The mainland Thai resort town of Khao Lak is fast becoming a favourite for families. To get there from Phuket, drive north over the Sarasin bridge to the mainland and up the Andaman Coast for about an hour.
Khao Lak has uncrowded white sandy beaches, as you would expect of most Andaman Coast resorts. What sets it apart, however, is that it also has the inland Khao Sok National Park and it is close to with the stunning Similan Island, easily accessible by boat.
While the town isn’t quite the busy hub that Koh Samui and Phuket have become, it has a wide selection of open-air (kid-friendly) restaurants and bars to grab a cheap Pad Thai and Singha beer.
So what can you do when you are there? Heaps.
Elephant Seaside Retreat
Visit a family of elephants at their seaside home. This former elephant trekking ‘camp’ has reformed, these days allowing its elephants to retire, favouring education and conservation over tourist rides. Visitors are given a lesson in elephant conservation before being able to feed them a few banana snacks. Then it’s a stroll to a nearby stream, where you can get into your swimmers, hop in the water and give them a scrub. After your elephant spa, you are given the option to contribute to the sanctuary’s mangrove conservation by planting a mangrove seedling, following by a snack of Thai coconut pancakes and rosehip tea.
Bamboo rafting down the Khao Lak River
There can be few better ways to spend a hot steamy day than floating down the shady river on a bamboo raft. No effort involved, just be prepared to get wet (especially around the bum-area), sit back and relax. Along the way, your Thai gondoliers will point out wildlife hiding in the overhanging rainforest as they guide your raft through slow and fast-moving water.
Visit the Sea Turtle Conservation Centre.
There are actually two turtle sanctuaries in Khao Lak. The closest is a short drive from the town centre, inside the grounds of the Royal Thai Navy’s Third Fleet. The sanctuary is home to around 1800 turtles of varying sizes. Most are hatchlings, which are kept here until they grow to a size where their survival is greater. From the first to the 10th of March each year Khao Lak hosts a Turtle Festival, where visitors are able to help release the hatchlings to the sea.
Thai Cooking class
Learn how to make a few local specialties at one of Khao Lak’s cooking schools. There are several to choose from, and Pui’s is a good one for families as you get to choose what you cook. Take a trip with Pui to the local market to pick out your fresh ingredients, learn how to prepare and cook your favourite Thai dishes and then feast with your fellow students.
See Tsunami Memorials
Khao Lak was almost wiped off the map when the 2004 tsunami hit Thailand’s east coast. Over 4000 people were killed here, and there are reminders of the tragic day throughout Khao Lak, boats here and there washed far inland and left as reminders (there’s one at the Turtle Conservation Centre). The main memorial, Baan Nam Khem Memorial Park consists of two walls, one curved, wave-shaped wall and another covered in name plaques.
Go snorkeling in the Similan Islands
Khao Lak is the closest port to Thailand’s Similan Islands, famous for their beautiful coral reefs and resident turtles. Sea Bees Diving take snorkelers and divers to visit different islands each day of the week, on their high-speed catamaran, by far the comfiest ride out there. Monday and Wednesday’s itineraries to islands No. 4, 5, 6 and 7 are better for snorkelers and beginner divers, while on Saturday and Sunday, divers can look for manta rays at Koh Bon, and on Sunday swim with reef sharks and turtles at Island No. 9. Kids as young as 10 can learn how to dive in Thailand.
Go ziplining at Elephant Fly Zipline
Fly through the lush rainforest canopy, in the sloping hills behind Khao Lak on this sometimes challenging, sometimes exhilarating tree tops course. Zip downhill on 11 ziplines, tackle five sky bridges, test your balance on bicycle and skateboard tightrope courses your broomstick flying skills on the ‘Harry Potter’ course.
Try the Harry Potter course |Credit: Tourism Authority of Thailand
Kayaking in ‘Little Amazon’
Go kayaking through the expansive mangrove forests north of Khao Lak, known as ‘Little Amazon’, on a guided full-day tour that also takes in the morning markets at historic Takuapa Town, a guided walking tour through the lush rainforest of Si Phang-Nga National Park and a visit to Tam Nang Waterfall.
Khao Sok Lake Raft House sleepover
Take a day trip to Cheow Lan Lake, a huge reservoir surrounded by tall limestone mountains. Explore the lake by long-tail boat, swim in the clear fresh water or grab a kayak to explore the lake’s islands. The kids will love searching for monkeys, gibbons and hornbills in the tree tops. Better still, stay the night in one of the lake’s floating raft houses and fall asleep to the sounds of the surrounding jungle.
Koh Phra Thong. This hidden treasure is an hour’s drive north of Khao Lak, and another hour by long tail boat through expansive mangrove forests. It’s worth spending at least two nights here, to explore the nearby ‘Savannah’, go snorkeling on pristine reefs at the nearby islands Koh Pling Lek ad Koh Pling Yai, or simply laze about in one of the resort’s hammocks while the kids play on the beach (which they’ll have to themselves).
Where to Stay
The Sands Khao Lak
This enormous 4-star hotel has family rooms and two bedroom teen suites so it’s great for families of all ages and sizes. Situated right on beautiful Nang Thong beach, the resort has two large lagoon pools, a playground, kids club, gym and day spa. There are two restaurants to choose from inside the resort grounds, and plenty more at the end of the driveway.
Moken Eco Village
This quiet hideaway is on Koh Phra Thong, with access to the mainland via long tail boat. The resort consists of 11 bungalows, each with its own unique design, and is powered entirely by solar panels. The resort runs a dawn savannah tour, so you can watch the sun rise over Thailand’s version of an African savannah, and then watch it set in the evening back at the resort which is located on a picture-perfect wineglass-shaped bay facing the setting sun.
Deborah has been travelling with her kids for 20 years, and writing about it for almost as long. She’s published several travel magazines throughout her career in media, and is currently editor of Out & About With Kids. Deb also blogs about the ocean: diveplanit.com and about travelling with teens: where-to-next.com