Getting There: An Aggressive Bus Scam
To get from Phuket Town to Ao Nang we took a shared songthaew to the public bus station. We accidentally bought tickets to Krabi (the town) rather than Ao Nang (the beach). This turned out to be quite a mistake. As we approached Krabi the bus man started running in the aisle and aggressively yelling Krabi!, ushering us and a few other foreigners off and throwing bags from the small compartment onto the street. Amidst this flurry of action we were confused — which was 100% the intention.
We soon found ourselves on the side of a random dirt road rather than at the bus station as expected. Naturally some “helpful” people materialized and told us we must now take a taxi! With a crazy price. Or we could take a bus! But they had to “call it” and it also had a crazy price so the taxi was better. Clearly, something was amiss. But we had no service and no map and were highly deranged at this time, so after a few minutes of trying to figure out an alternative – knowing this was likely a swindle – we gave up and bargained for the taxi. Seconds after we made this decision, the bus suddenly re-appeared! The “helpful” man then handed the driver a wad of bills through the window and the bus sped off, confirming our suspected swindle. It was enraging, although not surprising given our previous experiences with attempted scams in Thailand. Regardless, definitely our worst mistake of the trip. If we weren’t so tired we might have done more to avoid this, such as trekked to find the actual bus station a mile up the road…where the shared rides into town cost 1/10 the price of the taxi.
Ao Nang Beach
Ao Nang is Krabi’s main beach, and gateway to many other beaches including the popular Railay. The karst is imposing in this part of Thailand, rising up around the waterfront as it always seems to do. While Ao Nang’s main beach isn’t that nice [on the crowded side, overrun with sharp shells, water a tad dingy], the surrounding beaches, sunsets and idyllic seascape redeem it. The beach also has an exceptional selection of shells, with which I may or may not have hoarded in my backpack.
Railay Beaches: East & West & Tonsai
One of those iconic beaches, Railay Beach, is accessible from Ao Nang via longtail boat, or a large, wooden boat with a long rectangular plank coming off the front and a brightly colored cloth hanging down (the cloth is not mandatory, but common). Railay is a quick 10 minute ride from the main beach past the karst outcroppings. The boat drivers aren’t particularly friendly – a lady nearly went overboard trying to exit the boat and was met with an angry look – but they’ll get you there. We headed over early on the first boat (8am) to ensure prime time on the beach before it got crowded.
The island is larger than expected, with two beaches connected via pedestrian walkway lined with shops and food that is not as overpriced as it could be. The beach on the backside is pretty gross in the low season, though, when the tide recedes leaving muddy masses of sand and mangled roots exposed. From the main beach (Railay West) you can also walk over a small peak to another, less crowded beach called Tonsai with rock climbing and a cool wooden swing!
The beach to the right of Ao Nang Beach, Noppharat Thara Beach, appears to be accessible by a paved pathway out along the water, but actually is not (you must go around). The path instead ends in front of a strange and slightly creepy art piece. I tried to get to the actual sand, but alas the cave did not connect and I had to turn back. I was a bit more successful at going left to the other beach located over the karst peak. Some steep wooden plank stairs lead up this mountain and their might be a bit of malaria, but it’s worth it for the private beach – Pai Plong. This beach is located in front of a fancy pants resort and I guess you’re supposed to sign in, but I made it mostly across and out onto the pier before being stopped.
Ao Nang: Around the Town
Ao Nang is a pretty standard, built up tourist beach town. The main walkway winds along the waterfront, then up two long parallel blocks back towards the town. Prices are high but not outrageous, and there are some hidden spots for those on a budget which we obviously found. Among our favorites were the small market north of the beach with exceptional food at surprising prices. We ate some noodles and papaya salad that were amazing, excluding the unexpected rogue dried prawns sprinkled on top. We also found some great street stalls up north on the main road towards the mosque about 3/4 of a mile from the water. We even found a spot with a dinner “happy hour” on food (not to mention wi-fi 10x stronger than our hostel’s…). I will say some of the waterfront bars looked quite appealing at sunset. Almost appealing enough to break the budget.