Friday, 27 September 2013

Not Much Lacking in Khao Lak

Regular contributor John Borthwick visits an on-song Andaman alternative to Phuket. Long, unsullied beaches. 

No jets-skis, sun-loungers or tuk-tuk mafia. Take me there! 



Laid-back Khao Lak, in Phang Nga Province on Thailand’s Andaman shore, is the place. Its 25-km string of beaches still looks much as it did a decade ago — a slumbering coastline of palms, sea-pines and low-rise resorts. This languid shore has always been a favourite with long-stay northern Europeans, with its discrete, upmarket resorts (none built higher than a coconut tree) catering for those who want to get away from all the others who are getting away from it all. 

The tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 hammered Khao Lak hard, with some 4000 people perishing. The subsequent rebuild was well planned and the result might be described as business as unusual. That is, the locals have kept their sands free of the grids of rent-a-chairs that often bedevil Thai resort beaches. Even better, they’ve also ensured there are no off-song banana boats, howling jet-skis or tow-kite speedboats.




Bang La On (often known as Khao Lak Town) on the highway at the south end of the Khao Lak coast is an ever-stretching ribbon development of mini-marts, tailors (“Johnny Armani” and co.), dive centres and restaurants, plus souvenir shops that sell “same-same-not-different” tat, albeit at wildly varying prices. 

Bang Niang, further up the highway, is where most of the limited nightlife happens, with bars, restaurants and a few clubs. My favourite eating place here is Blue Mist restaurant, a rambling wooden structure on the beach (near the JW Marriott), where we feast grandly on Thai seafood, chicken and vegetable dishes, plus cocktails. Over-stuffed and chuckling for 350 baht ($12) a head. This family-friendly, snoozy, honeymooning sort of coast is known as the Gateway to the Andaman. Be sure to step through that gate at least once. 

Blue Mist restaurant. Pics: John Borthwick

Take a daytrip (or longer) to either Koh Similan or Koh Surin mini-archipelago, both marine national parks, that sit just 60 km offshore. There is superb snorkelling and diving at each, with dramatic swim-throughs, prolific marine life and stunning visibility. The islands are open November to May, but closed during monsoon season. 

Meanwhile, inland, are five national parks, including the great rainforests of Khao Lak and Khao Sok parks. The latter is like a freshwater version of Phang Nga Bay to the south, near Phuket. Its giant Ratchaprapha reservoir is the liquid jewel of Khao Sok and one of Thailand’s under-sung wonders. 

Next day we’re on the Klong Sok River aboard lazy kayaks. Enormously high trees ripple above us — can you get reverse vertigo from looking upwards? The river is silent, the paddles too, and at times we round a bend to spot an electric-blue kingfisher. Or a viper snoozing peacefully on an overhanging limb, which is exactly where we leave it.

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