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Part 2: Khao Lak

13.8: KL -> Khao Lak
Apsara Beachfront Resort & Villa, Khao Lak. Upmarket resort about 10km north of Khao Lak, directly on the beach. 5500 Baht/night for a beach villa, sort of a small house with a declared area of 120mē. In practice the villa feels smaller, for sure it has less than 120mē. Nicely decorated room, almost luxury. Everything is available and included in the price, including the WLAN Internet access. Surprisingly an ironing board with iron is missing. Peaceful location along the beach. The only problem is the location: this resort is in the middle of nowhere. The closest convenience store is 5km away and getting there by hotel taxi costs 300 Baht. Also, despite the fact that the hotel is half-empty, they assign us a villa which is very far away from the centre court. The restaurant of the hotel is not bad. Overall a bit overpriced.
Weather: overcast in KL. Overcast in southern Thailand, lots of rain in Khao Lak.

After a short night I get up at 6:30am and get ready. At 7:30am I get into a taxi to the airport (blue taxi, RM 166). We drive to the condo of Sara, the sister of Shirley. There I pick up Shirley and the kids and at 7:45am we drive to the airport.

We reach the LCCT terminal at 8:30am and check-in. After that we have some breakfast in the food court, then proceed to the gate.

There are not that many people in the LCCT today, but for some reason the Airasia flight to Surat Thani is delayed by 50 minutes. The plane is only partially full and lands in Surat Thani at 11:45am (40 minutes late).

We then proceed speedily through immigration, get the luggage and enter the arrivals hall. There I get some cash and I arrange for a taxi to Khao Lak (3500 Baht). We leave at 12:15pm.

On the way we stop at a petrol station where I buy two SIM cards from AIS. 50 Baht each, with 15 Baht of airtime each. In addition I purchase also two recharges of 100 and 300 Baht. I realise later that the instructions are written almost completely in Thai and that AIS offers a confusing number of Internet+voice packages.

The scenery quickly gets impressive. A jungle with karst rock formations, towers of rock covered by thick vegetation. Very photogenic, a pity we can't stop here.

We reach the hotel in Khao Lak at 2:30pm. This is located in the middle of nowhere on a beach, and in fact we only find it by using Google Maps (the driver from Surat Thani is not familiar with Khao Lak).  The driver jokes "now I can bring you back to Surat Thani for free...".

The entire area is quite peaceful with very few tourists. Apparently now is low season, probably due to all the rain.

We spend the rest of the day at the resort.

14.8: Khao Lak
Apsara Beachfront Resort & Villa, Khao Lak.
The breakfast is not bad. Buffet style, ample choice of stuff including fresh fruits. No fresh fruit juices however. Today it becomes obvious that dishes in the hotel cost about twice what similar dishes cost in restaurants in Khao Lak (around 220 vs 100 Baht), although the food quality is not bad.
Weather: a mix of blue skies and overcast skies. No rain the whole day.

We have breakfast in the morning then spend the time in the resort, mostly swimming in the pool. Swimming in the sea is not really appealing. First of all the sea is rough, probably due to the (rainy) season. In addition the sea water is not that clear.

Between 2 and 3 something pm we have a lunch in the hotel. Then we take a hotel taxi to Khao Lak city (300 Baht). It's perhaps a 10km drive, from the resort to the place where the driver drops us off.

There is not really a city centre. Khao Lak (or whatever this place is called) is just a collection of shops, tour agents and restaurants. There is nothing touristy to see here. We spend some time shopping around, checking the shops and tour agents.

I check a bit the tour options. The Similan islands are not accessible due to low season or bad weather (rough seas?). The Khao Sok NP instead is accessible and the rate seems to be 1500 Baht for adults and 1000 Baht for kids, i.e. 5000 Baht for a family of four. I find a place charging only 4500 Baht for the four of us. The rates on the brochures are 2700/1500 Baht, but the two agents I check all apply the lower rates.

I book a tour to the Khao Sok NP for tomorrow. After that we have lunch in a restaurant. The food is not bad, although the vegetables are not good (you get a mix of carrots, big pieces of onion and broccoli/cauliflower). After dinner we get back to the hotel.

