Khao Lak used to be, along with Ao Nang, one of southern Thailand’s two best gateways to adventure and best family and soft adventure beach destinations.
The great Surin Islands snorkeling, along with the Similan islands diving, used to account for this appeal. Unfortunately, though, the snorkeling at the Surin Islands has drastically declined in quality due to coral bleaching, to the point where we no longer recommend snorkeling in the Surins at all.
Thai National Parks authority issued a ban on diving and snorkeling in almost all of the Surin Islands snorkeling spots. Some snorkel and dive operators still take customers there, which is a practice that we strongly disapprove of.
There is much better snorkeling further south, where the coral bleaching has not been so extreme.
Khao Lak is still within the day-trip range of the best scuba diving in the kingdom, around the marine life-saturated Similan Islands. It is also possible to go snorkeling around the Similans on a liveaboard trip.
See below for more on the Surin snorkeling and Similan diving.
The effect of the decline in the quality of the Surin snorkeling on Khao Lak is unfortunate. While Khao Lak has some pretty good beaches, for many travelers there is now no really good reason for visiting this town at all.
For honeymooners, for people who just want to collapse in a posh resort, and for people with small children Khao Lak still has some considerable appeal. If, however, you are looking for an active holiday or you have older children, Khao Lao is not the place for you.
If you want a good beach near Phuket then Khao Lak is not a bad choice, but it is definitely not a place to go for a two-week holiday that includes lots of activities. The day trips at Khao Sok are within the day-trip range, but only just – you have to get up really early to do these trips.
The town itself is unattractive and is dominated by the fast road running through it, which is fortunately far enough from the beaches for traffic noise to be inaudible there. The beaches, whilst clean and not too busy, are only average by Thai standards, as there are no particularly arresting offshore features to feast the eyes on.
Khao Sok National Park
Southern Thailand’s best island destination is just within the day-trip range, but many people choose to spend at least one night there.
For more on all these activities, see below.
Khao Lak was Thailand’s tsunami ‘ground zero‘ and bore the full brunt of the waves, which killed 5,000 people and wiped out almost all of the beach-side resorts.
Paradoxically, Khao Lak’s demolition was followed by its greatest success story, as its resorts and amenities were rebuilt with astonishing alacrity.
Seven years after the big waves devastated so many lives, hardly a sign of the horror remains. The moldering lobby of an abandoned resort can be glimpsed through some palms. A police boat was guarding the royal prince who died here and has been left where it was deposited by the wave, 2 km inland, as a memorial to those who so tragically died.
These days, visitors need to have no fear of a tsunami, for two reasons: (a) an early warning system is in place to give 30 minutes warning of an approaching tsunami (b) after the next massive underwater earthquake, the resulting tsunami won’t touch Khao Lak.
Khao Lak has a wide range of accommodation, with options to suit all travelers and all budgets.
With so many upmarket resort restaurants in Khao Lak, gourmets are spoiled for choice
Party animals, however, will be disappointed. Whilst there are a few bars, the nightlife is low-key compared with nearby Phuket’s. The better resorts arrange entertainments and shows.
Spa lovers won’t exhaust the town’s pampering possibilities.
Whilst families with small children will enjoy Khao Lak’s big family resorts, families with older children are advised to go elsewhere, as older children will bore of Khao Lak.
Honeymooners can find plenty of quiet spots on the beach, plus some exquisite hideaway beach bungalows.
Khao Lak’s lack of interesting nearby activities is no problem for most honeymooners.