Phuket is far better known than Khao Lak, which is somewhere that many people have never even heard of. Nearly everyone comes into Phuket, at least to the airport, but there are plenty of reasons why travelling directly to Khao Lak is a better idea before enjoying a Similan Islands diving trip. Phuket is a very popular tourist destination in Thailand, but this page explains what’s good & bad about staying in Phuket compared to Khao Lak before a scuba diving trip at The Similan Islands. Both places have their own advantages and disadvantages, and each person’s choice will depend on several factors which are personal to them.
- Phuket has more things to do than Khao Lak
- Both places have plenty of hotels, restaurants and nightlife that suit the needs of their typical guests
- It’s usually cheaper to get to Phuket beaches from the airport, but getting to Khao Lak can be quicker & easier
- Staying in Phuket before a diving trip normally involves lots more travelling before you get on the boat
- All day trip customers and some liveaboard guests need to stay in Khao Lak anyway
- Khao Lak is more laid back than Phuket, and tourists don’t get hassled
Accommodation & Non-Diving Activities
Phuket has more hotels, but Khao Lak has plenty.
Due to Phuket being a world-famous tourist destination for many years, there is a vast amount of infrastructure on the island, which includes hotels, resorts and guesthouses to suit all tastes and budgets. There are several ‘franchised hotels’ with names known around the world. However, Khao Lak also has a huge selection of places to stay. These include ‘franchised resorts’ such as JW Marriott, The Sands, Sentido and more. In Khao Lak there are dozens of locally-owned resorts at all budget levels, and there are even ‘Dive Hostels,’ female-only hostels and more. Phuket’s main beaches have some very high-rise hotels and condominium buildings, but in Khao Lak almost everything is no higher than the tree line. The accommodation in Khao Lak is spread out over a very long seafront area, whereas Phuket’s hotels tend to be condensed into bays, such as Patong, Chalong, Kata, Karon and a few others. Whether you choose Phuket or Khao Lak, there are more than enough options for a hotel, guest house or resort.
What non-diving activities are there to do?
This is where Phuket wins over Khao Lak. Phuket has plenty of things to do and see, such as a Go Karting Track, a firing range, Phuket Fantasea, and more. There are also water sports which include parasailing, jet skis etc. Khao Lak has things to do, including Khao Sok National Park to its north, some elephant sanctuaries, and Yoga & Thai boxing gyms. However, Phuket has more things to do.
How about Transport from Phuket Airport?
Phuket has more options which are mostly cheaper.
Getting from Phuket Airport to hotels, resorts or even the pier or bus station on Phuket Island is not difficult or expensive from the airport. Although there are plenty of touts at the airport who will try to get you into their expensive taxi, you can choose from shared minivans, meter taxis, car rentals and more. A regular-sized meter taxi from the airport to the furthest area of Phuket should not cost more than 1,000 THB/car. Shared minivan services start from less than 200 THB/person. It’s possible to get an airport bus out of the airport area to the main road, where you can get a public bus north to Khao Lak or south to Phuket Town, but not to the beaches on the west coast. The local mafia control Phuket’s transport and there are very limited bus services.
Khao Lak is quicker to get to than many of Phuket’s main beach areas.
Although Khao Lak is further from the airport than most of Phuket’s beaches, the road is clear. The journey by car or taxi from Phuket Airport to central Khao Lak is nearly always 1 hour - 1 hour 15 minutes. There are almost never any traffic problems. However, the traffic in Phuket has become awful. The recent roadworks have made things worse, as well. Patong is Phuket’s most-popular destination, and this seaside town has narrow one-way streets, and many tourists and locals using all kinds of vehicles. It’s common to be less than one kilometre from your Phuket hotel but it could take 20-30 minutes to travel that short distance.
In summary, getting from the airport to Khao Lak compared to travelling to Patong is easier and sometimes takes less time, but there are limited transport options, especially for solo travellers.
But My Liveaboard Trip Includes Phuket Transfers!
