Blazing Saddles: Khao Lak Attack

PHUKET: Gadabout pedal-philes living in Phuket are continually in search of more benign, cyclist-friendly venues in which to enjoy their passion.

Naturally enough, many such cycling getaways tend to be found across the Sarasin Bridge, which a waggish friend recently described as being “where Thailand really starts”.

Almost as soon as you do cycle across those 1,500 meters of turquoise water, you feel as though things are starting to calm down. Traffic isn’t quite so maniacal, the locals seem to have a little more time and smiles for you and the air is certainly cleaner.

While eternal vigilance are the watchwords of the lycra lout pedaling anywhere in Thailand, once across the bridge there does seem to be a little more time to look around and smell the buffaloes.

Heading north up the west coast of the Isthmus of Kra on Highway 4 (Phetkasem Road), you’ll soon come to the famous tourist area of Khao Lak.

The area boasts some lovely, long, scalloped beaches bisected by rocky promontories. Inland, the forest-clad hills rise steeply and as a result a series of waterfalls cascade off these rocky slopes in a tumultuous rush to the sea.

As you enter this area from the south, the road becomes a switchback of snaking turns and hills through the Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park headland. The park entrance is at the highest point on the road overlooking the Andaman Sea and offers some good forest hikes down to the beaches below and around Kao Lak Mountain with its Chinese temple dedicated to the wizard of the mountain.

Highway 4 then descends into the Khao Lak itself on a recently widened band of black tar macadam so broad you could land a Jumbo jet on it. Your senses are immediately affronted by the jumbled bric-a-brac strip development along the highway, which seemed to reassert itself with rapacious abandon soon after the horror of the 2004 tsunami that so devastated Khao Lak. This stretch of road is anything but cyclist-friendly, as it’s hot, congested, dusty from ongoing construction, and because it is the main north-south artery to Ranong, it hosts some very fast and dangerous traffic including the infamous visa-run minivans.

So, why come to Khao Lak with your bicycle?

Well, thankfully there is another very appealing side to this area as we discovered when we turned west off the main highway a few miles north of the main town and followed the signs to The Sarojin Resort and Spa.

Sarojin is a stunning oasis right on the white sands of Bang Sak Beach with the most sumptuous gardens, limpid pools, great dining and luxurious accommodation. In addition, they have pioneered the experiential concept of assigning “imagineers” to help their often young honey-mooning guests get the most out of the surrounding environment.

The “imagineers” provide all sorts of alluring trips and experiences such as candlelight dinners by mountain waterfalls; snorkeling and offshore dining adventures on the resort’s opulent launch the Lady Sarojin; or cycling adventures around the quiet environs of the Sarojin.

They give their guests free use of mountain bikes with maps attached to the handlebars for self-guided tours, or an “imagineer” will, if you like, accompany you and show you the rides.

We arrived at around 4pm which was perfect timing to quickly drop our bags in our suite and then head out with Khun Jack, our helpful guide on a trip to the Nam Tok Sai Rung (literally seven colors, or rainbow waterfall).

The ride took us past cool lakes, once the site of tin mining works, now reclaimed for more bucolic pastimes such as kayaking and fishing. Then, after a short ride along busy highway 4, we turned inland along Nam Tok Sai Rung Road through silently brooding rubber tree groves and, after a short uphill hike, to the primary forest around the falls themselves.

These falls are one of seven sets that plummet off the escarpment inland from Khao Lak and the Sarojin also offers candlelit champagne dinners alongside these tumbling waters to their young, “loved-up” clientele.

We then rode back towards the coast past the entrance to the Sarojin and the Tsunami Monument to catch the sunset at Pakarong, or Coral Cape. This is a lovely west-facing promontory between the broad sweeps of Khuk Khak Beach to the south and Bang Sak Beach to the north upon which the Saroijin sits.

We arrived at 6pm as the sky morphed into pyrotechnic sunset splendor and ordered up cold beers and som tam from the little beachside restaurant, then settled down to drink-in both the beer and the relaxation that comes after a good ride.

Another great Khao Sok ride is along Khuk Khak Beach itself at low tide. The sea goes out a long way here leaving an expanse of hard-packed sand ideal for a fat tire mountain bike ride at sunset. Of course it’s a highly saline environment which can take a toll on your bike, so best take an old one…or borrow a friend’s!

You can cycle for miles along the Khao Lak beaches all the way back from Pakrong headland to the main nightlife area for beers and food and then cycle back by moonlight. We found it impossible to get lost on the return leg… all we had to do was keep the sea on our left and keep pedaling as the moon rose over the ocean!

With a little ingenuity and help from friends like those at the Sarojin, a Khao Lak cycling attack can be most enjoyable… and it’s all only a hundred kilometers north of Phuket Town.

— Baz Daniels

Thai Life

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