side by side beach comparisons of Khao Lak vs Phuket

Khao Lak vs Phuket: Which is Best to Visit?

Are you trying to decide between visiting Khao Lak vs Phuket and are curious about which destination is better for you?

Both places have some of the most pristine beach shorelines in Thailand, with many nearby islands and things to do. But in contrast, there are many differences between Khao Lak and Phuket!

Khao Lak is a beach town north of Phuket, and it’s best known for its pristine beach shorelines, nearby islands, national parks, and small-town charm. Khao Lak offers a very laidback atmosphere amongst serene nature.

Phuket is known for its many diverse beach areas, some more lively and others more laidback. The island is very well-developed, so shopping, accessibility to most things, and a wide variety of activities are available.

In this Khao Lak vs Phuket comparison guide, I’ll compare each destination’s best things to do, hotels/resorts, the local cuisine, nightlife, and atmosphere. Making it easier for you to decide where to visit!

a busy extensive beach shoreline full of people at Kata Beach and a mountain range in the background in Phuket, Thailand, is Phuket expensive?

Khao Lak vs Phuket: Main Differences

First, let’s take a look at the main stand-out differences between both places because there are quite a few!

The landscape and size of each destination are what stand out the most between Khao Lak and Phuket.

Khao Lak is a calm, quiet beach town, and it has its tourists, but for the most part, it’s laid back and not a large place.

Phuket, on the other hand, is Thailand’s largest island, with many different beach areas, each acting like its own small town with different atmospheres.

Here’s a list of highlights each destination claims, though I’d advise you to read further to help you make a well-informed decision on whether Khao Lak or Phuket is best for you to visit!

Khao Lak Highlights

  • Pristine beaches all around
  • Calm/Laidback atmosphere
  • Best National Parks
  • Small town charm
  • Ideal for honeymooners/families

Phuket Highlights

  • Many Beaches/areas to Visit
  • Very well developed island, shopping/restaurants
  • Many Things to Do (more)
  • Exceptional southern Thai food
  • Lively Nightlife in Patong
surreal stunning beach shoreline in Khao Lak on a clear sky day / Is Khao Lak worth visiting
Khao Lak

Khao Lak or Phuket: Things to Do

There are many things to do in both Khao Lak and Phuket; many of the activities you can experience in Khao Lak you can also experience in Phuket.

Regarding things to do in each destination, the largest that stand out are: Khao Lak offers national parks that Phuket doesn’t. But Phuket offers a wider range of things to do and entertainment compared to Khao Lak.

For those visiting and looking to get some shopping done, Phuket is far superior shopping-wise than Khao Lak.

Phuket is well-developed and has many large malls and shopping streets to visit. You can find authentic luxury brand names or knock-off goods on Bangla Rd in Patong. Also, the Phuket Town area offers plenty of boutique clothing, fabric, spice, and souvenir shops to visit.

Khao Lak is a small town. You can find several things to buy here including clothing, souvenirs etc, but it’s not a destination known for shopping.

Both places offer several exciting things to do and experience. Here’s a short list of the best things to do in each destination.

views of the entire Freedom Beach shoreline showing several tourist on the beach, beautiful turquoise waters and dense green forest surrounding the sand in Phuket, Thailand

Things to Do in Khao Lak

Similan Islands Tour: The Similan Islands are famous for having some of the clearest waters in Thailand; also, the marine life here is spectacular. This early-bird tour makes sure you get there before the crowds!

National Parks: Explore the remarkable national parks in Khao Lak, including Khao Lak-Lam and the world-famous Khao Sok National Park, an absolute must-visit!

Beach Day: Khao Lak is home to some of the best beaches in Thailand. A few you must visit are Nang Thong BeachBang Niang Beach, and Khuk Khak Beach. Relax, catch some sun rays, and admire the breathtaking coastline of Khao Lak.

a stunning beach shoreline with a few tourist walking on a sunny day in Khao Lak

Phang Nga Bay Tour: Embark on a trip to the famous Phang Nga Bay, an area famous for its massive limestones, emerald green waters, mangroves, and islands. And, of course, the famous “James Bond Island” featured in the movie.

