Khao Lak (pronounced 'Cow Luck') sounds like some kind of dairy milk supplement or something, but in fact it is one of the better-kept secrets of Thailand. The sneaky Scandinavians of course have known about it for years, not bothering to tell the rest of the world that there were more glorious stretches of white, white beaches and crystal blue waters just minutes to the north of Phuket.
But that's just the kind of behaviour you might find from the countries that gave us the Volvo, crispbread, ABBA, and pickled herring.
It's far more international now, witnessed by the fact the La Meridien here has a German general manager (Torsten Richter) and an Indonesian marketing manager (Linawaty Ko), working with an utterly delightful local crew to make this something out of the ordinary: the wall-to-wall activities program for instance features a run with the GM, some days tens of kilometres long. More Club Mad than Club Med. Jing jing!
The resort is neatly divided in two, with rooms for couples centred around the Spa complex (rated by some publication somewhere to be 'Top 20 in Asia'), and the Family complex on the opposite side comprises rooms for families, with their own pool and Penguin Kids club. Oh, and then there's the pool villa section, where for a cheeky 90,000 baht (plus plus) you can lounge around in their oh-so-impressive Ocean Front Residential Pool Villa. (There was an Australian family checking in for three weeks the day I was there, otherwise, mais oui, I would've naturally been assigned to that room.)
I was happy enough to swim at the beach, with its glorious warm waters and swimming platforms about 100m out to sea. And then walking back to the room I almost tripped over a baby elephant going for his morning constitutional. The Eagles song 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' is for some reason running through my head.
Oh, and the other thing running through my head was Yaa Dong. Haven't heard of it? Yaa Dong is a Thai herbal whiskey made from bark, roots, and herbal extracts, infused in whiskey. Despite its reputed medicinal and therapeutic values, mostly this is an under-the-counter sort of concoction in Thailand, but at Le Meridien Khao Lak, it's loud an proud on the counter of the lobby bar. Tasting like cough medicine when you were a kid. And BRIGHT red.
After a few Yaa Dongs and a sumptuous seafood meal, we went down to the beach to release khoom loy paper lanterns. With the accompanying soundtrack of ukelele wizard Israel
That's right -- you couldn't help but think the Scandinavians have probably been drinking Yaa Dong for years without telling us about it. It would certainly explain a lot.