With gorgeous beaches, an abundance of restaurants to satisfy even the fussiest tastes (and budgets), cheap bars, a mix of resorts, hotels, and smaller lower-budget bungalow operations, its not surprising this town is a tourist mecca. Not to mention Khao Lak is stretched out along some 20 kilometres of beautiful coastline.
Khao Lak is in Thailand’s Phang Nga province and is touristy and expensive; there’s more hassling for your Baht from Tailors, Taxi drivers, tattooists, massage parlours, and general restaurant haggling, than in Phuket Town!
I wanted to contribute whilst travelling, which is an excellent way to absorb the country, culture, and not just pass through. After looking for volunteer work independently and not through agencies, we decided to come to Khao Lak. I don’t believe in paying money to an agency or a government (especially, in a different country to where I’m volunteering) for the privilege of working for free – goes against the grain. Most agencies charge you to work for free and let’s face it, there’s big money in volunteer agencies around the world – governments are also making a fortune out of sending volunteers!
Finally accepted by an organisation that assists Burmese registered and unregistered migrants in Thailand forgotten by the Thai system, we volunteered for 5 weeks. An extremely fulfilling experience and enjoyed very much, working with people of all nationalities (Thai, Burmese, American, English, Korean, and Dutch).
The 5 weeks opened my eyes to the sordid inhumane way that countless vulnerable migrants are treated and open to such atrocities as human trafficking, slavery, and death at sea. Typically, migrants from Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and elsewhere in Thailand do the jobs that the Thais are no longer willing to fulfil. These jobs are known as the “3D” jobs (Dirty, Difficult, and Dangerous).
Unless you go through an agency or a government body, trying to get volunteer work in SE Asia independently is nigh impossible. Everything is tied up nicely by INGOs and NGOs and is a very closed shop.
Most countries now request that you have a working visa to volunteer – another way of control but also of making money for the government…that’s Asia!
Srichada – Whilst searching for volunteer work, we stayed at the Srichada for a few days. Great staff and very friendly. The owner is really lovely and cooked us breakfast every morning (included in the room price). Hired a couple of bikes from the hotel for B200/day (24-hr hire).
Fanari Khao Lak Resort (B500/night, DBL ensuite, toiletries, serviced daily) – After being accepted for volunteer work, we left the Srichada to move closer to the office. As we were paying all costs during volunteering, with some persuasion and the flash of the Non-for-profit organisation’s card, the agreed price was quite low in comparison to the high-season rate. The manager was very understanding and accommodating; great staff (breakfast not included).
Check out the bike hire place opposite the resort if you’re in the area. Bargained hard to get the bike for B160/day for the 5 weeks – lucky it’s low season!
Forget the Songthaews in Khao Lak! They’re not allowed to (and won’t) stop for tourists as there’s a Cartel in this town so the cabbies rip you off! For a local, a Songthaew charges B50 to go to Takua Pa (20+kms) and as foreigners, we were charged B150 to drive only 3kms! Moving from one hotel to another, loaded with all our backpacks and gear, we couldn’t walk the distance so although haggled with the cabby, reluctantly, we still paid a premium to the worst miserable cab driver in Asia!
Khao Lak offers a plethora of cheap and expensive cafés and restaurants for western or authentic Thai food. During the 5-week stay, we tried many restaurants but the short list below are the ones we frequented most and the best of the bunch…in my humble opinion and as food is one of my favourite past times!
- Duo Café (28/10 Moo7, Nangthong Beach) – the best coffee in Khao Lak (B60 Cappuccinos) and the best cheapest fresh-baked cakes (around B60); and wonderful poached eggs on thick buttered toast (B70). There’s even a get 2 for 1 Happy Hour for cakes between 17:00-19:00.
- The Bakery in Nang Thong is one of the cheapest sit-down restaurants in Khao Lak and serves very good Thai (and Western) food. With an extensive menu and great service, this was a favourite.
- Go Pong (10/1 Moo 7, Khuek Khak Subdistrict) – A small roadside table and chairs (under tarps) place. You’d probably take one look and go past this place as it’s quite rustic but don’t let the appearance fool you as this is where the locals also eat. Each dish is cooked fresh using fresh ingredients – great Thai food at super cheap prices (B45 for a bowl of delicious chicken leg soup, B50 for great Pad Thai, and meals go up to 150, large Change Beer for B60) – drinks are icy cold.
- Pinocchio Italian Restaurant (67/61 Moo5, Tambon Khukack, Aphoe Takua Pa) – For those wanting a change from Thai food, you must try Pinocchio’s for the warmed freshly made bread served with chopped fresh garlic, chillies, and oil (other types also available). After months without bread, this was a Godsend! The pizzas are delicious with fresh ingredients and loads of Mozzarella cheese (scarce in Thailand); many varieties to savour but also traditional Italian meals and deserts – coupled with friendly staff, good service, and an comfortable ambiance, what more could one ask for?
