History & Culture
Khao Lak is most famous for its amazing diving and snorkelling opportunities at the Similan Islands and others. The islands in the Andaman Sea have amazing coral reefs and diverse marine life. People from all over the world come here to have an unforgettable experience. Although the islands and underwater life are breathtaking, don’t forget the nearby Khao Sok National Park, which is one of the oldest rainforests (estimated 160M years) and 739 km² in size – wow!
The tsunami was a result of a powerful 9.1 undersea earthquake that struck off the coast of Sumatra island that ruptured a 1500KM stretch of the fault line. Among many other areas around the Indian Ocean, Khao Lak was hit the hardest in Thailand by the tsunami on 26 December 2004. Over 4000 locals and tourists lost their life but unofficial numbers top the 10,000, which include many undocumented Burmese workers that were not recognized as residents and neglected by the government. Since then, one of the NGOs that was formed and are still in the area focusing on supporting Burmese migrant families is the Foundation for Education and Development.
In totality, the 2004 tsunami killed over 230,000 people at the coastlines of Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and South Africa.
In 2012 a movie was filmed in Khao Lak and released under the name “The Impossible”. It is based on the true story of the family of María Belón, who survived the tsunami.
Since then, several tsunami shelters and an extensive alarm system and escape routes have been implemented throughout the area.
The tsunami, at some places 24 to 30 meters high, had such a force, destroying and carrying everything on its path, including the Thai navy boat 813 which lies almost 2KM inland from Bang Niang Beach. You can visit the boat and learn more about what happened at the tsunami museums. The memorial area has been renovated and several festivals are held here throughout the year.
Show respect: Thailand is a Buddhist country and respect for Buddha, the people, and the King is largely embedded in the culture. Do not insult the King as it’s forbidden by law, and do not destroy money with his image.
Don’t buy or export Buddha statues or images: as a sign of respect for the Buddhist religion do not climb or even touch Buddha statues or images. It is considered disrespectful.
Don’t point the soles of your feet towards someone as it is the lowest part of the body and considered the dirtiest. Be mindful when you’re relaxing and put your feet up, it could be considered rude when you point it in their direction.
Don’t touch someone’s head as it is the most sacred part of the body. Even if you like that beautiful long Asian black hair, and you just want to feel it, don’t touch it. The same goes for children.
The left hand is seen by many as the dirtiest hand. You may know that Asian countries often don’t use toilet paper. Instead, they use a water spray and often their left hand. Therefore, don’t hand over anything (money, gifts, food plates, etc.) with your left hand.
Showing affection in public is not done, except for holding hands and a simple hug. Kissing and cuddling is not welcome. Forget about sex on the beach, unless you want the cocktail – delicious!
Buddhist monks; you might be fascinated to learn more about them. You also might see them in the early morning going around and at the temple practicing the teachings of Buddha. Just keep in mind, do not pose with them for a selfie, do not touch them, and women are not allowed to give them alms. You may put them on the temple floor or ask a man to give the alms.
Thai people “wai” (pronounced: “why”) one another to greet, thank, and apologize to someone, or say goodbye. Many Thais will also wai when they pass spirit houses, temples and shrines. It’s expected from others to “wai” back to show kindness and respect to one another. You put the palm of your hands together, fingers closed and pointing up. The positioning below or in front of your face is the tricky part. In general: the higher the more respect you show. Foreigners are not expected to know how to “wai” correctly so don’t lose sleep over it. Just by trying it will be appreciated. If you feel uncomfortable wai-ing, you can simply give a friendly nod or bow.
Travel & Transport
Khao Lak is situated on the south-western coast, between Phuket (60 KM South) and Ranong (200 KM North). The two closest airports are Phuket (~80 minutes) and Krabi (~2.5 hours) international airports.
If you measure the distance from Phuket International Airport to the Center of Khao Lak it will be approximately 75 kilometres. By car or taxi, it will take around 70-100 minutes to travel, depending on traffic and final destination.
The convenient way from Phuket Airport to Khao Lak is by taxi, which costs on average 1800 THB and it takes around 70-100 minutes to travel. The cost-effective way is to flag a local bus on the main road (3.5 KM from the Airport), with ticket prices around 90 THB. The journey by bus will take on average 2-2.5 hours. When you ask a taxi driver to take you to the main road to catch the bus, some will plainly refuse or get grumpy.
Prices for a taxi depend on location, number of people, and distance. In and around the Khao Lak area the price ranges from 150 THB (close proximity) to 700 THB (Lampi waterfall). Going to Takuapa (North) or Thai Muang (South) prices are between 700 and 1000 THB.
