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A week inland had us itching to check out the beach. To get our beach fill, we spent 6 nights (5 full days) in Ao Nang, Krabi – one of the most beautiful places in the world, if a bit (ie: very) touristy. We stayed at Anawin Bungalows (1500 baht/night), which were nice bungalows in a garden-like setting. The rooms were good but the bathrooms could use some work. Breakfast was not included, but reasonably priced.

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Our bungalow
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The view from our hotel

We also got a very good surprise – after trying many Western pancakes all over North America, I can confidently say that this random guesthouse across the world makes the best pancake I’ve ever had. 65 baht for a single large pancake, banana or pineapple cooked inside. Even if you don’t stay at Anawin, I would encourage you to go for breakfast or lunch (open 7:30 am until noon).

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It doesn’t look that special, but it is.

Ao Nang itself was super touristy. The street is lined with a million tourist stores all selling the exact same things (they do sell very nice beach “mats,” 150-200 baht but we negotiated it down to 130), as well as a thousand restaurants which have identical menus of overpriced Thai, Indian, and Italian food (always those three). But there are good deals to be found at Thai-only restaurants (such as “Family Restaurant” next to Anawin, dishes for ~60 baht), so if you put a little effort into it you’ll find that Ao Nang isn’t really overpriced after all.

Of course, nobody goes to Ao Nang for the sake of going to Ao Nang (well some people do, but they’re crazy). The nearby waters are home to some of the most stunning scenery in the world. So even though I didn’t really like Ao Nang itself, it is the perfect base for day trips.

Day 10: I decided to start off our stay in Ao Nang with a full-day Kayaking tour at Hong Island. You can get cheap kayak tours for around 1300 baht (including the National Park fee), but I had heard that Sea Kayak Krabi is far better than the rest. Since we only arrived late the night before and couldn’t book it in Ao Nang, we booked our tour online through yourkrabi.com, at a slight discount of 2100/person. Very expensive, but I thought it would be worth it. Yourkrabi was very helpful – before booking, they happily and quickly answered many of my random questionings. Although you could get a better deal by negotiating while in Ao Nang, if you decide to book in advance you won’t go wrong by using yourkrabi. Our tour ended up being a disaster, but yourkrabi made it right. More on that later.

Sea Kayak Krabi (SKK) picked us up on time from Anawin, and we were driven to their pier. There we met our guide for the day. While friendly, we were surprised to find out that he barely spoke English – not a good sign for a “premium” tour. We also met up with our group. We were only six people; us, a German couple, and a French couple. The Germans also spoke French (as do we) so that was the go-to language for the day. I’m surprised by how many French people I’ve seen in Thailand – I’ve heard more French than English (Americans, Canadians, Brits, Aussies combined). Haven’t heard any Quebecois French though yet.

We started our trip by taking a longboat to Hong Island, where we were told we’d have an hour of beach/snorkel time. There was no good snorkelling, but Hong Island is amazingly beautiful regardless. The cliffs surround you on all sides. Pictures don’t really do it justice.

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Anyways, one hour turned into two, and we didn’t really know why. At 12:30 we had lunch (mediocre) and we started to realize something was off. We heard that we may not end up kayaking. We weren’t told why, as there wasn’t much communication. Eventually we found out that our boat had gotten into some type of accident while docked, which was  setting off our plans. After lunch we were told we would have one more hour of beach time (at this point we were done with beach time), but after 15 more minutes our guide rounded us up to go kayaking.

I was originally informed that the kayaking would last 60-90 minutes, with breaks, and that it wouldn’t be too strenuous. Instead, we had a 45-minute sprint around the island, and we (two young, in shape people) could barely keep up with the guide. We finished the kayaking completely exhausted, too tired to really enjoy the (short) experience.

