Saturday, 26 October 2013

Khao Lak as the Middle Option

For people planning on visiting Thailand for the first time it can be difficult to choose a holiday destination. In a way Khao Lak is the ideal middle option for those not wanting to spend too much money, who don’t want somewhere too busy or too quiet.

It is often the case that people are put off by the high prices and the scams in Phuket. They are also put off by the obvious seedy nature of Pattaya. They might shy away from the mass package tourism of Koh Samui and the reputation of Koh Phangan as party central. Places like Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan do represent extremes for tourism in Thailand.

Phuket is the most developed beach area in the Kingdom. Not only are room rates high but so are taxi fees and even restaurant menu prices. There seems no end to the avaricious atmosphere of Phuket. For many items Phuket is now more expensive than the UK. As a result of the large sums of money pouring into the island Thai and foreign mafias have vested interests, and one suspects have greased the right palms. For many Karon, Kata and Kamala Beaches might be stunning but are not worth it.

Chaweng and Lamai beaches in Koh Samui have long been famous tourist destinations. However, these east coast beaches have become so developed it can be hard to actually find the beach. It is an overwhelming mass of commercialism with restaurants, nightclubs and seedy massage joints all rubbing shoulders. Koh Samui has at least 20% room vacancy rates because they have plainly overbuilt. It can be hard to get a good night’s sleep if you choose the wrong hotel in Koh Samui. The prices in Samui are cheaper than Phuket but the package tourist crowds are possibly worse.

Koh Phangan despite recent improvements to its infrastructure and its growing reputation as an up market destination with a pristine natural environment cannot shake off its image as a party island. Indeed for a week or so around the full moon time, the southern beaches of Haad Rin and Baan Tai become overrun with all night revellers, most of whom are high not just on life. Beaches like Haad Salad on the west coast and the small idyllic and remote beaches on the east coast are a million miles away from the hedonism of the party scene in Haad Rin. The type of holiday you get in Koh Phangan really depends on when you go and where you go.

It is a long trek down to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Due to the Bangkok Airways monopoly on flights to Koh Samui there are no cheap and convenient flights to the southern islands. You can fly to the Suratthani or Nakhon but then you are still faced with 2 or more hour journey time getting to an island.

Khao Lak in contrast is much closer to Bangkok and well served by plane and bus companies. Khao Lak doesn’t have a party reputation and so the all-night youngsters don’t go there. What it does have is an abundance of good quality mid-range hotels, lots of unspoiled beaches and the best diving in the Kingdom. Khao Lak represents the middle option in terms of cost; it also is the mid-point between being a party place and a deserted place.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Tourists Rescued by Elephants

Yesterday 16 German tourists were successfully rescued by 4 experienced elephants. The tourists had been trekking in Khuk Khak when they were trapped by rains.

The tourists were on an elephant trek in the hills behind Baan Thung Kamin. They were riding young elephants. There was a torrential downpour which caused damage to a river defence. The young elephants that the tourists were on were afraid to cross the fast flowing river.

The tour guide called in the problem and 4 older and more experienced elephants were dispatched to rescue the tourists. They managed to reach the stranded tourists and cross the fast flowing river, and then get them to safety. The mahouts of the younger elephants stayed out all night and crossed the river the following day.

It is a good story as it shows the ability of the elephant trekking companies to deal with problems. It also shows the hard lot of mahouts who must stay with their elephants come rain or shine.

Story from Phuket Gazette

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Bang Niang Market

The main outdoor market in the Khao Lak is Bang Niang Market. It is not only a good place to get a snack and pick up useful items, but also a fun place to visit and experience Thai culture. I recommend going to Bang Niang Market at least once during your holiday in Khao Lak. The market is open every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 2pm to 6pm. You should time your visit to fit in with a meal time: either a late lunch or an early dinner. Not only will you have an interesting culinary experience, you will also get one of the cheapest meals of your holiday. There are three main sections to Bang Niang Market.

1) Fruit and vegetables, and other food

There are long rows of stalls selling all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of the food items you will recognize, others you won’t. Naturally, many of the fruit and vegetables are seasonal. The meat and fresh fish sections are similar all year round. Fruit to look out for include mangosteen, guava, banana, mango, dragon fruit, watermelon and rose apple. The latter is in the guava family – it is red and shaped like an elongated apple. It has a bitter sweet taste. There is the usual selection of vegetables you find in Thailand including a few you see less often such as asparagus and bitter cucumber. There are also a couple of stalls selling fresh herbs and spices in pots. These are excellent to take home as souvenirs and also for your own kitchen if you plan to try Thai cooking at home. The fish section includes mussels, squid, fish eggs, crabs and a variety of both sea and freshwater fish. For the brave self-caterer there are such delicacies as pig intestines, quail eggs and Thai sausages that contain rice and again pig intestines. If any of these products intrigue you then you can normally try a mouthful for free. The food section of the market also offers many of the meats cooked and ready for consumption.

2) Cooked Food

There are plenty of food stalls in the market. They are cooking all the time so you can always find something freshly cooked. Here is where it is fun to be adventurous. Remember that food that looks recognizable might not taste the same as back home. Dishes to look out for include sausage balls – a traditional delicacy from the north, chicken feet and pig brains. The fried prawns and mussels are delicious. For those with a sweet tooth, the pancakes are recommended. I often buy a bag of adzuki beans cooked in coconut cream.

3) Clothes, shoes, souvenirs and other items

There is a mixture of cheap clothes and shoes aimed more at the Thai market as well as some traditional material shawls, counterpanes, bags etc. for people looking for a souvenir of Thailand. You can also find sunglasses, belts, silk and printed T-shirts.


