Located on the West coast of Southern Thailand; Khao Lak is made up of a series of villages running along one main road and one long beach. It attracts millions of tourists a year renowned for its white sandy beaches, relaxed vibe and most importantly its stunning diving.
Khao Lak is the port of stay for many scuba divers wishing to access the beautiful Similan and Surin islands. The Similan islands are an archipelago in the Andaman Sea just off the southern province of Phang Nga and are officially within the national park ‘Mu Ko Similan.’ ‘Mu Ko Surin’ encompasses the more Northern Surin islands and surrounding waters, both parks and archipelagos’ are accessible by either dayboat or by liveaboard from Khao Lak.
Dive courses from Try dives, Open Water all the way up to Instructor are available in the vicinity although within the National Parks themselves only licenced divers are permitted to dive. There are still plenty of options to certify prior to entering the parks and many complete the Open Water course from Khao Lak to commence their first liveaboard on the amazing rock formations and coral reefs that make up these beautiful islands.
Where to stay in Khao Lak?
Khao Lak has 3 main tourist villages, these are listed South to North.
Khao Lak Beach; The first developed strip of beach, this is blocked at one end by headland making it impassable by foot from the North meaning its often the quieter option. It’s also nice and shaded being lined with trees. The area has plenty of resorts to stay in and is a short taxi ride or walk away from the rest of Khao Lak.
Nang Thong; in the village of Bang La On (often incorrectly referred to as Khao Lak) is the busier of the beaches although by no means overcrowded. This 1 km strip of bars, restaurants and shops is a hive of activity and has plenty of options for everyone
Bang Niang; 2.5 km North of Bang La On, this quirky area has boomed recently and is now almost as busy as Nang Thong. With a cooler, backpacker vibe the area hosts the infamous Biang Niang market 3 days a week and is a must visit on these days. Biang Niang beach has a smaller collection of resorts to Nang Thong, is dotted with cheap Thai restaurants huts (70 baht noodles anyone?) coconut bars and massage huts.
Khuk Khak Village; 3km North of Biang Niang, Khuk Khak Beach is a must visit. Accessed via a couple of dirt roads leading west of the main road, you will get a glimpse of untouched Khao Lak. Tropical fields, coconut groves and quiet woodland lead the way to this idyllic beach, home to the infamous beach bar ‘Memories.’ This is a great place to paddleboard, play a bit of beach volleyball or visit at sunset for live music and good times. Khuk Kak marks the end of the tourist trail, as the resorts and restaurants drop off as you continue North.
Cape Pakarang; north of Khuk Khak offers great views of Khao Lak which you can see from the Tsunami assembly point building. You may visit this beach during your trip to take a longtail trip to the local Boonsung wreck.
Bang Sak; north of Cape Pakarang, Bang Sak is a quieter area perfect for more remote romantic retreats. Bangsak beach has very few resorts and restaurants, although more are to be expected and is perfect for off the grid relaxation. The busier Bang Niang and Nang Thong villages are just 10 minutes drive away.
When to Visit Khao Lak?
Khao lak is fully operational between October and May, this is classed as dry season although you can still expect tropical downpours throughout! During this time the marine parks are open, however, they do close down for the monsoon season between June and September, as do many of the restaurants and bars. You can still visit the area during this time, but expect it to be much quieter with no diving available. The wet season is great for hiking around the local waterfalls and taking advantage of the cooler weather. High season is between November and March, with temperatures reaching between 25 degrees and 32 degrees Celsius, between March and May temperatures can reach up to 38 degrees.
Best Dive Sites in Khao Lak
Boonsung Wreck: Just a 30-minute long-tail boat ride from Cape Pakarang; North Khao Lak is this fantastic local wreck. Available as either a 2 dive day trip or incorporated into the liveaboard schedules, Boonsung Wreck never disappoints! The wreck lies at around 18 metres so is perfect for beginner divers, not to be dismissed by the more experienced this site is a must for all certification levels. Often described fondly by local dive staff as ‘Fish Soup,’ The wreck attracts schooling pufferfish, fusiliers, batfish and countless other species. Equally a joy for macro photographers, housing all kinds of cool critters such as pipefish, pygmy pipehorses, nudibranch, shrimp and frogfish.
Koh Bon: Accessible by speedboats for day trips or within liveaboard schedules you may visit Koh Bon more than once on your dive trip. This site is infamous for its Manta Ray cleaning stations and is arguably one of your best chances to see Manta Rays from Khao Lak. Koh Bon differs from the other Similan islands as it is made of limestone rather than granite, it has an incredible vertical wall covered in varying shades of soft coral which makes a haven for macro life to hide within. You may also encounter a passing Eagle Ray, Giant Gropers and if you are really lucky you could see a Leopard Shark. The dive site has a maximum depth of 42 metres and can encounter strong currents, it is recommended for intermediate divers although the sheltered bay area is suitable for beginners in low current. This island has no beaches but also makes for a great snorkelling spot.
