Khao Lak, Phang Nga, Thailand
"A Few Days Before Disaster"
We visited this peaceful area the week before the tsunami struck. The Khao Lak area was hit very hard. It had the most casualties in Thailand, with well over 4000 of the 5400 confirmed deaths in Thailand. Over half of these were foreign tourists, mostly from Europe. Most of the hotels/resorts and businesses in the Khao Lak area have been destroyed or heavily damaged. It will be quite a while until things get back to normal. There are several hotels and resorts in operation, however, and they need revenue, so help them out if you can. You may wish to make donations directly to the people in this area. I have seen several websites of local businesses explaining how to do this, but I will not recommend any one over another. Just do your research to help ensure your money goes where it should.
The Khao Lak area is one of the more recent hot-spots in the South, being quite convenient from Phuket's airport (Khao Lak is about 1.5 hours drive north and Bangkok-Phuket flights are very cheap). It is full of fairly new resorts, some of which were just opening.
There are two national parks nearby, Khao Lak Lamru, which extends from a scenic bluff on the coast then deep into the hills to the east, and Khao Lampi - Hat Thai Muang, a few kilometers farther to the south. Both are quite large and offer numerous waterfalls, hiking trails, beaches, and other attractions.
The photo above was taken from the Khao Lak Lamru National Park. As you can see, it is rocky, but very nice (you can swim here because of the calm sea - at least during the northeast monsoon). There are several simple, but nice and private, bungalows at the park. If you are looking for a peaceful place to stay, this is a great option.
Just beyond these rocks to the north, is Nang Thong Beach which is nice, but highly-developed. This area is where some of the fanciest resorts are and was surely hit hard by the tsunami. In this area along the main road are/were lots of tourist-oriented businesses such as restuarants, dive centers, tour guides, etc. If you wish to have a variety of dining options within walking distance, this is/was the area to stay.
There is also a reef not too far offshore where you can snorkel, and the Similan Islands are 1.5 hours away by speed boat.
I'm still working on these pages...
"Exploring the Beach"
Also at Khao Lak Lamru National Park. It's lots of fun hopping around on the rocks.
"Hiking along the Coast"
There is a trail leading from the restaurant at Khao Lak Lamru National Park down to a secluded beach. It is a nice, short hike through a jungle-like setting with some views from the rocky shoreline along the way. Very nice.
The restaurant at the park is a great place to eat and get an incredible view at the same time. It is very high up and would have been a good place to be during the tsunami.