Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Phil Hopkins
Group Travel Editor & Theatre Correspondent
1:00 AM 20th April 2024

Khao Lak – A Slice of Authentic Thailand

Just chill baby!
Just chill baby!
“I love this place because there aren’t too many Brits, there’s not an English breakfast in sight and it is still very much ‘authentic Thailand.’”

Angela** who was holidaying with her husband and two young children, didn’t pull her punches. After all she ran a 500-student dance school in London: clearly organisation was her middle name and she knew exactly what she wanted from a vacation.

We were all guests at Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort but, at that moment, were seated on a high-speed boat rapidly taking us to the Similan Islands, some 70 minutes off the mainland, for a day of snorkelling, beach fun and island walking.

Miang, known as 'Island Number 4', Similan Islands, Thailand
Miang, known as 'Island Number 4', Similan Islands, Thailand
“Me and Michael**first came to Khao Lak as backpackers 12 years ago and we loved it then for its total authenticity.

"Bangkok and the likes of Phuket tell their own story but it’s a very different one to this place, which is why we wanted to bring our two children so they could see Phang Nga Province before the rest of the world discovers it and, believe me, that won’t take long!

“Round here people are so sincere. When they smile and welcome you, you know they really mean it!”

It was a sentiment echoed by Resort Manager and ‘local girl’, Sujittra Rongmuang, known to everyone by her honorific, Khun Wap.

“We look for team members who smile from the inside,” she said in her typically Thai way, beaming as she uttered the words whilst gesturing to her heart as if to emphasise the point.

In many ways Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort could be any one of a thousand such resorts in the world……. only it isn’t. It is unique. One of a kind.

And, probably more than anywhere else, it might be argued that it is the personification of Buddhist culture – something had to die in order for something else to be re-born.

For Khao Lak, an hour’s flight south of the capital, Bangkok, and just 56 miles north of Phuket across the Sarasin Bridge, along with the nearby village of Nam Khem, was directly in the path of the infamous 2004 tsunami, which claimed the lives of 5,400 people and was later immortalised in Ewan McGregor’s equally memorable movie, The Impossible.

Snorkelling off Thailand's Similan Islands
Snorkelling off Thailand's Similan Islands
Now, it is a tranquil area of natural beauty where calm and wildlife returned long ago, and seemingly exist side by side as the waves of the Andaman Sea, once so fierce, gently beckon surfers with low ambitions, to its golden beachline.

Khun Wap, who has been leading her 120-strong team at Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort for two years, having worked at the previous hotel that operated from the site, stepped into her current role post Covid-19.

Time for a cool dip sir?
Time for a cool dip sir?
“Thankfully we are now back up to strength and our resort is reporting occupancies higher than pre-pandemic levels,” she added.

“The Germans, Swedes and French have known about Khao Lak for a long time but the British, and indeed many Thais, are either discovering or re-discovering this part of Thailand,” she says pragramitcally.

And it is a search worthy of anyone seeking a slice of authentic Thailand: tropical rain forests, elephant ‘retirement’ homes, night markets, to-die-for food choices, kayaking through Little Amazon…..the list goes on.

One of the Deluxe Garden Balcony Rooms
One of the Deluxe Garden Balcony Rooms
Our guide for the day Narongyos Tongwijit or ‘Non’ was ably assisted by his driver ‘Na’. “They chose us for our short names,” he quipped. Before long he was revealing his story as we made our way to the Ban Nam Khem Tsunami Museum.

“In 2004 I was working as a gardener in a hotel close to what is now Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort when I saw the tsunami coming towards the land. You could feel the wind driving this 6-7m wall of water which, in parts, reached heights of 15m.

“But, unlike Japan, we’d had no tsunami training. No one knew what it was and many tourists ran to grab their cameras. Even my boss advised me to ‘try and save the sunbeds’. That’s how unprepared we were.”

Minutes later tragedy struck.

“At the time I was in a concrete building which helped to break the wave, giving me time to make for higher ground. However, my sister was caught, had her clothes ripped from her body and was later discovered in water, alive, but just in her underwear.”