15.8: Khao Lak -> Khao Sok NP -> Khao Lak
Apsara Beachfront Resort & Villa, Khao Lak.
Weather: better weather than yesterday. Mostly blue sky with many clouds. No rain the whole day. In the evening we can finally see the stars.

We get up at 7:30am and after breakfast start our Khao Sok NP tour at 9am. The car is a minivan, with a guide (her name is Gif) and a driver. Today we are the only customers.

The first stop is at Takuapa at 9:40am, a small city between Khao Lak and the Khao Sok NP. Here there is a small market, sort of interesting with local products. We buy some stuff in a convenience store and then continue the trip at 10am.

The next place is a waterfall, sort of nice, located along the road. We reach it after 25 minutes of driving. We spend 10 minutes there, then return to the car.

A few minutes later we reach another highlight. It's a spot along the road from which supposedly there is a nice view of the valley below. Today the weather is not that impressive, so the view is not that great.

So we continue driving and 15 minutes later, at 11am the car stops along the road. It's a short walk down a path to a small river where some rubber canoes are waiting for us. We board the canoes and for the next hour we will be moving downriver across the jungle. Nice scenery by the way.

Along the river, in one spot, there is a rope. I later realise that this must have been the Tarzan swing rope they were referring to in the tour brochure. Somehow this rope doesn't look that appealing. To use it, you'd have to climb up the steep and heavily forested hill, in order to swing and let yourself fall into the river.

It's almost 12pm when we reach a small restaurant along the river. Here the food is already ready and waiting for us. It's some kind of Thai food with lots of vegetables and rice.

Since everything is ready and there are no queues we quickly have lunch and by 12:30pm we are ready to continue the trip.

I check with the guide if we are actually going to enter the Khao Sok national park and going to see the lake. The answer is no for both questions, which makes me a bit disappointed. The purpose of this trip was to visit the Khao Sok NP, and now we are doing several things but not visiting the NP?

It turns out that the lake is not that easily accessible by road. The closest point seems to be a dam, which however is 60km away. There is an entrance to the national park, further towards Khao Lak. The entry ticket costs 200 Baht/person however and to reach the lake you need to book a tour lasting several days.

So we agree with the guide that we will make a stop at the park headquarters on the way back to Khao Lak.

At 12:50pm we make a 10-minutes stop at a place with monkeys. Here you can feed macaque monkeys with bananas and rambutan fruits.

The Khao Sok NP headquarters is very close to this place. At one point there is a small road on the right which you follow for two km and leads you to the Khao Sok NP. There we stop for 20 minutes at 1:15pm.

The final stop for today is the elephant ride, which we start shortly before 2pm. This is quite cool and leads along a small stream into the mountain. Nice rainforest and scenery.

This elephant ride lasts one hour. Shortly after 3pm we start driving back to the Apsara resort in Khao Lak. We'll be there at 4pm and the spend the rest of the day there.

16.8: Khao Lak
Apsara Beachfront Resort & Villa, Khao Lak.
Weather: best weather so far since we arrived to Thailand. In the morning sunny with a blue sky, later in the day some cloud cover. No rain.

Day spent mainly relaxing in the resort. In the morning I walk along the beach towards south, until the Marriott hotel. It's a long, endless beach, along which it would be possible to walk the entire day (if the sun weren't so strong). Every now and then the beach is interrupted by a small river which flows into the sea.

The sea water is quite dirty, but from what I hear this is due to all the rain (apparently in the past two weeks it has rained a lot). An Austrian couple tells me that to the north of the Apsaras hotel, beyond the cape, there is a white sand beach with crystal clear water.

Back from the beach walk I spend some time swimming in the hotel pool, to cool down a bit. Today is a very hot day, because there is little cloud cover and it doesn't rain.

At 5pm we take the hotel shuttle bus to Khao Lak city. We'll spend the next hours shopping in Khao Lak and having dinner in a restaurant. Overall the price level in Khao Lak is relatively high, i.e. you can see that this is a (wealthy) tourist zone.

Tomorrow we'll drive to Surat Thani airport to catch our flight to Bangkok and will make a stop at the Ratchaprapha dam, which lies along the way.

Copyright 2013 Alfred Molon