Some of our liveaboard trips include free or cheap transfers from Phuket to the boat, which is usually based in Khao Lak. This is a very good thing to have, but it is important to understand the geography of the area. As you may see on the map, Phuket Airport is located in the north of the island. Travelling south from there to a Phuket beach resort takes up to an hour, which is similar to coming directly from the airport to Khao Lak. And because most of our diving boats sail from Khao Lak's Tab Lamu Pier, a pickup in Phuket (even if free) involves at least 2 hours on the road before boarding the boat. Central Khao Lak is just 20 minutes from the pier. The free and cheap transfers are in minivans that collect other guests on the way. They pick people up at set times, which depend on the location of the pickup. After landing at Phuket Airport travelling to Patong, Karon, Kata, or Chalong hotel will take an hour. Then on the day your liveaboard boat departs, you will spend at least 2 hours travelling from the south of Phuket up to Khao Lak to board the boat. Unless you have a particular reason to go into Phuket, it’s always worth considering coming directly to Khao Lak after you land at Phuket Airport. However, please note that if your liveaboard departs from Phuket, it’s better to say on Phuket Island. Boats which sail from Phuket include all Marco Polo trips, most trips on Giamani, and some trips on The Junk, Bunmee 3, Bunmee 4, & Daranee.
Map of Phuket and Khao Lak
How about transport options once already there?
Both Phuket and Khao Lak have plenty of ways to get around. These include renting small motorcycle scooters, or even renting a car. Most tourists join shared pickup trucks, or these same vehicles can be private taxis. In our opinion, Khao Lak is better for getting around. This is mainly due to traffic, local scams and police checkpoints.
The traffic in Phuket can be really bad, and the mix of drivers includes sightseeing tourists who may not be used to the vehicle or driving on the left side of the road, local Thais, & western expats. All of these groups of people have different driving styles, and some of them may be in a rush or aggressive.
Due to the high number of tourists in Phuket (including people who may have never travelled abroad before) there are many stories of them being ripped off when renting a vehicle or getting a taxi. These include higher rental fees, or the vehicle owner falsely claiming that damage has been done during the rental period and compensation must be paid.
Also, the Phuket police force are known to set up regular roadblocks on the lookout for unsuspecting westerners who may have broken a law.
Khao Lak is much more laid back. The roads are quieter and safer, there are no scams, and the police checkpoints are both less frequent and they focus on safety more than collecting fines.
Does Khao Lak Have Any Nightlife Entertainment?
Phuket is famous (or infamous) for its nightlife. Especially in places like Patong, there is plenty to entertain all kinds of tourists, including some seedy shows, bars and more. However, most of our diving guests are not interested in this kind of fun. Because of Phuket having lots of sordid nightlife and Khao Lak being far more laid back, each place attracts a certain type of tourist. Khao Lak is better for couples, families & divers in general. Khao Lak has lots of restaurants which include all tastes and budget levels. There are bars too, but these bars are fun for divers and tourists who enjoy a drink and some live music. There are also lots of places to do some shopping or have a massage, and plenty of beauty salons. Everything is far more laid back, and there is almost no hassle from people trying to sell you something that you don’t want.
Some Divers Have to Stay in Khao Lak before a Similan Diving Trip.
Most of our boats depart from Khao Lak in the late afternoon or evening, which means guests have all day to come to Khao Lak from the surrounding areas, which include Phuket, Krabi, Koh Lanta, Phi Phi and Ranong. However several of our boats sail in the morning, meaning that staying in Khao Lak the day before is vital. Of course, all our day trip boats sail in the morning, but also several Similan liveaboard diving boats do too. These include MY Genesis, Nangnuan, Nemo 1 & Camic. Plus some trips on Bavaria and Oktavia have a morning transfer. It’s important to stay in Khao Lak the night before to be sure to get collected for free in time for the departure. Not only do the boats not offer free early morning pickups from Phuket, it’s impossible to comfortably manage the journey to arrive on time. The only way to be sure to get from Phuket to Khao Lak’s Tab Lamu Pier before 7.45am is to leave very early by a pre-booked taxi who knows where to go. You need to leave with plenty of time in case you get stuck in the traffic in Phuket. Then, arriving earlier than necessary at the pier leaves you with nothing to do but wait in the sun. It’s not really practical or possible to stay in Phuket and join a morning departure from Khao Lak.