by Sam Goodey | Khao Lak Mangroves, Local Knowledge
The weather in Khao Lak plays a big part in what you get up to during your holiday. Between November and April you can be almost guaranteed to be treated to warm sun, clear skies and calm seas. But for the rest of the year the Khao Lak weather can be a bit unpredictable. Take yesterday for example, yesterday was a typical day in June. Hammering rain first thing in the morning followed by scorching sun and then an almighty thunderstorm that made the lights flicker in the evening. Sometimes it all comes at once and is gone within the hour, sometimes the weather lasts for a week!
So what can you do in Khao Lak when it rains?
Well some people will tell you that Khao Lak is an outdoors kind of place and you are better off looking to move somewhere on the east coast or in the north where the weather is a bit more stable. But that is not necessarily true. You can still enjoy your holiday in Khao Lak even through the biggest storms!
Why not relax with a traditional Thai massage while listening to the sound of the rain pattering on the window? There are several massage parlors lining almost every road in Khao Lak and they are open all year, rain or shine. Even if you don’t fancy heading out into town while it’s raining, almost every hotel in Khao Lak has an in-house spa that offers a full range of massage and health services.
If laying around is not for you, there are plenty of other activities in Khao Lak that are great fun even when it is raining! Trips to the waterfalls, bamboo rafting down the rivers, kayaking in the mangroves. These activities run all year round and even if it is raining, who cares? You are going to get wet anyway! The additional water just adds to the fun. A word of advice though, try to keep a shirt or a towel dry in a bag or in the car. It is still warm in Khao Lak even when it rains, but if the wind picks up and you are wet it can feel cold.
Another option for those who don’t enjoy laying around or getting wet, is to rent a car with a driver and head down to Phuket for the day. The drive from Khao Lak to Phuket takes just over an hour and a half. Once in Phuket you will be spoilt for choice. There are museums, zoos, shopping centers and even cinemas. Not forgetting of course the popular nightlife areas! In most cases your driver will be able to recommend the best places to go. Just let him know what kind of things you enjoy and let him show you around. If you are heading to Phuket for a day out I would always recommend booking a car with a driver and not trying to drive yourself. Phuket is a maze of busy streets that make Google maps and other sat navs dizzy. Even on the best of days, driving in Phuket is a tiring experience, and in the rain it is definitely not for the faint hearted. Best leave that job to the professionals.
But the most important thing to remember when it rains in Khao Lak is that the weather here can be incredibly localised. Just because it is raining outside your hotel room there is no guarantee that it is raining in the hotel car park. It is a common enough experience in Khao Lak to see it pouring with rain on one side of the road and bone dry on the other. So if you are planning a day out, go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? You might get 5 minutes down the road and discover that the sun has come out and you are missing your sunglasses. Or you might find that the rain is even harder than before and you are treated to a spectacular lightning show. Either way it keeps life exciting. The key to visiting Khao Lak in the monsoon season is to plan for rain, hope for sun.
by Sam Goodey | Nature and Wildlife
There are at least 4 different species of monitor lizard in this area of Thailand. The most common is the Asian Water monitor lizard which can grow to lengths of up to almost 2 meters long, normally they weigh a little more than 50 kg, in extreme cases monitor lizards up to 90 kg have been spotted in Thailand! Despite their size and their apparent ugliness, monitor lizards in Southeast Asia are not considered dangerous to humans. That said they will defend themselves fiercely if they feel threatened. They have strong tails and large claws and teeth that can cause nasty injuries should they feel the need to attack. They are very quick both on land and in the water, just remember that a monitor lizard will usually prefer to run away when faced with human activity.
Monitor lizards are subaquatic, opportunistic hunters that will eat almost anything. Including rodents, fish, birds eggs, and carrion. They are often found in lowland or wetland areas close to fresh or brackish water. In Thailand monitor lizards have earned themselves several nicknames. One of the most common is a derogatory term that is often used as an insult to others whereas the more poite members of society will refer to the monitor lizards as the “silver and gold animals”. Another nickname is “chicken eater”. Both this name and the more offensive nickname can be traced back to when the Thais lived a more traditional lifestyle and would wake up in the morning to discover that the monitor lizards had eaten their domestic animals.
