THAILAND - 1 week in AO NANG, KRABI, with KIDS
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
After our month long stay in Chiang Mai, as wonderful as it was, we were itching to check out a different part of Thailand. Having said that, we also knew we were about to encounter some of the most touristy parts of the country. While we can appreciate popular destinations, we are not big fans of mass crowds, aggressive touts and the high prices that come with these hot spots. What attracted us to Krabi, like many before us, was the impressive karst limestone mountains overlooking the teal blue Andaman Sea, with many islands, beaches, trails and caves to explore.
Despite all the bars and bikinis in the tourist zones, people tend to forget that this is still a very conservative part of Thailand. There are signs in front of restaurants and local businesses reminding tourists to cover up before entering. In contrast to predominantly Buddhist northern Thailand, call to prayer sounds can be heard echoing loudly from nearby mosques throughout the day. Locals go swimming fully clothed from head scarves to pants. There are lots of restaurants offering "halal" food. It sparked interesting questions and conversations with the kids about the cultural and religious differences within the country.
AO NANG caters to a diverse mix of tourists, from frugal backpackers to affluent families and everyone in between, from all corners of the world. This is a busy beach town teeming with touts at every step. We grew a little tired of hearing ourselves repeatedly say "No, thank you" to the restaurants, shops, and tuk tuks. The karst seascape from the beach, however, is undeniably gorgeous. There is a nice walking path along the beach lined with tall palm trees, with lots of souvenir shops and restaurants on the opposite side.
The surprisingly underrated town of KRABI, is more laid back and doesn't try too hard to impress. With a pleasant riverside promenade, more locals than tourists in sight, a bustling night market with cheap food and near some amazing caves, there is more to Krabi town than meets the eye. In hindsight, staying in Krabi town would have been a better fit for us as opposed to Ao Nang.
1) Curiously upside-down trees along the river walkway. 2) An english and thai alphabet park with fun statues for kids to look at and climb on, at Thara Park. 3) Night market by the pier in Krabi town.
ACCOMMODATION in AO NANG
We stayed 1 week in Oscar Pool Villa, about 10 mins drive from Ao Nang beach. For about $50 CAD a night, it was our most expensive stay in Thailand, yet it was one of the better deals in the area for a family suite during prime season. We splurged on a 2 bedroom for the first time, but it wasn't anything extravagant. As the name suggests, it had a small swimming pool that the kids took full advantage of and we also had a basic kitchen. We did compromise on location as it was a bit far from town, with not much within walking distance, but it was nice to be in a quiet area away from the crowds. The free shuttle bus there and back was quite handy, though it doesn't make any stops along the way and it only runs 3 times a day (9am, 12pm, 3pm). You can eat and order food at the hotel, but there were 2 much cheaper, local restaurants about 7 mins walk down the street where we ate almost daily.
CAVE EXPLORING with KIDS - KHAO KHANAP NAM
A 10-minute long tail boat ride from Chao Fa pier took us to the cave entrance. Other than a small group of tourists leaving, there was no one else around. Stairs lead you to the main room of the cave, which is quite large in size, with a big round opening on the other side allowing plenty of natural light. Lots of impressive formations such as columns, stalagmites and stalactites jutting out sharply from above, with some fallen pieces scattered on the ground.
There were some displays of primitive humans as well as a large art display of an excavated giant human skeleton, with the remains of a large horned serpent wrapped around its body. The piece was made to look like an authentic archeological find, even going as far as showing screen captures from a news broadcast that almost had the kids convinced! It was an impressive work of art to look at, and also a great learning opportunity for the kids to discern between fact and fiction. It was not at all what we expected to find inside a cave!
IF YOU GO:
We negotiated 500 baht for a boat ride to the caves from Chao Fa Pier, which included checking out some mangroves and a fish farm. In our opinion, it is better to just pay 300 baht to see the caves as the extra 200 for the mangroves and the so called "fish farm" was not worth it. This does not include entrance to cave.
On our way out of the cave, we noticed no one around except a local lady sweeping the grounds and several macaque monkeys along the path towards our boat. "Oh look, Molly! Cute monkeys!!" called out Owen. Next thing you know, about 3-4 of them made eye contact, and started slowly approaching us. We had no food with us, no dangling water bottles, sunglasses or cameras. Our kids, who generally adore all animals, began panicking and retreating, as the monkeys started circling them, grabbing their shirts, and trying to climb on their backs. We tried to calm the kids but by this point they were both paralyzed with fear and crying hysterically. Eventually, the cleaning lady came to our rescue, shooed off the monkeys with her broom and the kids scurried back to the boat, as our boat driver chuckled in amusement. We noticed a trickle of blood from Molly's ankle, but fortunately, it was just from tripping and not from a monkey bite or scratch. That was the day that the novelty of seeing wild monkeys ended rather quickly!
While we did nothing to provoke the encounter, we think the monkeys were simply very curious as we were the only people in sight, and we happened to be walking towards them as they were on our path to the boat. They didn't mean any harm, but they probably also felt uneasy when the kids started crying and frantically moving all over the place to avoid them. They did at one point show their teeth, which we learned is a sign of aggression. We've since educated ourselves further on monkey do's and don'ts and have not encountered any more monkey problems so far!
Our day trip to the popular Railay beach started out early, taking a long tail boat by 9:30am and getting to West Railay Beach before 10am. There were people already there, but still lots of room to pick a spot on the beach before the inevitable crowds arrived. The beach itself was indeed as stunning as expected...the clear blue water was warm and inviting, with mountains in every direction. However, it got much busier as the day progressed. Loud, long-tail boats were coming and going every few minutes, spewing dark clouds of exhaust fumes in the otherwise pristine surroundings. By noon, we had some lunch and decided it was time to move on.
The walking street just off Railay Beach with plenty of restaurants, bars and beach shops.
PHRA NANG BEACH
A pleasant 10-15 minute walk past caves and monkeys, leads you to the more spectacular Phra Nang Beach. Yes, this beach was also very crowded, attracting photographers, rock climbers and sunbathing tourists, but no loud boats in the vicinity made it for a more enjoyable experience. The water is so clear you can see tropical fish swimming around you. It is easy to overlook the crowds on arguably the most beautiful beach on the peninsula.
Tucked in the corner, but hard to ignore, is the small, sacred cave of Phra Nang. Locals visit this cave bringing offerings to the Princess Goddess. There is a fascinating display of lingams or carved wooden penises of all shapes, colours and sizes just at the entrance of the cave.
We spent the whole afternoon playing in and out of the water, admiring the surrounding Krabi scenery and soaked up the last rays of sunshine before some serious rain clouds moved in. We headed back to Ao Nang on a boat, feeling like we had one of our best beach days yet on this trip. It was easily the highlight of our time in Krabi for us.
Taking a Grab (South-East Asia's Uber) in Ao Nang/Krabi is significantly more expensive than Chiang Mai. That being said, taking a Grab from Krabi Airport was the cheapest way to get to our hotel. We looked into other shuttle and bus services online that were all more expensive.
You can take the cheaper local truck buses, which is less than half the price of a Grab. However, it's hit and miss whether or not the driver will understand where to drop you off, even if you show them on the map. There are designated bus stops, but you can also just flag one down.
For a more tranquil time, Tonsai beach comes highly recommended, but it's apparently full of monkeys, so we skipped it. There are also a couple of steep hikes with viewpoints which we did not attempt with the kids, due to the difficulty level, and again, MONKEYS.
The 4 Islands tour is quite popular, but we skipped it, as weather was unstable and it rained almost every day of the week we were there in early December.
NEXT STOP: 2 weeks in KOH LANTA