For us, Khao Lak was beautiful, relaxing and truly a place we will come back to. In fact we have tried to leave once and stayed an extra 3 days just because we could! Think golden sands, quiet beaches, waterfront cafes and friendly locals and you have some idea of Khao Lak.
From Khao Lak we did a day trip out to the Similan Islands – a group of islands declared National Park within Thailand and reportedly to become a world heritage area. The 60km trip out to the islands takes only an hour (if your boat has 3 x 225HP outboards!) and the day is spent between a few of the islands, snorkeling from the boat, swimming at the beaches and even a little bit of rock climbing to lookouts. The water is as clear as you can possibly imagine and the sands are very white so that even if there was no coral the experience would have been worth raving about. As there was coral and tropical fish, the day was unforgettable, although I expect that diving in the area is significantly more impressive in regard to coral and fish varieties.
We stayed in a resort for several days, fairly remote on a long, quiet beach with little bamboo beach cafes close by set up by local entrepreneurs – great for watching sunsets over the Andaman Sea and hearing a little about Khao Lak’s recent tourist history (thanks Clemmens). At less than $90 a night it was within our budget as the inclusive breakfasts were superb and lasted us the day and we arrived with a few bags of biscuits with tuna, salsa and cheese as our evening meals. We were sad to leave, particularly as we intended to leave that evening for Bangkok.
Of course our plans were pretty rubbery from the start so we stayed longer, this time in the town of Khao Lak, now a full 200 metres from the beach but with a just as easy walk to the town and some of its great restaurants and cafes. The Thai meals we had in Khao Lak were memorable, the myriad of other European tourists amusing and the German café provided a great breakfast that included fresh breads and great coffee.
As with any trip in a foreign country, the challenge for us in Khao Lak was differentiating between local prices, reasonable prices for a Westerner and ridiculously over-inflated tourist prices! We accept that it isOK to pay a little more than locals as we earn more, though I won’t get into the ethics of charging one human being more than another for the same item at the same time. However I am amazed at the greed that drives somebody to charge 6 or 7 times the price for a good or service – mind you I am more amazed by the lazy arrogance of tourists who are willing to pay anything because to them convenience trumps value every time. The effect on local economies of this kind of behaviour, over long terms, must be very divisive.
Our favourite example, and one that truly amuses Molly now, was a young Swedish lady sat behind us at breakfast in Patong - she wanted an egg with her continental breakfast so ignoring the pricing guide of the offered American breakfast (inclusive of all that the continental breakfast contained, totaling 117 Baht) she explained that she wanted one single egg with her continental breakfast and as it was extra, she would happily pay 100 Baht for it. The biggest laugh for Molly was finding that you could buy 10 eggs for 30 Baht.
Anyway, social comment aside, we loved Khao Lak way more than Patong and were surprised to find somewhere so special so early in our trip – we hope to go back and can see why people spend all year saving for that special 14 days of holidays each year to spend at somewhere like Khao Lak.