Have you ever seen the movie The Beach? The one based on the book by Alex Garland and starring Leonardo DiCaprio? If you’re the sort of person to be reading travel blogs for fun, then we’re betting you have. And who has ever seen that movie, and NOT wanted to stand on that famous beach? Well, you can, it’s in Ko Phi Phi off the coast of Phuket, Thailand.
We’ve had that urge as well, so we understand. We get it. Unfortunately, the reality is so much worse than the fantasy. Polluted water, big crowds (including lineups just to get a picture of yourself on that beach), and the high prices to match. We would rather keep the fantasy intact.
So when we flew into Phuket, rather than heading to the islands or exploring the dodgy go-go bars, cabarets and massage parlours of crowded Patong itself, we headed north. To Khao Lak, which sits on the Andaman coast, about an hour north of the Phuket airport.
Ever heard of it? No? Exactly! Khao Lak is to Phuket/Ko Phi Phi what an adults-only beach resort is to Disneyworld. We wanted some relaxing beach time (a vacation from our vacation?), some good food, and a touch of actual Thailand. That’s exactly what we got in Khao Lak. And for a fraction of the cost of staying on one of the islands.
Khao Lak is a region stretching about 25km along the Andaman Sea coast, made up of a series of small villages. We stayed in the village of Bang Niang, in a guest house a short walk from the beach and the night market. All the amenities were there: plenty of restaurants, a few convenience stores and ATMs, a night market, several massage places and souvenir shops (not that we have room in our packs for any souvenirs!) and a long, sandy beach with warm, clear and calm water.
Each morning, we’d walk to the beach and pick a beach chair to relax on. Locals “rent” out comfortable beach chairs, tables, and umbrellas to tourists. In most cases (but not all, so be careful) the beach chair is free as long as you order something to eat or drink from them at some point throughout the day. Is that still too stressful? Luckily, there are many massage beds set up along the beach to work on those tight muscles with a real Thai massage for less than C$10.
One of the popular excursions to do from Khao Lak is to visit the Similan Islands for snorkeling and diving, about 90 minutes by speedboat from the town. However, because it’s so popular, we learned that it gets really crowded. As in people getting elbowed and kicked in the face while snorkeling level of crowded. Learning this, we instead headed an extra 30 minutes by speed boat north to the islands of Surin.
We went with a company called Wow Andaman because we got 25% off through our guesthouse and it had good reviews. Unfortunately for everyone on the boat our day, the water was quite rough. What was supposed to be a 1hr45min boat ride turned into 3hrs+ with a few people getting extremely seasick. Take gravol people!
Once we arrived and got off the choppy open water, it was amazing. We visited several snorkeling sites, each with live coral and fish in shallow water. It was actually much better than snorkeling and diving on the Great Barrier Reef when we where in Australia! Better visibility, less people, and the coral was livelier. Some highlights were seeing a large eel and a needlefish!
We also stopped on one of the islands for a big buffet lunch and some beach time, and another island to visit a village of sea gypsies.
After the “rough” start, the day turned out to be amazing and is something we’d recommend to anyone visiting Khao Lak. The company even provided us with an awesome thai dinner when we returned back to the pier – bonus!
Khao Lak was exactly what we were looking for. Definitely a laid back place rather than the crazy party vibe of other destinations in the area. It was a great way to ease into our first trip to Thailand! We highly recommend anyone heading to Phuket to visit Khao Lak.