Having spent just three full days in only one small area of Thailand, it quickly became quite clear that three days isn't nearly enough time for a place of such beauty. Thailand has so many places to see and so very much to do. A return trip to Thailand seems likely at this point.
My vacation took me to a small, but popular, tourist town on the southwestern coast of Thailand on the Andaman Sea. The town is named Krabi. It has a very popular beach area down the road called Ao Nang that should be checked out as well.
1. Hong Island
Hong Island is one of the many stunning islands off the coast of Krabi and Ao Nang that can be accessed by a famous Thai long wooden boat. The trip from Ao Nang Beach to Hong Island took under one hour in the early afternoon.
For this particular trip, I was lucky enough to have bumped into a newlywed husband and wife that was looking to take a private boat to Hong Island. Instead of going on a boat with a big group of random tourists, they wanted to try and take a boat of just five people. The cost of the private boat and the captain is a set price of 2,500 Thai Baht no matter if you're one person or five people. So, the three of us paid 833 Baht a person.
2,500 Baht = $79.50 USD
833 Baht = $26.50 USD
The experience on the private boat was perfect. The trip to Hong Island is about as scenic as anything you'll see around the world. The trip allows you to spot other popular Thai Andaman Sea islands in the distance. Going in a private boat allows you an intimate experience with whomever you travel with.
I really enjoyed my time with this young Colombian couple. The husband was 32 years of age and was originally born in New Jersey but has been living in Colombia for several years. His wife was 34 years of age and spoke a bit of English. He did the translating between us as I tried to work on my Spanish. They were a lovely newlywed couple having only been married for a year. Getting the chance to speak to them about their experiences traversing the globe was something I really enjoyed.
If you're traveling with friends or family, I DEFINITELY recommend doing a private boat trip if you want to go to Hong Island. You can enjoy each others company and the cost is still quite cheap. If you're traveling alone and don't mind being on a boat with random tourists from all over the globe, then do the standard boat trip. I don't remember the exact price but I know it's cheaper than a private boat. This likely means it's very cheap.
Hong Island is a small island that is a popular afternoon beach get away. The island will wow you with its stunning rocky cliffs, its beautiful white sandy beach, and, its clear turquoise waters.
The one downside to Hong Island is it's a popular island for European and Chinese tourists. The island can get relatively crowded around the 1pm hour. This doesn't give you much privacy and downgrades the snorkeling as the crowds cause the water to be murky and it can be difficult to see the fish.
That being said, most of the tourists here will only spend an hour on the island as the most popular tour to do in the Krabi area is the Seven Islands Tour which is an all day tour that takes you to seven of Krabi's most popular Andaman Sea islands. If you remain patient, the crowds will lessen as the day goes on and by the time you have to leave the island at 4pm, there's not many people left.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to plan to enjoy the views until your time is up at 4pm. The captain will try to haggle you to leave at 3pm but make sure they know, you know, you're allowed to be there till 4pm.
Please also be aware that it rains a lot in February (not sure about the other months of the year) in Thailand so expect sporadic rain showers. They typically last just 15 minutes. This may even occur on your return trip home on the boat from Hong Island. Don't panic, we got caught in a rain shower but the waves weren't too much to take. The captain slows down the long boat and will wait out the weather by slowly going along. If the captain isn't panicking, you have absolutely no reason to panic!
2. Ao Nang Elephant Sanctuary
Ao Nang Elephant Sanctuary is a wonderful rescue sanctuary!
The sanctuary has two older elephants that they have rescued from a life of cruelty and are allowing them to spend the rest of their days in peace.
One of their rescues spent decades as a logging elephant. That means she spent her younger days hauling large logs in the forests of northern Thailand.
The other girl spent her days as a riding elephant. That means she spent her younger years having a heavy harness strapped to her back with a hook in her forehead to hold the harness so that heavy tourists could ride on her back for their cruel enjoyment.
DO. NOT. RIDE. ELEPHANTS.
