Southern Thailand’s famous beaches are some of the finest in the world. We wanted to visit Southern Thailand’s Phuket and Phang Nga regions with their abundant sandy beaches. We started planning our trip by monitoring airlines for special deals, but it always seemed that when we tried to snag one, it was too late. We started to wonder if it was even possible to get one…
Finally! We were able to book two special promotion round-trip tickets from Bangkok to Phuket through Bangkok Airways for a grand total of 2320 THB / 65 USD. Bangkok Airways is a fantastic, award-winning airline that provides great service. Their Boutique Lounge offers complementary WiFi, snacks, drinks (non-alcoholic), and reading materials.
We decided to stay north of Phuket in Khao Lak, a beautiful area with long stretches of uncrowded, sandy beaches surrounded by national parks.
For lodging, we chose Khaolak Oriental Resort (1252 THB / 35 USD per night), an adults-only resort, located on Nang Thong Beach. Khaolak Oriental Resort is 76 kilometers (1 hour) from Phuket Airport, just off Route 4.
For transportation, we rented a Toyota Hilix pickup from the Budget office located at the Phuket Airport (7439 THB / 209 USD per week, 1063 THB / 30 USD per day – price includes the additional Super Damage Waiver insurance). A rental car gives you the freedom and flexibility to get out and explore the area in-depth, at your own pace, and to beat the crowds by arriving early. We have found that the cost of the car and fuel is often more than off-set by the savings – transfer to and from the hotel, taxi fares, avoiding the necessity of using guide services for transportation, the ability to stay at more remote and cost-effective hotels, and food and drink cost savings from being able to easily and conveniently go into town for groceries and lower-priced restaurants.
For entertainment, we purchased a boogie board (300 THB / 8.4 USD) at a shop in the town near our resort. Keep in mind that at this time of the year it is often red flag conditions. The red flag means, “high hazard – unsafe, do not enter the water.” There are many tourist drownings each year at Thailand’s beaches. Do not enter the water if the flag is red! The National Institute for Emergency Medicine has a page that lists the flags and their meanings: Beach Warning Flags.
This trip was about relaxing and having beach time! Nang Thong Beach is perfect for that because at low tide the beautiful beach goes on and on! Our daily itinerary primarily consisted of:
- a resort buffet breakfast
- a morning walk along the beach
- a morning boogie board / swim session
- lunch in town
- an afternoon boogie board / swim session
- an evening beach walk
- a nice dinner at the resort’s restaurant
Since our days were pretty much carbon copies, I will only describe specific activities that deviate in the following itinerary:
Our 1 hour 20 minute flight arrived in Phuket at 7:50 AM. We picked up our rental car at the airport and drove north 1 hour to Khaolak Oriental Resort and checked in.
After settling in, we drove to Takua Pa and visited the Police Boat 813 Memorial. The tsunami of December 2004 swept the boat almost 2 kilometers inland. In 2004, Khao Lak was Thailand’s fastest growing tourist destination and was the coastal area of Thailand hardest hit by the tsunami. The official final death toll was over 4,000, with local unofficial estimates topping 10,000 due to the lack of accurate government censuses.
At the time of the 2004 tsunami, there was no tsunami warning system. Since that time, an early-warning system has been installed along the coastline. Take note of the evacuation routes and be prepared to quickly move to higher ground if an alarm is signaled.
When we woke up, it was raining cats and dogs and did not look like it was going to stop anytime soon! We decided that this would be a good day for us to explore Phuket by car. It worked out well because the rain would break long enough for us to get out and explore a beach before it would send us running back to the shelter of our car.
We stopped and explored three beaches: Patong Beach, Karon Beach, and Kata Beach.
Out of the three beaches we explored, we liked Kata best. I would book a hotel as close to the beach as possible. Many of the budget hotels are located a long walk from the beach, and it would be difficult without transportation. It would be difficult WITH a car because the streets are crowded, narrow, and parking is limited. We were able to easily find parking at all of the beaches – it is the off-season and it was raining.
Remember, to be legal renting a scooter you need to have an International Driver’s Permit with a motorcycle license endorsement. Driving illegally may invalidate travel health insurance if you are in an accident.
Our last stop was at Phromthep Cape Lighthouse where we enjoyed the beautiful views before the next big storm, which you can see coming in the distance, forced us back, once again, to the shelter of our car. This storm did not let up, so we headed back to our resort.
We started to worry that the next 5 days would be more of the same! This was turn-your-umbrella inside-out wind combined with torrential downpours! It’s the gamble you take when you visit in the rainy season and a good reason to book a large, comfortable hotel room and bring a good book. We lucked out, however, and the rest of our trip had great weather with only a couple of brief, light showers. Perfect weather for us is overcast, but dry!