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I was talking to a couple who were on holiday in Khao Lak the other day, and they were telling me a story about something that happened in their resort a few days previously. They were sitting at the pool bar enjoying their pina coladas, when suddenly they heard a lot of splashing behind them. They turned around and were surprised to see people rushing out of the pool as if it was shark infested! Meanwhile the barman could be heard laughing over the sound of the cocktail shaker. It took them a few confused moments to realise that the pool wasn’t in fact shark infested. However in the middle of the pool there was a creature that looked suspiciously like a small crocodile leisurely making its way towards the shallow end.
After a few moments of confused panic some hotel staff came and drove away the intruder, with the help of a stick and an old sack, leaving this couple and the rest of the resort patrons to wonder what on earth was going on as they ordered another gin and tonic to help calm their nerves.
The funny thing is, this is not the first story like this I have been told. It might not even have been the first time that week! The truth is that your beautiful Khao Lak hotel was built in the jungle. It might not look like it but go back a few years and you can almost guarantee that your hotel room was once a luxurious bunch of trees that was home to a very different type of primate visitor. The ‘dragon’ that went for a cool off in the pool that day was not a crocodile or an alligator. It was in fact a monitor lizard.
Monitor lizards have very few natural predators. That being said when this couple asked me what I thought the hotel staff did with the one they caught in the pool I was honest and told them that it was probably one of two options. Number one – they released it into the wild, a safe distance from the hotel. Or option number two – they made a big curry. I know which one I would put my money on. Although monitor lizard meat can be a bit tough and bony, with the right curry paste it can actually work quite well. It tastes like chicken after all.
These Asian water monitor lizards are a common enough sight all over Thailand, but especially here in Khao Lak. So don’t be surprised if you see what looks like a mini crocodile crossing the road in front of you. And remember, if one does join you for a swim, be careful not to spill your drink.
Read More about the Asian Water Monitor Lizard click here.
by Sam Goodey | Local Knowledge, Nature and Wildlife, Phang Nga Province
Of all of the animals that inhabit the Khao Lak countryside, monkeys are one of the most popular among tourists. There are several opportunities for tourists to see monkeys in Khao Lak. The most common monkey experience for tourists is a visit to the Suwankuha Temple in Phang Nga. Usually included in most James Bond Island tours, the temple is located in a wide cave system and is home to an impressive reclining Buddha which is ‘guarded’ by a large troop of macaque monkeys. Although these monkeys are technically wild, being visited by so many tourists each day has taught them to associate people with food. You can buy packets of peanuts and corn to feed the monkeys outside the cave for just a few Baht, so of course people do. Feeding the monkeys can make a great photo opportunity, but be aware! These monkeys are no longer nervous and scared of people, so they will steal anything that interests them. Last time I was there one of them stole my coffee, straight out of my hand. It had been an early start that morning and as you can imagine, I wasn’t impressed. However I know that it is not worth fighting these monkeys. If they try to take something, just let them. If it isn’t something they can eat or drink they will soon get bored of it and they don’t usually go far. Each year several tourists end up paying for expensive rabies shots after getting bitten by these monkeys. Most bites occur when people refuse to let go of what they are holding, or when they are trying to tempt the monkey to pose for the perfect photo using peanuts.
Macaques are the most common species of monkey in this area. Thailand is home to six different species of macaque. The crab-eating macaque and the Rhesus macaque are usually the most common. Found throughout Southeast Asia, these monkeys are the third largest population of primates in the world. Behind only humans and rhesus monkeys. In recent years they have said to have already evolved to reach the ‘stone age’, they have learnt to use stones and rocks as tools to help them open shells and nuts or to peel roots and bark. Macaques will mostly live in large groups called “troops”, each troop will usually be made up of up to about 20 females and only a few males. The troop leader will usually be a dominant female. Males and females can be differentiated by their size and facial hair. Although females will also have whiskers, only males will have moustache. Males will also usually be larger in size. They have a lifespan of about 15-30 years.
Despite their name, crab eating macaques do not normally feed on crabs. They are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they will feed on a range of animals and plants whenever they can. Normally about 60%-90% of their diet is made up of seeds, fruits, flowers, bark and leaves. However, they will also feed on smaller animals such as young or nesting birds, lizards, frogs and fish. In certain areas, the Khao Lak Mangroves included, these monkeys have become good enough swimmers to dive for crabs and other crustaceans.
