With off-shore islands and national parks for neighbours, Khao Lak holidays are as much about adventure, as they are the beach.
When people hark on about Khao Lak, they’re referring to a big chunk of Thailand’s coast, north of Phuket. But these two are chalk and cheese. While Phuket’s dressed to the nines, Khao Lak’s wiped off its make-up – leaving behind greenery and chilled-out beach resorts. Days out are sorted, too. This neck of the jungle – part of the pretty Phang Nga Province – is national park-central.
Khao Lak’s beaches come under national park territory, so the watersports are on ice. This frees up the waters for swimming and jet-ski-free selfies. Bang Niang’s the busiest of the lot, with biscotti-coloured sands and a street stuffed with diving centres, restaurants and bars. But there are escape-it-all spots dotted all over, too, like the cove cut into the greenery of Khao Lak Lam Ru National Park.
The green and blue
This place is a daytripper’s dream. Chilling off-shore, you’ve got more islands than you can count. You can whizz over to the Similan Islands in an hour and a half for top-notch diving. A bit further away, you can swim with whale sharks in the Surin Islands. Or just stick to dry land and visit Khao Sok National Park – home to elephants, lakes and waterfalls.
Things to See and Do in Khao Lak
If you’re after a bargain, make for the market in Ban Niang. It’s open every afternoon and evening, but the best days for stopping by are Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. You can haggle over everything from clothes and jewellery to spices and edible bugs.
You’ll find a decent selection of clothes, swimwear and souvenir shops around the bigger beach areas and in Khao Lak Town. There’s a small shopping plaza in Nang Thong, too, with stores selling, clothes, jewellery and hand-made crafts.
You won’t find Gucci or Prada in these parts, but tailors are ten-a-penny, so you can have a bespoke outfit whipped up in just a few days. And, unlike in the UK, a made-to-measure outfit won’t break the bank. You can pick a design from the tailor’s books, or bring a photo and ask them to recreate it.
Most of the big hotels in Khao Lak have their own restaurants, often with beachfront settings. Look out for hotels showing Thai cultural shows for a night of traditional music and dancing. In Bang Niang there’s a Thai Boxing stadium, where you can catch electrifying Muay Thai matches each Friday.
For a late night, head for Khao Lak Town, AKA Bang La On. You’ll find plenty of bars, plus a few live music venues. In Bang Niang, there are a handful of late-night bars along Jerung Street, Soi Bang Niang and the main highway.
You’ll find this noodle-based dish on the menu everywhere from street stalls to top Thai restaurants. There are loads of variations, but you’ll usually find the noodles stir-fried with eggs and fish sauce, and garnished with meat, prawns or tofu. The whole lot is topped with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts and a few drops of chilli oil.
This sweet and slightly spicy curry is made with beef or chicken, which is cooked in a mixture of spices, coconut milk and curry paste. It’s bulked out with potatoes and roasted cashews or peanuts, and served with rice.
This aromatic rum is one of the biggest drinks in Thailand, and you’ll find bottles of it lined up in most bars. It’s won international awards and the makers are so proud they put gold medals on the label to celebrate. Drink it neat, or pour it over ice and mix with fresh juice.
Thanks to a prime seaside spot, Khao Lak’s restaurants offer up some of the freshest seafood going. Have yours grilled on the barbecue, baked in a banana leaf or served in a creamy coconut sauce. Fish cakes cooked in a fragrant herb-and-spice mix are a regular on the street food scene.
This soup is practically a national dish, and brings together sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours in typical Thai fashion. The centrepiece is usually prawns or chicken, served in a broth of tomatoes, fish sauce, lemongrass, galangal, chillies and lime leaves.
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