Explore Khao Lak’s beautiful sparkling Andaman Sea coastline in southern Thailand’s popular tourist hub.
With gorgeous beaches, waterfalls that are hard to find, bumping into sporadic temples, Khao Lak is also the town in which to give back to a community and do some volunteering while travelling.
Updating but also splitting this May 2014 post to Part 1 travel tips and this Part 2 on sights to see for your easy reading.
Why Khao Lak?
Situated in Thailand’s Phang Nga province and only a couple of hours north-east of popular Phuket, Khao Lak is small, touristy, and expensive.
So why Khao Lak?
To volunteer for a couple of months but also to explore and absorb this gorgeous southern Thailand province.
Sights around Khao Lak
In addition to a stunning long coastline of beautiful beaches, there are many waterfalls, villages, and surrounding towns to explore.
This is a beautiful region in Thailand and once here, you realise quite quickly why this is a popular destination with foreigners.
Tsunami International Museum
About 300 people died in Phuket during the tsunami of 2004, just after my last visit to the region. 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 now.
When you visit this open-air museum, it is quite incredible to see the almost 2-kilometre inland distance that the tsunami pushed Patrol Boat 813 from its usual home.
Photos or news footage are never quite the same as when you are actually standing amidst a site to understand the distance between the sea and where this boat lies today.
The government made this site into a free viewing area to commemorate the people that died here on that infamous and tragic day.
On a couple of hired bikes, the hunt to find several waterfalls proves fruitless as sadly, only found one after lots of searching, but that’s okay. It goes something like this…
Local maps are marked but not to scale. You find the turn-off point but the sign is in Thai or non-existent. Riding down the wrong road and not finding anything is also typical. Back-tracking down the road again but still not finding the falls, eventually, give up for the day. Perhaps you will experience better luck than me or maybe take along a local that can show you the way.
The area offers several waterfalls to visit including Bor Hin, Sai Rung, Pak Weep, and Chong Fah but good luck trying to find one!
In addition to the lovely beaches strolling along Khao Lak, White Sands beach is picturesque, easy to get to by bike (or a very long walk from the town centre) and only around 3-kilometres north of Khao Lak.
As it is currently the low tourist season, this stretch of beach is quite peaceful and very scenic, minus the hundreds of bodies typically on the beach.
Day trip to Takua Pa
If you take Route 4, then Takua Pa is about fourty kilometres north of Khao Lak. Although, there is an alternative longer route, which takes you through some lovely lush scenery (during the wet season), and is well worth the sore butt on a bike riding there…
Wander or ride around the ancient Sino-Portuguese shophouses of Takua Pa and although many can do with a little restoration, the buildings do retain a certain classical charm.
There is much Chinese influence in this town, which is a legacy of its hay-day during the Tin reserve times in the late 1800s.
The Classic Sunday market in the historic old Takua Pa district, a few kilometres south of modern Takua Pa is also worth a visit.
If staying in a serviced apartment, pick up some local cheap fresh meat, fish, vegetables, an abundance of delicious moorish Thai snacks or just check out the cheap clothing. The slow-roasted Massaman curry and Indian-Malay influenced yellow rice seasoned with turmeric is divine. This market is also a hit with locals and much cheaper than Khao Lak prices.
Riding the scooters south of Khao Lak on a drizzly dark day for a little exploring, bump into the monastery Wat Pattikaram along the highway in Thai Mueang…
…only around half an hour from Khao Lak and not far from the Fanaria Resort.
Open for visitors to wander around the grounds, it is free entry.
Thailand and Royalty
The King’s grandson decided to go to the Elephant and Monkey Park north of Khao Lak today, so traffic was stopped and the extremely busy main highway blocked in segments from Phuket to Khao Lak and beyond. This resulted in 15-minute delays while everything stopped, and many policemen controlled the roads when several dark windowed SUVs zoomed by carrying royalty.
One young Thai waiting with us at a crossing tried to go ahead. A policeman walked 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 just shrugged, got off his bike, picked up his tool bag, left his bike at the same spot on the road, and walked off!
I want to contribute while travelling so volunteering to help is an excellent way to absorb the country, culture, and not just pass through scratching the surface.
After looking for volunteer work independently and not through agencies, we decided to come to Khao Lak as heard there may be a possibility in this town.
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. This goes against the grain. Most agencies charge you to work for free and let’s face it, there is big money in volunteer agencies around the world. Governments are also making a fortune out of hiring volunteers.
Finally, we’re accepted by the Foundation for Education and Development (FED), which assists Burmese registered and unregistered migrants in Thailand forgotten by the Thai system. Volunteering for five weeks, then later in the Mae Sot office for several more weeks, and also remote work proves satisfying knowing that we’re helping.
An extremely fulfilling experience and enjoyed very much working with people of all nationalities – Thai, Burmese, American, English, Korean, and Dutch.
The five weeks opened my eyes to the sordid inhumane way that countless vulnerable migrants are treated but also open to exploitation and such atrocities as human trafficking, slavery, and death at sea.
Typically, migrants from Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and elsewhere in Thailand do the jobs that Thais are no longer willing to fulfil. These jobs are known as the “3D” (Dirty, Difficult, and Dangerous) jobs.
Unless you go through an agency or a government body, trying to secure volunteer work in SE Asia independently is nigh impossible. Everything is tied up nicely by INGOs and NGOs – this is a very closed shop.
If you missed Part 1, this gives you travel tips for Khao Lak – where to eat, sleep, and how to get around the town and surrounding areas.