Published: March 9th 2012February 20th 2012
We skipped Bangkok rush hour by leaving for the airport at 6am
, and by 1030am we had landed in Phuket. We were whisked away by our private driver who we booked through Boss Cheaper Than Taxis. For only 1000thb ($33) we were dropped off in front of our hostel in Khao Lak. This was definitely worth the cost, as we will explain in the next blog!
We pre booked Seaweed Hostel as it is #1 rated on TripAdvisor so we didnt want to risk it being full. For only 650thb we had a private bungalow with air conditioning and wifi. The hostel is on the main strip on town in Khao Lak and the bungalows are set back from the street in the middle of a mini-jungle! The birds, monkeys and crickets were so loud that they would wake us up! We weren't pleased with the bed though - obviously we paid very little but still - you could see the springs just looking at the mattress, not to mention they dug into our ribs as we slept (or, tried to sleep).
Khao Lak is a very cool little town. It reminded us a lot of Tofino, a well
known surfing town on Vancouver Island. It attracts a lot of European tourists, and many of the shops and restaurants cater to Germans and Scandinavians. It was pretty cool to see where Europeans go for holiday, just like North Americans flood Hawaii and the Caribbean.
The reason we ended up in Khao Lak was its proximity to the Similian & Surin Islands! We are avid snorkelers and heard that the reefs around the Surin Islands are so great that snorkeling is sufficient and you don't even need to dive. After arriving in Khao Lak, we immediately booked a trip for the following morning to the Surins. We paid 2500thb each including lunch which is significantly less than the prices we read online (3800thb).
It was quite a trek to the Surins - we drove for an hour and a half to Khura Buri pier and it was another hour on a boat from there. We were blown away by how pristine and remote they were. The Surin Islands are found 55 kilometres from the mainland of Thailand and the Thai-Burmese oceanic border is found only a few kilometers north, with the Southernmost point of mainland Burma 18 kilometers
north. There is still a village of sea gypsies, the Moken tribe, inhabiting one of the islands. Interesting fact courtesy of Wikipedia: the Moken tribe feel deeply connected to the ocean and were able to sense that something troubling was going to occur; the majority of their tribe was able to make their way to a safe place prior to the tsunami in 2004.
The water around the Surin Islands was the cleanest and clearest we have ever seen. The palest shade of aqua, it sparkled like diamonds in the 35 degree heat. We were surrounded by lush, untouched greenery, and white sand beaches with sand so fine it felt like we were walking on powder. We had no doubt that we had found paradise.
The reefs suffered coral bleaching in 2010 when the ocean temperature rose by less than half a degree. This was evident as we snorkeled, but the abundance of fish the Surins are known for clearly were not affected. There were more species and schools of fish than we can name. It was truly phenomenal.
Also phenomenal was the food we had in Khao Lak. We enjoyed walking up and down the strip,
looking at the 30+ different restaurants menus and trying to decide where to eat each meal. We were able to expand our list of seafood eaten, adding Snapper (thumbs up from both of us); Blue Marlin (thumbs up from Steph; half a thumb from Colin); and Barracuda (thumbs up only from Colin). We found ourselves going back to Khao Lak Seafood 4 times - the seafood was so fresh, Thai food delicious, and it was one of the cheapest places in the area. We also tried out Smile Khao Lak, which we highly recommend - the owner is a hilarious character from France who married a Thai woman who is the chef. The owner spends his evenings serving and cracking up all of the diners. We had the most delicious spring rolls - chicken spring rolls with boccincini stuffed inside. We definitely need to attempt to make those when we get home! If you are in Khao Lak, most definitely visit this restaurant!
We only checked out one beach - the one nearest to our hotel, which was a beige sand with black sand in some spots (we love black sand beaches!). This beach stretched on for miles and
there were plenty of restaurants and massage places along the water. We heard there is a white sand beach in Khao Lak but having already been to the Surins we didn't really feel it necessary to spend 300thb per way to get to the white sand beach. We also ending up skipping the Similan Islands snorkel trip because many of the people on our Surin Islands trip told us the Similans were very busy when they were there. We hope to return one day with our Padi diving certificates to do a Similan liveaboard!
We truly enjoyed our time spent in Khao Lak and would definitely return. It has a special vibe, and we loved that we could spend our days at the beach and our evenings watching the sunset on the beach and then indulging in our foodie side. If we returned we would try to stay at a more cozy hotel, and definitely do a 3-5 night liveaboard. We wish that we had taken the opportunity to spend at least one or two nights camping on Surin Island National Park, which is limited to just a few tents and would have been our ideal way to spend
more time in paradise!
There are more photos below