As I lay on a hammock over the white sand overlooking the gorgeous views of the vast Andaman Sea in Khao Lak, I pinched myself to ensure I wasn’t dreaming. Before me, stood one of the many picturesque settings of nature, a resplendent orange sky, an oasis of wonder, and a haven of tranquillity. I shed tears of joy. I had missed all of this—buckets of sunshine, a wide beach, swaying coconut trees, the sound of the crashing waves, and the glorious view of the distant horizon.
With the pandemic around, the joy and thrill of international trips had been marred, but with the vaccinations in place and tourists no longer requiring a 14-day quarantine, it was gratifying to be back in Thailand—one of the most romantic and loved places on earth. To keep away from the crowd, I spent most of my Thai sojourn in quiet and calming Khao Lak, only to be smitten with its beautiful green jungles, powdery sand, and clear blue waters.
Travelling to Thailand post lockdowns
My post lockdown international flight debut happened with Thai Airways. I flew down to Bangkok from Delhi, with the Thailand Pass generated under the ‘Test and Go’ scheme. As always, I opted for an on-arrival visa. It had been two years since my last international travel and I was apprehensive about the post-pandemic restrictions and changes. But there were no hiccups at the Suvarnabhumi airport. If you are fully vaccinated, have done your hotel bookings in advance, and are carrying all your documents as mandated by the visa process, you are eligible for a long and beautiful vacation in Thailand.
In Bangkok, I had booked an SHA hotel where I was tested for RTPCR, immediately after my check-in. Breakfast and lunch were served in the room and the quarantine period ended only after the result showed negative in the evening. This is what the new normal of travel has come to be; but at the end of the day, it felt important too. In today’s times, these precautionary measures instil more confidence and a sense of relief. I was free to head out, explore Bangkok, and relive everything that had seemed like a distant dream. On the very next day, I flew to Phuket and further travelled to Khao Lak, a rare beauty in the Andaman Sea.
Why Khao Lak?
While Khao Lak may leave you impressed with its laidback vibes, the emerald colour of its water, and the national parks serenaded with tropical rainforests—it has an adventurous side to it too. Khao Lak is not a city or a town, but a 20 km stretch of white-sand beaches, offering the exquisiteness of the Andaman Sea. Located 90 km north of the much-loved and ever-charming Phuket, Khao Lak is the jewel of the Phang Nga province.
Khao Lak which means ‘Lak Mountain’, was badly devastated by the 2004 tsunami but its gorgeous white-sand beaches, epic forest views, authentic Thai communities, towering limestone cliffs, hidden waterfalls, beautiful countryside hikes, and resilient people have made it bounce back. Don’t miss the International Tsunami Museum there.
The quaint and quintessential side of Khao Lak made me fall in love with the idea of slow and sustainable travel all over again. I often like to participate and indulge in experiences that are unique, fun, low carbon emitting, and supportive of the local community. Khao Lak had many such activities. The best part about it is that one can make it the base and book several half-days, full-day, and even multi-day trips to the nearby islands.
I went mangrove kayaking on the Little Amazon
“Spot the baby python over the banyan tree on your head.” This is how the guy rowing my canoe pointed out the first snake.
My friend was too scared to look up but I dared myself. And without wasting a minute, I tried capturing the adventurous moment on my GoPro as well.
"Little Amazon" has stunning mangrove cover, where you get to sail along with saltwater in the Amazon-like swamp "Sung Nae Canal" and spot reptiles, fishes, monkeys, and birds. This low-carbon route of kayaking is located in the lap of hundred’s year-old mangrove forests in the Takua Pa District, 30 minutes from Khao Lak. The experience was beautiful and it felt like I touched a bit of the rainforest myself. The ride was extremely calming as well as thrilling, with surprises awaiting us every few meters. It’s important to maintain silence and keep eyes and ears open to make the most of the sights and sounds of the forests. In the thirty minutes ride, my group spotted three varieties of snakes and several local birds.
The low carbon route walk to Khao Nah Yak Beach
When you are surrounded by gorgeous waters, relaxing on the beach seems to be a top priority but how about you walk a mile to look for a secret beach behind the mangrove forests? This is what I did at the Ban Tha Din Daeng, and it turned out to be a one-of-a-kind experience in Khao Lak.
A short long-tail boat ride took me to a point where the trail began. I walked for around 700 meters and reached a beach. With the sun over my head, it seemed tiring but when I reached the final destination, every step seemed worth it. There stood a stretch of 13 km of unfiltered beauty, the Khao Nah Yak beach. The tropical jungle chased the paths right up to the beach. The limestone cliffs added some drama to this photogenic beauty. After spending an hour at the beach, I returned to the starting point to have lunch with the locals. They served me fruits, dessert, and roasted cashews. Interestingly, these cashews were much bigger than what we get in India and they must be eaten only after being roasted. Ban Tha Din Daeng community is one of the oldest in this area and dates back to the time of World War II.
Adventurous ride to James Bond Island
The plan was to take a ride to Similan Islands and explore Donald Duck Bay, Ba Ngu Island, Payu Island, and Miang Island, and photograph the gorgeous beaches of Honeymoon Bay and Princess Bay. But the weather played spoilsport and it rained heavily. All boat rides were deferred for a later date due to high tide. To make up for it, we took a boat trip to Ao Phang-nga National Park, Phang Nga Bay, and James Bond Island.
The first half of the journey was fun but the second half turned out to be super adventurous. It started to rain cats and dogs. We waited under a cliff and when it seemed under control, we made our way ahead. This boat ride brings along views of breathtaking limestone formations of Phang Nga Bay. Despite the raincoat, I was drenched from head to toe, and yet I did not miss my iconic Instagram shot. There are many beautiful stops and snorkelling points around James Bond Island.
The most popular day trip in Khao Lak is James Bond Island and it earns its fame thanks to the shooting of the James Bond movie in 1974 The Man With the Golden Gun here.
Samet Nangshe Viewpoint
“This is a must-do”. Everyone will tell you so.
On my way back to Phuket, I did not miss this famed viewpoint in Phang Nga Bay. It is one of the most dramatic formations of limestone, a visual treat to the eyes and soul. The Bay View Café is one of the most recommended places to get the most spectacular views of Samet Nangshe. The sunset and sunrises are mesmerizing here.
I had a splendid time in Khao Lak and if you are seeking an authentic beach escapade in Thailand, Khao Lak should be your first choice. It has some of the most amazing luxury places as well as budget hotels to stay in. I must mention here that all Covid protocols were being strictly followed in Khao Lak. Everyone around me wore masks in public places and even in the resort.