The first 4 days of our 12 day stint in Southern Thailand began in the touristy little beach town of Ao Nang. After changing our hotel reservation to stay somewhere more central, we were sure that Ao Nang would be a good base for us, and a nice, gentle way to ease ourselves into the culture of Southern Thailand before setting out on 8 days of island-hopping around Krabi Province.
When we landed at Krabi Airport, we decided to save money and take the shuttle bus into Ao Nang for 150B/person, instead of a private taxi, which would have cost 600B. It took maybe half an hour longer than a taxi would have, but we didn’t mind. The bus was actually great – it ended up dopping everyone off right in front of their hotel. Which brings me to my first point…as one of the highlights of our time in Ao Nang was where we stayed.
1. The Verandah Hotel
Being recommended in Lonely Planet and having good reviews on TripAdvisor aren’t always guaranteed to bring a great experience, but in this case we got lucky. So lucky. The Verandah was nothing short of perfect from the moment we arrived. We had booked online a few days prior and ended up paying about $65/night, which is pretty comparable in Ao Nang, especially for what we got. Our room was huge, included a private bathroom, king size bed, fridge, air conditioning and flat screen TV, with 2 free bottles of water per day (but actually more since they always left a crate of them out in the hall), and a balcony overlooking the shops and the mountains. The wifi didn’t work in our room on the 4th floor, but we were able to connect in the lobby.
The hotel included breakfast every morning between 7am and 10am, which was actually really impressive. There were always eggs, bacon, pancakes, either hash browns or rice, fresh fruit and yogurt, toast, pastries, coffee, and a selection of cereals and juices. Another huge perk of staying at The Verandah was the ability to use the pool at a nearby resort called Peace Laguna, which was absolutely stunning, and a nice alternative to the beach.
2. Jeseao Restaurant
One of the most overwhelming, and sometimes frustrating, things about Ao Nang is the constant hawkers at night. You only have to walk down the street for 5 minutes and you’ve had countless offers; Would you like a taxi? Want a massage? Custom suit for you maybe? Indian food, thai food, American food? I give you discount! It can be really irritating when you’re hungry and hot and grumpy and really just want to find a place to eat without being yelled at about all the options while you flip through the menu.
Most restaurants in Ao Nang serve 3 or 4 types of food: Thai, Indian, Italian (pizza & pasta) and sometimes American. With so much competition and such extensive menus, it can be hard to find anywhere that truly specializes in anything, so I urge you to set your expectations low (and your budget high) for dining in Ao Nang.
The only place we returned to for a second meal was Jeseao, which ‘specializes’ in the basic 3 cuisines – Thai, Indian and Italian. The first time we went, we each had a version of spaghetti, but once we saw the bubbly, wood-fired pizzas and delicious curries being carried to other tables, we knew that we’d have to come back. We returned the next night, and Sean ordered a seafood pizza, which he was quite content with. I ordered the butter chicken (but substituted prawns instead) with naan bread and rice, and I was near heartbroken when I was too full to finish it all.
Was it the best meal we’ve ever had? Definitely not. But was it pretty damn good for super-touristy Ao Nang? You bet. So, the moral of the story is…if you find something that you like in Ao Nang, stick with it, because it’s probably the best you’ll get.
3. Railay Beach
Railay is the place that comes to mind when you close your eyes in the dead of winter and picture a beach in paradise, complete with limestone cliffs, velvety beaches, and turquoise waters. The only reason the place hasn’t been completely mowed down by tourists is because the beach is only accessible by boat, even though it’s attached to the mainland. This gives Railay a very island-like feel, which also comes with an island-like price tag.
We took a 15 minute long-tail boat from Ao Nang beach to Railay for 200B return. We left first thing in the morning, which had us on Railay just after 8:30am, before the other throngs of tourists arrived. We spent the entire day lazing – lazing on the beach, lazing under a tree, lazing in the water. I read almost an entire book. We grabbed lunch at one of the swanky, over-priced hotels on the beach, which left us dissatisfied and still hungry, but really, who could complain with surroundings like this?
After reaching a state of relaxation that slowly turned to boredom, we decided to head back to Ao Nang at around 4pm. I’m really glad that I got to see Railay in all of her beauty, but 8 hours was enough for me.
4. The Sunsets
The sunsets in Ao Nang are hit or miss, but the ones that are a hit are REALLY a hit. On our first and second nights there, we witnessed two of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever seen in our entire lives – the kind where the sun turns red, and once it disappears, the sky turns all kinds of glorious shades of pink and purple. It’s a great opportunity to relax on the beach with a couple of cold Changs, snap a few photos, or just gaze amusingly at the amateur Sports Illustrated-esque photoshoots happening everywhere.
5. The lovely ladies at the Pharmacy who doctored Sean’s toe
We hadn’t even been in Ao Nang for 4 hours when Sean decided to mangle his baby toe on a shard of stray concrete. (This happened two more times throughout our time in Ao Nang, but the first was the worst.) We had avoided injury admirably up until that point, so we were both a little panicked when it happened, expecting the worst. The thing was bleeding like a stuffed pig, and I thought he would need stitches for sure.
We hobbled our way up to one of the many pharmacies that line the streets of Ao Nang, and we must have just gotten extremely lucky with the one that we chose, because two of the sweetest, kindest Thai ladies swooped Sean over into a chair and began cleaning and bandaging his toe on the spot. They made recommendations and got us set up with all of the first aid supplies we’d need, as well as helped to determine that he didn’t need stitches at this point, but gave us information about where to go if things got worse. It was a prime example of Thai hospitality and the true kindness of strangers. Luckily, Sean took really good care of the toe and was in the water two days later, and has so far avoided infection. (Knock on wood!)
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Ao Nang, but, like most places on this trip, we were ready to leave when the time came.
Have you ever been to Ao Nang or Railay? What were some of your favourite experiences?