Elephant/Sea Turtle Tour: This tour is perfect for those looking for a fun day with animals. On this Half day tour, you’ll enjoy the day bathing with elephants, explore the rainforests in the area, and visit a sea turtle conservation center

Khao Sok Bamboo Rafting: This Full day tour offers a fun, action-packed day with many stops, including Khao Sok National Park, bamboo rafting, temple visits, and more!

Things to Do in Phuket

Visit the Beaches: Phuket’s Westcoast is full of many picture-perfect beaches. The beaches in Phuket make the island special. You’ve got developed beaches by restaurants and then several remote beaches you’ll have to hike to.

Old Phuket Town Night Market: There are many night markets in Phuket, but the Old Phuket Sunday Market stands out the most because of its picturesque location in Phuket Town

Hike the Big Buddha: Phuket’s most iconic landmark is the Big White Buddha; standing 45 meters tall, you can spot the Big Buddha sometimes as you drive your scooter around Phuket. It’s a beautiful sight to see, and at the top, you’re met with surreal views of Phuket

the famous tall white big buddha of phuket on a clear sunny day

Day Trip to Phi Phi Islands: This is the most popular day trip in Thailand as a whole. The collection of islands in the Andaman Sea is a sight to see; while a day trip is recommended, I’d argue spending a night on Phi Phi Don

Elephant Sanctuary: Spending a day with the elephants is a must, no matter where you visit in Thailand. Just make sure you visit an ethical Elephant Sanctuary

Party in Patong Beach: Bangla Rd in Patong Beach is very similar to Pattaya’s Walking Street; it’s a party haven for those looking to party the night away

Khao Lak vs Phuket: Hotels & Resorts

Both Khao Lak and Phuket offer a wide range of hotels and resorts catering to different preferences and budgets.

The choice between the two destinations ultimately depends on what you are looking for in terms of accommodation and overall experience.

Despite being a small town, Khao Lak offers a wide range of hotels that accompany anywhere from complete luxury to budget-friendly.

Phuket, being the most popular beach destination in Thailand, offers numerous hotels/resorts/hostels scattered all over the island. Because Phuket is large, it’s best to choose which beach area in Phuket you’d prefer to stay in, and each has its own atmosphere!

Where to Stay in Khao Lak

JW Marriott Resort & Spa: Privately located around the green forests and conveniently located right along the beach, the JW Marriott in Khao Lak offers a taste of paradise in a luxurious way.

The Sands Khao Lak: Convenitally located by town with beachfront views, The Sands is known for its many amenities, including many pools, fitness facilities, a spa, and many restaurants serving various types of international cuisines.

Mukdara Beach Villa Resort: Offering a beautiful and serene location, this hotel offers beachfront spacious villas and suites for rent. On-site is an exceptional spa for guests to take advantage of during their visit.

The Retreat Khaolak Resort: This boutique-style and mid-range hotel offers an intimate setting surrounded by tropical jungle. It’s ideal for those looking to relax.

WE Hostel Khao Lak: This fun/vibrant contemporary-style hostel offers dorm-style spaces and is ranked the best hostel in town. It’s also conveniently located along the main road near many restaurants & bars.

aerial views of several villas overlooking the sea in Khao Lak, Thailand

Where to Stay in Phuket

Rosewood Phuket: A luxurious boutique hotel located in the hills of Patong in a private area, offering beautifully designed villas equipped with all you need and stunning panoramic ocean views

Katathani Phuket Resort: The stunning 5 Star beachfront resort offers a luxurious and tropical escape with its beautiful surroundings and is full of many amenities/activities for families. Conveniently offers direct access to Kata Noi Beach.