Koh Bon Pinnacle: Located North of Koh Bon island, Koh Bon pinnacle is another spot favoured by the Manta Rays. It comprises of two pinnacle formations, ones tip sits at 24 metres and the second at 18 metres with a max site depth of 39 metres. The dive site is situated in open water making it vulnerable to strong currents, combined with the repetitive diving of the liveaboards, this does make for a shorter dive. Don’t let this put you off, it is well worth a visit if you are an experienced diver. Koh Bon Pinnacle attracts pelagics making it a great spot to see schooling Barracuda, Giant Trevally, Manta Rays and the occasional Whale Shark.
Richelieu Rock: Famously one of Jack Cousteau's favourite dive site, Richelieu Rock is simply unmissable! A horseshoe rock formation covered in purple soft coral, teeming with macro life and surrounded by schools of Giant Trevally, Fusilier, Barracuda and Glassfish. It can be hard to know where to look as you descend onto this ocean gem. Accessible by speedboats for day trips or within a liveaboard schedule, you will want to revisit Richelieu Rock! Home to rarer finds such as Seahorses, Ornate Ghost Pipefish and Harlequin Shrimp, this site caters perfectly for macro lovers and those on the search for bigger fish. Whale sharks are often encountered at this dive site and Manta Rays are occasionally spotted here as well. A max depth of 35 metres, this site can experience strong currents and is recommended for intermediate divers.
Tachai: Located off of Koh Tachai, (Tachai Island) this dive site is officially located within the Surin Islands. The dive site has two pinnacles, the Southern pinnacle lying between 12- 24 metres and the Northern pinnacle between 18 -24 metres. As Tachai pinnacle is exposed, it experiences some strong currents. Probably the most susceptible of all the dive sites listed, it is recommended for advanced divers. The boulder topography creates an eerie feeling to this very beautiful site, large Gorgonian fans have grown with the currents under the rock shelves and between cracks and crevices. Within what is popularly referred to as ‘The Dome,' a collection of hard and soft corals have flourished attracting schooling pelagics such as Yellowfin Tuna, Giant Trevally and Giant Barracuda. Peacock Mantis shrimps can be spotted in their dozens here, you might also spot Octopus, Cuttlefish and the odd Whaleshark cruising by.
Khao Lak Diving Conditions
Khao Lak offers consistent visibility with conditions rarely dropping below 20 metres, ordinarily, you can expect up to 30-metre visibility throughout October to May. Occasionally during a dive, you may experience a Thermocline current which can briefly affect the visibility. October and May are transitional months between monsoon and dry season so you may experience lower visibility during these months.
The Similan and Surin Islands are exposed to some strong currents; dependent on tides, moon cycle and the dive site itself, the currents can be challenging to newer divers and it might be worth booking your Advanced course whilst you stay in Khao Lak to increase your confidence and get the most out of the amazing dive sites within the area. The nutrient-rich water brought by these strong currents is what attracts the larger fish, drift dives are common on the liveaboards.
Scuba Diving Staff
Khao Lak dive centres are mostly managed by western staff, with a broad mix of languages spoken there are dedicated German, Scandinavian, Japanese and English centres. Boats are usually a mix of nationalities. You can expect to also see Thai divemasters and instructors, often trained by the organisation they are working for.
There are plenty of things to do in Khao Lak other than diving; be sure to take a trip to Biang Niang night market on Monday, Wednesdays and Saturdays for 70 baht mojitos and a lively atmosphere. If live entertainment takes your fancy, Moo Moo Cabaret opens every evening for a hilarious drag show whilst Happy Snapper Bar hosts live bands most evenings.
Khao Lak hosts some beautiful waterfalls including Chong Fah; located east of the main road within Khao Lak, easily accessible by taxi or moped. If you have time on your trip, staying overnight in Khao Sok national park is highly recommended. 1 hour inland from Khao Lak; you can enjoy jungle trekking, stay overnight in a hut on the beautiful Cheow Lan lake and go kayaking after breakfast.
Khao Lak was one of the most affected areas following the 2004 Tsunami, there is a Tsunami memorial and museum located in Biang Niang which is worth a visit to learn about the effects of the tsunami locally and nationally. You can witness the large police boat that was swept 2km inland and stands now as a memorial.
How to Get to Khao Lak
Khao Lak is only a 1.5 hour car journey north of Phuket airport, located on the main road that runs from Phuket to the far North. You can take a taxi or bus from Phuket to Khao Lak, Taxis cost between 1100-1800 baht depending on how many people. To take the bus, take one heading towards Ranong, Takuapa or Surat Thani and let the driver know you are stopping in Khao Lak. The public bus costs only 90 baht.
You can easily connect from most locations, Krabi to Khao Lak on the public bus costs 165 baht. Change stations at Khlock Kloi to take the same bus as mentioned previously, heading towards Takuapa.