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After the short kayak trip it was time for (you guessed it) more beach time. Our guide told us we might go to Railay instead of the islands surrounding Hong Island, or else straight home. When I mentioned that we would want a refund if we weren’t visiting the islands, our guide – extremely flustered – managed to find a new, undamaged boat and driver willing to give us a short ride to Ko Lading, where we were promptly dropped off (technically, we were stranded there without a boat). Lading was small (not much to do) but the view from the main beach is beautiful, and very well suited to being captured in a photo (more so than Hong Island).

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After about 45 minutes on Lading our guide convinced another tour group to let us hitch a ride with them, thus concluding our tour. Obviously, we were quite disappointed. For 2100 baht all we got was lots of beach time and a short and unpleasant kayak ride. I sent an email detailing my many complaints to yourkrabi (without explicitly asking for a refund, but obviously expecting at least a partial refund). In less than 24 hours they responded and immediately processed a full refund. So in other words, we got a longboat to and from the amazing Hong Island for free. Life could be worse!

Yourkrabi later informed us that the SKK guide was a freelancer filling in for a sick guide, and SKK agreed to refund yourkrabi (who refunded us before they got refunded themselves – that’s good service). I don’t blame SKK, reviews of them are pretty good so it seems like many events conspired to make it a bad day.

For dinner we were in the mood for Indian, so we went to Bombay Palace, a restaurant highly rated online. Every restaurant in Ao Nang offers decently-priced set meals and 20% off everything else on the menu. We got the set vegetarian meals, which were 160 baht for any vegetarian main course, rice, and a big portion of naan bread. Expensive for Thailand, but a way better value than any Indian place back home.

Day 11: After our full-day tour the previous day, today we decided to take it easy. We slept in and walked around Ao Nang for the morning, and picked up some pizza for lunch. It was pretty good, and 150 baht for a big portion. Not bad, but unless you’re craving Western food (as we were) sticking to Thai is the best bet and by far the cheapest.

In the afternoon we took a long tail boat to and from West Railay beach (200 baht each for the roundtrip). Railay is on the mainland but due to the cliffs surrounding it, it can only be accessed by boat. West Railay beach was beautiful, one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Though there are many hotels in Railay, we are still happy that we chose to stay in Ao Nang, where there are many more and cheaper options for food and accommodations. And whenever we’re in the mood for some beautiful scenery and perfect beaches,  Railay is only ten minutes and 200 baht away.

IMG-20160227-WA0017.jpgIMG-20160224-WA0014.jpgIMG-20160224-WA0019.jpgIMG-20160224-WA0012.jpgFile_002 (2).jpegTonight was Saturday night so we headed to Krabi Town for the weekend night market. To get to Krabi we took one of the shared taxis (8 or 10 of us squished into the back of a pickup truck) for 60 baht each. We made the mistake of getting into an empty one, so we spent the next 15 minutes slowly driving around Ao Nang while the driver tried to find more passengers (they won’t leave until they’re full). If you take a shared taxi, don’t get into an empty one! Keep looking until you find one that’s almost full.

When we arrived at the night market we were disappointed to find that it was crowded and full of tourist crap. We got out of that area as quickly as possible. Soon we arrived at the   fun part: food! There are so many options for tasty, interesting, and very cheap street food. We probably bought a combined ten different items (costing anywhere from 10-40 baht each), some of which I threw out after one bite (Thai desserts are not for me).
When we decided to head home we ignored all the empty shared taxis until we found one that was almost full, and left after about 5 minutes from us getting in. Overall, it made for a really fun night out, although it’s a little too crowded and hectic for us. It’s too bad that it’s not closer to Ao Nang, since the 30 minute drive stopped us from going a second time.

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Day 12: Valentine’s Day! My original plan was to take a sunset tour of the four islands, but after our first day we decided to avoid tours and do it ourselves. We took it easy in the morning and got a private longboat from noon to 5:30 pm, when most of the tour groups are mostly finished their four-islands tours. This is what I love about Thailand – back home, doing something crazy like chartering a private boat to take you to beautiful uninhabited island would cost you a fortune. But here, it is a relatively reasonable 2200 baht ($88 CAD, plus 200 baht each for the National Park entry fees).

