Tuesday 23rd December;
3:30pm; We arrive at Krabi airport after a short flight from Bangkok. The airport is surrounded for miles on all sides by steep limestone karsts and dense jungle which add to a sense of adventure as we descend towards the slick runway. Quickly collect our bags from the small baggage claim belt and move through the security processes to be greeted by warm floral air as we walk through the doors and into the greenness of Krabi. We are man-handled onto a rickety bus (which is long past its retirement) and sit waiting while other travellers assemble a very unstable mountain of luggage from our feet to the ceiling. Abbi looks worried that at any moment we may be crushed beyond recognition. My joke about dental identification doesn’t help and we pull away from the airport on time and surrounded by the noise of keen foreign travellers. I remember sharply back to when ‘Same Same’ in Chiang Mai taught us the phrase “Farang Bah” which essentially means ‘stupid bloody foreigners’ and smile to myself as I imagine the airport workers watching us pass are saying it through their teeth while they smile and wave at us.
4:30pm; We arrive in Ao Nang after humming through winding roads for 30 minutes between limestone towers topped with green jungle. The weather is fine and warm and people are sporting flip flops and vests with local jargon and symbols. “Same Same, But Different” seems to be the order of the day and it makes all the American, Russian, German and Scandinavian travellers indistinguishable from one another. Our bus drops us off outside Slumber Party Hostel which appears to be as nonchalant and suggesting as the name. We are greeted by recently chalked A-boards and neon signs advertising beer pong competitions, pub crawls and island hopping parties. Guys 400 baht, girls get away for 300 baht. I tell myself that this is because girls would probably drink less, although in truth I guess it’s probably to encourage more girls to come along at the benefit of the single guys.
The hostel is colourful and playful and a bit like a student union – if a little dark and grimy. Our room is two floors up and doesn’t have a window so it is a bit dimmer and boxier than we have been used to until now. We shrug it off as we tell each other that we are only here for one night and leave our bags to explore Ao Nang before the sun sets. 6pm; We are accosted by every merchant and store owner outside every shop as we wind down the long high street and towards the beach. We are offered ‘special discount for English’ and more ‘lovely jubberlys’ than an episode of Only Fools and Horses and we start to feel rather special – until we hear other English accents and the magic is lost of course!
Dinner in a local thai restaurant called Thailandia. The place is gorgeous; made entirely of bamboo and wood and decorated thoughtfully with palm plants, atmospheric lighting and thai ornaments. The staff are dressed in local cloth and shine like air hostesses. A well longed-for glass of wine and local food before we stroll to the beach where we enjoy a few drinks at the Fishermans Bar and watch the sun set. Internet back at Slumber Party is very temperamental so we turn in eager to arrive at our 5-star Christmas break tomorrow on the nearby Railay peninsula.
Wednesday 24th December.
Wake early and ready to leave early. Pay for our night and we are given little brown bags full of sweets with the words “thanks for staying at Slumber Party, we ❤ you” stamped on. Nice little touch. We say our goodbyes before walking back down the long high street with our heavy backpacks towards the beach. We are avoiding Tuk Tuks wherever we can after our Bangkok experiences!
Breakfast at the familiar Black Canyon Coffee and catch up with the news. Russia is unhappy with the West, Cameron and Clegg are at their tethers end with one another, someone from the UK has won the Euro Millions, China’s economic growth looks a little bit shakey, and Islamic State are causing all sorts of atrocities in the Middle East. Optimistic bunch the BBC!
The day is warming and the sun rising steadily when we leave to walk towards the boat ticket office. The promenade along the beach in Ao Nang is about one kilometre in length with one-half dotted with restaurants and small store holders and the other half on the beach itself sporting lots of little bars and massage parlours. It’s a really attractive area and overlooks the beautiful beach with rows of coconut trees and mysterious Islands breaking up the horizon where blue sky meets blue water. A spot of tea and we wait to hop onto a long tail boat for a ten minute ride around the peninsula to the east and towards Ton Sai and Railay. The water is warm and calm and subdued – subservient to our needs – and we snap pictures of the towering cliffs and islands and inlets covered in rainforest all around us.