Three months later Non attended the local morgue and identified two of his relatives. “5,400 died but a further 2,000 were also unaccounted for,” he added. This was a man who had lived his narrative and yet there was no anger.

Calm respect and the role of storyteller was all he had to offer and he played his part to perfection.

Outside the museum there were two huge boats. It was only when you realised that they were carried there, 2km inland, all those years ago, that the size of the 2004 event really strikes home.

Ban Namkhem Tsunami Museum
Ban Namkhem Tsunami Museum
A little further down the road Ban Nam Khem Memorial Park brings a lump to your throat: there are hundreds of memorial plaques dedicated to local Thais and those German tourists who perished when the tsunami struck.

Now, a symbolic wall of concrete, curved like a wave, towers as a reminder of the tragic event two decades earlier.

Our guide Non at Ban Namkhem Memorial Park - memories of beloved relatives claimed by the tsunami
Our guide Non at Ban Namkhem Memorial Park - memories of beloved relatives claimed by the tsunami
These days there is an annual tsunami evacuation drill every October. No one will ever be caught off guard again.

Back at the hotel three beaming reception staff joined their hands in a prayer-like gesture, welcoming me back by name: how do they do that? I thought. I had only just arrived a couple of days earlier and had barely been around long enough to give them a reason to remember me! But they all did!

Just off Highway 4, Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort is surrounded by greenery and, with its 158 rooms and suites, Coral Kids Club, games room, swimming pool, private massage area and beach, is a perfectly serene backdrop with all the necessary facilities for an idyllic stay.

A fruit basket with a difference!
A fruit basket with a difference!
A day rarely passes when you are not greeted by glorious sunshine at 6.30am, making ‘getting up’ a new pleasure! Breakfast is in the Mala Kitchen…

Breakfast in the Mala Kitchen Restaurant
Breakfast in the Mala Kitchen Restaurant
…where Executive Chef Tao has mastered the art of cooking for his European audience. When the French are the dominant nationality, he knows to have plenty of croissants and French sticks to hand: there are also the traditional cheeses and meats for the Germans!

“But they all love Thai food,” he beams. So much so that he has worked with Resort Manager Khun Wap to introduce Thai cookery classes for guests…..and they can’t get enough of them!

Chef Hopkins at one of Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort's master cooking classes
Chef Hopkins at one of Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort's master cooking classes
Later, I make my way to the beachside Edgewater Restaurant to watch the evening sunset.

“A light salad please,” I say.

“Is that all sir?”

“I have already had a green curry AND a Pad Thai for lunch!” They grin knowingly.

“Ah, you have been at one of Chef Tao’s cookery classes?”. They smile.

The evening sunsets are glorious and there is always someone interesting on the next table. The lady to my side was a former Swiss diplomat: she’d played her part in managing the country’s political machinations in relation to Libya’s former dictator, Col Gaddafi.

There was the Spanish family, now resident in Dubai. He imported leather shoes to the United Arab Emirates.

Sunset dining at Edgewater Beachside Restaurant
Sunset dining at Edgewater Beachside Restaurant
And, at another table, the British engineering professor with his wife and two children. “We love Khao Lak and consider it a place where you can safely bring young children to experience authentic Thailand. The hotel’s beautiful and it feels so real around here. So much for the children to do and experience. No regrets coming at all.”

Over dinner I reflected on my earlier trip with Non. He had shown me a piece of paper. On it was written the word ‘ubiquitous’.

“This is the new word I have learned today,” he said. I gave him another: ‘poignant’ because it was the only one I could think of to describe the tsunami story I was both hearing and witnessing. We looked it up together: ‘evoking a keen sense of sadness’ said Google. It was a bitter sweet day.

Non took me to meet the ladies working at the Saori Foundation, a charity set up by a Japanese monk in 2006 to help rehabilitate those traumatised by the events of 2004. These days demand for their products is so high that they can barely meet demand.

