I booked a Similans live-aboard trip with Khao Lak’s Poseidon Bungalows in late January, which gave me a couple of days to recheck Lak itself.
Rebuilding now seems virtually finished at the southern end of the Lak strip. When I visited last in 06 there was still a lot of reconstruction going on at the Sunset Beach end of Krabi Thong Beach (the area tucked in against the high headland) and the true Khao Lak Beach just south of the same headland. This seems to be 99% completed now and both areas have a continuous strip of midrange and high-end places giving people a pretty good choice without the noise etc of rebuilding.
People have responded too - before the whole beach strip was just about deserted, this trip things seemed reasonably busy although not super-crowded.
I hired a motorcycle and also checked out the beaches further north.
Bang Niang also looks pretty much redone - a real busy section of resorts and restaurants.
Khuk Khan (aka Khuk Khak) is a lot quieter with resorts spread out, most of them upmarket and with some several big new developments under construction.
The area just north of this leading up to the big cape at Laem Pakarang was similar.
Around the other side of Pakarang (northern side) is Pakweeb Beach with several nice places including the oft praised Similana - I had a good look at Similana, real nice bungalows built up a nicely landscaped hillside on a small promontory, restaurant with great views, access to nice beaches on both sides - only trouble is its days are numbered with a more expensive replacement planned.
IF I HAD TO PICK ONE OF THESE BEACHES (that is if I was staying midrange or upmarket) I reckon I would go for Sunset. The beach here is very attractive - tucked in against the towering headland with nice sand and some outcrops of rock for character, there is a host of nice places to stay and to eat at, some right on the beachfront, others built up the headland side with panoramic views - and it has the great advantage of only being a 15 minute walk up to town for shopping, other restaurants etc.
The true Khao Lak Beach is actually a slighty nicer section of beach IMHO (with the other side of the towering headland as backstop) but this area is a bit isolated - town in some 5 km over the headland. True, a little service area has developed on the inland side of the beach hotels and if you walk south along the beaches towards Poseidon (takes 15 minutes along nice beaches to Poseidon - hey, first morning I saw an elephant being walked along here) there are a few small places set up by local villagers selling fruit, drinks, massages and hiring beach chairs/umbrellas etc.
Third would be the Pakweeb area. Very attractive, some local beach restaurants and other services.
The other areas are less attractive to me mainly because the beaches here are long, open, a bit featureless and kinda exposed - I like my beaches with headlands, sections of rock yada yada. But hey, some of the resorts in these places are veeery flash - totally gorgeous - and people staying there would probably have no complaints at all.
I called in at the National Park HQ high on the big headland south of Sunset Beach around lunch time because I’d read that the restaurant there has panoramic views. Well it does, but kinda directly out to sea and not north along the beaches as I’d hoped. BTW, if you tell the guys at the NP gate you are going to the restaurant they won’t charge you the 200baht NP entrance fee. Which means you can then freeload the track to the viewpoint and even go 15 minutes down to that small beach also accessible from Khao Lak Nature Resort a bit higher on the headland.
The few bungalows at the NP HQ looked okay and they also had about a dozen tents set up.
I gave the freeloading on the NP tracks a miss - I was feeling lazy and hungry. And wanting a restaurant with the views I mention above, I went north back down the headland road a few hundred meters to the Unlenat House place I visited last trip. Stone the crows, those views don't get worse with time. And the food was again great - and cheaper on average than Poseidon Bungalow’s restaurant, which aint exactly expensive itself. Lots of Thai nationals eating here which is always a good sign. The place also has rooms.
I have a fair bit more on the Khao Lak area including some purty photos, links to maps and info on getting there from Phuket, Bangkok and Krabi on the link below.