The monkeys in the Khao Lak Mangroves live a much more ‘natural’ life. They travel between the surrounding plantations and mangrove forests in search of food and shelter. They can often be seen as the tide drops making their way to their favorite hunting grounds where they will search for shellfish, crabs, shoots, nuts and leaves. They are much more wary of human activity in this area as they are often considered a pest by local plantation owners and crab collectors. However it is possible to kayak in among the troop and watch their activities without disturbing them provided you have an experienced guide.
by Sam Goodey | Local Knowledge, Nature and Wildlife
One of the bigger insects in Thailand that is slightly less friendly is the Asian Giant Hornet. This invasive species of hornet can grow up to 45mm long with a 75mm wingspan. They are found mostly in jungles and forests where they inhabit holes in trees and borrows left by other animals. Asian giant hornets hunt other medium and large insect species to survive, including bees, mantises and other species of hornet. The Asian giant hornet can grow a sting of up to 6mm long which can inject a strong venom and can cause death in extreme cases. Thankfully however these hornets are not commonly found in built up areas, so you should be fine to chill by the pool.
Insects are the most successful animals in the world. They have been around for over 400 million years, and the insect population is estimated to be over 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 worldwide at any time. Of course Thailand is no exception. There are approximately 70,000 different species of insect in Thailand alone.
Generally insects in Thailand will not bother people any more than they would anywhere else in the world. So for those of you who are a bit squeamish when it comes to creepy crawlies, relax, you will be fine. The most common (and the most annoying) insects you will come across on your Thailand travels will most likely be mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes have been around for over 400 million years. Thailand itself does not have a particularly bad mosquito infestation, however it is a tropical country. Therefore it is home to mosquitoes by default. Mostly they will be most active in the early mornings and during evenings when it is cooler. In the day time they are not usually a problem, unless you are visiting cool, damp areas with no breeze. What most people don’t realise about mosquitoes is that it is only the females that bite. This is because they need the extra proteins and irons they get from sucking blood to produce eggs. Male mosquitoes survive purely on a diet of nectar. It is easy to reduce the risk of getting bitten by mosquitoes with just a few simple actions;
- Use over the counter insect repellent, these are cheap and easy to find in Thailand.
- Wear light coloured clothing, dark colours absorb more heat and attract more mosquitoes.
- Avoid perfumes and fragrant body sprays.
- Use a fan or aircon while sleeping, mosquitoes can only fly at 1-2kmph, so even a light breeze can stop them.
Another insect you may run into during your trip to Thailand is the Jewel Beetle. There are over 300 different species of jewel beetle in Thailand. They can grow between 3-10cm long, with bullet shaped bodies and are easily recognised by their vivid, iridescent colours. The wings of these beetles have traditionally been used in jewelry, clothing and art for many years. To this day designers and collectors will pay a lot of money for these beetles. In addition to their beautiful and decorative wings, these beetles are considered a delicacy in several parts of Thailand and Malaysia where they are fried and served in several restaurants.
One of the largest insects you might come across in Thailand is the Atlas Moth. Atlas Moths are among the biggest moths in the world, with a wingspan of up to 30cm. The front tip of each wing is shaped to resemble a snake’s head. This resemblance is exaggerated by wing movements when faced with a predator.
Although they have such large wings, they have disportionately small bodies and they very rarely fly. Atlas moths have no mouth so are therefore unable to feed. They instead rely solely on ft reserves left over from their time as a caterpillar. Every flight they attempt uses massive amounts of energy and can reduce their already short lifespan (1-2 weeks) by several days.
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by Sam Goodey | Local Knowledge, Nature and Wildlife, The Similans
Ever since Khao Lak first came up on the ‘Tourist Radar’, the islands along the coast of Khao Lak have been a major appeal for divers, snorkelers and anyone who has ever dreamt of spending time on a paradise island. With their clear waters and white sandy beaches, these islands are lifted straight out of the sunblock ads. But experiencing these islands in any kind of comfort can be expensive, especially as most visitors to Khao Lak travel as a family. More often than not people have to make a choice based on their budget. They can either do “Cheap Charlie’ trips to the islands and try to visit as many as possible, and run the risk of being packed onto an overcrowded boat which rushes them around the islands on a tight schedule. Or they can book a slightly more expensive trip and focus on experiencing the best of just some of these islands, and maybe return again the following year to visit the rest.
