Thailand Treasures: Krabi town and Ao Nang beach

Krabi is a great place if you’re looking to dip your toe into southern Thailand’s beach scene without being overwhelmed, or you’re looking for the Phuket experience without all the hype and bother.

I tend to mention Krabi and Ao Nang together because Krabi is the place you go to get to Ao Nang. Krabi is the jumping-off point, the service town, and the nearest airport. Ao Nang is the laid-back beach town, gateway to the Ko Phi Phi island group and nearby dive spots. They kind of go together for most travellers.

The main attraction of the Krabi/Ao Nang area is the stunning coastal scenery which easily compares with Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Yangshuo in southwest China, except that here you can often find secluded little beaches and have them all to yourselves.

Krabi town

One of the great things about Krabi is that you can pick up your Thai souvenirs and gifts here much cheaper than almost anywhere else in southern Thailand. And the food and drink in Krabi are cheaper than most as well. There is a market in the town center on weekends from 5-10pm where you can hunt down some bargains (and it has a good “food court” too), or get yourself out to the Tesco Lotus or the Big C shopping centers for bargain department store shopping (also with good food halls). The city of Krabi itself hardly rates the title, with a population of fewer than 20,000 people. It doesn’t have any beaches of its own, but it’s still worth spending a day exploring before you head off to enjoy the beach resorts nearby. It’s also the way most people arrive in the area, either by bus from Bangkok or via Krabi airport (from Bangkok or even direct from Malaysia on Air Asia or Singapore on Tiger Airways). If you’re arriving by plane, the town is just 10 minutes from the airport so the fare is about 200B into the town center or 1000B directly to Ao Nang. Many hotels in Krabi also offer a pickup service at the airport. If you come in on the bus, the drop-off point is close to the center of town.

But the real action in Krabi is by the riverside after the sun goes down. Although it’s a little expensive in parts, the riverside market has some fantastic art and crafts to buy and some fantastic places to eat … I highly recommend the banana roti for dessert.

There is also a covered market each morning on Maharat Soi 10 if you’re an early riser (it’s pretty much all over by 8AM) which has lots of fresh fruit and veggies and local delicacies like sticky rice.

And in the evenings, if you walk in the opposite direction from the riverside markets there’s a lovely little Muslim eating area down at the riverside park where you can get great curries and noodle dishes and extremely friendly service (but not much English) at very cheap prices. They don’t get a lot of tourists there (at least not westerners, anyway). It’s pretty basic, but we love it. No alcohol here, but there are a couple of bars nearby if you really want a drink.

Krabi River Hotel

When in Krabi, we stay at the Krabi River Hotel, which is right on the riverfront near the main pier. It’s quite small with only about a dozen or so rooms but very nice and very friendly too.

If you can manage to get into one of the riverside rooms, they are very flash and have a great view of the river. They can be a little noisy at times with the long-tail boats zinging past, but you get used to that. I really love the huge bed and the huge bathroom, and I don’t mind the cable TV either.

I am led to believe some of the rooms toward the front of the hotel can be a bit pokey and horrible, so maybe ask to see your room before you hand over your money.

The hotel has a nice “cocktail lounge” on the riverside with a “self-serve” drinks fridge where you can enjoy a quiet (and very cheap) drink, chat with other travelers, catch up on your blogging or email, or just relax and read one of the many books or travel guides left by previous guests.

The owner, Somchai, can organize almost anything for you and will even drive you to the airport when you leave. For about 1000 Bt per night including breakfast, it’s a great place.

Ao Nang beach, Krabi, Thailand

The great jumping-off point for Koh Phi Phi

Ao Nang is a quiet beach resort town about 30 minutes drive from Krabi town and is one of our favorite places in Thailand. Once only visited by backpackers as a jumping-off point for Phuket and the Phi Phi islands, it is slowly moving upmarket and now has some quite flashy hotels and lots of facilities, as well as some very cheap places to stay and eat.

Feeding an elephant on the street at Ao Nang beach

Ao Nang is a place to kick back and relax, get a massage by the beach, stroll through the beachside shops, or grab a speedboat to Koh Phi Phi and do some snorkeling or scuba diving. Or just lay on the beach and work on your suntan.

Attractions and locations around Ao Nang

During the day it can be a bit quiet because most visitors are out on boat trips, but we hire scooters and go off touring around the nearby beaches and tiny villages, experience the local life, and look for interesting places to eat. As the sun begins to go down, everyone starts coming out to enjoy the evening and there are plenty of bars, cafes, and restaurants to suit all tastes.

Great little places to eat and drink at Ao Nang

One of the more popular places to eat is Wanna’s Place on the beachfront, which is popular for its home-style Swiss food. We tend to eat at Tonsai, which is a bit away from the beach heading up the hill towards Krabi. This place has great food, really friendly staff, and awesome prices. But watch the curries as they can be very hot!

Where to stay in Ao Nang

When in Ao Nang, we stay at the Ao Nang Friendly Bungalows. It’s not the easiest place to find as it’s a fair way down Moo 2 which is off the main street about 250 meters up from the beach. But it is worth hunting this place down.

There are three main reasons we stay here.

(1) It’s fantastically quiet and spacious, with very large rooms in a bungalow style – ie, each room is a separate building – with its own bathroom and a verandah where you can sit in the evening and have a quiet drink.

(2) It’s incredibly cheap for Ao Nang – just 600B for an air-conditioned deluxe room in the low season, rising to 1200B in the high season.

(3) The owners are just such fantastic people. They’re a Muslim family who will do absolutely anything to help you. We rented a scooter off them several times and they just hand you the keys and a helmet and send you on your way. You can pay later.

So although it’s a little way off the beaten track, I highly recommend it.

There are, of course, lots of other places to stay in Ao Nang you just need to do some searching.

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