Photo: Late light on a popular beach.

Introduction

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Packed along a lacklustre beach with a pretty outlook to limestone headlands and islands, Ao Nang marks the centre of tourism in Krabi province. From tailor shops to boat tours to bars and all-in-one Indian/Italian/Thai restaurants, all sorts of conveniences are at your fingertips here. If Ao Nang’s trashy side doesn’t sit well, head to any of several nearby beaches to find peace and quiet.


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The town’s official name, Ao Phra Nang, pays homage to a local goddess who collects piles of wooden penises in her cave shrine on the nearby Railay peninsula. It’s fitting that the honorific phra was dropped; today Ao Nang is more of a tribute to beer and bikinis than anything sacred. Pushy touts, noisy bars and souvenir stalls define the main drag. While this is not a sexpat enclave, things do get seedy down some of the side lanes.

Pack a book or three. Photo taken in or around Ao Nang, Thailand by David Luekens.

Pack a book or three. Photo: David Luekens

That the majority Muslim community puts up with the sometimes drunken and usually scantily clad tourists is one of Ao Nang’s perplexing features. We’d guess that money answers this riddle: a giant modern mosque like the one that now looms over the main drag requires a lot of it. Ao Nang is a place of ironies and oddities to go with the ups and downs. 

For such a popular beach destination, Ao Nang beach leaves a lot to be desired. The rough tan sand practically disappears at high tide. All day long, a fleet of longtail boats stirs up brownish-green water that’s no more than waste-deep for the first 200 metres offshore at low tide. If your travel agent insists that this is a white-sand paradise, you need to find a new travel agent. 

Beach sculpture. Photo taken in or around Ao Nang, Thailand by David Luekens.

Beach sculpture. Photo: David Luekens

Unless, that is, they’re talking about the spectacular shores of nearby Railay, Ko Hong and Ko Poda. Staying in Ao Nang makes it easy to soak up these spots on boat trips, returning at sunset for the comfy accommodation, lively atmosphere and enormous selection of food and drink. If you tire of the beach, Ao Nang makes a fine base for hitting Krabi province’s inland attractions as well. 

Also saving some grace for the area is a string of more laidback beaches set within easy reach of Ao Nang itself. Haad Noppharat Thara is beautiful at its northern end, where a river and sandbars meet a trio of karst islets. Just north of that stretches Long Beach, a sleepy stripe of fine whitish sand that feels a world away from Ao Nang. Further north, Khlong Muang is another quiet beach with bungalows affording views of fishing boats. There’s also Ao Nammao with its sparse development and collection of prehistoric fossils.

Plenty of scope for sundowners. Photo taken in or around Ao Nang, Thailand by David Luekens.

Plenty of scope for sundowners. Photo: David Luekens

Back in Ao Nang proper, those who enjoy people watching will not be disappointed. From the ‘80s to early 2000s the area drew mostly Scandinavians, mainland Europeans and Russians on package holidays. While these groups remain prevalent, they now rub shoulders with sizeable tourist numbers from China, India, Malaysia, the Middle East and North America, just to scratch the surface. Throw in a community of local business owners and staff that’s as diverse as the tourists, and you have quite the mix of people.

Tourism from China, in particular, has ballooned in recent years, leading to yet another wave of serious—we’d argue unsustainable—development in Ao Nang. Mostly built since 2010, dozens of mid- to large-scale hotels tower above the main drag and cram into side streets well into Haad Noppharat Thara. A quiet, forest-backed hideaway until only a couple of decades ago, Ao Nang today has an almost urban appearance built entirely off the tourism trade.

Do do a boat trip or three. Photo taken in or around Ao Nang, Thailand by David Luekens.

Do do a boat trip or three. Photo: David Luekens

Though Ao Nang is a relatively expensive destination in high season, budget travellers do have some options. In addition to stacks of air-con rooms in the 800 to 2,000 baht range, several hostels are on offer. Precious few budget bungalows are available in Ao Nang proper, but some good ones dot Haad Noppharat Thara and Long Beach. If you prefer a lively riverfront city to a beach town, you might shack up in one of Krabi town’s good-value guesthouses while hitting the beaches by motorbike or public songthaew. You could also stay on Railay, whose beaches beat Ao Nang’s in beauty like Andre the Giant would beat Mark Zuckerberg in a wrestling match.

It seems like every local and their brother runs a travel office in Ao Nang, making it easy to arrange tours and onward transport. Like nearby Ko Phi Phi, Phuket and other destinations where mainstream tourism is entrenched, Ao Nang attracts its share of scammers, thieves and sexual predators, both Thai and foreign. Do keep your guard up.




