Nov 2, 2011

The New Face of Khao Lak

We’re back in Thailand! After a couple of nights in Kuala Lumpur, we arrived in Phuket without a clue as to where we were going.  Eventually we boarded a bus bound for Khao Lak beach, which is approximately 2hrs north of Phuket, on the west coast of Thailand on the Andaman Ocean.  Khao Lak bore the brunt of the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, with an official death toll of well over 4,000 lives.  In reality, it has been estimated closer to 10,000 due to a high number of illegal Burmese migrant workers in the area at the time who cannot accurately be accounted for.  Khao Lak was and is a popular location for those who are into scuba diving and for those who are looking for a quieter alternative to Phuket. Jim and I visited Khao Lak briefly in 2003 as we did some diving from here and now on our return visit, it is unrecognisable to us but in a good way-- well, sort of.

Looking south on Highway 4 through La On Village, Khao Lak

One of the main things we remembered about La On Village, at the southern end of Khao Lak was its relative uncommercial nature and quiet beach.  We remembered a cluster of kiosks selling tourist stuff at the southern end of the highway, but that the highway itself was 2-lanes and rather unappealing.  Accommodation was scarce on the budget end though, and we recall not being able to stay on longer as the few rooms available at that time in our price range were all full.  But the tsunami has changed all of this. 

Now La On Village/Khao Lak is totally different, from the new 6-lane highway running through it, to the new shops and restaurants (there’s even a McDonald’s now) to the abundance of accommodation in all price ranges.  We got the most comfortable ‘luxurious’ room that we’ve had in a long, long time.  We even had a view of the ocean from our window, air conditioning, a television and WiFi in our room.  All for 600 baht/$20 USD per night (low season, long stay rate), including a continental breakfast (toast, jam and coffee/tea).  The shops seem to go on forever, with tailors, clothing shops, souvenir shops, beauty shops, optical shops, and travel agents all vying for your business.  There are many more restaurants, although sadly, they are all of the ‘tourist’ variety (read: more expensive and/or smaller portions) with not a basic ‘local’ eatery in sight.  Almost every building was constructed after 2007.

Our oh-so-comfy room.

That's our hotel, Jerung Guest House (center).

The beachfront itself seems to be home to 4-5 star resort upon resort.  The clientele here seems to be predominately European couples as well as families with young children.  The beach is a really clean and safe one for the kids to play in, with a gently sloping sandy bottom and warm calm waters; Maddy and Yasmine spent much of their day in it.  Unfortunately there is lots of broken coral around in places too as well as erosion of the beach where roots of trees appear to be somehow growing only in air—more reminders of the events of 2004.  We did find a nice 3-star resort that fronted the beach and offered complimentary beach chairs and WiFi too, so we spent our days here including having lunch at their restaurant.

Nang Thong Beach, Khao Lak

Lunch at Green Resort Restaurant on the beach.
We ended up spending a relaxing 11 days here.  During that time we also hired a motorbike for 3 days and cruised further north for about 30km.  There, we sampled different beaches, found a couple of waterfalls to swim in, and filled our tummies with lots of good ‘local’ Thai food. 

Sai Rung/Rainbow Waterfall

Khao Lak is a great low key destination for families.  And now, even more so as everything is ‘new’, although the reason for this is hauntingly sad.  Khao Lak has rebuilt and come out of the tragedy seemingly very well, especially compared to Sri Lanka.  We’ve heard that the tourist numbers have been strong for the past 5yrs.  But during our time here, we noticed that considering high season officially started 1 November the streets, shops and hotels are still all very quiet.  Maybe the floods in Bangkok and central Thailand or the economic situation in Europe are to blame.  In any case, the merchants have their fingers crossed that things will change.  And hopefully for these friendly people, it will.

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