In the spring of 2019, we were with a group of active over-50s in the area of Khao Lak, from where we did many beautiful dives at the Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock. Luckily, we had some rest days between the diving days. While most of the group were at the swimming pool at our dive resort to relax, we went out to explore the surroundings of Khao Lak by scooter. In this blog you will see our findings and tips for a fantastic, active stay in the southwest of this wonderful holiday country.
Khao Lak is a 20-kilometre-long, jungle-covered coastal strip on the Andaman Sea in the southwest of Thailand, about 100 kilometres north of the city of Phuket. The area consists of three villages, namely (from south to north) Bang La On, Bang Niang and Khuk Khak. Bang La On is the most touristy and famous.
This region was the area of Thailand that was most severely affected by the devastating tsunami of 2004. The tsunami caused more than 4,000 deaths. The region has recovered miraculously since then. Only the dilapidated Tsunami Museum is a reminder of that time.
Khao Lak has a lot to offer travellers. There are fantastic hikes in the beautiful natural parks but also zip-lining and rafting. However, do not expect trendy, fancy places to go out. The region is clearly more for beautiful nature and quiet beaches. Particularly in the rainy season, Khao Lak can even seem to have an extinct, boring look. However, if you are there for nature, then you can enjoy a week full of fun even in the off season. Especially if you visit the nearby Khao Sok National Park or the equally beautiful, but lesser-known Khlong Phanom National Park from Khao Lak.
Walks in Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park
As soon as you drive from Phuket to the north and after the village of Ban Khao Lak, via a winding road climb to Lak Mountain, it becomes clear that you are entering a beautiful area where you undoubtedly can enjoy great hikes. Even before you arrive in Bang La On, the first village and tourist heart of the Khao Lak region, you’ll see the main entrance and visitor centre of the Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park on the left.
This 125-square-kilometre park is named after two of its mountain peaks: Khao Lak and Lam Ru. The nearby beaches and forests are also included. In the park there are many nice walks to do to get to numerous large waterfalls. We found the following nature walk along the coast and the walk to the Ton Chong Fa waterfall particularly worthwhile. With the guidance of a guide, there are also longer walks to do, deeper inland.
Ton Chong Fa waterfall
For us, the walk to the Ton Chong Fa waterfall was a pleasant ‘warm-up’. The waterfall is about 7 kilometres from the main road in Bang Niang. A traffic sign indicates which side road you should take. As soon as you arrive at the entrance you can park your scooter or bike and pay the entrance for the national park (200 baht).
The first part of the hike goes over a wide, not-too-steep path uphill. At a certain moment you arrive at the first level of the waterfall. Even in the dry season, when we were there, the waterfall is big enough to take some decent pictures of it. On the right side of the pool, a steep and narrow path leads up to the next levels. In the end we only went to the second level.
Don’t forget to bring plenty of water and anti-mosquito items. If you want to go beyond level 1, wear hiking shoes or sneakers with socks.
Nature trail along the coast
At the main entrance of the park, which you can find directly on the main road, there is ample opportunity to park your scooter or bike. From here you follow the ‘Nature trail’ signposts. The hike is only one-and-a-half kilometres long but because the path is not maintained, a lot of time is spent climbing and sometimes hacking your way through dense bushes. The many viewpoints on the beautiful turquoise sea makes everything all right!
The walk ends at the park beach. Even in peak season there were hardly any other tourists to be found. The seawater is nice and warm and the rough surf makes it even more interesting to spend an hour recuperating after the sometimes-tough walk. At a small wooden house, you can buy packed ice and bottled water. Absolutely necessary items as you have to walk up the hill and then along the main road to get back to the parking lot. During your walk towards the main entrance you will also pass the place where you can do great zip-lining!
Best time to visit Khao Lak
I would say that the dry season from November to mid-April is the ideal time to visit Khao Lak. But the rainy season also has its advantages. Nature comes back to life and the waterfalls are unprecedentedly beautiful. On top of that, it rains a lot in Khao Lak anyway (more than 3500 mm per year) but usually quite locally, i.e. most of the rain falls at the end of the afternoon and beginning of the evening. We arrived at the beginning of April, the month when it is statistically the hottest and therefore not so ideal for us.
How to get there
If you’re not staying in one of the many diving resorts where their guests are usually picked up with a minivan from tourist areas like Phuket, the bus is the best option. There are no bus connections that have Khao Lak as a starting or ending point, but there are bus lines that call at the region. So, you can take the bus from Surat Thani east of Khao Lak. It also passes the Khao Sok National Park. From Phuket and Krabi there are also buses to Khao Lak.
Transport within the region of Khao Lak
There is little public transport in the region of Khao Lak and since there are hardly any safe possibilities to walk from one village to another, you have to use a rental scooter, rental bike or the ‘Songthaew’, a pick-up with two benches facing each other in the back. This typical Thai taxi is up to six times cheaper than an average taxi.
If you rent a scooter, do so at your accommodation. You usually spend 250 baht per day, but if you rent it for more than a day, you can negotiate for a lower rate. Keep in mind that left-hand traffic in Thailand is not always safe. People drive like crazy because though the police give out fines if you don’t wear a helmet, they do not check for speed. Let the landlord inform you about the insurance.
Renting a bike is certainly worth considering, especially since along most parts of the provincial road through Khao Lak on both sides you have a parallel road that is also considered a bike path. Bear in mind that especially scooters drive in the opposite direction on the parallel road.
In Bang La On, Bang Niang and Khuk Khak there is sufficient accommodation in all types and various price ranges. Because of our destination, namely diving near the nearby Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock, we stayed at the diving resort Palm Garden Resort, a fantastic, quiet complex of bungalows with a lovely swimming pool. We can also recommend this resort to non-divers, if only because of the delicious meals they prepare in the restaurant.