If the heat of the day gets too much for you there is a pub at the end of the market (Chay Bar) with shade where you can get a cold beer, coke or shake. You might even catch some live music. Sitting in the pub is a great way to pass an hour or so people watching.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Villa Rental in Khao Lak

It is becoming more and more popular to rent a private villa in Thailand. Villa rentals have numerous advantages not least of which is that they often offer much better value for money than hotel rooms. If you divide the cost of a villa between 4 or more people you discover that you can save 50% on equivalent hotel accommodation.

The best place to search for villas to rent in Thailand is the internet. You can find sites for individual villas as well as lists of villas for rent on larger sites such as Flipkey and The larger sites allow you to compare prices and send off several enquiries quickly.

Surprisingly, Flipkey has only one Khao Lak villa listed. It is a 4 bedroom villa just 400 meters from the beach. Prices start at 5,700 Thai Baht a night. Between 4 people it is just over 1,000 Thai Baht each. For that money you get a swimming pool, kitchen, TV etc. and a lot more space and privacy then any hotel can provide. It is a great deal.

Moreover, since you are dealing with villa owners you can often negotiate discounts, arrange extra services and customize your holiday experience in a way that most hotel booking systems cannot.

Not all the listing sites are the same, however. Some like charge a 5% to 12% additional fee to supposedly ‘administer’ the site. That should read ‘monetize’. These sites do not allow email addresses or telephone numbers to be exchanged as they want to monitor all conversations to make sure they get their cut. It is worth finding villas on and then searching again for contact information; by doing so you will save yourself at least 5% off the total rental fee.

In places like Koh Phangan villa rental is becoming firmly established. More and more people are opting out of a hotel system as the prices are becoming prohibitively high. Also villa rental allows a different type of holiday experience often more suitable for families; an experience with more room, more amenities and more privacy.

So before you book a room in Khao Lak check out that you can’t get a better deal with villa rental instead.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Turtle Conservation

There was an article in the Phuket Gazette today (Sunday March 24th, 2013) about turtles. It is bad news for the traditional breeding grounds and egg-laying grounds for the turtles in both the Phuket and the Khao Lak regions.

The article is very short on facts but the overall message is hard to dispute: turtles laying their eggs on the shores of the beaches stretching from Phuket to the north of Phang-Nga Province are becoming are becoming a rare sight. Just 20 years ago there were masses of turtles to see. It is an area famous throughout Thailand for its turtles.

Yet sadly, now there are very few turtles left in the wild. The species that used to be most prevalent is the leatherback sea turtle. Now due to plastic bags getting into the sea and poisoning the turtles along with pollution from tourism and fishing vessels, and with over-fishing of all marine resources by both big companies and subsistence fishermen turtle numbers are in sharp decline.

The authorities and wild life organizations spotted the trend a few years ago and several conservation efforts are underway to breed turtles in captivity and release them back into the area.

As far back as 1979 conservation efforts started when the Queen donated her own island, Koh Mannai in Rayong to a project to boost turtle numbers. The centre piece of the project is a 5 hectare lagoon for breeding that was finished in 1988.

Other turtle conservation projects include the Thai Muang National Park (on the main Phet Kasem road) near Lam Kaen beach. It is one of the best places to see sea turtles come onto the beach. The best times of the year are December and February after 10pm.

10 to 15 km south of Bang La On is the Royal Thai Navy's Third Fleet Sea Turtle Nursery. Infant turtles are collected from along the Andaman Coast in the region and bought here where they are looked after until they are old enough to be released back into the wild.

All three of these conservation projects are open to the public. They are more research and conservation projects than tourist attractions and so there is limited information in English. The main thing, of course, is that effort is being made to conserve a sea creature that is at least 90 million years old and very much part of Thai culture.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

James Bond Island

It seems unlikely but Phang-Nga has a James Bond connection. It is also a major tourist attraction for the region. In Phang-Nga Bay there is a small island called Koh Khao Phing Kan. Just off the shore of a small beach on the island stands a limestone karst rock that is known locally as Koh Tapu or Khao Tapu. It is this karst rock that forms the iconic backdrop to The Man with The Golden Gun.

The beach and karst rock behind features in the 1974 Bond movie. It is one of the best Bond movies. The spectacular rock rising from the turquoise sea just off a clean white sand beach is the memorable hideout of the ‘baddie’ Scaramanga.

One local legend claims Koh Tapu was formed by a frustrated fisherman. Day after day he caught nothing but a nail that he threw back each time. In a moment of anger the fisherman cuts the nail in half and one half flies off into the sea and becomes the iconic rock we have today.

Koh Khao Phing Kan is part of the Phang-Nga Bay National Park. You can get tour boats out to the island. There is a government office to pay entry fee and a few souvenir shops. The southern part of the island has 2 sand beaches. You aren’t allowed to camp or stay overnight.

A trip to James Bond Island is usually included in tours of Phang-Nga Bay that will also typically feature visits to the floating island of Koh Panyi and the Monkey Caves.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Scenes of Khao Lak

The above video helps to introduce Khao Lak to those who are new to the area. The video starts with Phuket bus station. It is possible to catch a bus from here to Khao Lak. It is a 60 km journey and takes just over an hour. One of the highlights of the bus journeyis crossing the impressive Sarasin Bridge which joins Phuket to the mainland.

I don't know which hotel the couple with a small child book into but it is nice to see the good service. The baby is shielded from the sun by a parasol as the mother walks to their bungalow near the sea.

The scenes in the market are interesting. It is Bang Muang Market. There are plenty of exotic fruit and vegetables to see. You can see a woman using a machine to shred coconut meat. Coconut has plenty of health benefits; it also makes delicious shakes.

There is footage of the beach. Note the golden sand that is characteristic of the beaches in the Khao Lak area.

Finally, for those who like to escape from the madding crowds look at how empty the beach is during the low season. The weather is fine too.