The great thing about Thailand is that is really does have something for everyone. Those seeking luxury resorts head to Ko Samui, those seeking sweaty sex at $20 a pop head to Bangkok, those seeking hedonism bounce over to Ko Phangan, those looking for a joint and a reason to find themselves whilst humming away in some impossible yoga pose head up to Chiang Mai, Russians head to Phuket and old British men looking to spunk away their pension on questionable girls/boys head to Pattaya. Wheras backpackers head to Ao Nang and the Krabi. Thailand offers a whole lot more, but the halcyon days of 70’s Thailand are long gone. Memories of hiking for miles to unspoilt slithers of perfection lapped by emerald seas have been replaced by highways cutting through jungles with a few limestone cliffs thrown in for good measure.
Thailand to yourself is gone. Long gone. The sanctimonious ‘gap yahr’ers’ will speak in verbose about how they found paradise and claim they were the first people to ever visit, but the truth is that Thailand is no longer untouched. It is a well fettered paradise tinged with culture and pylons that is being overbuilt year on year.
Slack planning, mass tourism and a drive to fill the pockets of anyone interested has taken over. The result is that Thailand is paradise, but only if you go to the right places. Where that ‘place’ is, is subjective. And how you judge such a place depends on many things. Some people want a thatched hut on an island far away from everyone with little more than monkeys swinging in the trees. Others want pure luxury with all the trimmings. Having travelled the country extensively I recommend Krabi province.
Ao Nang and Krabi are well connected throughout Thailand by land and just 3 hours south of Phuket. Perched against the Andaman sea, the nearest airport is in Krabi, some 25km or 300THB away from Ao Nang. Ao Nang itself is nothing special. A typical Thai coastal town complete with McDonald’s, Tesco-Lotus and market stalls looking to shift their Chang vests for 200 baht each. Ao Nang is is dotted with limestone cliffs, palm trees and an unremarkable beach with a hefty current. What Ao Nang offers, is a jumping off point for a zillion paradisiac islands that would sit comfortably on any postcard.
One concern tourists have when headed to the region is whether to stay in Ao nang or Krabi. Truth is, it doesn’t really matter. Ao Nang is certainly more geared towards the tourists with accommodation spanning every budget, whereas Krabi has a more local flair and one of the regions best night markets.
Anywhere in Ao Nang or Krabi will whip you up a tour that will fulfil your Thai island craving. Snorkelling comes as standard and most boats pack a set for no charge. Fancy riding an elephant, no problem, flash 500 Baht and you’ll be on a pachyderm named chimichanga in no time. A thousand baht will ensure you are zooming around on an ATV like you own the place, 1500 Baht will have you island hopping amongst the Chinese and 2000+ baht will make you the king of the Krabi area.
What is guaranteed is that if you take a tour, any tour, you will not be alone and the dreams of vibrancy rich photographs on an idyllic palm swept Thai island will be short lived. If you want a beach to yourself, limestone cliff in the back ground, camera depth set to soft. If you want rich green palm trees swaying above empty pieces of talcum powder like beaches then ask for it.
Find a local with a boat and a smoke. Tell him you want paradise, then offer him a third of what he asks for.
Must do side trips:
If you are coming from Krabi, you’ll pay 150THB each for a long tail over to Railay East, a tiny slither of sand shown on the photo below to the right. This is where the hike to the viewpoint is, just swing a left after getting off the jetty and follow the path round. The walk takes about 15 minutes and is quite easy. Even with kids.
Railay West is where the best beach and most of the restaurants and hotels are. Expect prices almost double what they are else where in the region. If you are coming from Ao Nang you will get ditched here, prices are 200THB per person, each way.
The last boat bails at 6pm. Stingy tourists looking to hike over the mountains are out of luck. Geography and physics make it impossible for all but the most desperate and hardiest of travellers.
Khao Ngorn Nak, aka Dragon Crest Trail
This gorgeous hike is just 3.7km long and will have you sweating in no time. Getting there from Ao Nang takes about 30 minutes and is about 400THB each way, dont worry about arranging return transport, this can be done at the trail by the ranger.