I have been lucky enough over the years to experience both of these options first-hand, and I would always recommend people to pay the money and take the higher priced option (Usually works out 100-110 Euros per adult). Mostly for comfort and safety reasons (that money has to be saved somewhere!) but also in the interests of sustainability. The cheaper the price, the larger the group needs to be in order to operate. The larger the group, the bigger the impact on the ecosystem you wish to enjoy. It’s as simple as that. Also, when you consider that it is an all-inclusive day out on a boat with a free lunch, door to door transfers and all your entrance fees already included, 100 Euros suddenly doesn’t sound that much. Anyway, the most important thing is to make sure you choose the right group of islands to visit. Here are a few pointers to help you make your choice;
The Similan Islands
The Similans are a group of 11 islands which are arranged in an almost straight line, about 55 km directly west of Thap Lamu Pier. It takes about 1 hour 15 mins to reach the islands by speedboat. The 3 southernmost islands have been claimed by the Thai royal family as a conservation area and are closed to the public. Koh Tachai, the northernmost island is also closed at the time of writing, but there are frequent rumors that it will re-open at some point. The Similan Islands are home to some of the best beaches in Thailand. The white sand is so bright that it keeps the water crystal clear almost every day. Below the water there are plenty of coral reefs which are rich in marine life. The corals here are often not as colorful as people expect, this sometimes due to the depth of the water and also due to their exposed positions.
Most trips to the Similan Islands will include 2 beach stops and 2 snorkel stops. Although in recent years the Similans have become a bit over popular and this has of course had an effect on the health of the islands and the reefs, the islands are still worth a visit. Especially for those who want a good balance of time on the beach and time exploring the reefs.
The Surin Islands
As these islands are a bit further north, I would recommend booking a trip that leaves from Baan Nam Khem pier. From here the boat ride is about 1 hour 40 mins. It is possible to do a shorter boat ride if you leave from Kuraburi pier, but it is a much longer minibus ride to get to the pier so the overall travelling time is about the same and I would prefer to be on the boat the extra 20 mins than in a minibus.
The Surin Islands are easily the best snorkeling reefs around. It has been said that they are the best in Thailand. The reefs are shallow, often just under the surface, and full of densely packed, healthy corals that come in all shapes and colors. If you are imagining the backdrop to Finding Nemo then you are about right. The islands are also home to a tribe of Moken sea gypsies who have lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle in this area for centuries. Their village is open to the public as it gives them the opportunity to sell handmade necklaces and trinkets which provide them with money for necessities such as rice and diesel for their boats, and also keeps some of their traditional wood carving and weaving skills alive.
There are fewer beaches in Surin than Similan, and the sand here is not quite to white and picturesque. Most day tours will give customers a chance to relax on the beach for an hour or two during the trip. The main focus however is snorkeling.
Local Snorkel Sites
For those who do not wish to travel too far there are options. Koh Pha and Khao Na Yak are both much closer to Khao Lak. Koh Pha is a small island not far from Baan Nam Khem pier. Before the tsunami Koh Pha was a beautiful little island with white sand and a couple of palm trees stuck on top. Just like in a children’s book. However, since the tsunami the island has been lowered significantly and all the palm trees have been washed away. Now it is nothing more than a sand bank that is exposed when the tide is not too high. Much of the reef was also destroyed by the tsunami. Although it is slowly coming back. The water here is not always very clear due, and there is not a huge amount of color, but there is a lot of marine life around if you look for it.
Khao Na Yak is a peninsula very close to Thap Lamu pier. It has mangrove rivers on one side and a beautiful long beach on the other. As you cruise around the peninsular it is often possible to see monkeys and fishing eagles in the trees. On the flatter land there is also a savannah grassland that is perfect for photo shoots or bird watching. The snorkel reefs are mostly at the very tip of the peninsular. The corals on the outer edge are very large and healthy. There is also a great amount of fish that call the reef home. This is my favorite local snorkel site and it is definitely a destination I would recommend for families with kids.
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Similan Islands Couple on Beach
Donald Duck Bay on Koh Similan
Moken Sea Gypsy Village – Koh Surin Tai
Similan Islands Hawksbill Turtle