Thailand’s Krabi province has a slogan of its own. It goes like this: Krabi, the liveable city, friendly people. It’s not very catchy as slogans go, but it neatly sums up the spirit of this paradise that looks straight out of a movie set.
This strip of the Andaman Sea coast is possibly the last remaining stretch of undisturbed white-sand beaches and sparkling waters. Phuket, not too far away, serves as a grim reminder of the ugly side of mindless tourism; mercifully, Ao Nang hasn’t followed suit.
This town started off as a small fishing village and now it’s a pleasant succession of pretty cafés, beachfront bars and neat tree-lined avenues. Ao Nang has an infectious, laidback charm that’s hard to shake off but I found it harder to resist the pull of Krabi’s inviting natural landscape.
Starting at the beachfront: the coastline of Krabi is beautiful in an exotic and exceptionally dramatic way. The ocean unfurls in shades of blue that would make aquamarine and azure seem lacklustre. The colours can be seen in distinct bands, and if you dive below, you’ll discover an equally colourful underwater kingdom.
However, the most iconic image of Krabi’s landscape comes from the solitary rocks that jut out spookily from the ocean. These limestone karsts have a faintly menacing air about them, like a giant’s teeth. I thought they would make a great location for the hideout of a James Bond movie villain before discovering that the folks at the James Bond franchise have already had this brainwave and shot a movie here way back in the 1970s.
Ao Nang is the gateway to a clutch of secluded islands that lie just off the Thai coast. The only acceptable way to explore all the languid bays and lagoons hidden here is to hire one of the delightful local long-tail boats and embark on a slow-paced marathon of a few weeks, but I had only three days, so I opted for the day-long 4-Island Boat Tour. It promised me the tourist highlights—Thap Island, Mo Island, Poda Island and Chicken Island, the last of which gets its name from the uncanny chicken-head formation at the top of the mountain.
As our speedboat raced on the water, the hulking mossy shapes of the limestone formations far out in the ocean started to loom larger. As they came into clear view, I spotted rock climbers clinging to the cliff face or precariously dangling on ropes high above water. A few karsts are barren and rocky, but most are covered in thick forests that make for popular hiking trails.
Krabi attracts a diverse cross-section of international tourists, evidenced by my group of fellow passengers on the speedboat—a family of four from Norway, a mother–daughter duo from China and a newly married couple from Malaysia. As we passed Viking Island, the tour guide pointed to ghostly shipwrecks drifting near the island and informed the bemused family from Norway, “You people, you left this here.”
Krabi’s reputation for a family-friendly destination stems from its multitude of outdoor activities for grown-ups and children alike, the most popular of which are diving and snorkelling. The best location for these is the Phi Phi islands, another day-long excursion. This group of six islands is surrounded with gorgeous corals. Boats moor in the ocean and schools of gaily coloured fish flock to feed on breadcrumbs, darting past you in a whirl of glimmering fins and scales. A must visit is the crescent-shaped Maya Bay, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach was filmed. I can vouchsafe that the movie’s cinematographer didn’t do justice to its powder-white sands and natural splendour. Nearby Phileh lagoon is another peaceful haven of breathtaking wonder, where time seems to stand still.
After an exhilarating but tiring day, I was glad to return to the Holiday Inn Resort that is wonderfully located at the centre of Ao Nang’s pretty beachfront. The excellent thing about the resort is that it brings the outdoors right to your doorstep, without missing a beat. The song of the waves carries to your bedroom window and lush, landscaped lawns match the local flora. There is direct entry to the endless pools from your private balcony, which might not be the same as a beach, but you can wade your way to the bar and that is never a bad thing.
The resort hosts daylong activities to keep children entertained and evenings make way for live music and barbeque dinners.
The Holiday Inn pulls off a rare feat by enticing you to lounge in the hotel when picture postcard vistas are framed permanently in your windows and you can taste the salty sea breeze on your skin. You can enjoy Krabi snorkelling, rock-climbing, splashing around in the brilliant blue waters... or simply lounging in your balcony.
Location 123 Moo3, Ao Nang Beach, Muang, Krabi, Thailand
Accommodation 173 rooms and suites, including Superior Rooms, Deluxe Rooms, Garden and Pool Rooms, Family Suites, Kids Suites, Penthouse Suites
Tariff Approx. THB 5,000 (Superior and Garden Room), THB 5,000 (Pool View), THB 8,000 (Deluxe Room), THB 10,000 (Kids and Family Suites), TBH 11,000 (Penthouse Suites)
CONTACT +66-75-810888, holidayinnkrabi.com