The Saori Foundation, still helping victims of the 2004 tsunami disaster
The Saori Foundation, still helping victims of the 2004 tsunami disaster
Another highlight was Takua Pa Old Town, once centre of the area’s 200-year-old tin mining industry before its total demise in the early 1980’s. Driven forward in its heyday by the Chinese and Portuguese, the town is now home to mural art and ageing Sino-Portuguese colonial-style mansions that still dot the main high street.

A mural in praise of Thailand's beloved late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Takua Pa Old Town
A mural in praise of Thailand's beloved late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Takua Pa Old Town
“See that one there,” said Non, pointing to a dilapidated building. “That was the former brothel and, over there, the last bank closed recently.” However, there are still businesses that trade on knowing that this gem of a place, with its Sunday afternoon market, is slowly being re-discovered by a new audience. Another boom time looms!

En route to the Khao Lak Elephant Sanctuary we stop for lunch at the wonderful Nai Muang Restaurant at Bangnieng, a ‘retro-style’ eatery frozen in time with its old manual typewriters, TVs and hundreds of collectibles.

Located on the site of an old tin mine, it is already popular with locals, serves wonderful traditional food and is quickly finding its way on to the tourist map.

Nai Muang 'retro' restaurant on the old tin mine at Khao Lak
Nai Muang 'retro' restaurant on the old tin mine at Khao Lak
Down the road it is feeding time at a very different establishment, the Khao Lak Elephant Sanctuary where the eight majestic residents roam freely, and are no longer ridden by tourists although preparing their daily ‘feeds’ has become the new visitor attraction.

Khao Lak Elephant Sanctuary where life is now very different for its eight guests!
Khao Lak Elephant Sanctuary where life is now very different for its eight guests!
“It is far more humane,” says Non “because it still gives foreign tourists an amazing experience – washing, feeding and watering the elephants, some of whom are over 50 years old - without putting them under the strain of having to carry people.”

Interestingly no elephants died in the 2004 tsunami. Instinctively they walked to high ground and one, said Non, saved a four-year-old girl, carrying her on its back until they reached safety.

Before I could say good night Khao Lak, I made a quick visit to the Bangnieng Nighttime Market to make that all important purchase: my customary fridge magnet – then it was back to the refuge of my hotel to pack and make ready for the journey home.

A sign that life in Khao Lak has changed for the better since 2004
A sign that life in Khao Lak has changed for the better since 2004
I’d met people who’d witnessed more than most, loved, lost and survived personal tragedy. And yet, they still had a smile for me every day or, like my guide Non, displayed such an acute sense of respect for human life that it was humbling.

In those moments I realised something profound: Resort Manager Khun Wap had achieved her own small miracle at Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort.

She had not only recruited more than 120 staff but, somehow, despite their personal journeys, she had discovered a group of people that all had one thing in common and, despite everything, still possessed that rare God-given gift. The ability to smile from the inside.


Rates at Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort for week starting 21 July range from £106 net (including service and tax) per couple, per night, for a Garden Suite (ideal for families; sleeps 4) up to £132 net per night for a Pool Villa (sleeps 2). There are seven room categories to choose from. Rates include breakfast, welcome cocktail/mocktail, one set Thai lunch or dinner. Book on website below.



Emirates have return economy flights from Manchester to Phuket (Khao Lak) changing in Dubai for week starting 20 July, from £1453 per passenger.


The following tour operators sell ATOL protected flight and hotel packages for Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort:
Kenwood Travel — 0203 813 9361
TravelBag — 0203 813 2317
Southall Travel — 0208 705 0071

Other Useful Websites

Tourism Authority of Thailand:
Fanclub Thailand Newsletter:

Three Handy Hints
Take cash AND cards to Khao Lak. You will need both. My Starling Bank card was great with no bank charges but I still needed some cash. Change a little Thai Baht (currency) at your UK Post Office but, preferably, change in-country (46bt to the £1 rather than 39bt in Leeds!)
Carry an emergency ‘credit’ card. More rights if anything goes wrong with a payment. Try and avoid paying for large items with a debit card.
Hats and suncream. Take both. Hot, hot, hot!

** Some names have been changed for reasons of privacy.