Khao Lak has a tropical climate with dry seasons and rainy seasons. The best time to visit considered the “high season”, is between November and March. Some will say October to April, the “shoulder months”, although October can still be quite rainy and April very hot and humid. The driest month is February with the sunniest days and September the wettest with frequent – sudden – rainfall. If you don’t mind the occasional showers, the rainy season is a great time to visit with low room rates, lower flight rates, quiet beaches, and more “VIP” service with fewer tourists around. Just keep in mind that some shops will be closed.
Khao Lak is still a bit of a hidden gem and an ideal slow pace holiday destination. It’s a relaxing, uncrowded, coastal area surrounded by natural beauty. It’s the ideal mix of local culture, luxury, and yet enough budget options. The surrounding areas of Khao Lak have each their unique traits. It’s a great destination for all travelers; families, couples, backpackers, and everyone in between. It’s best to read up on the different areas of Khao Lak to decide which best fits your wishes.
That’s a really tough question to answer. Khao Lak has several amazing areas (show map) with different traits and it’s really up to your specific preferences. You can start by looking at the different areas that make up Khao Lak. The Southern part of Khao Lak, the “centre” known as La On, will have an abundance of choices but is most crowded. The more North you go, the quieter it gets, and the fewer shops. The second largest area, known as Bang Niang, could have the ideal balance. If you want to be more secluded, go even more North, away from the centre. Note that all areas are connected to a long strip of beautiful beaches with amazing sunsets.
Another tough question that really depends on preference. One thing is sure, there is something for everyone. From budget guesthouses on the main road to secluded bungalows on the mountainside. Or would you rather stay on the beachside at 2* to 5* luxury all-in resorts? The best place to start is to see in which area you prefer to stay (show map) because unless you don’t want to leave the resort, the surrounding area will be an important factor in deciding your next accommodation. Explore the different Khao Lak areas here.
One word – STUNNING! The 25 KM stretch of smooth beaches is simply impressive. It’s quite easy to find your own piece for you and your family or for a nice romantic walk. The Andaman Sea in the west means spectacular sunsets on the beach you don’t want to miss. Overall it’s hard to pick a favourite beach, see our top 3 beaches – they are all amazing – but after you had a few evenings at the beach in La On, and took some postcard-worthy shots of the sunset and lighthouse, you may want to check the beaches in the North around Pakarang, Pak Weep and Bang Sak, which are beautiful and quiet white sandy beaches. The local street food, Thai families, and food at Bang Sak beach are worth the visit. Unfortunately, snorkelling from the beach isn’t great, it’s sandy and little to see, but there are a few spots with boulders and quite some fish to see on Lam Kaen’s South Beach — be careful, there can be jellyfish too.
Food & Drinks
It depends on where you are and if you want a fine dining experience or just a good local meal. Local restaurants (tailored to locals) serve an excellent and complete Thai dish for 50 – 150 THB. In a fine dining/tourist restaurant, the service is excellent and the taste is often altered to meet western expectations. Prices for popular main dishes will range on average from 100 to 500 THB. There are quite a few foreign food restaurants as well; e.g. Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Indian. These places often have imported quality ingredients which will obviously result in higher prices.
Domestic beers (Chang, Leo, Singha) are easy to buy in any convenience store or restaurant. A local mini-mart will charge around 55 THB and a restaurant or bar will have prices ranging from 70 to 150 THB. Heineken, Hoegaarden and Tiger are also widely available. Some restaurants and bars have excellent draft and imported beer.
Khao Lak is largely a tourist area with food being altered to meet the taste of westerners. To find authentic Thai food your best bet will be at popular local restaurants. In general, the more North or South of La On you go, the more authentic restaurants and food stalls you will find.
One excellent area to try a few places is north of Bang Niang, before or at the Build Factory market.
Another area would be at the “Fresh Market” which opens in the morning until noon, in Khuk Khak (at the bus station), here is also a popular authentic “Pad Thai” local restaurant.
There are also some excellent food stalls on the way to Bang Sak beach, further North.
If you head South, in the Lam Kaen and Thai Mueang area, you will find many places along Highway 4 as well.
