Beyond Ao Nang, popular daytrips

There are many gorgeous private little islands

There are many gorgeous private little islands

By Steve Harris

Ao Nang is a slice of paradise on Thailand’s west coast, where golden sand beaches vie with emerald seas and imposing limestone karsts emerging from the water for visitor’s attention. With so much surrounding beauty, visitors are well advised to check out our tips on daytrips from Ao Nang.

Previously known primarily as a small fishing village, Ao Nang has grown in recent years into a well-known and popular destination beloved of travellers from all over the world. Ao Nang is the focal point of the Thai province of Krabi, offering a compact strip of a town reaching between two cliffs, with a beach and seafront road in between.

Visitors to Ao Nang often use it as a base for seeing the delights of the Krabi region. The area is synonymous with the giant limestone edifices which burst forth from the sea and head skywards, dripping in foliage. A perennially popular day out from Ao Nang is a boat trip around the nearby karsts, taking in the beautiful waters of the Andaman Sea.

The Krabi region is also famous for its network of caves created from the limestone karst formations. Caves exist both on the coast and inland from Ao Nang, and a popular way of exploring them is to hire a scooter from one of the providers in Ao Nang town. About a half-hour ride from Ao Nang is Wat Tham Sua, or Tiger Cave, which is a beautiful natural cave which has been incorporated into a Buddhist temple development where monks live and work.

A short drive from Ao Nang is Fossil Shell Beach, another popular tourist destination. Here visitors can see gastropods and bivalves which are estimated to be around 75 millions year old - a testament to the history of this fascinating region of Thailand. To extend this day into a full day out in a hire car or on a scooter, it is well worth a detour to the Huay Toh National Park.

This park is home to the beautiful Huay Toh Waterfall perched amid lush rainforest. The waterfall has seven tiers, meaning seven falls and a rock pool beneath each, and the walk to the top is well worthwhile. The ragged stone staircase can be a little treacherous so it is an idea to wear a pair of decent walking or running shoes rather than a pair of flip-flops.

Another good excursion is to head north seeking out the mangroves of Ta Phom and the magical cascading ponds at Than Bokkharani National Park, an hour’s drive north at Ao Luek en-route to Phuket. Both are clearly marked on local tourist maps. There’s also Khao Phanom Bencha National Park, with its camp and picnic site, hiking trails and waterfalls.

Than Bokkharani’s cascades are a sheer delight

Than Bokkharani’s cascades are a sheer delight

No visit to Ao Nang would be complete without a day of scuba diving or snorkelling in the crystal clear waters of the Andaman. Daytrips are available from many providers along the Ao Nang seafront, taking in various dive sites around the area and also heading out around the nearby islands and national marine parks.

Visitors can choose to dive in Ao Nang bay itself or head further out to sea and dive at Phi Phi National Marine Park, King Cruiser Wreck site or Shark Point Marine Sanctuary. The more adventurous seafarer might like to take a full day sea safari where a speedboat transports the tripper out to Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, offering the opportunity to see manta rays and whale sharks up close.

Another popular day out from Ao Nang is sea kayaking; a leisurely way to take in the stunning natural landscape of the area and to explore the nearby karsts and their beaches. Visitors can hire a kayak from any number of shops along the seafront and paddle out to see the local caves and mangroves, home to all sorts of marine life.

A must-see when renting a kayak are the ‘hongs’, or natural caves carved out of the limestone cliffs by centuries of sea erosion. Many of the hongs house beautiful lagoons inside them which make for wonderful photo opportunities.

Krabi is popular with outdoor sports fans, and there are a number of fine golf courses within easy reach of Ao Nang. Here the golfer can enjoy a leisurely day taking in 9 or 18 holes in the sunshine.

Also popular for an alternative way of spending a day here is rock climbing among the beautiful limestone cliffs. There are day packages available for the novice climber and for the more experienced mountaineer, testing routes are available all around the area. Some of the climbing trails can only be accessed by longtail boat, such as the craggy cliffs looming over Railay Beach and Tonsai Beach. Alternatively, visitors can combine a hike through the inland jungle with a climb once they reach the mountains a few kilometres inside the rainforest.

The north of Thailand is famous for its trekking and hiking in lush and plentiful jungles, but there are some fine jungle tours to be had which begin in Ao Nang and take in the surrounding area of Krabi. Visitors can book a full-day jungle treks with many local providers, which will take in the rich interior of Krabi’s rainforest complete with hot springs, captivating caves and picturesque waterfalls.

These kinds of tours offer a chance to see how the locals live in inland villages, plus visitors are also able to throw elephant trekking or bamboo rafting on inland lagoons into the day.

Ao Nang is a great base for getting out to the nearby network of islands, and renting a boat with a pilot and guide from the beach at Ao Nang is a fine way to see them. There are over 200 islands within easy reach of Ao Nang beach; some are inhabited, some are not, but most are home to small beaches, reefs and beautiful cave networks.

Among the most popular for a day out are Koh Poda, around seven kilometres from Ao Nang beach, and Koh Gai, or Chicken Island, so-named because of the rooster-like rock formation which looms over the beach. Both these islands make great destinations for a picnic lunch and scuba diving.

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