In long-term travel, things sometimes don’t go according to plan. And that’s fine: if you have the luxury of time, you should also have the openness of mind to assess that a destination is not right for you and do something about it. And that is how I am typing this on an impromptu flight to Chiang Mai three weeks after settling down in Ao Nang for what was supposed to be the duration of Richard’s divemaster training – 6 to 8 weeks. This is our first massive change of plan and I think we were a little slow at dealing with it, which resulted in us spending over two weeks in a place that, in hindsight, I was not all that into.
GETTING TO KNOW AO NANG
Ao Nang is a resort town and as such we found it rather touristy. There seems to be mostly Russian tourists about and you will find restaurant menus in Thai and Russian everywhere. There are a lot of tourists on short holidays, quite a few people who don’t seem to always have a clue about Thailand, sunbathe topless, feed the monkeys, pollute, crash their motorbike and injure themselves severely – the amount of limping bandaged people we saw was truly flabbergasting. The food in Ao Nang can be expensive and isn’t always authentic – this is especially true the closer you get to the beach, and, inversely, you’ll need to get away from the beach to sample good traditional spicy Thai food. Good English is obviously spoken widely.
ISLANDS AND BEACH GALORE
The main attraction in Ao Nang isn’t Ao Nang itself, but the surrounding coastline and neighboring islands, most famous of all being Railey Beach – the one with the penises and the rock climbers. We had solid plans to visit each and every one of them – Ko Poda, Ko Tub, Bamboo Island, Ko Hong, Chicken Island, etc – but ended up visiting only Railey. Whenever we tapped the internet in search of recommendations, we disappointingly found an overwhelming quantity of reviews slating each and every island for being awash with huge tour groups, noisy boats and lots of litter. This, paired with the fact that there were torrential downpours daily, sometimes for hours on end (the shoulder season was a little slow to tick over this year), made the purchase of a boat ticket difficult for us to justify, especially so that we already had mixed feelings about our experience on Railey Beach, where the excessively large crowd of tourists – and I mean, all of them – were conducting their very own sexy bikini photo shoot in the shallow water. I do wish we had visited Tonsai however, I have heard great things about it and I’m not sure why we missed it.
FINDING A HOUSE
Part of the deal was that we both had a lot of work to do. So despite Richard’s plans of doing his divemaster falling through, we decided to stick around for a couple of weeks anyway. We had already scouted out a sweet-sounding AirBnB where we originally thought we would spend the whole 2 months, but that was the first of a few disappointments. On the recommendation of several people we spoke to, we hopped on a motorbike and scoured the town up and down for “house for rent” signs plastered on doors and that really is my number one recommendation for finding a place to stay for a medium-to-long term stay in Ao Nang. We ended up at a cute bedsit on the top floor of a two-storey miniature house in a little enclave called Leela Valley Village (located on the same street as Miti Resort and Ao Nang Homestay). We paid 6,000 Baht for two weeks in a room with hot water, a/c, a huge balcony, fridge, kettle, unlimited housekeeping, super-fast wifi and a little desk with two chairs – we were also quoted 10,000 for the full month, so it pays to stay longer. There are definitely much cheaper places around, but we were happy to dish out a little more for those ‘luxuries’, and we kind of fell in love with the tiny community of expats and locals that is Leela Valley – living there really was the highlight of our stay and we loved the dogs at Ao Nang Homestay (the chubby toothless beagle and the fluffy white one with the t-shirt).
GETTING A MOTORBIKE
We called into a few places around and the best deal we got was with a place called “Noui Bike for Rent”, although the sign isn’t so obvious. They are located between Ao Nang Villa Resort (the big pink sign) and the Ao Nang Police Station Coca Cola sign (!), about 2 minutes from the beach on the right hand side of the road. I think all of their scooters are red Manchester United, so you can’t miss them. We paid 800 Baht for one week for an automatic 115cc scooter and I’m guessing the monthly rate is probably much cheaper. The service is great and the bike was actually not bad. We were initially looking for a place where we wouldn’t need to leave a passport for 8 weeks, but that proved a lot more difficult than we had read.
EATING ALL THE VEGAN THINGS
Ao Nang is admittedly not quite the vegan food mecca, but we did find a few nice little gems that we ended up visiting several times. Out diet these days consists primarily of raw fruit and vegetables, and we purchased a cheap blender from Big C in Krabi Town, so we were happy with smoothies, cold soups, salads and tons of fresh fruit two times a day, visiting the restaurant only at night. Coming from Indonesia, it was great to have a break from fried food and MSG for a while.
Here are a couple of restaurants we recommend for vegetarian and vegan options.
What a great little surprise in this rather uninspired neck of the wood! This restaurant is owned by a lovely Thai-Californian couple who knows how to cater for vegetarians. We ordered the khao soi, a northern curry noodle soup and came back two times for more. The best khao soi I have ever had, period (the chef is actually from Chiang Mai). It really was delicious, mostly due to the gigantic tray of raw veggies and pickled cabbage it came with. You can request it to be made with rice noodles to be fully vegan (it’s otherwise made with egg noodle). Delicious. I don’t know about the rest, we had only khao soi!
D&E JUNGLE KITCHEN
This became our go to place for dinner. The food is delicious, everything can be made vegan with or without tofu, the service is excellent, the prices are low and it’s located just a few minutes’ walk from Leela Valley. I made it my mission to try every single curry on the menu and I can proudly say: mission accomplished! My favorite ones were without a doubt the yellow and green.
FOOD STALLS BY THE BEACH
This is granted not the most fancy nor hygienic place to eat, but it’s still a fun and cheap thing to do when you’re in Ao Nang. Great English is spoken throughout, so it’s easy to get your special dietary needs across. We had super spicy papaya salads without the fish sauce (som tam jay), sticky rice, corn on the cob and bbq tofu skewers with sweet chili sauce.
MAY & MARK
This is not in Ao Nang, but rather in Krabi Town, a 20 minute scooter ride away, but it is well worth the visit. Nice homemade bread and several vegetarian/vegan options, both Thai and international dishes. We tried the vegeburger and pineapple fried rice and both were good. Our neighbors seem to have ordered something off menu, some kind of make-your-own spring roll, Vietnamese sharing thing, with a mountain of greens and herbs that made us proper jealous. It’s worth also just going into Krabi Town to stroll around the various markets and climb up the tiger temple (there are no tigers here, it’s just a temple at the top of a steep cliff). There are a few fully vegan Buddhist restaurants in town, but nothing we found especially amazing. It’s a quirky town well worth a visit and you should definitely check it out.