By David Ngo
Jun 30, 2022
PHUKET AND KOH SAMUI may be the most popular islands in Thailand, but in-the-know locals have long been aware of the fact that Khao Lak is one its most beautiful beach destinations. An hour north of Phuket airport, on the edge of the Andaman Sea, this secret surfing spot is the perfect departure point for daytrips to the crystalline waters surrounding the Similan Islands or liveaboard dive trips to the coral-ringed Surin Islands.
In 2004, the area rose to international fame for a tragic reason: it was one of the areas most devastated by the disastrous tsunami. But in the nearly two decades since, Khao Lak has rebounded spectacularly. Memories Beach, a stretch of powder sand lapped by (relatively) impressive waves, has become a magnet for local surfers, who have in the past couple of years created something of a village on the shoreline, with a skate park, surf shop, bars and even bungalows. As the sun goes down, expect to see plenty of people pulling up their boards and grabbing a Singha beer at the chilled-out Memories Beach Bar.
Courtesy of Khao Lak Surf Town (2)
During the Covid travel restrictions, Khao Lak became a particularly prominent destination for domestic tourism, especially for those looking to snorkel in the Andaman or learn to surf at Memories. Locals wanting to socially distance away from crowded Bangkok set up shop here—and fell in love with these coconut palm-fringed shores. While much of Khao Lak’s appeal lies in its sleepy charms, this new attention has brought a welcome influx of stylish resorts to the coastal area.
“We are seeing a growing trend with more diverse travelers coming to enjoy this magnificent area and many activities year-round,” says Is “Bon” Atirak, co-founder and managing director of Devasom Khao Lak Beach Resort & Villas. “Khao Lak is also Thailand’s No. 1 surf spot and this is now bringing vibrant culture to the unique area.”
Devasom, which also runs a boutique hotel in Hua Hin, represents the kind of sustainable tourism that many hope is the future for this reason. With a barefoot-luxe ethos and a commitment to representing the regional culture, cuisine and history, Devasom Khao Lak offers a decidedly local experience.
The resort recently decided to expand, in large part because Bon, his mom Rasri, and his wife Meow (it’s a friendly family brand) believe in the future of Khao Lak. “We were amazed by the sheer beauty of this area,” he says. “In terms of magical beach sunsets in Thailand, Khao Lak is second to none.”
That natural splendor is front and center with many of the curated offerings and excursions at the resort. “Guests at Devasom Khao Lak will enter a place surrounded by nature, architecture and experience designed to reflect the local heritage,” Bon says. That heritage includes remnants of the Tambralinga, a civilization that once flourished here from the 6th to 11th century.
On days off, Bon says, “I love hopping onto a boat to explore nearby beaches and to free dive. The Similan Islands and Surin Islands nearby are perfect for marine adventures. I also surf and enjoy a good day on the beach with my longboard.”
Khao Lak may be changing, but evolution is a highly positive one. Here are just a few of the new, exciting developments bringing fresh energy to this already vibrant stretch of coastline.
Devasom Khao Lak
Nestled on a secluded cove, with beachfront bedouin picnics at sunset and an inlet for paddleboarding, this 69-key (for now; as mentioned they are expanding!) retreat oozes intimate charm. Everything here is highly Instagrammable and highlights the local culture, from the Devasom Spa, which offers a Bua Luang ritual complete with a scented floral bath and royal lotus scrub, to the muay Thai classes. Takola Thai Restaurant, which picked up a Michelin Bib Gourmand nod, focuses on Southern Thai specialties.
devasom.com/khaolak; doubles from Bt4,500++
Pullman Khao Lak Resort
Thanks to its location within Khao Sok National Park, this 253-key retreat on Bang Muang Beach enjoys an extra level of peace and seclusion. There’s nothing to disrupt your bliss here. Go for a dip in the 1,000-square-meter free-form pool, or head to Rosalyn Spa for a little R&R. Kram Beach Club is the ultimate spot for a sundowner. As a bonus, the desserts are as good as the cocktails.
pullmankhaolakresort.com; doubles from Bt2,200++
Grand Mercure Khao Lak Bangsak
This lovely, low-key oasis has 195 rooms and suites all situated on prime beachfront. It may be new, but the resort is already becoming a popular destination for weddings, as well as for families looking for a reprieve from city life. Southern Thai cuisine is on the menu at Green Mango and the Soak Pool Bar is the ideal place to kick back and loll away the day.
grandmercurekhaolakbangsak.com/dining-bar/soak-pool-barinkhaolak; doubles from Bt2,000++
Avani+ Khao Lak
With 327 rooms and suites, plus a phenomenal Royal Beachfront Pool Villa, all located by the turquoise waters of the Andaman, this sprawling brand-new Avani+ is equally suited for a family-friendly getaway and a romantic rendezvous. Five restaurants, four swimming pools, and a kids’ club and water park mean there’s something for everyone.
avanihotels.com/en/khao-lak-phang-nga; doubles from Bt2,751++
Apsara Beachfront Resort and Villas
Utter the name “Paolo Vitaletti” to any self-respecting Bangkok foodie and expect to see their eyes light up. This ambitious Italian chef is responsible for bringing nonna-worthy pastas and puffy, thin-crusted Neapolitan pizzas to the Thai capital at Appia and Peppina, two of the hottest tables in town. He’s now brought his considerable culinary talent to Khao Lak with Karkinos, the resort’s top-notch new Italian eatery.
apsarakhaolak.com; doubles from Bt1,900++
Le Méridien Khao Lak Resort & Spa
Situated on Bangsak Beach, this plush resort, which opened in 2019, centers around a large lagoon-style pool framed with palm trees and greenery. All of the rooms boast either ocean or pool views, plus enormous windows to let in plenty of that tropical sunshine. Grab a sundowner at Coconut Joe’s, a bar located right on the beach, then dinner at the Beach Grill.
marriott.com/en-us/hotels/hktml-le-meridien-khao-lak-resort-and-spa/overview; doubles from Bt2,289++
Not new, but any guide to Khao Lak would be incomplete without the grande dame:
JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort & Spa
Graceful Lanna-style architecture imbues elegance, a tree-lined lazy river right outside your door offers easy relaxation at this long-tenured five-star. From an infinity-pool bar to Japanese and Italian eateries, there’s plenty to excite the palate here. Ta-Krai, the signature restaurant located right by the beach, serves contemporary Thai cuisine accompanied by craft cocktails and locally produced wines. A trip to Quan Spa for a restorative massage is a must.
marriott.com/en-us/hotels/hktkl-jw-marriott-khao-lak-resort-and-spa; doubles from Bt3,700++