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I’d always heard the famous spots in southern Thailand were overcrowded, overpriced and not worth it. Thus, I was surprised at how much I fell in love with Ao Nang Beach when I accidentally ended up there when I flew to Krabi.
How I Ended Up at Ao Nang Beach
I thought that flying to Bangkok from the UK would always be the cheapest route. When I found a flight from London to Krabi which was significantly cheaper, I was a little hesitant. I did want to visit the southern beaches and islands of Thailand, but I’d been told that they were overrated. Well, the whole reason I travel after all is to learn things for myself, so I bought my tickets.
I actually had to buy two flights, one to Oslo, Norway and then another to Krabi. When I travel to Thailand, I bring my big REI Grand Tour 85l backpack so I had to pay for checked-in luggage on both flights. Otherwise, flights from the UK to Thailand are surprisingly cheap – under $200 each way. Of course, budget airlines make their money with the add-ons and charged me nearly 50% more on my tickets to bring my big backpack to Thailand.
Once again, I didn’t do my research or plan out my trip before I landed in Krabi. Now, Krabi is kinda like Los Angeles – the name applies to both a county (province) and a city (town) with lots of neighborhoods (villages). The province of Krabi is located about 400 miles south of Bangkok, although the bus ride is considerably longer than the one from Los Angeles to San Francisco (which is about the same distance). In the center of the province is the town of Krabi. Then there are dozens (if not hundreds) of small villages throughout the province which can all be referred to as in Krabi.
I didn’t know all this when I got off the plane, so I just jumped on the first minivan headed to the beach. Ao Nang Beach is about half an hour from the town of Krabi. Maybe that makes it less crowded, but I wouldn’t know as I never actually made it into the town.
Great Accommodations in Ao Nang
I was shocked by how many places Ao Nang Beach has to stay at, and even more surprised by how many of them were fully booked when I went. Around this small beach are nearly a hundred hostels, another hundred private guesthouses, and scores of hotels and resorts to stay at. Since I prefer to make my money last longer so I can travel more, I went for the hostels.
Many of the hostels are located on a narrow road parallel to the beach. Not only are these more expensive, but they’re almost all party hostels and I’m not a big drinker or partier. I did try to stay in a couple, but because they’re party hostels, they want to keep your passport as collateral in case you break anything. This is illegal and must be avoided when you’re traveling. If a hostel or anyone else other than your government ever tells you they want to hold on to your passport, tell them no and find an alternative to whatever it is you’re trying to do.
As you walk up the main road away from Ao Nang Beach, the hostels get cheaper. They also get nicer, as they seem to focus on comfort more than a party scene. After all, it’s easier to sleep when you don’t have people screaming outside or puking in your dorm room.
The Sleeper Hostel has everything I love with a hostel in Thailand. The design is simple polished concrete. The beds have tons of height, curtains and the usual thin mattresses in SE Asia (which are surprisingly comfortable). If you’ve never been to a hostel in SE Asia, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you have, then you’ll understand when I say this is one of the better hostels. It’s clean, has great security, air conditioning, a nice common area downstairs with free water, and it’s only about a ten-minute walk from the beach. A group of food stalls is also just across the street. Best of all, a night at the hostel is less than $10.
Pop In Hostel
I only spent two days at Sleeper Hostel before they too booked up and I had to find another place to stay for my last two nights at Ao Nang Beach. Just a little further up the street from the beach, I found Pop-In Hostel. Not too dissimilar to Sleeper Hostel, this one has similar beds and decor, but with a larger common room and nightly activities, including Thai BBQs and drinking games (I enjoyed the former, not the latter). They also have some really nice private rooms for two starting at $29.
Where to Eat in Ao Nang
Anywhere. This is Thailand. Most places are great; a tiny percentage of the places have bad food you’ll need activated charcoal to combat the effects of. I went to several different restaurants and cafes around Ao Nang (rather than sticking to the same good place, as I sometimes do), and loved every meal. Of course, everything in Thailand tastes divine after you’ve been gone for a few months.
My first meal in Ao Nang was pad thai, obviously. Over the next few days, I had Thai pancakes (significantly thicker than American pancakes and filled with bananas), tom yum goong (coconut soup with shrimp), barbecued pork on a stick, mango sticky rice, and a whole lot more pad thai. I’d highly recommend the Food Center half a mile up the street from the beach (nearly across the street from Sleeper Hostel).
Attractions in Ao Nang
Ao Nang Beach by itself is quite small. The number of activities are pretty much confined to the beach itself and the small town, which has the usual things you’ll find in a small, touristic Thai village – street food, massage parlors, clothing shops to haggle at, more bars than you can count, etc. Beyond that, the rest of the attractions are spread throughout the province of Krabi.
Ao Nang Beach
Truth be told, there’s nothing particularly special about Ao Nang Beach compared to the other beaches in Thailand (which are all great). It has clean, white sand, crystal clear water, palm trees, towering cliffs rising in the background, and dozens of iconic long-tail boats waiting to take you out to nearby beaches and islands. The beach stretches 0.9 miles between two jungled promontories. Although relatively small as a beach, it’s bigger than the other beaches in the area. Since there’s no beach like this in the town of Krabi, this is obviously where everyone heads.