Outrigger Surin Resort: Located in the quieter Surin Beach area, Outrigger Surin is a beautiful tropical resort with excellent amenities and offers stunning sea views

Blu Pine Villas: Modern villas have a boutique-style hotel feel to them, located very close to several bars/restaurants in Kata Beach and only a few minutes walk from the main beach

Lub d Phuket Patong: The top-rated hostel in Patong, Lub D has a fun communal space with many activities and opportunities to meet other travellers.

views of condos and hotels, the ocean, and many trees from a Kata Viewpoint in Phuket, Thailand

Khao Lak vs Phuket: Restaurants

Khao Lak and Phuket have a variety of dining options, but Phuket generally has a wider range of restaurants and a more diverse culinary scene compared to Khao Lak due to the island’s size and larger population.

Phuket is known for its vast selection of international and Thai restaurants and is the home to southern Thai cuisine, with options ranging from local cafeteria-style eateries to street food stalls and fine dining establishments.

Khao Lak, on the other hand, offers far fewer dining options than Phuket. While there are still many great restaurants in Khao Lak serving a range of cuisines, the choices are quite limited compared to Phuket.

Whether you choose to visit Khao Lak or Phuket, don’t forget to visit the many night markets for some tasty Thai street food!

Both destinations offer plenty of excellent seafood restaurants, with both being located by the Andaman Sea, it makes sense!

Several tourists walking on Thalang Rd for the Old Phuket Town Sunday night market

Where to Eat in Khao Lak

TAKOLA Thai Restaurant: Known as one of the best restaurants in town. TAKOLA offers an excellent Thai culinary experience, serving both contemporary and traditional flavors, and the ambiance of the restaurants is warm and inviting.

Khao Lak Phu View: For those looking for a restaurant with a stunning view, look no further; this is the place to come. Khao Lak Phu View serves excellent Thai cuisine Khao Lak and with the combination of some of the best sunset views in town.

Olive: For those looking for a fancy night out, Olive is the best Italian restaurant in town, serving all kinds of pasta, pizzas, charcuterie boards, and more. It’s located inside the JW Marriot Hotel.

Gold Elephant: If you’re looking to experience authentic Southern Thai food, this is your restaurant. Gold Elephant offers a wide variety of seafood dishes, local curries, and more.

White Sand Beach Khao Lak (Beachclub): A relaxing day under an umbrella on the beach along with some delicious food; for those looking to spend the day at the beach with delicious food nearby, this is your spot!

a plate of papaya salad being served in Phuket

Where to Eat in Phuket

Ta Khai: Fine-dining Thai restaurant located in the hills of Patong with stunning ocean views

Pinto: Serving all the classic southern Thai dishes: Pad Kra Pow, Massaman curry, papaya salad, Tom Yum soup, and more. The food is delicious here, and the presentation is beautiful

Raya Restaurant: Legendary Thai restaurant serving all the classics located in one of the colonial buildings in Phuket Town

ZomPaul Eatery: Tapas-style Thai restaurant serving several affordable small-plate dishes in the Patong Beach area

The Pad Thai Shop: A humble local Thai restaurant known for its limited menu but very delicious dishes located in Kata

table full of Thai Dishes, Pad Kra Pow, pineapple friend rice, and coconut curry with rice being served at Pinto Karon

Khao Lak vs Phuket: Nightlife

When it comes to the nightlife comparison for Khao Lak vs Phuket, they couldn’t be more different!

Phuket has a more vibrant and diverse nightlife scene compared to Khao Lak. Phuket is well-known for its lively entertainment areas, such as Patong Beach and Phuket Town, which offer a wide range of bars, clubs, live music venues, and night markets.

But besides these two beach areas in Phuket, Patong, and Phuket Town, the nightlife in other areas of Phuket, like Kata and Karon Beach, is similar to what Khao Lak offers!

On the other hand, Khao Lak is known for its laid-back ambiance, even during the night. In Khao Lak, the nightlife consists of a few bars and restaurants where visitors can enjoy a drink or two. The nightlife options are generally more limited and calm compared to Phuket.

