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Khao Lak
2004 was a long time ago

"How many stupid things have you done in your life?  Let's narrow that down.  How many stupid things did you do in your life in the year 2004?  Regardless of how long the list, thank your lucky stars that taking a vacation in Khao Lak wasn't one of them."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic

We've all heard about the virtues of being the right place at the right time and perchance you've been lucky enough to experience that. It's just one side of the coin.  The other side is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Want some examples?

Victim:  Sharon Tate.    
Wrong place:
  10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles, California.   Wrong time:  August 9, 1969.  Charles Manson's Manson Family cult brutally murdered the actress, wife of director Roman Polanski and eight months pregnant, at the height of her career. 

Victim:  Bethany Lott.  
Wrong place:
  North Carolina mountains.  Wrong time:  June 2010.    Bethany's boyfriend was just about to propose.  Lightning struck three times.  Real lightning, not "magic" or "love sparks" or "passion."  The boyfriend suffered third degree burns, and Bethany left the earthly plane at age 25. 

Victims:  Over a million people.  
Wrong place:
 11 countries within close proximity to the Indian Ocean.  Wrong time:  December 26, 2004.   An magnitude 9.3 earthquake strikes, releasing the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.  The epicenter is just west of Sumatra in Indonesia.  150,000 people bite it and a million plus go homeless.  In Thailand, 4,000 to 10,000 people say adios to this life, including the grandson of the King of Thailand.

Ban Krating

The waves are quite small most years

Khao Lak MuseumNearly all of the deaths in Thailand occurred around the coastal area of Khao Lak on the Andaman Coast. Resorts, vegetation, that favorite restaurant you ate at in 2003 -- all gone.  The devastation on the Andaman was so bad that the Gulf of Thailand costal areas on Thailand's opposite coast (Hua Hin, Koh Samui) experienced a surge in tourist arrivals from 2005 as tourists who would've "gone Andaman" adjusted their vacation plans. 

Khao Lak is back now.   Is it better than ever?  I can't comment on that.  I have only visited Khao Lak once and that was almost 5 years after the tsunami hit.  I noticed Khao Lak wasn't as built up as other coastal resort areas in Thailand.  Could that be due to the tsunami destroying the area or was Khao Lak never all that built up to begin with?  I suspect the latter. 

There's a museum north of the tiny town documenting the tsunami.  We planned to visit but the admission charge, as I recall, was beyond reasonable for a room that looked like they had just printed pages and pictures off Wikipedia.  There may have been some notice that some of the proceeds went to victims' families..   I don't remember, and even if there was such a notice, this is Thailand, a country where an orange or lettuce stalk becomes organic merely because someone pronounces it so.   The "victims" in this case could have been the museum's owner. 

Doug's Khao Lak Vacation

My girlfriend -- now, my wife -- planned this Khao Lak and Phuket trip in September 2009 as one of our annual family vacations.   I let her do the choosing.  She hasn't seen as much of Thailand as I, so I let her pick the place, then I comment if her plans are feasible.  The Khao Lak-Phuket trip definitely was.

We caught an overnight bus from Hua Hin to Khao Lak.  If you're unsure how to buy a bus ticket in Thailand, visit here first.  We arrived in the pouring rain and sat outside a 7 11 eating instant noodles until it subsided long enough to get a taxi out to our accommodation only slightly out of town. 


Ton Pling Waterfall Khok Loy spring Khao Lak Beach Khao Lak Khok Loy
The post tsunami Khao Lak (l to r):  Doug at Ton Pling waterfall; posing at the dock at the hot springs resort; Khao Lak beach seen from Doug's balcony; Doug having a beer on the Khao Lak beach that would've been underwater on December 24, 2006; Doug going to a spa treatment.  Click on an image to enlarge it, okay?

As I usually do when I arrive at a fresh locale, I rent a motorbike.  We drove to the nearby Ton Pling Waterfall and hiked to the Chong Fah Waterfall.  Two national parks aren't far away.   Thai Muang National Park is 25 kms from Khao Lak in the direction of Phuket.  60 km from Khao Lak in another direction is Sri Phang-Nga Nataional Park. 

Khok LoyThe real draw is the diving, purported to be Thailand's best.  Koh Tao insists it has the best diving.  That's not true.  Koh Tao just offers easily accessible diving at affordable prices.  The Similan Islands and the Mergi Archipelago, which is officially in Burma, are the places divers lust for. The Similans can be visited on an expensive day trip from Phuket, but serious divers do a liveaboard boat trip, and these are costly by an definition, more expensive than my 10-dive 4-night 3-day trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  Khao Lak is the place closest to these diving meccas, and thus, the cheapest place to book, though think of 'cheap' here in relative terms.  As of this writing in August 2011, the cheapest trip I've seen was a 9-dive 3-day 2-night to the Similan Islands and Koh Bon, a trip I would book in a heartbeat if I were in Khaolak during the season from the end of October to the end of April.  With separate national park fees included, the cost is over USD 400, reasonable given the quality, but includes all equipment and the use of a dive computer.   Prices quickly escalate from there.   A 9-dive 3-day 3-night trip to Similan and Koh Bon exceeds USD 500.  14-dive 4-day 4-night trips to the Similans approach USD 700.  14-dive 5-night 5-day trips to the Burmese Mergui Archipelago are about USD 1,100.   If you're reading this info long after I wrote it, one thing you can be sure of, regardless of the currency markets, regardless of competition, regardless of the planet being overthrown by aliens, is that you'll be paying even more.  Fuel prices today defy gravity, and a these dive boats must journey a three hour boat journey on a regular boat from Khao Lak to reach the dive areas. 

We spent three enjoyable nights in Khao Lak.  Because I'd never been there, I could not grasp the extent to which it had been destroyed.  In its rebuilt state as of 2009, Khao Lak was still more developed than Koh Phangan and Koh Tao in 1994.  The Thailand Indian Restaurant Theorem states that once an Indian restaurant has moved into a Thai area, you can no longer consider the area rustic.  You see, Thais don't devour Indian food.  Tourists do, and Indians won't set up shop unless tourists are likely to be frequently a place.   In 2009, Khao Lak already had 3 Indian restaurants. Within 10 years, it could look like Bombay.

We followed up our stay in Khao Lak with a night at a rundown hot springs resort in nearby Khok Loy.  Consult this Andaman Coast map to get an idea of the precise location.   Khok Loy was a signal for Khao Lak's future.  After Khao Lak was done and dusted, other beaches down the coast seized their chance to become the new Khao Lak, eager to build up a base and following while the old Khao Lak was out of commission.  Many a European tourist was booked on a trip in Khok Loy 80 km distant, thinking it was really Khao Lak, and being none the wiser.  If Khao Lak eventually becomes trampled with highrises, condos, discoes, and pickup bars, which seems to be the course of Thai development everywhere else, Khok Loy should continue to enjoy bookings until perhaps it, too, evolves into another tourism gone wild destination. 


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