- Markets – ate here about 3 nights of each week whilst in Khao Lak, which is in the Bang Niang area (at N-3 on the Bang Niang Map). This market is excellent for cheap really yummy local food (chicken Pad Thai or fried rice B60, chicken satay sticks B30); inexpensive clothing, vegetables, spices, trinkets, souvenirs, watches, flowers, drinking tents, and much more. The market is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from about 16:00-21:00. With time though, this market is becoming very touristy so more souvenir stalls and prices are increasing.
- Chonthicha Lop Buri Korean Barbecue Branch 2 (Khuekkhak, Takua Pa District) – A bit tricky to find as it’s not on Highway 4 but in the back streets near a tiny street market, Google the name for directions. This restaurant is an absolute must to experience and a hit with locals! For a cost of B108 per person (drinks are extra), you can sit and graze for hours on wonderfully self-service and self-cooked fresh seafood, meat, chicken, vegetables on your table. Scrumptious pre-made starters, meals, and as much homemade ice-cream you can eat…it’s an amazing feast not to be missed at any cost!
Scooters in Thailand
Once you’ve hired a scooter/Moped/Step-through, it’s easy to get around but drivers and the roads are not always the best. Typically, you ride on the shoulder of the road unless this is impossible then stick to the far left of the road. Initially, you may find it nerve-wracking riding on Thai roads whilst you dodge the oncoming traffic veering across your lane at the very last minute to park in front of you; car door’s flinging open in your path; chickens and other animals running across your path; oncoming bicycles riding up the wrong side of the road; vehicle’s travelling at fast speeds; and more, or just the general poor driving in SE Asia. Thailand isn’t the worse country in Asia for driving.
In Thailand, it’s not compulsory to have a bike/vehicle license so anyone can drive…and they do, regardless of age it seems! On the contrary, if you have a license and have an accident (even if it’s not your fault), you’re more heavily fined and liable because “you should know better as you have a license”! Check your travel insurance’s fine print as typically, you are not covered for a bike under 250CC.
Sights around Khao Lak and Khuk Kak
Apart from a long coastline of beautiful beaches, there are many waterfalls, villages, and surrounding towns to explore.
Tsunami International Museum
About 300 people died in Phuket during the tsunami but Khao Lak was hit much harder with at least 3,000 people killed in the Khao Lak area including tourists, many locals, and one of the King’s grandsons. Ban Nam Khema village, north of Khao Lak was hit especially hard and a tsunami memorial is built here. When you visit this open air museum, it’s quite incredible to see the almost 2km inland distance that the tsunami pushed ‘Patrol Boat 813’.
Photos or news footage is never quite the same as when you’re actual there to understand the distance between the sea and where the boat lies today. The government has made this site into a free viewing area to commemorate those that died here on that tragic day.
On hired bikes, we tried to find several waterfalls on this day but only found one, which was OK. Local maps are marked and not to scale so you think you found the turn-off spot but signs are in Thai or there are no signs and so, after riding down the wrong road and not finding anything, you back-track out again finding nothing. Perhaps you’ll have better luck than me or may be taking along a local that can show you the way. Waterfalls to visit include Bor Hin, Sai Rung, Pak Weep, and Chong Fah falls…good luck trying to find them!
Apart from the lovely beaches along Khao Lak, White Sands beach is picturesque, easy to get to by bike, and is only about 3 kms north of Khao Lak…or a very long walk from the town centre. As it’s low-season, it’s peaceful along this stretch of beach and very scenic.
Day trip to Takua Pa
If you take Route 4, Takua Pa is about 40 kms north of Khao Lak; however, there’s an alternative longer route, which takes you through some lovely lush (wet season) scenery and well-worth the sore butt on a bike riding there…
Walk or ride around the ancient Sin0-Portuguese shop houses of Takua Pa and although many can do with some restoration, the buildings retain a certain classic charm. There’s also much Chinese influence in this town, a legacy of it’s hay-day during the Tin reserve times in the late 1800’s.
The Classic Sunday market in the the historic old Takua Pa district (a few kilometres south of modern Takua Pa) is also worth a visit. If you’re staying in a serviced apartment, pick up some local cheap fresh meat, fish, vegetables, an abundance of delicious moor’ish Thai snacks or just check out the cheap clothing. You can also pick up slow-roasted Massaman curry and Indian-Malay influenced yellow rice seasoned with turmeric. This market is a hit with locals also and much cheaper than Khao Lak prices.
Thailand and Royalty
The King’s grandson was going to the Elephant and Monkey Park north of Khao Lak, so traffic was stopped and the main highway blocked in segments from Phuket to Khao Lak and beyond – 15 minute delays whilst many policeman controlled the roads and several dark windowed SUV’s zoomed by carrying royalty.
One young guy waiting with us at a crossing tried to go ahead and an officer came over to him, hit him across the shoulder, ripped his keys out of his bike, and walked back to the centre of the road. The young guy shrugged, got off his bike, picked up his tool bag, left his bike at the same spot on the road, and walked off!
Khao Lak to Ranong
To catch the Blue line bus (B180 – 3.5hrs, WiFi), stand anywhere along Highway 4 and wave the bus down. In Ranong, the bus stops at the cab rank and to get to the hotel cost B150 for two of us, not cheap considering the distance is only about 2kms.