Thursday, 12 July 2012

Natai Beach

As you can see from the video, Natai is a gorgeous beach that faces west and so gets an incredible sunset. I recommend turning the sound off and just enjoying the images, as the woman talking on the video detracts from the natural beauty of the area.

Natai beach is just 20 minutes drive from Phuket International Airport. It is one of the first beaches you encounter when you cross Sarasin Bridge onto the mainland. Natai Beach is officially part of Phang-Nga Province and separate to Khao Lak. However, since it is just a short journey down Highway 4 to get to Natai Beach it is worth mentioning in this blog.

Natai Beach is a rare thing in Thailand, namely a beautiful beach near a major urban center (in this case Phuket) that is relatively unvisited. Moreover, little information about  Natai Beach is available on the net.

Natai Beach has the slightly golden sand found on the beaches of Khao Lak. The beach is about 2 km long. The sea is calm and the sand is fine. It is great for swimming. Behind the beach it is mostly rainforest punctuated in places by a few 5 star hotels and expensive private residential developments.

As much of the land near a beach or with sea views has already been taken by hotels and land developers in Phuket, the market has naturally spread beyond the island. Phang-Nga land prices are considerably lower, and so it is no surprise that the Phuket villa market has come to Natai. Indeed, some would argue that Natai beach is more pristine and relaxing than Phuket beaches, and thus a better place for a second home.

Don’t be put off by this talk of luxury developments and 5 star hotels - there are still some cheap accommodation options available on Natai Beach. The best mid-range hotel in the area is the Hot Spring Beach Resort and Spa. It is located near the beach. You just have to cross a small footbridge to get to the sand. The resort has rooms and villas for rent. They have air-con, hot water, 29” satellite TV and bath tub. There are 2 communal hot springs as well as a swimming pool, fitness center, restaurant and bar. The cheapest rooms start at around 2,000 Thai Baht a night. That’s $60.

The special thing about Natai is that it is an area that has natural hot springs. This makes the spas at Natai  ‘real spas’ not just places to get a massage and a beauty treatment. There are a number of places in and around Natai where you can enjoy the spring waters.

Near the main road there is a small town. It is not a party town, or one that especially caters for tourists. However, you can find a range of shops as well as a few good local bars and restaurants to try out. You won’t find Phuket nightlife in Natai, but you will find enough amenities to have a comfortable holiday. Anything that you can’t find in Natai can soon be sourced by crossing over the bridge onto Phuket Island.

Between Natai town and beach you can also find cheap rooms to rent. If you are on a small budget then you will have to just turn up in Natai and look around for the cheap deals as the internet is little use in trying to secure cheap accommodation in Natai.

If you don’t find anything you like in Natai then just south is the equally as nice beach of Pilai. Again there are a few local places to stay if you look around. Another great thing about Pilai beach is that in February you can see turtles coming up to the beach to lay their eggs. In April the eggs hatch and the hatchlings make their mad dash for the ocean.

It is recommended that you get to Natai Beach soon before it becomes overrun with the Phuket spill over, Japanese tourists crazy for hot springs and package tourists. Perhaps it is a good thing that so little has been written about Natai on the net.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Bars in Khao Lak

Khao Lak is composed of a series of villages along a 25 km long stretch of golden sand beaches. What is commonly thought of as the center of the region is the town of Bang La On. Confusingly this is also often referred to as ‘Khao Lak’ or ‘Khao Lak town’. When catching a taxi it is important to be specific as to your destination as some of the beach resorts are far from Bang La On.

The most popular beach is called Nang Thong. It is close to Bang La On. Along this beach you will find plenty of resorts that have bars and restaurants along the beach. In Bang La On there is one road that is lined with bars. The streets behind this one also have bars and restaurants. This is considered the most lively nightspot area in the region.

Although Khao Lak is only an hour or so away from Phuket by taxi, it has a completely different feel to Thailand’s most developed beach destination. Whereas many of the nightspot areas in Phuket cater to single old men with cash to spend on female entertainment, Khao Lak is largely free of the sex industry. Nang Tong, La On nor any of the other beach areas of Khao Lak can be classified as ‘party spots’ or bar beer strips.

La On has the best nightlife. Here are some of the highlights:

The Happy Snapper

The Happy Snapper is at the northern end of the village. It is considered the most happening bar in La On. It is a bar with live music at night. There is the ‘Snapper Brothers Band’ as well as other bands that regularly play the bar. As you can see from the YouTube video it is mostly cover bands. This is pretty much par for the course for all of Thailand. The Happy Snapper has live music from Monday to Saturday during the season. Music starts at 10.30pm and the bar closes at 1am.

Monkey Bar

No beach location in Thailand would be complete without the obligatory reggae bar. Monkey Bar fills this gap. It plays reggae and ska and has bands later on in the evening. You will find Monkey Bar in the center of Bang La On. It is open from 5pm until late.

O'Connor's Irish Pub

O'Connor's Irish Pub is at the northern end of La On. Nowadays, Irish pubs rival reggae pubs as the standard template for a farang bar in Thailand. This one is owned by a German and serves Korean barbecue. More in keeping with its theme, it also has single malts and international draught beers. The bar is popular, looks like an Irish bar and has a friendly atmosphere.

Tarzan Bar

Tarzan Bar is one of the longest running bars in Khao Lak. It is in a 2 storey wooden building in the center of La On. They show live sporting events on TV.

Fisherman Bar

This bar is on the main Petchkasem Road. It is a small bar and restaurant with cheap Thai food and cold beers. This bar has more of a Thai vibe and is a good place to get away from the more obvious tourist spots. People have commented about how friendly the staff is as well.

Rose Bar

When I wrote earlier that Khao Lak was free of lady bars, I wasn’t telling the truth completely. Rose Bar is located in the lane behind Monkey Bar (on Soi Monkey Bar). It is not a full-on beer bar spot. However, there are ladies there who hang around waiting for single men to buy them drinks. It is not a hard sell place. Like a Japanese hostess place, the girl’s spend more of their time entertaining the patrons then setting up monetary liaisons.

There are a number of other bars in Bang La On. Most of them are small ‘hole in the wall’ places with seating on the street. They offer the usual shakes, snacks and cold beers.

The main advantages of Khao Lak nightlife are that it is not overrun with either libidinous old men (like Sukhumvit in Bangkok) or young and loud lager lads and ladettes (like Chaweng in Koh Samui). Rather it’s a place to unwind, have a few beers and maybe listen to some average music after a day on the beach.