of visitors, evenings in the Khao Lak region tick over in the restaurants and bars of the hotels. Places like the J W Marriott go all-out with the dining options. In this one hotel you can watch as a chef prepares teppanyaki on a grill in front of you, eat made-to-order sushi, or enjoy Thai food on sunken seating.
Highway 4 is the main artery for nightlife in Khao Lak and it extends out beyond Khao Lak Village. You won’t find disco balls and dance floors here, but you can read a couple of cocktail menus and catch the odd live band. It’s a similar story in the centre of the village, although the nightlife here has a slightly more international accent, including an Irish pub and a bar that shows sports on flatscreen TVs.
Khoa niaow bing
Sweet treats don’t come in shiny plastic wrappers in Khao Lak. Instead, they’re usually wrapped up in banana leafs. Inside a khoa niaow bing you’ll find sticky balls of rice that have been bubbled in coconut milk until they’re stick-to-your-teeth syrupy.
These traditional sweets are Haribo-bright. They’re made from ground mung beans, sugar and coconut cream and are shaped into miniature fruits, before being dyed with food colouring. In bygone days, they were only eaten by Siam royalty because they were an art to make.
Yam bla duk fu
If Harry Ramsden was Thai, this is what he’d be serving up in his restaurant. It’s made by frying flakes of white fish in flour and oil until golden brown. The fish isn’t served with chips, of course. Instead it’s put on a plate alongside a fresh green mango salad.
Keng khiao wan gai
It may sound like a cliché, but sweet green curry is old hat in Khao Lak. It’s given its sweet taste with palm sugar and coconut milk and given a tang with kaffir lime leaves and chillies. Ingredients like Thai aubergine, sweet basil, and lemongrass play a supporting role.
In Thailand, there’s fruit, but not as you know it. Durian, longkong, jackfruit and mangosteens are all part of your 5 a day out here. The ingredients of Khao Lak’s most popular juices look run of the mill in comparison, though, including chilled glasses of lychee and watermelon juice.
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