4 reasons why Ao Nang Beach in Krabi is where it’s at
The first time I went to Thailand – after the obligatory UK gap year – very little went to plan. I got ridiculously ill from the contrast of London’s frigid winter with the surface-of-the-sun-like humidity of Bangkok, my feet swelled up for the entire week and I ate so much pad Thai that I couldn’t look at it for years afterwards. Guys, this is not how you ‘do’ Thailand.
I got a second chance to right all my wrongs; this time in Krabi’s Ao Nang Beach. I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Krabi beforehand, other than that many head to the white sands of Koh Phi Phi to walk in the footsteps of Leo and his band of ragtag islanders (from film The Beach). Cue “Pure Shores” by All Saints. And while a visit to this filming hotspot is a must, don’t just breeze through the islands on a day trip. Stay awhile and you’ll find gems like Ao Nang Beach to check into and chill out for a few days, weeks or months!
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It’s got great, affordable places to stay
No matter if you’re a baller or a backpacker, there are loads of decent places to lay your head in Ao Nang Beach. The skint set will find hostels galore, from beachfront digs and party palaces to quiet guesthouses if you just want somewhere basic yet clean away from the crowds.
However, if you want to spend your days lazing by a glittering blue pool, charging cocktails to your room bill and falling asleep in the comfort of 1,000 thread-count sheets and air con, you’ll be more than spoilt for choice. The best part is that you don’t have to splash out on 5-star splurges – 4-star resorts throughout town more than do the job. There’s big-name hotel players like the Holiday Inn Resort as well as a host of boutique properties along the beach that have carved a niche for themselves with live bands each evening and great onsite eats.
It’s the Goldilocks of Thailand
Not too busy, not too quiet, Ao Nang Beach is juuust right. With its convenient network of buses and boats to get around, I chose Ao Nang Beach because it would offer me that balanced blend of guilt-free ‘do nothing’ days by the pool as well as accessibility to all the things (the town is completely walkable), like markets and beachfront bars – without the same frenzy of other beach destinations and their, ahem, eye-opening nightlife. So if you’re not the type to get around in your best beer singlet and elephant shorts combo swigging buckets ‘til dawn under a hue of errm, red lights, Ao Nang Beach is where it’s at.
It has all the foods
You don’t have to spend big to eat well in Ao Nang Beach.
If your hotel doesn’t include breakfast, head to one of the streetside stalls where families dish up plates of pineapple fried rice and chewy pad see ew noodles for about AU$2 a plate, among myriad other Thai dishes. Wash your meal down with fresh fruit smoothies, and follow it up with earth-shatteringly crispy roti filled with banana and Nutella, or mango, for breakfast dessert (it’s a thing). My only regret was not having breakfast dessert everyday.
You’ll find that many of the more touristy restaurants have touts out the front urging you to come in, but walk a bit further and you’ll find some neighbourhood gems with better-priced dishes like The Last Fisherman. It’s one of the best spots for sunset in the area, set right on the beach with a backdrop of towering trees and twinkling lights. Then there’s the food. Flip right to the back of the menu to find the Thai dishes and order yourself at least two serves of roti (each!) satay skewers, pad Thai, massaman curry, a pina colada and call it a night. And thank me when you get home.
For a more authentic Krabi experience, you can book a van (about AU$8 return) to take you on a round-trip route to flavour town, aka the Krabi night market. This street market in Krabi town (about half an hour away) is where many locals spend their Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights perusing the stalls of handmade crafts and local eats, and listening to open mic night-style entertainment. Go hungry, because you’ll be filling up on on-the-go snacks like marinated pork skewers going for 10 baht a pop (that's 40cents); slurping chewy noodles laden with a coconut curry-based broth; ordering rounds of spring rolls and fried dumplings; and crispy Thai-style pastries and pancakes. Not to mention cheap cocktails served in very Instagrammable bamboo and Tiki cups.
It offers all the things to do
While you can easily spend all your time eating your way through town or ticking off the cocktail list at your resort, Ao Nang is a fantastic base to get wet and wild. If you’d prefer to stay in town, there are some beach activities to join, such as stand-up paddleboarding, or you could simply just lay out a towel for the day and enjoy the water.
You’ll find tour offices right along the beachfront road, all offering great deals on day tours in the area, and for the sake of not making too many plans in paradise – you don’t have to book too far in advance either.
Want to brush up on your kitchen skills? Cooking schools span quick-fire lessons where the focus is mostly on the eating to full-day classes where you’ll learn the nuances of curry pastes and nailing the balance of sweet, salty, savoury and spicy across multiple dishes.
If you want to spend your days rock-climbing, Ao Nang Beach is a short boat trip from Railay Beach where many sport-climbing routes can be found. Railay Beach is also a great spot for coastal kayaking – especially at sunset. In fact, kayaking is one of the most popular aquatic adventures in the region, and you can score yourself a scenic paddle around limestone karsts, through mangrove swamps and across lagoons, all within a short drive or boat trip of Ao Nang Beach.
I did a bit of everything. An ATV ride through jungle and pineapple farms revealed my inner revhead, while a kayaking trip down a serene mangrove restored my faith in Apple (thanks to a sunken iPhone that was miraculously found in the depths of the muddy water – and still worked!) Another must-do is a dip in the Emerald Pools (including nearby Blue Pool, which unfortunately is too hot to swim in) and the hot cascading waterfall springs in Klong Thum district, aka nature's finest jacuzzis.
And while a stay in Ao Nang Beach couldn’t be more stress-free, you can really amp up the relaxation with multiple massages each day. There are as many massage houses as there are restaurants, and you can score yourself an hour-long Thai, oil or foot massage for about $AU10. Now that’s living, mates.
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