Most people visit Krabi to transit to the various Thai beach paradises nearby. We came to Krabi and stayed for two weeks. Though it doesn’t have any particularly amazing sites, the town and its people impressed us as friendly, approachable, and authentic. But as our days in Thailand came to an end, we opted to rejoin the tourist route to explore nearby beaches and take in some excellent diving.
Koh Phi Phi is known as the quintessential beach paradise (it’s where Leonardo frolicked in The Beach), but we opted instead for Ko Lanta, rumored to be a more laid back and less expensive alternative. After the hyper-tourism and over-development we experienced in Patong, Ko Lanta sounded more our speed.
Upon our arrival, our first priority was to sort out our scuba diving plans. The choice of scuba diving companies in Ko Lanta's main port, Saladan, is endless. It becomes more a matter of choosing which one looked professional, had friendly dive instructors, and had a boat scheduled for the islands we wanted to go to. After a few minutes of talking with Rob, a British dive instructor at Go Dive, we were signed up for the next day’s dives at Ko Ma islands.
Rob also advised us on where to look for reasonably priced accommodation on Ko Lanta's Long Beach. As in other areas of Thailand, the trend is to build more upscale resorts. Inexpensive bungalows are still available, but are not quite as cheap nor as numerous as before. We eventually settled into a simple bungalow behind Funky Fish Restaurant for 200 baht ($6) per night that was 200 meters from the beach. It’s not a place that we could see many of our friends staying in, but it suited our needs just fine.
Long Beach is logically named for its long stretch of sandy beach. In the late afternoon, foreigners pack up their beach gear and head in as the sun weakens and the locals come out in force to swim, play soccer and volleyball, run or just to enjoy the sunset. Restaurants assemble trays of seafood on ice and pull chairs and tables out onto the back-beach sandy areas. It had a similar feel to Haad Yao in Koh Pha Ngan, but was a bit more upscale and pricier.
The two days of scuba diving we did with Go Dive at Ko Ma and Koh Phi Phi islands were fantastic. We thought the diving we had done off of Koh Pha Ngan two years prior was good, but the Andaman side takes it up a notch in terms of the variety, volume and color of marine life. Our dive instructors, Rob and Jerome, were genuinely interested in showing us small details and tiny creatures that we would have never found on our own. They would find a particular crevice in a rock where harlequin shrimp normally hang out or the place where the yellow sea horse has made his home the last few months. Even though they dove regularly in this area, they seemed as just as excited as we were to catch a glimpse.
Ko Lanta Travel Tips
How to get there: Every guesthouse and travel agent in Krabi sells boat tickets to Ko Lanta that include transfer from your hotel to the pier. The cost is around 300 baht ($9) and the boat ride takes about 3 hours.
Scuba Diving: Go Dive has its main office at 116 Moo 1, Saladan with outlets at various beaches around the island. They will pick you up at your hotel in the morning and drop you off after diving. firstname.lastname@example.org
A couple on our dive boat had just been married on Railay beach and another friend had written that it was his favorite beach in the area, so we decided to work in a stop there before departing Ko Lanta. There is a boat that goes to Railay from Ko Lanta, but it leaves in the afternoon. We opted for the regular boat to Krabi and then transfer to long-tail boat from Ao Nang for Railay. The only drawback to this approach is that you must wait until there are enough people (usually eight) to fill the boat.
Now we understand why Railay is among the top choice of honeymooning couples – it is stunning. The boat ride there navigates limestone islands and low-hung patches of tropical growth. The “port” in East Railay does not have a beach. As a result, this is where you'll find more reasonably priced accommodation. And it's located only a few minutes walk to West Railay, where postcard white-sand meets crystal blue water in a beach framed by limestone cliffs and tropical flora. We took an afternoon at West Railay beach to soak up one more dose of sun before returning to Krabi and then to Bangkok the next day.
Because of the captive audience, restaurants and accommodation in West Railay are relatively expensive. Ko Lanta offers something a bit more downscale and relaxed, and was more to our taste. Take your pick – you won't be disappointed.
Railey Beach Transport
How to get to Railey Beach: Long-tail boats leave from Ao Nang beach for West Railay and from just before Ao Nang for East Railay. The price is set at 40-60 baht per person.
Ao Nang Beach
Located about 45 minutes from Krabi, Ao Nang is an easy beach stop for people staying in Krabi. On our first trip to Ao Nang, Audrey was befriended by a masseuse who showed us the main beach, pointed out where to pick up boats for Railay, and gave us some fruit from her massage stand. The main beach has an amusing set up – endless Thai massage stands compete with each other for customers, offering fruit and free use of beach mats as incentive. The beach is protected by trees and surrounded by dramatic limestone cliffs.
The town of Ao Nang has the standard run of tailor shops, souvenir shops, restaurants and dive shops. We satisfied our craving for Indian food in town and had an amusing scene play out in front of us with Japanese photographers and stylists and Thai models in a commercial shoot. It was the height of the hot season, so the models melted under their formal gowns and suits and layers of makeup as the Japanese attendants put on cool, “western” airs.
How to get to Ao Nang Beach: Songthaews (pick-up truck with benches) from Krabi run every 10 minutes. Just flag one down and hop in – the cost is 40 baht per person.