Monday, 26 March 2012

Lam Kaen

Lam Kaen is a great beach. It combines all the peace and quiet that Khao Lak is famed for, and yet it is just a few kilometers south from the center of Khao Lak – Bang La On.

Lam Kaen is a great stretch of golden sand beach just south of Thap Lamu Pier. This is the place where all the boats come and go that do the tours of the Similan Islands. If you have a motorbike it takes just a few minutes to ride north up the Petkasem Road to the main shopping and bar area.

It is thus surprising that Lamkaen is not busier and more developed. Instead there are just a few places to stay. The most famous of which is the Khaolak Diamond Resort and Spa. It’s a big resort with air-con rooms, a spa and a communal pool. Room prices at the Khao Lak Diamond Resort and Spa start at 2,250 THB a night.

There’s little night life at Lam Kaen, but you can find a few cheap local restaurants and mum and pop shops selling basic necessities.

During the wet season or ‘green season’ there are waves that you can surf in Lam Kaen. The waves are at their biggest between March and May, when they sometimes reach 10 feet.

In the Lam Kaen you can visit temples or try the nearby ‘Navy Golf Course’. There is also the Baan Tha Din Daeng Tourism Community at Lam Kaen (Address: Moo 4, Tambon Lam Kaen, Thai Muang, Phang-nga 82120. Tel: 084-991-1529) They offer various eco-tourism activities that include swimming in the Nayak mountain area; visiting a hydroponic vegetable plantation; going to an old tin mine site; visiting a white snapper fish farm; longtail boat trips to see a mangrove forest; community forest planting; batik workshop; and rubber tapping. The villagers of Tha Din Daeng are trying to create an environmentally-friendly farming and agricultural community.

As you can see there is a diverse selection of things to do in and around Lam Kaen.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Koh Kho Khao

This is a mouthful to say. It’s pronounced ko koe cow, I think, the main thing is that if you are in the Khao Lak area and you have a bit of time it is well worth making the short trip out to the island of Kho Khao. To get there jump on a bus heading north up the Petkasem Road and head for Taku Pa. From there you can buy tickets for the car ferry over the island. Boats run from 7.30am to 5.30pm.

The island is separated from the mainland by an estuary. It is an area with several islands, but Koh Kho is the largest.

On arriving at the main port in the south you are not met by ‘beaters’ or ‘steerers’. Most people simple walk along the west facing beach until they come to a place they like. Much of the accommodation in Koh Kho Khao consists of mid-range and luxury resorts that offer air-con rooms around communal pools. There are, however, a few cheaper places to be found in between. Recommended among these are Pranee Restaurant and Bungalows, Ha Pha Beach Cottages, Sunset Restaurant and Wang Klong Kayaking Resort. Ha Pha Cottages allows tents for those on a tight budget. Sunset Restaurant has fan bungalows for 700 Thai Baht. Both of these places are found at the northern end of the beach.

The beach is golden sand and the water is suitable for swimming. Down in the south the sediment from the river means it is not clear enough for snorkeling. In the north the sea is clearer. Here you will find a ship wreck that is good fun to dive. The real highlight is the nearby Surin Islands. They have lots of coral reefs and offer excellent diving just like the Similan islands. There are a few dive shops on Koh Kho Khao that can organize scuba trips for you.

Another great thing about the island is the grass lands in the north. These attract a good variety of birds. There is a bird watching tower behind Bang Naeng beach. You can usually see hornbills if you are patient enough.

In the south-east of the Koh Kho Khao are the remains of a Thirteenth Century fishing settlement. It makes for an interesting few hours visiting the site. The island was host to very early waves of people moving from Asia into South East Asia.

The great thing about Koh Kho Khao is that it has a very relaxed feel. No one hassles you. It is truly a place to unwind, and a place to get a glimpse of traditional Thai island culture.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Nang Tong Beach

Nang Tong (also spelt Nang Thong) is the most popular stretch of beach in Khao Lak. This is because it is the most central beach in the area. It is easy to get to, has a wide range of accommodation to choose from, and is next to Bang La On. This is the village where the highest concentration of bars, restaurants and shops are located.

Nang Tong is a long stretch of fine sand beach that is lined with palm trees. In the dry season between November and May the seas are gentle and it is a great place to go swimming. In the wet season, also euphemistically called the ‘green season’ the waves can get rough. This is especially the case when there is the first high tide of the new moon. At this time you will see red flags warning you not to swim.