Our boatman cuts the engine 40 feet from the shore to let the small vessel glide into the shallow water and beech gently on the sand with a soft plod. We say thank you (Khap kun khrap!) and turn to heave our bags onto our shoulders and hop off the side of the low bow and into warm crystal water up to our knees. We wade the final few meters and begin to take in the surroundings. We have landed at Railay West, the most developed of the national parks four main beaches (Railay West, East, Pranang, and Ton Sai), and navigate ourselves (by memory of being here last year) through the little walking street and into the jungle that separates west and east. Our hotel, the Railay Princess Resort, is a hefty modern complex that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean or Hawaii. It flaunts is beauty flirtatiously a bit like a girl in a bar who knows all the guys are looking at her but doesn’t let up. Dangerous. We are greeted by the reception staff with a wine glass full of grape juice before being guided through the garden by a bell-man (not ‘bell-boy’ apparently) and onwards towards our room. Our room for the next three nights is just about the nicest place we will rest our heads on our whole trip so we were delighted almost immediately with it. Abbi is soon unpacking and I’m quick to jump on the bed, flick all the different lamps and lights on, rummage through the mini bar and marvel at the sliding glass doors which lead directly from our bedroom straight into the bath. Slide, slide, “this is awesome!..” Slide, slide “we are defiantly hopping into the bath later through these puppies!” .. And so on. Abbi gives me her tireless smile and suggests we go explore.
We spend our first evening, after a small bite to eat at a small street vender (or beach-vender), lying on Railay west beach under clear skies and surrounded by oil lamps while Miles Davis sets the mood for us and a light breeze nudges the warm air around us just enough to cool our faces. The view, while darkened by the night sky, is still spectacular. The lights of distant boats and buoys dot the horizon and give off just enough light to silhouette the many little mysterious islands that cause so many people to snap pictures in the daylight. The wide bay is fringed on both sides by steep cliffs and untamed jungle which glow just enough for our eyes to see above us while behind us the jungle is broken by hotels, a handful of restaurants a small walking street lined with colourful reggae bars and shops. It’s all pretty contained and, while it does hinder the feeling of a wild and natural landscape, the small luxuries are welcome after a long hot day, and the true virgin forest and white beaches are only ever minutes away. The nice thing about the development here is that it is sensitive enough to the ecology and natural design that, atleast along the beachfront, the tropical vibe is never quite lost. The few paths there are are sand not concrete, and buildings are all wooden and never rise above two stories.
We strike up a conversation with a young Scottish couple about travelling to Phucket and are soon walking back through the small paths to our hotel room. We FaceTime abbis family to wish them merry Christmas for tomorrow and retire to our room yawning. The bed is comfy and the air con a welcome relief and we both nod off within minutes.
Christmas day 2014;
Wake early to the sound of heavy rain. I remember that the weather in December is still pretty unpredictable and we will have to wait a few weeks more before the am-to-pm blue skies arrive. We dust off the large umbrella the hotel has provided and scurry down to breakfast across a courtyard lined with palm trees and glistening in the intermittent rain and sunlight. The buffet is epic in proportions and I induldge as if the world were about to end and this is my last meal. Needless to say our stroll to the famous Phranang beach after was a slow one. As we near the beach the path fades away and leads through a cave system overhung by massive stalagmites and volcanic features. Monkeys scamper around us and voices echo transitorially against the hard rock and into small dark corners. We emerge into Phranang beach after ten minutes and I am transported back immediately to my memories of last year. It is a wonderful place and it is quite easy to see why it has won so many awards as one of the worlds most beautiful beaches. It is smaller than Railay West, only about 300 meters in length. At the busier end the cliffs curl right round and tower hundreds of feet above us with big overhanging features, stalagmites dripping with water and rock climbers risking limb and leg to navigate their way up. The opposite side of the beach curves round out of sight and is open to the shallow blue ocean and dotted with lush vegetation. The stretch between is backed by smaller cliffs and palm trees and overlooks the same gorgeous line of mysterious islands as Railay West and Ao Nang beach further around the western peninsula. One of the saving graces of this remote beach, and the whole 100 sq-mile peninsular, is that there are no roads or even paths to get here. Mercifully It can only be reached by small long tail boat from the surrounding islands or towns which has really contributed its preservation and attraction.