Nightlife in Khao Lak

The Edge & Beach Bar: Offering an elegant decor atmosphere on the beach, The Edge is perfect for those looking to enjoy an evening by the water

Qyūri Brunch & Gin Bar: Known as the best cocktail bar in town, there’s a wide variety of drink types to enjoy here

The GuestHouse Bar and Bistro: A lively restaurant and bar showcasing local musical talent; they tend to have live music here most nights

Bang Niang Night Market: Known as the town’s largest night market, Bang Niang Market is bustling with food vendors selling all types of delicious Thai street food. You’ll also find many local crafts and local products for purchase.

Nightlife in Phuket

Illuzion Phuket Nightclub: The most well-known nightclub on the island, hosting international talent some nights

Cafe del Mar: Beach club in the day, and on weekend nights, they host fun outdoor parties, sometimes with international DJ talent

The Library Phuket: Unique speakeasy bar located in Phuket Town with dim lighting serving extravert cocktails

Cue Bar: Spacious bar, a cafe in the day, pool tables for enjoyment, and a nice rooftop

Bangla Road: Walk down the famous street in Patong; there are countless nightclubs, gogo-bars, and everything your party heart desires

tourists crowd the nightlife street of bangla road in patong beach

Best Time to Visit Khao Lak or Phuket

Khao Lak and Phuket both share the same seasonal weather patterns. The best time to visit Khao Lak or Phuket is during the dry season months, from late November to April.

During the dry season in Khao Lak and Phuket, you can look forward to hot, sunny weather on a daily basis with minimal to no rain and low humidity levels.

Dry Season in Khao Lak & Phuket: November to April

The rainy season in Khao Lak and Phuket is from May to October, sometimes till mid-November.

If you choose to visit during the rainy season, you will experience sunny weather, but understand the chances of it raining are much higher. Also, humidity levels are increased during the monsoon/rainy season.

Monsoon/Rainy Season in Khao Lak & Phuket: May to October

an aerial photo of a secluded empty beach with only a few surfboards in Khao Lak, Thailand
Khao Lak Beach

Khao Lak vs Phuket — Final Thoughts

Have you made up your mind about which of these beautiful destinations in southern Thailand you want to visit?

It shouldn’t be a difficult decision, despite both destinations sharing many qualities regarding beautiful beaches, rich nature and plenty of activities to do.

Both are quite different from one another. Khao Lak is a better destination for families or honeymooners, and solo travelers would enjoy Khao Lak as well if they’re looking for a calm, quiet beach town.

Phuket as a destination varies from beach area to beach area; Kata Beach is similar to Khao Lak with families and couples, while Patong is bustling with a younger crowd and many looking to experience a fun nightlife. Lastly, Phuket is well-developed, so it offers more entertainment options even for families.

Determine which type of atmosphere you’d prefer during your visit, which will help you decide between these amazing destinations!

Keep in mind both destinations aren’t far from one another, so if you have time, you could always visit both! From Phuket Airport, Khao Lak is only around 1 hour and 30 minutes away.

clear beautiful sand and turquoise waters at Surin Beach in Phuket

What is better Khao Lak or Phuket?

It depends on the atmosphere you desire for your visit. Khao Lak offers a serene, laidback atmosphere amongst nature, while Phuket is more lively due to its population and tourists.

Keep in mind that Phuket also offers calmer beach areas on the island, but none as laidback as Khao Lak!

Is it worth going to Khao Lak?

Yes, it’s definitely worth visiting Khao Lak. The beach town is home to some of the nicest beaches in Thailand, and its national parks are a must-visit!

How far is Khao Lak from Phuket?

It’s 86 km away, so around a 1 and a half hour drive from Phuket to Khao Lak.

How much is a taxi from Phuket to Khao Lak?

It’s 1700 to 2000 Thai Baht, which is around $50 – $60 US from Phuket Airport to Khao Lak. If you’re leaving from more south of the island in Phuket, it will cost you a bit more.

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