Flying along at 35,000 feet facing a sea of heads is nothing new to those familiar with low cost air travel. With seats low to the ground to give an illusion of space heads poke above the headrests searching for somewhere to rest. Slow and surely one by one they disappear as legs slide under seats and backs arch, surrounded by the clouds of snail cells, silky recovery mask and moist fresh and firm essence, the ads plastered along the overhead lockers. Well placed as the temperature rises and your skin cries out for relief.
Having said that, low cost is the only reasonable choice for the short flight to Ao Nang getting you there for around $40US. Jagged limestone pushing up from white sand seabeds through clear blue waters await. Pictures etched in my mind as Krabi approaches. However as we descend through the darkness and with a thirty minute drive to the coast these monoliths will have to wait until sunrise as we’re guided by the pictures of welcoming beaches on road signs.
Ao Nang is one hour twenty minutes from Bangkok and opens the door to an incredible selection of adventure, exploration and relaxation in the more widely known Krabi province. Flirt with the snakes, monkeys, elephants and fish, the choice is yours. Visit waterfalls and caves, the nearby islands and white sand beaches hidden behind corners accessible only by boat or stay put and find you own patch of sand as the tropical waters lap at your feet.
As the sun rises we’re surrounded as limestone formations appear out to sea and cling to the coast. Long tail boats will take you to Railay Beach (go to West not East) from where you can walk to Phra Nang Bay. 100B each way. Hang around waiting for eight people then pile in as the skipper drops in the motor hanging from the end of a twenty foot pole and the bow rises cutting through the calm water. The return is another matter as winds chop up the swell that will carry you to shore on the crest of a wave. As climbers dangle from the cliffs at the far end of the beach others jostle for position on the sand. Depending on your point of view picturesque or overcrowded. There is no shortage of food and shopping huts weave in and out along Walking Street barely hidden by the canopy of trees.
Whilst Ao Nang is the perfect launching pad for your four island tour (in a day) the Phi Phi islands and Railay beach we have decided to stay local this trip. Although the sand may not be as white and the seas as perfectly clear as those further out or around the corner, sharing the beach with a handful rather than an army of others is appealing. We take a right and walk along Nopparat Thara Beach beach as it curves seductively out towards the horizon. We skirt past anchored and beached long tail boats, while others load up with passengers before heading out to sea, along a narrow isthmus until we settle our towels on a small stretch of sand wrapping around green vegetation, surrounded by warm water. As the tide glides in our patch becomes an island as people scurry to join us hiking up shorts and skirts in a vain attempt to remain dry as hidden trenches and spiteful waves drench them anyway. Some turn back although the tides turn quickly here and soon the path will once again be clear. The water is just warm enough, the sun is just hot enough and the breeze is just cool enough …
As we walk back the tide flows in. At this end of the beach the sand disappears as rock walls supported by wire frames protect the oceanside park from falling into the waves. Grilled fish from the huts roadside and some beers from the local bottle shop make for a perfect sundowner or if you prefer the shop owner will make you a cocktail to go. A bottle of Good Times Vodka some mixers and a bag of ice and you can make your own, although the hangover from this rocket fuel might outweigh the Good Times! We choose two small bottles of Belvedere appreciating the extra cost will offset any sign of the toilet bowl shuffle later on. With plastic glasses commandeered from the hotel pool bar we sit on the beach further along to watch the sun set as it hovers before gliding towards the horizon causing the sky to flame red as the clouds above, highlighted from behind, radiate light into the dusk sky.
As long tail boats dump day trippers back on shore we sip vodka and tonic. The setting sun lights a trail on the ocean that leads to the perfect vantage point, a beach bar with a few seats holding prime position. We settle in and join the only other one person there.
A couple arrive who are staying at Railay Beach. When they say the only way to reach this beach is by boat they mean it. They struggle to lift suitcases above their heads as they wade out to waiting boats ready to skim the sea and disappear around the corner to their secluded retreat.
We have long since discovered you can pack for a few days, a week or a month for a Thai beach holiday in a carry on. Everyone else with any sense will have done the same. Then you can sling a bag over your shoulder rather than balance the weight on your head tempting fate as each wave threatens to throw you and your belongings into the wash.
Ao Nang offers the usual strip of bars, shops and restaurants jammed in side by side that are a staple of many Thai destinations. Nothing screams you’ve made it onto the global stage more than the Golden Arches and Starbucks lighting up the night sky where surely some of the best food in the world competes for attention. Jenna’s Bistro and Wine is recommended by a friend and we enjoy pork belly with perfect crackling and poached Cod that melts in the mouth.
The next morning we’ve found the ideal place for breakfast Nang An Restaurant with windows open to the beach perched on the rocks to avoid the incoming tides. Good coffee, fresh fruit and French toast as we ponder the journey home.