Lunchtime; We hire kayaks and spend the few hours after out among the small local islands and inlets exploring and soaking up the warming sun. 6pm; The tide recedes with the sunset and we walk out to a tiny island only 50 meters out from the beach. The shallow water around our ankles is warm and laps peacefully against the exposed rock and coral structures and the waning sun floods the whole bay with a golden and red hue causing the water and rock to glow. Bats wake up and stretch their limbs above our heads while warrens perch on the protruding rocks around us and look magnificent and proud as they strike poses against the setting sun. The whole experience is very peaceful and we stroll back through the jungle and caves to our hotel a few hours later with beaming smiles after a brilliantly tropical Christmas Day.
Boxing day is equally as relaxing albeit slightly less adventurous. We spend our day after another mammoth breakfast reading and writing between different beaches and small coffee huts in the sun. We are planning to island hop to the southern islands of the great Andaman sea just after New Years so this time today is very useful. We both get a little sun-burnt and end our day once again sipping wine in a small beach bar to a chorus of insects and birds from the surrounding rainforest and wishing we didn’t have to leave for Ao Nang tomorrow.
27th December 2014 – 01 Jan 2015
Arrive back in Ao Nang after checking out of the Railay Princess Hotel and a few hours on the beach. We grab a Tuk Tuk back up the winding main road to Slumber Party Hostel for the second time and check into a more spacious, lighter room than before. We gingerly agree that we are much happier in this new room and settle in once again to the chilled and worldly vibe of the place. Our next four nights and days pass much as they did before; days on the beach and exploring the beautiful landscape while we spend our evenings at the small reggae bars and bamboo wine and cocktail bars that dot Ao Nang. On the 31st of Decembr we book into a more voluptuous hotel called The Nine @ Ao Nang for New Years. While not quite as glamorous as Railay, it’s clean, sharp style makes for a much more comfortable place to wake up to post-new year drinking.
In the early evening we walk keenly down the main road and to Thailandia restaurant where we ate on our very first night in Ao Nang over a week before. The atmosphere is just as sophisticated and cultural. The restaurant now brandishes two young dancers who intermittently appear on a small stage, dance in traditional Thai styles to authentic music and then retreat for a further five minutes to a roll of subdued applause. The food and wine is equally as sophisticated and before too long it is all over and we are walking towards the beach where we have been invited to a beach party.
8pm; We meander through the bamboo beach huts and bars and palm trees along the eastern tip of Ao Nang beach to our party. Colourful paper lanterns hang from the trees above us while reggae and chilled house music permeates out from the different small beach bars. The stars are visible through the gaps in the trees and a warm breeze stirs the leaves and lanterns to give movement to the sand beneath our feet. We pull up a wooden seat each on the beach and sit there contently drinking rum straight from the bottle like a couple of pirates and making friends with a French couple, Quentin and Mariana. They are halfway through a two week trip to Thailand from Paris. She is a language therapist and he works (reluctantly) for an insurance firm. Once the rum has dried up we stumble towards a local club further towards Ao Nang named Chang Bar for Mojitos and then onto the beach along with thousands of other people for the countdown.
People around us are dancing, lighting paper lanterns and laughing and I notice that the crowds of people stretch as far as the eye can see in either direction along the beach front. Quentin and I decide that stripping off and running headfirst into the dark sea is a good way to impress our lady folk and I get a round of applause from many onlookers as I strip down completely to change into my dry shorts. After a few Mojitos and rum I lose the ability to become embarrassed. Not sure about Abbi though!
The countdown happens in sporadic bursts from different corners of the beach around us but I’m sure we were within a few minutes either side of the official count and we all applaude, high five and laugh for the next hour on the beach while paper lanterns rise to meet the moon in a momentary cascaedence of light and colour. We exchange details and stumble back to our hotels for a good nights sleep. Tomorrow; island hopping to Koh Jum and Koh Kradan.. Right now; street food to soak up the alcohol!