Firstly, please forgive me for the length of this blog post. As yet, I haven’t really done a full review here as I wasn’t sure if it was the ‘right’ vessel to do so. Anyway, as a few people have asked myself or my husband more about our trip, I thought it would be a nice way to try and cover a bit of everything in one place. I have already written a few reviews on Trip Advisor so will add in the links to those, as well as an additional album loaded on to Flickr.
This holiday was probably the best part of two years in the making. It was a long time ago that Thailand first crossed our minds as a destination and the momentum slowly built, we talked about booking it numerous times but my love of snorkeling usually took over and we ended up elsewhere.
I can’t remember how we ended up picking Khao Lak, in fact, my first choice beach destination had been Koh Lanta, I’d even gone as far as short listing a couple of different hotels. However, the culmination of expensive flights via Bangkok, the additional travel time from Krabi to Koh Lanta and a lack of annual leave, meant our attention turned elsewhere. I spend a serious amount of time on Trip Advisor and was quick to discard a number of the resorts in Phuket as being too touristy/tacky or party orientated. I can only suspect that during this research I haphazardly stumbled across Khao Lak and it looked like a great mix of beaches, food and a great base for exploring. After checking a few prices online I sent an email to my long suffering travel counsellor Lesley Waldron and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, we were booked for 11 nights flying with Malaysian Airways via Kuala Lumpur.
This was without a doubt the longest flight we have taken, especially the return flight from Kuala Lumpur which ended up being over 14 hours as we were held outside London due to congestion. My first choice airline remains Emirates but I have to say I was impressed with the Malaysian offering over all. I think it helped that the aircraft was one of the fantastic A380 airbus’, we hadn’t flown on one before and were fortunate enough to be on the much more intimate upper deck for our outward journey. This craft will now always be my first choice for long haul, the seats are a good few inches wider than the standard airline offering and the awesome recline meant for the first time ever, I was actually able to get a few hours sleep on the way back. The only let down was the In Flight Entertainment, there were just a few recent films rather than the plethora of current media Emirates offer.
The crew were very pleasant and there were plenty of drinks rounds throughout the flights, snack boxes were given out, even on the one hour hop from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket and the main meals were decent enough!
This holiday needed to be under our usual spend for somewhere like the Maldives, so when searching I looked at the cheapest first and then checked reviews until I found somewhere that was well regarded. I narrowed it down to two resorts – La Flora and Kantary Beach. I liked the fact that Kantary was adults only but soon realised that it was much more isolated than La Flora, we really wanted somewhere we could walk around to restaurants without being reliant on shuttles or taxis. At the time, La Flora was well inside the top 10 resorts in Khao Lak with a number of repeat guests so it looked to be the best all round option. We decided to go with the standard deluxe room, knowing that we wouldn’t be in it for any length of time! The Trip Advisor forums are a wealth of knowledge for the area, with plenty of details maps such as shown in this thread. There are also lots of threads of great restaurants, tours and how to get around in the area, I share some of my thoughts further on in the review.
You can read my review of La Flora here. We actually really liked the hotel, it was just the right size; big enough not to be on top of the other guests but small enough to feel like you weren’t noticeable. Our room over the swim out pool rooms at the top of the complex was clean, relatively comfortable and a reasonable size. The only downsides were the hard pillows and the noisy air conditioning. We did have a couple of power cuts but nothing that lasted more than a few minutes. I was really impressed with the Wifi, it worked at all times, even from our sunbeds near the beach! You do get a big TV in your rooms with a fox movies channel should you want to watch a film or two in the evening.
The breakfast buffet was really nice, I cannot think of anything they missed out and the food was always being replenished. There are plenty of tables outside if al fresco is more your cup of tea! We didn’t eat here much as resorts have to add charges totalling 17% to your bill, it was much cheaper to eat outside of the resort but more on that later! The hotel also runs theme nights, we booked a table to celebrate the Chinese New Year and the buffet spread was really quite exquisite. On site there is a little mini market selling snacks, drinks, ice creams and various toiletries. I was expecting it to be significantly more expensive than the shops in town but it was really reasonable, I would usually get a few drinks and ice creams mid morning to be consumed whilst lazing around the beach or pool!
The infinity pool at the bottom of the grounds over looks the gorgeous beach and is next to the View 59 restaurant and breeze bar. I found it to always be warm and never over crowded. The top part of the pool was much shallower and many families used this area with young children although they were all very well behaved! This area also contains a few rows of sunbeds for guests use and these were some of the most comfortable I have ever come across. Towels are freely available from beside the pool and we often took a minimum of two so we had pillows for snoozing on. Some beds were reserved early morning but we always managed to get a pair somewhere along this stretch or around the pool so no need to set the alarms!