As you can see from the video above the top of Nang Tong beach is full of sun loungers. It's a popular beach with lots of bungalows, restaurants etc. For those looking for a quieter, more intimate beach than south or north along the coast their are kilometers of pristine empty beach to enjoy.

There is a good range of accommodation on Nang Tong both directly on the beach and also on the other side of the beach road. You can get a room at Khao Lak Youth Club for as little as 600 THB a night. Suwan Palm Resort on the beach is good value with rooms starting at 700 THB. There are many reasonably priced mid-range places to stay in Nang Tong that offer air-con rooms with hot water and TV as well as communal swimming pools.

At the luxury end of accommodation in Nang Tong is Khaolak Seaview Resort and Spa. This resort is on a hill overlooking the beach. It has private pool villas, tennis courts, a snooker room, 4 restaurants, a spa and a fitness center. Prices at the Khaolak Seaview Resort and Spa start at 2,800 THB.

For those staying on the beach there is a walk to the nearby Khao Lak view point with a great elevated view of the area.

Finally, Nang Tong is conveniently placed just a few minutes from Thap Lamu pier where the liveaboard trips to the Similan Islands depart from. It might not be the quietest beach in Khao Lak but it is the most convenient.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Surfing in Khao Lak

Best time to surf in Khao Lak

Khao Lak is one of the best places in Thailand to surf. In surf terms that is not saying a great deal. Bali and places in Australia are much better for swell. However, there are waves you can surf in Khao Lak. There is slightly more swell in the rainy season that runs from mid May to October. This might sound like a long rainy season, but most of the heavy storms come in September. The good thing about coming to Khao Lak during the rainy season is that prices for Khao Lak accommodation are greatly reduced.

Prices and places to surf

You can rent boards in Khao Lak town next to Nang Tong beach. Typically an hour rental on a surf board costs 300 THB - which is about $30. There are surf shops in Nang Tong that offer instruction. The video below is of Lee. He is an instructor. Even if you have your own board with you, it is a good idea to check out the surf shops as they will have the low-down on the best spots to surf. There are 3 breaks on Pakarang Beach and there are a few beach breaks on Nang Tong beach.

Alternatives to surfing

Of course if the waves are not right for you, then there is always bodyboarding. It is easy to buy a cheap bodyboard made of foam and plastic (they snap easily). Many places rent out better body boards by the hour.

Finally, another fun activity to enjoy in the waves is kayaking. You have to launch the boat over the waves to get out and then you can 'ride' the waves back into the coast.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Bang Niang Sunset

Khao Lak's second most popular beach

Bang Niang is commonly thought of as the second most popular beach in the Khao Lak area. The long beach is located just north of the number one beach in the area Nang Tong (also spelled 'Nang Thong'). The popularity of the beaches is no reflection of the fineness of the sand or the beauty of the place. Rather Nang Tong beach is next to the main urban center of the region where there are plenty of shops, banks, bars, restaurants, travel agents etc. Most people end up staying on Nang Tong beach for convenience.

However, it is interesting to note that the most expensive and luxury hotels are found not on Nang Tong beach but on more outlaying beaches such as Khuk Khak (JW Marriott Khaolak). This might be a policy to isolate guests in expensive resorts so the guests are more inclined to use the hotel's restaurant and other facilities rather than take an expensive taxi into Khao Lak town.

About Bang Niang

Anyway Bang Niang beach is flanked at both ends by rivers. This separates the beach from its neighbors. Also the sediment from the rivers makes the visibility in the sea less then ideal. The coral reef at Bang Niang is 1km offshore, so the river sediment does not effect the quality of the diving or snorkeling by the reef.

There is a big tidal difference in Bang Niang. At high tide the beach nearly disappears. The beach itself has very fine golden powdery sand.

Bang Niang accommodation

Bang Niang used to be a favorite backpacker hang out. It still receives its fair share of backpackers, but much of the accommodation is now in the mid-range. Furama Khao Lak resort has rooms starting at 990 THB, Sudala Beach Resort 1,600 THB and the boutique Ayaras Villas start at 4,500 THB.

Restaurants and sunset

It takes about 1 hour to walk to Nang Thong going south along the beach from Bang Niang. It is unnecessary to make the journey into Nang Tong if you are looking for something cheap to eat and drink as there are plenty of local restaurants, bars and shops on the main road behing Bang Niang beach.

As with all the Khao Lak beaches the highlight of the day is the end when the sun dips down beyond the horizon. This is the time to stop, watch and appreciate paradise.