Our big trip of the week was heading early in the morning to Phang Nga Bay and hiring a long-tail boat. Our plan was to head to Surakul Pier and negotiate for a private boat. If we could not get the price that we wanted (1500 baht), we would head to Ao Phang-nga National Park visitor center where the boats have a fixed price set by the Parks authority. Prices are hard to find online, but we have seen quotes from 1000 to 3500 baht, plus a park entry fee of 300 baht per person.
Upon arrival at Surakul Pier, we discovered that all the tours were being funneled through one source, a lady that quoted us a price of 2800 THB / 79 USD, more than we were willing to pay. She was a tough negotiator and would not budge on price. We started making our way to individual docks to try to find a better rate but were consistently referred back to the same lady.
Just as we were preparing to leave and drive to Ao Phang-nga National Park visitor center to check the prices there, four people walked past us on one of the docks, and we asked them the price that they had paid. They had been quoted the same price, from the same lady, and were doing exactly what we were. They asked if we wanted to join up for a tour and we headed back as a group to the lady who now quoted us 3200THB / 90 USD – the negotiations began again! They finally ended when the car keys came out, we started to walk away, and the price suddenly dropped back to the original 2800 THB. We chipped in 950 THB/ 27 USD and headed to our long-tail boat with our new friends from Moscow, Russia.
Our boat stopped at the stilt Muslim fishing village on the island Ko Panyi (also Koh Panyee). We walked around the village and saw interesting houses, the Mosque, and the famous floating soccer pitch.
The original pitch was built from old scraps of wood and fishing rafts. After making it to the semi-final on an inland tournament, they built the new pitch. The story is inspiring and TMB bank has made a terrific 5 minute YouTube film that can be viewed here: TMB Panyee FC short film.
After our short stop, the boat ride continued through the bay and the stunning scenery. Phang Nga Bay is often compared to Halong Bay in Vietnam.
The most famous island is Ko Khao Phing Kan, known as James Bond Island. Its was featured in the 1974 James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun”. We slowly circled the small island, but did not get off the boat to walk on it. It is a national park and you must pay 300 THB / 8 USD per person to enter.
Our tour lasted about an hour and half, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Not too long, not too short. If we had visited James Bond Island and done one of the kayak tours available on some of the other islands, it would easily have lasted 3 hours. All of the activities with the exception of the stop at Ko Panyi cost an additional fee.
Back at the dock we said goodbye to our new friends and headed back to our resort in time for some afternoon boogie boarding!
We drove to Phuket Airport, returned our rental car, and headed to the Bangkok Airways Boutique Lounge for coffee and snacks before our short flight back to Bangkok.
We had a wonderful time in Khao Lak! It is very relaxing, beautiful, and accessible. We got plenty of much needed exercise and time outside in nature. The best thing is that we have not even scratched the surface. You can hike, boogie board, surf, sea kayak, snorkel, scuba dive, whitewater kayak, and much more. We will return!
- Time of Year: July 2016
- Length of Stay: 8 Days, 7 Nights
- Total Trip Cost – 2 People: 800 USD*
- Cost Per Day / Per Person: 50 USD*
- Visa Information: Thai Embassy, U.S. citizens carrying a tourist passport and in possession of an onward or return airline ticket do not require a visa to enter Thailand. The passport must have at least six months validity remaining to be allowed entry.
*Excluded from the cost analysis:
- International Airfare – International airfare is not included because fares vary depending on your starting location.
- Travel Health Insurance – Travel health insurance is not included because we have health insurance valid in Thailand.
GPS Coordinates: Day 1 Day 2 Day 5 Day 8
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Suvarnabhumi Airport @ 13.693281,100.750802
Phuket International Airport @ 8.107325,98.307439
Khaolak Oriental Resort @ 8.646460,98.247320
Nang Thong Beach @ 8.643227,98.246471
Police Boat Tsunami Memorial @ 8.666496,98.254692
Patong Beach @ 7.896196,98.295415
Karon Beach @ 7.843899,98.293619
Kata Beach @ 7.820694,98.297647
Phromthep Cape Lighthouse @ 7.763042,98.306032
Surakul Pier @ 8.390053,98.460331
Ko Panyi @ 8.335623,98.503078
James Bond Island @ 8.274524,98.501227
Phuket Airport Rental Car Return Lot @ 8.108478,98.306653
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You can copy and paste the latitude and longitude into Google Earth, your browser, or into your GPS.
*Disclaimer- ALWAYS verify locations, transportation routes, GPS coordinates, etc. Errors are made, routes changed, sometimes we are just plain wrong. No one knows what you like more than you. If the trip is worth doing, it is worth doing right! Do your homework.