I can’t stay away from Thailand. Last week was my third visit, but it was my first time to the region of Krabi. Ao Nang is the main beach resort in Krabi and a great base from which to explore the surrounding region. There’s not as much written about it online as there is for places like Ko Samui or Phi Phi, so I thought I would collate some useful tips for travelling there based on my recent experience.
The nearest airport to Ao Nang is Krabi and this is served by several airlines including Thai, Bangkok, Malaysia (who we flew with), Qantas and Air Asia. Taxis to Ao Nang are charged at a flat rate of 600 baht for a minivan, which takes up to 4 people. There’s only one taxi company so don’t waste your time haggling! Tickets are bought inside the arrivals hall and your van will come right up to the door. Some hotels and taxi companies offer the pick up for slightly less (i.e. 500 to 550 baht) if you are organised enough to arrange it with them in advance.
The journey takes approx. 40 minutes depending on traffic.
Whilst Ao Nang beach has plenty of amenities it is not the prettiest beach in the region. (It’s by no means ugly but relatively speaking is not the best in the area). Instead, people spend their days taking long-tail boat taxis to surrounding secluded bays and islands. For the closest destinations (i.e. Railay Bay, Tonsai Beach and Centara Grand Beach Resort) the price is just 100 baht per person each way. The boats won’t leave, however, until they have sold all 8 seats so it actually works in your favour to travel during busier times – much less waiting around!
There are 2 main long-tail taxi offices situated on either end of Ao Nang beach, neither have piers so expect to get your clothes/feet wet. Both offices also offer half and full day trips that take to you a number of islands – including Ko Poda and Ko Hong – but it is a set itinerary and not very easy to plan your own route. Alternatively you can arrange a private boat with your hotel/tour office directly.
There are also numerous tuk tuks that can take you around town for approx. 60 baht per journey.
The big draw in this region (for me, at least) is Railay Bay. It’s one of those picture perfect beaches you see in Thailand holiday brochures and it looks just as good in real life as it does in the pictures. There is accommodation and a sprinkling of shops and restaurants on Railay but it can only be reached by boat so consider how comfortable you are with doing a long-tail boat transfer with all your luggage before arranging to stay there. We preferred to visit just for a day and found it was much prettier in the morning before the tide goes out.
The waters are warm and shallow and perfect for bathing. Railay is also really popular for rock climbers – just look at those limestone cliffs! – as well as kayaking. Prices are slightly higher on Railay because of its isolation but a fresh coconut will set you back just 85 baht whilst a foot scrub administered while you lounge in the sand is 200.
There is a whole section of Ao Nang beach dedicated to massage. 10 beach huts in a row offer a range of Thai and oil massage, plus will throw in a sun lounger and coffee for the day if you purchase their services! We decided to have a massage in the wooden pavilion set slightly back from the beach (mainly because we saw it in the Australian version of Amazing Race!) They lured us in with the offer of a 1 hour Thai massage for 300 baht and then upsold us to the oil/Thai combination massage for 450. It was still a bargain though, and a bloody good (if slightly painful) experience.
I’m going to state the obvious here and say avoid the main strip on the beach front when it comes to finding restaurants. We got a bit desperate on the first day and went for a cute wooden looking place that served what I would call ‘the only bad Pad Thai in Thailand’. (Seriously I thought it was impossible to get it wrong in Thailand but it turns out not so – too much sauce and not enough substance kills it.) After scouring Foursquare for decent reviews we took a tuk tuk to Boat Noodle Aonang Restaurant the next night and were not disappointed. Amazing curry, fresh fruit, cold beer and good service = win.
There was also a small street food market near our hotel (on the road towards Nopparat Thara Beach) which served great local food all day for a fraction of the restaurant prices. There are a few plastic chairs and tables behind the stalls so don’t be afraid to pull up a seat and get stuck in – especially to the mango and sticky rice combination.
In terms of nightlife Ao Nang is a fairly family-friendly resort with a focus on restaurants and sunset cocktails (apparently the Hilltop is good) rather than nightclubs (excluding the hostess bars on ‘entertainment street’ which are easily, and best, avoided.) There are a couple of bars with live music on the waterfront but we stumbled upon the Reggae Roots Rock Bar after dining at Boat Noodle and this was where we had the best banter. Live music from the Thai Bob Marley and fire throwers in the street meant this place was packed all night. Staff keep the cold beers coming until you wave a tuk tuk to take you home.
There’s also a few options in terms of cafes (I’m excluding Starbucks for obvious reasons). Family Mart does a decent take away coffee if you need a caffeine fix or you can head to Black Canyon who do a decent Western-style frappe and have free Wi-Fi (you may want to avoid the toilets though!)
There are heaps of market stalls and tourist shops around Ao Nang, largely selling the same things so you are in a good position to barter for the best prices. I couldn’t help but buy the same beach dress I had worn to death since buying it in Thailand in 2007. It cost me 400 baht (the same price I paid in Phi Phi in 2007) and knowing the last one lasted me 7 years I’m pretty confident I’ll get my money’s worth.
I spent hours researching properties to stay at Ao Nang. We wanted somewhere boutique rather than a resort, that was modern yet had Thai character, close to the restaurants but not too noisy and good value for money (don’t ask for much do I?!) Luckily we struck gold (or red?) when I came across the Red Ginger Chic Resort, a boutique hotel about 10 minutes walk from the beach. We’d booked a regular double room (approx £60 per night) but when we arrived I asked if we could upgrade to a pool access room after seeing pictures of them on Instagram. This we were able to do for an extra £20 a night, plus the room was ready for us to check into at 10am in the morning.
So for the very first time I stayed in a room where it was possible to check in, swim out the door and take up a seat at the pool bar! Every day at 3pm the barman would lure us over from the patio with his calls of ‘Happy Hour! Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ and when I arrived at just past 4 one day he kindly said, ‘Don’t worry I can be late. For you it is still Happy Hour.’ (Joyous words.)
The décor of the room was how we imagined; small characterful touches combined with convenience and cleanliness. I particularly liked the kimono style dressing gowns, and wicker basket and rattan mats provided free of charge for using at the beach. A/C, Wi-Fi, bottled water and breakfast were also included in the price. I can’t recommend it enough.
(Note: I spoke to other guests who had rooms at the back of the hotel and said they overlooked a construction site next door, so ask for a pool view room to get a similar experience to mine!)
So that’s my lowdown on Ao Nang, Krabi. We only stayed for 2 nights/3 days but as a base for seeing more of the area it worked really well. Have you been? Got anything to add?