Orientation
The name Ao Nang covers the district, bay and beach that all touch the Andaman Sea, around 20 kilometres west of Krabi town and within view of islands such as Ko Phi Phi and Ko Yao Yai.

One of a number of mosques in the Ao Nang area. Photo taken in or around Ao Nang, Thailand by David Luekens.

One of a number of mosques in the Ao Nang area. Photo: David Luekens

The main road through Ao Nang is Route 4203, also known as Ao Nang Road. It runs alongside the beach—we call that part the beach road—before cutting inland along what we call the main drag, where you’ll find the area’s highest density of hotels, ATMs, currency exchange booths and much more. This road continues north out of town and meets Khao Kaew Soi 1, which cuts east to Ao Nammao. Before you get that far, side lanes such as Ao Nang Soi 11 diverge east off the main drag to access a handful of resorts set in beautiful settings at the foot of the immense cliffs that separate Ao Nang from Railay.

Just a kilometre beyond a vast limestone cliff to the southeast of Ao Nang beach, but only accessible by boat, stretches the Railay peninsula with its phenomenal beaches and more cliffs attracting rock climbers. In between are two smaller bays: hippie-haven Ao Tonsai and another occupied by an exclusive Centara resort. Unless the sea is rough, all of these—and Ko Poda—can be reached from Ao Nang by public longtail boat with little fuss.

Time for a beach BBQ at Khlong Muang. Photo taken in or around Ao Nang, Thailand by David Luekens.

Time for a beach BBQ at Khlong Muang. Photo: David Luekens

Heading northwest from Ao Nang beach, the beach road takes you past Ao Nang Soi 8 with its recently developed cluster of hotels, and Khlong Haeng Road with more hotels and a couple of hilltop restaurants. Stick close to the coast rather than turning down these and you’ll cross a bridge to enter Haad Noppharat Thara, where the beach road (still Route 4203) is called Noppharat Thara Road. Head inland on any side street from there and you’ll reach the village of Baan Khlong Haeng after a kilometre or so.

There are a few ways to reach Khlong Muang and Long Beach, located to the northwest of Haad Noppharat Thara but separated by the Son River. We like heading inland near the pier at the western end of Haad Noppharat Thara and then hanging a left down Noppharat Thara Soi 12. It cuts briefly north past St Agnes Church before hitting a crossroads, where a left (west) puts you on Khlong Sai Khao Soi 1, which runs across a scenic bridge before linking to Highway 6024. Hang a left (west) on that and you’ll come to Long Beach after the first left turn down Khlong Sai Khao Soi 3, or you could keep going straight west on 6024 to reach Khlong Muang and surrounds after a few more kilometres.

Khlong Muang: As calm (and as warm!) as your bath. Photo taken in or around Ao Nang, Thailand by David Luekens.

Khlong Muang: As calm (and as warm!) as your bath. Photo: David Luekens

While Ao Nang and Haad Noppharat Thara can be covered on foot and public songthaew, Long Beach and Khlong Muang are both several kilometres further out if going by road and not accessed by public transport overland. Long Beach can also be reached by longtail boat from Noppharat Thara pier, or you could always jump in a taxi.

When to go
High season in Ao Nang runs from November through April and it gets slammed around Christmas and Chinese New Year. The area remains active in low season, when room rates fall by 50% or more. However the sea turns rough in these rainy months, sometimes to an extent that you can’t even reach Railay directly from Ao Nang.

Emergency: Medical
We counted four medical clinics in Ao Nang, with three located fairly close together on the main drag leading away from the beach, and the largest set on the beach road between Ao Nang and Haad Noppharat Thara. The closest full-service hospitals are found in Krabi town.

Bangkok Medical Clinic: 721 Ao Nang Rd; T: (080) 120 0039
Dr Somboon Clinic: 249/10 Ao Nang Rd; T: (075) 695 303
First Standard Clinic: 352 Ao Nang Rd; T: (075) 695 191
Wattanapat International Medical Clinic: Beach road between Ao Nang and Haad Noppharat Thara; T: (091) 849 9914

Emergency: Police
A police box is hard to miss on the main drag within 50 metres of the beach, right in front of Phra Nang Inn, while the main Ao Nang police station is found on Khao Kaew Soi 1 on the way to Ao Nammao. There’s also a tourist police office on the beach road along the way from Ao Nang to Haad Noppharat Thara.

Ao Nang Police: T: (075) 639 163
Ao Nang Tourist Police: T: (075) 637 208

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