Final tip — One thing to help you choose where to stop: look for the places with the most locals hanging out. Local people know very well where the good places are, and they will go to eat there themselves. You could ask a local for a recommendation, but you may risk the fact that some will send you to a friend or a relative just to help them out, which is great, but it might not be a popular spot. The takeaway: drive North or South of La On (Khao Lak Center) on Highway 4 and look for the local crowd. If you don’t want to drive much, head to the edges of your area (away from the mass) and spot a place with locals having breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Things to do
There are many things to do. Let’s just name a few things to give you an idea: diving and snorkelling at many islands, several waterfalls to visit and swim under, many Buddhist temples to walk in and around, Tsunami museums and a washed-up navy boat to visit, Elephants to wash, bathe, feed or simply admire, some hot springs, several beautiful viewpoints, kayaking in mangroves, bamboo rafting, minigolf and labyrinth, surfing classes, fishing, ATV in rubber plantation, bicycle trips, jeep tours, excellent massage shops, wildlife tours, visit a huge rainforest at Khao Sok, horse-riding on the beach, cooking classes, yoga retreats, Thai boxing, and more! Excited yet? Check out Things To Do.
If you are looking to book a tour, explore them all here.
Here are popular things to do around Khao Lak, not in a specific order:
Scuba diving and snorkeling is by far the most popular because of the famous beautiful underwater life around the Similan Islands.
Khao Sok tropical rainforest. This place is huge and just mesmerizing. Amazing wildlife such as monkeys, tropical birds, elephants and much more.
Thai cooking classes. Learn from the best and go home knowing you can cook up some impressive Thai food to impress your friends or just enjoy it all by yourself.
Elephant-friendly care program. Feed and bath with these beautiful giants in a protective sanctuary that truly care for these creatures.
Waterfalls. There are quite a few waterfalls around. The nearest around Bang Niang is Chong Fah, but the most impressive one according to many is Lampi waterfall, but you’ll have to drive a motorbike for 40 minutes South, or grab a taxi. Sri Pang Nga National Park also has amazing waterfalls, it’s an hour up North (55 KM).
Local markets. There are a few local markets around. The most popular one would be the evening market in Bang Niang and the market at the Build Factory. If you like local culture and food, go do a half-day trip to Takua Pa old town market – you’ll love it!
If you are looking to book a tour, explore them all here.
Health & Safety
Khao Lak is a safe holiday destination. Food is generally well prepared and ice cubes are safe to add to your water. Water from the tab however should be avoided, it’s not considered drinkable. The most dangerous part of Khao Lak is highway 4, just be extra cautious when participating in traffic or crossing the road. You can roam free anywhere you like but if you go inwards to the mountainside, just don’t go off the beaten path to avoid encounters with exotic wildlife.
Yes, there are, but they are extremely rare to encounter in tourist areas. If you head into the jungles you could try your luck. There are several types of snakes, venomous and nonvenomous, as well as the infamous poisonous Thai centipede. You will be perfectly safe as a tourist enjoying a cocktail, going out to eat, strolling the beach, and going on arranged tours.
You can safely swim during the high/dry season (November to April). The water is calm and safe from dangerous underwater life. During the low/rain season (May to October) it’s windier and the sea can be rough with rip currents. If you’re not a good swimmer, just don’t go where you can’t stand on your feet. Read more about the seasons and climate in Khao Lak.
Let’s hope you won’t need any but there are quite a few healthcare facilities around. In La On there’s the popular general practitioner Dr. Chusak for all the basic care, and a few other clinics as well. There’s also a dentist and quite a few opticians. In Bang Niang, you can visit Dr. Amornrut, a very friendly female doctor with excellent local prices. In Khuk Khak, near the Build Factory, there’s the Andaman Medical Hub where ambulances are ready for emergencies, they also do X-rays. In case you need hospitalization, you will be brought to Takuapa hospital, 30 minutes North. If you need western standard medical care, you would need to go to a private hospital in Phuket.
The following vaccinations are recommended for everyone: diphtheria and tetanus, polio, measles, and hepatitis A.
In special circumstances or risk groups, you may want to have: hepatitis B (transmitted through blood or intercourse), rabies, and typhoid fever (from infected water or food).
If you want to be extra careful, just give a call to your local doctor and he/she will let you know what’s advised.
During the Covid-19 Pandemic, the regulations are changed often. Make sure to check out the Tourism Authority of Thailand Newsroom for the latest updates on travelling to Thailand.
Especially at sunrise and sunset mosquitoes are active (but some also during the day) and it’s advised to protect yourself; wear long sleeves/trousers, light-colored clothing, spray yourself with mosquito repellent. Bites are itchy and very annoying. You can buy and apply some local balms that help. Try not to scratch because it could lead to an infection.
Should you worry about Malaria? No, it’s quite rare in Southern Thailand. Should you worry about Dengue? That depends on how long you will stay. Dengue does occur in the area sometimes but usually in the rainy season when mosquitoes multiply quickly. If you stay short-term and during the high/dry season, it’s very unlikely you’ll catch it.