For 2,500 Baht ($79.50) Ao Nang Elephant Sanctuary allows you a few hours to feed these two wonderful ladies bananas. Then you'll feed them their protein meals. After that, you'll go to a mud pool with them and cover them in mud. Following that you'll walk them over to another pool where you'll bathe them and cleanse them of the mud.
They absolutely love it and it truly does feel like they become your friends!
There are showers on location so you can properly cleanse yourself off after your four hours of caring for these amazing creatures.
Ao Nang Elephant Sanctuary uses the fee to buy food for these two incredible elephants. After all, they eat for 16 hours a day! They're looking to expand their premises and ideally, they would like to purchase another elephant to save it from a life of cruelty.
To purchase an elephant to save it from a life of cruelty costs 1,500,000 Baht ($47,700) and each caretaker employed at the sanctuary makes 9,000 ($286) a month. The land is also quite expensive and since these massive beings eat for 16 hours a day, they eat a lot of food which is also expensive.
3. Watch the Sunset at Ao Nang Beach
I'll just let the picture do the talking...
4. Ride in a Tuk Tuk
A Tuk Tuk is an auto rickshaw, made famous by Thailand. You can't get the true Thailand experience until you ride around town in a Tuk Tuk.
The drivers don't charge much for lengthier trips (200-300 baht) ($6-$9). They'll tell you a price and you can bargain them down a bit. That's pretty standard in Thailand with anything but restaurant food.
The Tuk Tuk is a very fun experience. The drivers zip in an out of traffic. The cool breeze will be blowing in your hair. It's worth doing at least a few times!
5. Krabi Night Market
The infamous Krabi Night Market only opens at 5pm. Going right at 5pm as the merchants are setting up doesn't give you the true experience. Only when it starts to get crowded after the sunset around 7pm does it really get to be a worthy experience. The crowds will start arriving and the band will be playing classic hits (in English).
The night market offers shopping for an assortment of many different items and street food vendors offering a wide range of different ethnic foods. In the center of the Night Market is the stage and tables surrounding the stage where the famous Chang beer is flowing and people are eating their food from the vendors while enjoying rock and roll classics.
Just be aware the use of the restrooms does require a small fee of five Baht ($.16) for each use.
6. Take a picture with a lady boy
Open up your mind and stop being a judgmental person. They're humans, just like you. They're not harmful in anyway and they're used to the attention. You're in Thailand after all and this is something Thailand is famous for. It's a very free and open minded place. Just relax and enjoy the moment!
They will ask for a small fee for the picture but it's not a set rate. I just gave her the change in my pocket that I didn't want. She tried to grab 100 Baht from me but I wasn't going to give her that much. Nor should you feel like you have to. But be respectful by giving her something in the very least. They're usually dressed up in extravagant dresses and Thailand is a country based almost entirely on business from tourism.
- Driving in Thailand is an experience. Unlike in the developed world where lanes on the road are required to be respected, in Thailand, they are merely suggestions. The locals I befriended who drove me around Krabi and Ao Nang often weaved in and out of and around traffic. Sometimes crossing lanes at high rates of speed and with unnatural frequency. The most unnerving part was probably driving in both lanes at once on the lane dividing lines.
- The Police don't enforce much, if anything at all.
- As touristy as Thailand is and as modern as Bangkok has become, the rest of the country remains third world. No matter if you're at a hostel or a five star resort, it might be common to not be able to flush toilette paper down the toilettes. If that is the case you'll be given a, "sanitary bag" like the one below and after you're done with your business, both men and women, you must place your business in the bag and discard it in a trashcan.
- It is easy to befriend locals. But their level of friendliness is strictly business. If you don't haggle them much and pay what they ask (Thailand is cheap regardless of haggling), they'll be your best friends. If you haggle them a lot and they feel like you're being cheap to them, they will be a bit more defensive towards you and may drop you entirely for tourists willing to pay them more.
- Having spoken to several people who have been to a wide rang of places in Thailand, almost everyone will tell you Chang Mai in the north of Thailand is their favorite place. Do with this information what you will.