Six Provinces in South Thailand Part 2
Soon it was time to get on the road again and into our next province. I wanted to head into the relatively unexplored Satun province but democracy overruled me and the majority voted for Krabi since half of our party had never been there.
The first thing you notice when travelling from a non-touristy into a tourist province is the wealth. The cars were all bigger, newer and shinier, traffic heavier, and the development rampant. The 20 year old rusty Nissan trucks are all replaced by red plated Honda CRVs. The second thing you notice are the higher prices and the ‘farang tax’ on pretty much every lookout, waterfall, hill and puddle the junta could find to stick a brown sign on and label a ‘national park’.
One advantage of travelling in the low season of a tourist industry that is more depressed than usual is that you get some superb deals on hotels, especially in places such as Ao Nang which are saturated with them. Beach front, pool, and breakfast for 909 baht per night including tax, thank you very much. The Ao Nang All Seasons Beach Resort would fit the bill for the next couple of days.
My last visit to this beach was on that fateful day in December 2004 when most of it was destroyed in the tsunami. Today it is a fully renovated characterless tourist strip full of overpriced Italian restaurants, glossy air-conditioned coffee shops, and the mandatory tuktuk mafia. You couldn’t walk ten yards without an Indian thrusting a menu at you or trying to sell you a suit, or a local offering you a taxi – take me back to the serenity of the lakes in Phattalung!
It is only worth coming to Krabi for the scenery off the land and for that we had chartered a boat trip the following day to ‘five islands’ for 2,800 baht for all of us.
The first stop is ‘Koh Tup’ which is famous because you can walk across the sand bank to the next island at low tide. We’d departed early so as to catch the tide and arrive before the crowds. The first greeting on this paradise islet, however, was the military demanding that all the farangs cough up 400 baht before setting foot on the sand. I thought it was a good time to test out my Thai ID card, but the trumped up little jerk, obviously not a fan of pink, thought otherwise and called it a fake.
Fortunately, Da is far more diplomatic and ignored this asshat, taking my ID to the only structure on the island, a little ‘national park’ shack with the prices on it in Chinese, and showing it to someone with more brains than a pigeon, who let me in for the 40 baht Thai price (well, at least that’s what she told me anyway). I refused to let it bother me and went off to take some shots.
From this island we headed over to Koh Poda which is the large one you can see off the coast of Ao Nang. Again, I had been there 17 years ago when it was a pristine little islet with literally nothing on it. Today the military have taken over and were there again to demand 400 baht for stepping on the sand. Fortunately our boat guy told them we’d already paid on the previous island.
It was good to see specific areas cordoned off for swimming and signs telling visitors to take their trash back to the mainland. But once you walk away from the boats and tourist cordons the beach trash is evident again and plastic bottles litter the place. Such a shame that with all the ‘park officials’ on the island they have made no effort to clean it up – evidently they are only interested in collecting cash, not trash. Gripes aside, it still is a beautiful spot with stunning scenery, something you never get bored of no matter if you have been before.
Our next stop was Ao Phra Nang beach. Again, we had been there before and were the only people on it when I took a similar photo 17 years ago. Today it is a circus. Clearly the most popular day trip from Krabi the place was rammed. Bars and restaurants where there was just jungle before, fast food boats, kayak rentals, massage hawkers, climbing walls, a cave full of wooden cocks, a lot of rather large western girls wearing very little, and hordes of selfie snapping Chinese tourists.
Back in the boat and around the headland for our final stop, Railey Beach. This was an even bigger circus with more of the same. Probably the most tourists I’d seen on the whole trip – they were all here! It was time to get back to the hotel and spend the afternoon in the pool, the road north beckoned tomorrow.
Leaving Ao Nang we took a detour to the ‘Susan Hoi’, or shell cemetery. Finding another brown national park sign there and more farang tax I didn’t bother since I’d already seen it years ago. It is an offense in Thailand to take shells or corals from protected beaches but apparently this does not apply to the shops that were openly selling them. I wonder how many foreigners had been fined at the airport for trying to take one of these monster shells out of the country.
We took the extremely twisty and picturesque section of highway 4 over the mountains rather than driving through Phang Nga town. Stopped for a shot of the viewpoint and motored on to our sixth destination on the trip, Khao Lak as the afternoon rain came down.
The hotel here was excellent value at about a thousand baht a night for the four star Leaf on the Sands Resort. It looked familiar until I realized we had stayed here before when it was previously known as the Andaburi Resort, the bar in the pool stuck in memory!
There isn’t a great deal to do in Khao Lak aside from the beach which isn’t as nice as those in Krabi. Nearing the end of the trip we decided to take advantage of the pool and hotel facilities. The kids wanted to go on a quad tour though so we took them the following day. More double pricing here, a thousand baht for farangs, 500 for Thais, it is pretty much endemic in these touristy places.
Deciding to break the six hour drive home up with another night on the road we headed north to Ranong and made it in good time on mostly empty roads. This enabled us to stop at Porn Rang hot spring and have a float in the tubs. My Thai ID card worked for the 20 baht entrance fee here so no more farang tax out of me. A nice meal at a Chinese restaurant in town that evening rounded off the trip. Most things in Ranong were closed due to some Chinese vegetarian festival thing that was going on that weekend.
We’d come to the end, six provinces in ten days. The highlight for me was the boat trip over Thale Noi in Phattalung. The Andaman waters are nice but Ao Nang and Khao Lak are just too touristy for me, and the inflated costs for pretty much everything in these areas don’t really justify it when you live here.