It is just a few minutes walk to the main beach road between the highway and the actual beach, this road has a huge number of bars and eateries on it, as well as other roads with even choices! The beach outside the hotel (Bang Niang) is extensive and if you turn left you can literally walk for miles and miles providing the creek is not too high! If it is, you can pay the 20baht one way creek taxi service! If you turn to the right you can walk past the neighbouring Mukdara hotel but when the tide is in your walk will be curtailed right outside the Chong Fah restaurant as the sea will be up to the retaining wall. We found the sea to be like a millpond in the morning but choppier in the afternoon, although jelly fish had been reported in the few weeks leading up to our visit, we never saw any in the water and only one washed up further down the beach. The sand does get hot very quickly so I would recommend some flip flops!
The local area
About four months before our visit I started to look at the local area to see what we could do whilst there, I didn’t want to travel for hours on end but I also didn’t want to just stay in the complex the entire time. Again, Trip Advisor was a great source of info. There are a lot of things locally we didn’t get time to do, including visiting some of the stunning neighbouring beaches but there are plenty of options for those adventurous ( and organised) enough! We decided to hire a local guide by the name of Lora, she spoke excellent English and was able to answer all of our questions during our morning tour. I have to add that her driving was the safest we came across and she has an amazing opinion on golf!
One of the main things I wanted to do was visit the turtle conservation centre at Tab Lamu Naval Base. If you haven’t heard about it already………….a part of the Thai Navy are commissioned to remove turtle nests from the nearby Similan islands and raise the young to give them a significantly higher chance of survival in the wild. Whilst I wouldn’t usually encourage human intervention like this, I think it commendable that they are able to recognise the need to undo some of the damage done to this wonderful species by fishing nets, poaching and even local practices. The centre is only 40baht to visit (less than £1) but they there is a box to make a donation. Lora explained to us that on special occasions, like the birthday of someone in the royal family, hundreds of turtles could be released!
That same day we also visited a local waterfall, unfortunately due to it being the height of the dry season it was not spectacular but it was still lovely all the same! We also visited a local temple, the colours are absolutely amazing, as is the craftmanship that goes in to building these stunning places. We were able to go inside and see the gorgeous paintings and golden Buddha. Lora also took us around the smaller temple areas, explaining what the temples meant to the local people, how frequently they worshipped and how they treat their deceased. Our last stop on this morning tour was to the local river for some Bamboo rafting! I decided not to take the camera as I was not sure how wet it would be so I am afraid I have no photos but we did see numerous snakes curled up in trees, lots of brightly coloured dragonflies and butterflies, as well as some frogs and birds. The river was quite low and we got stuck on a few large rocks resulting in a wet bottom but it was still good fun! I would highly recommend a private local tour, it’s a great way to see the local area without being rushed, without Lora we would not have learnt many of the things we did that day!
One of the biggest reasons we went to Thailand! Again, I had read lots of reviews on Trip Advisor and mentally noted some of the highly rated local restaurants. There are absolutely loads around the La Flora/Bang Niang area with even highly respected Mexican, Japanese and German offerings. As well as the main town, there are plenty of restaurants along the beach if you turn left out of La Flora, it’s great to have some lunch and a cold drink whilst staring out to sea! If you have even more time you could head down the road to Bang La On which has more eateries than you could shake a stick at. We ate a wide range of dishes including; Pad Thai, Red/Green/Massaman/Penang curries, spring rolls, chicken satay, meat with garlic & ginger, meat with cashew nuts, sticky rice etc. I think it is fair to say we never had a ‘bad’ meal, just some that were OK whilst others were simply divine!
I’ve written reviews for many so rather than going into lots of detail I will add a few comments and then link to the fuller reviews. Our favourite place for lunch was Tonson, it is the first of the beach restaurants out of La Flora. The coconut milkshakes were the best in Khao Lak and the view was great too. Our favourite restaurant for dinner in Khao Lak was Rabeang, so good that we are here three nights in a row! We also ate Mexican at the famous Rusty Pelican. Other places we visited, but are not high on my recommendations list are the Chong Fah restaurant and Lucky Seafood. Prices seemed similar at most of the restaurants and a curry was around 150baht with Pad Thai around 60baht and a small Singha about 70baht. My only disappointment was that I never found a restaurant that offered Coconut Rice, something of a main stay at the Thai restaurants here in the UK!
The other mention I must make here, is the lady who sits under her sun shade on the beach each day, cooking up the biggest and best prawn skewers we have ever seen. She also cooks up chicken skewers, corn on the cob and spring rolls for 30baht each, all done on a little BBQ in a bucket. We bought from her after a recommendation from another guest and the food was fantastic, she also cuts up Mango and Melon for you to take away, a cheap and delicious lunch!
Look out for Part 2 – Khao Sok!
EDIT – If you are interested in hiring Lora for a private tour, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or if in the area you can visit her office ‘Dior Travel’. It is located on the main road that connects Bang Niang beach with the highway (if walking from La Flora you go left out of the hotel towards the main road, turn right on the main road and Loras small office is a few hundred metres up on the right).
You can also text or call her on 0872677485 locally, or +66872677485 from the UK.