Our tour was perfect. We told our driver that we preferred to avoid the crowds, so after driving past lots of interesting scenery he brought us to a quiet beach on Ko Poda to start off our trip, where we had a nice picnic lunch on a beautiful sandy beach.

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After taking our time eating, swimming, and reading our books on Ko Poda, our driver brought us to an open-water snorkel spot off of Chicken Island. I went in the water with the mask and snorkel (that I rented for 50 baht before I got on the boat) only to be met with thousands of fish, though they were all the same type. The driver threw some bread in the water and suddenly I was surrounded, with all of the fish right next to me.

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After the brief snorkel stop we pulled up to Ko Tup, connected by sandbar to Ko Mor and Chicken Island. The sandbar was underwater by the time we arrived but we were still able to walk over it. We relaxed for a while and enjoyed the views before getting back in the boat.

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After a quick drive-by of the “chicken head” that gives the island its name, our driver brought us to a secluded part of Chicken Island. We had an entire beach to ourselves!

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Our last stop was Phra Nang beach on Railay (not actually an island). Like West Railay, the beach was beautiful. We spent some time sitting on the beach, watching the monkeys steal people’s food, and taking pictures of the infamous “fertility shrine” in Phra Nang Cave.

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An island near Railay – it should be called Snail Island

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The “Fertility Shrine”

We left Railay around 5:30 and had a short ride back to Ao Nang, concluding our trip. It was well worth hiring our own boat for the afternoon!

Dinner was at “Family Restaurant,” on the same side street as Anawin Bungalows. They have all the good Thai dishes starting at 50 baht. If you stick to places like this, Ao Nang can be a surprisingly cheap place to stay!

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Day 13: Today we got up relatively early and got a boat to West Railay at around 8:30 am, before it got too hot out. We left our beach supplies on the beach and walked by East Railay (not so nice during the low tide) to the Railay Viewpoint hike. I had read that it was a difficult hike, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when we arrived. The “hike” is really just steep rock-climbing!
The climb ended up being a little easier than it looked and way more fun than we had expected. Someone apparently carved out the rocks to create lots of “handles” to hold on to and step on. There’s also a rope on the steeper sections. It took us about 30-40 minutes to get up and a little longer to get down. The viewpoint itself was quite nice, though the hike would be worth it even if there was no view at the end. If you’re in shape, it’s definitely a must-do while in the area. A surprise highlight of our trip. Just make sure that you have good shoes!

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The Viewpoint. East Railay on the right and Phra Nang Beach on the left

After the hike we walked back to West Railay beach, catching sight of tons of monkeys along the way.

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For lunch I got a chicken kebab wrap and a smoothie from the stand next to the beach (run by the Australian guy with a ponytail), which were really good and well worth the 100 baht. This place also had good vegetarian options which my fiance enjoyed. We then spent some time reading in the shade before getting a boat back to Ao Nang.

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We took it easy for the rest of the evening, and returned to Family Restaurant for another good and cheap Thai dinner.

Day 14: At this point it’s been over two weeks since we’ve left home, so we chose today to be a lazy day. We walked around Ao Nang in the morning and spent the afternoon watching The Mindy Project in bed in our air-conditioned room. In other words, a perfect day.

For our last dinner in Ao Nang, we went to Mama Aroi, which is right on the beach (a little south of the main road). The food was fine but overpriced (about 130 baht per dish), but it was well worth it to be able to sit at a table on the beach watching the sunset.

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That’s it for Ao Nang! We had a great time, and the surrounding area is really a must-see, at least once, for anyone travelling to Thailand (unlike Chiang Mai or Ko Lanta, I wouldn’t want to come back as often as possible). The ocean scenery and endless cliffs are stunning. I’m also happy that we stayed in Ao Nang as opposed to Krabi Town or Railay. It’s not the nicest or the cheapest, but it’s only a short boat ride to Railay and the four islands and it has great food and activity options.

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