We opted to hire a scooter for 200THB and make our own way there.
Sign in at the rangers desk, grab a bottle of water and head off. This is proper jungle, and it feels like the place is alive, vibrant in colour and noise. It is up hill for the first 30 minutes, then levels out slightly, then after the second flight of stairs chills a bit. I am told the average return time is 4hours, with the average ascent taking just over 2 hrs.
We did the scent in 1hr 30mins and was finished after a total 2hrs 45mins. This was in heavy rain meaning we got no view from the summit. But the hike itself is well worth it.
Tiger Cave Temple
A sweaty trundle up 127 steps to a temple atop a limestone cliff. Every bit as leg wearing as you can imagine. This temple can be walked to from Krabi Town, or is just 50THB in one of those truck/taxi things.
The temple is two fold. The one at the bottom, which is pretty and worth a look. Then the one up the stairs. The stairs are a relentless hike upwards, made even more difficult by the continual count on the posts. Personally I would rather not know, and to be reminded every few minutes of how little you’ve actually done is soul destroying. A definite must do if in Krabi, offering up decent views of the bay.
Krabi Night Market
Each weekend a part of Krabi springs to life courtesy of local vendors, street food and live music. The market is famous throughout the region and is a must do for anyone nearby. Stalls sell homemade Thai food from simple noodles and fish to deep fried bugs, pancakes and everything in between. You can buy a number of things, shoot teddies with a BB gun, get a tattoo, or simply enjoy live music with a beer.
Most popular islands around Ao Nang:
Ko Lao Ka: Google images lies. Yes it is picturesque, yes it is gorgeous, but due to the trillion Chinese tourists it is impossible to enjoy. Literally 90% of China descended onto the island during our visit. The waters were murky and even the fish bailed. A stifling realisation that this was not the Thailand we hoped for meant that we bounced shortly after arrival.
Ko Pak Ka: Gorgeous. Arrive early for some stunning shots of one of the countries most beautiful islands. The Chinese descend after lunch so be sure to make this your money shot early on.
Hong Island: Garbage. Touted as being some breathtaking slice of beauty, it is not. Ok, the sea is a lovely colour but the beach literally has a pipe running down the centre of it spewing shit into the place where everyone swims. Tough to get a decent photo due to the remaining 10% of China being here. The nature walk is a contender for the worlds worst nature hike.
Poda Island: Probably the most perfect island in the region. You have to pay 200THB entrance since it is a national park. It is also the only island I have ever been to in Thailand where we have had a gorgeous, white sand beach licked with turquoise waters to ourselves. Long tails were 150THB each way.
Worth a mention…
Ko Phi Phi: Gutted that I didn’t hit this place up years back. A collection of islands, In the 70’s folk swung in hammocks, smoked weed and listened to Bob Marley in probably the most perfectly beautiful place on earth. Clear turquoise seas teeming with angel fish offered respite from the searing heat and those that came for a few days ended up staying weeks and months. Now, Phi Phi offers gorgeous scenery saturated with tourism. No longer the Eden it once was, Phi Phi is now a magnet for everyone seeking perfection in SE Asia and it does still deliver. For how long is anyone’s guess. That said, as of 2018 Maya Bay is now closed to tourists. No one in Ao Nang/Krabi will tell you this.
Thailand is a place that is changing and has been changing ever since the first tourist sipped milk from a coconut, for many it is a paradise lost, but for anyone seeking a well oiled trail through dream like perfection then Thailand is still the place to go. There is of course much more to the country than a town in Krabi, but if you are short on time and innovation, Krabi is the place to make your way to.
I love Thailand, and the Thai people. It is just one of those places where no one really gives much of a shit about anything. The sort of place you can come, relax and not be judged, not be questioned and be whoever or whatever you want to be.
I will continue to bring my family to one of the best places in Asia, filled with some of the warmest, most welcoming people you will ever meet. Arrive in Thailand relaxed, willing to smile, ready to laugh and caked in sun cream and you will likely have one of the best holidays of your life.