The southeast half of the beach (turning left from the main road) is where most of the beach huts and bars are. The boats avoid this section of the beach, leaving it for swimming (there are no lifeguards on duty). This is where you’ll find food stalls, beach chairs and mats for rent, and (most importantly) Thai massage huts where you can get traditional or oil massages. While they do tend to be more expensive than other places, I recommend getting a massage at one of these huts as you’ll get an authentic Thai massage without any funny business.
I spent the better part of two days relaxing on the sand and walking along the beach. After several months in northern Europe, it was bliss to simply luxuriate on a warm Thailand beach. I would have spent my entire stay in Ao Nang on the beach, but it was pouring rain the last two days, so those were spent at one of the wonderful cafes catching up on my writing and consuming one Thai tea after another.
Ao Nang Beach is a great place for kids too, as the water is really shallow (just like many of the beaches in Thailand). At high tide, you can walk way out into the water before it comes up to your waist, and the waves are almost non-existent. At low tide, it’s all mud.
Monkey Trail to Pai Plong Beach
At the far left end of the beach is a small trail leading into the jungle. The hike is less than 1,000 feet but it does take a good 15 minutes to get over to Pai Plong Beach. I was actually hoping to make it to Tonsai Beach, but that one is only accessible by boat, as is Railay Beach. Pai Plong by itself is nice and significantly less crowded than Ao Nang Beach.
The Monkey Trail is aptly named, as there are dozens of monkeys playing around in the trees. You can get a photo with them, but be very careful with your possessions. They will grab anything available, even if it’s in your pocket or purse, and they might bite you if you try to stop them.
Boat Tour to the Islands
If you want to explore some of the islands near Ao Nang Beach, you can get a tour with one of the many boats waiting at the beach. Tickets can be purchased from the hut on the main road and start at 100 baht ($3) per ride. The boats go to islands like Koh Poda and Koh Po Da Nok, as well as Pai Plong Beach and Railay Beach. If you want to get down to legendary Koh Phi Phi (featured in the movie The Beach), you’ll have to get a ferry from either the town of Krabi or the far end of Hat Noppharat Thara Beach (the next beach north from Ao Nang Beach). Just know that Maya Beach (the beach in the movie) has been closed indefinitely for restoration purposes.
I didn’t end up taking one of the boat tours myself. I found Ao Nang Beach wonderful as it was and just didn’t feel the need to spend more money. As I said above, I’d rather stretch out my money and travel longer. Then again, I will have to go back to Krabi someday to see those islands and other beaches, as they really do look gorgeous!
Other Excursions in Krabi
Krabi is a big province, and there are plenty of other excursions you can take. Every other building along the main street in Ao Nang is a tour agency selling day trips to temples, caves and elephant sanctuaries, boat tours to the islands, and vans to Phuket, Surat Thani and even Bangkok. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of jungle bungalows to stay at, such as Aoluek Paradise. You could even venture further into the jungle for a Khao Sok National Park tour and stay at the Riverside Cottages (which is where I want to stay the next time I’m in that region of Thailand).
Yes, Ao Nang Beach in Krabi is a touristic destination. Prices are considerably more expensive than other parts of Thailand (double what I usually pay in Chiang Mai), but I’ve heard Phuket and Koh Phagnan are even more expensive. There are more hostels here that illegally want to keep your passport, and there isn’t a huge amount to do. Despite all that, I’d still highly recommend visiting for a couple days.
Expect to pay about $3 for an average Thai meal (the night market and Food Center are a little cheaper). Hostels start around $10 for a night, and private rooms start around $20. The tours and excursions are incredibly variable, depending on where you want to go and how long the tour is. The cheapest excursions are the boat tours to nearby beaches starting at $3 (each way). You could also spend $100 on a full-day trip hiking past waterfalls to an eco elephant sanctuary. As mentioned, there are tour agencies every couple buildings, so don’t be afraid to shop around or haggle for a better price. The hostels often don’t offer the best deal (as they promise).
Ao Nang is relatively safe. There are the usual tourist scams (money exchanges, overcharging, taking you to the wrong destination, etc), but these can all be avoided. Keep your valuables secure (definitely don’t leave them unattended on the beach!), don’t walk around dark areas at night by yourself, and do a little research on what to do in case you get into trouble (where the pharmacy, hospital and police stations are).
I’d recommend spending 2-4 days at Ao Nang Beach. Unless you want to spend more time just relaxing on the beach, there really aren’t enough activities to fill up your time, and there are so many more destinations in Thailand to check out. Consider heading up to Koh Chang Island, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, or head somewhere that I haven’t been to myself.
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While I’ve tried to avoid the more touristic islands of southern Thailand, I did spend a couple weeks on Koh Chang with my brother. Here are those stories:
- Beaches, Waterfalls, Snorkeling and New Year’s Celebration: A Guide to Ko Chang, The Best Island in Thailand
- New Year in Koh Chang and my New Year’s Resolution
- How to Travel to Koh Chang on a Budget
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.