Saturday 13 June 2015 – Ao Nang, Krabi
Breakfast was a coffee and baguette at JE Café while I waited for my pickup. Today’s sightseeing excursion is to head 1½ hours north to Phang Nga Bay. A mixed group of 18 – another Muslim Malay family – dad, mum and two girls, plus a mix of Germans, Russians and British, and me. We drove to the pier at Phang Nga and boarded a very long longtail which took us to a set of large boats moored adjacent to some karst islets in Phang Nga Bay.
Those of us who’d opted for the canoeing tour joined kayak ‘guides’ to paddle through sea caves similar, although not as spectacular, as those I’d seen on my last visit up this way. My guide’s thematic interpretation skills were limited to pointing out selected geological formations and highlighting their resemblance to various animals or sexual organs. ‘Elephant’. ‘Crocodile’. ‘Buffalo’. ‘Beautiful Woman’. ‘Superman’ – referring not to the comic book hero, but to the length of this particular phallic eminence. Zero information on the geology, ecology or history of the region. Perhaps the Russians find this amusing…
Our guide Belle was a deep-voiced masculine lady. I’ve noticed a lot of apparent transsexuals in Thailand, seemingly accepted and holding down very regular jobs.
Our next stop was ‘James Bond Island’ (Khao Phing Kan), catapulted to fame in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. The tiny island has limited berths which seem to be managed with the efficiency of arrival and departure slots at a major airport. The place is tiny, overrun with tourists (I saw one who had brought a ‘golden gun’ with him for his selfie). Market traders offered a tatty range of beach shells and shiny souvenirs, which no-one appeared to be buying.
Our half-hour stay was extended due to mechanical issues with the boat, but eventually it got us off and heading back to Koh Panyi, a floating Muslim village where a large restaurant catered for tourists on these packages. There was time after lunch for a quick walk around the village. New build modern homes stood next to rotting timber humpies. An extensive market tried (not with any apparent success) to part tourists from their money. Enterprising local youths had constructed a floating soccer pitch which had amazing views of the town. The village’s centre piece was its gold-domed mosque.
The longtail deposited us back to the pier and we were driven a short distance to Wat Suwan Khuha, a cave temple where, apart from the quite impressive reclining Buddha, the main attraction seemed to be feeding a troupe of macaque monkeys. A matching troupe of stallholders provided bananas and peanuts to facilitate the activity.
The final stop was at Raman Waterfall Forest Park where a cool freshwater dip was refreshing after the salt spray of the day. The tour was friendly and delivered what the brochure promised, but it was just a sightseeing tour, not any sort of eco experience and offered no insights or meaningful details about any of the places we’d visited. The sea kayaking was not a patch on the kayak tour I took in 2006 in Phang Nga Bay.
During the evening I walked along the beachfront again and had a final Ao Nang dinner at Cheap Cheap café. It does appear to be where a lot of locals eat. Ao Nang has certainly boomed since I was last here, no longer the sleepy backwater that seemed favoured by just a few Europeans of a certain age looking for respite from Phuket’s party scene. It’s drawing a polyglot crowd from around the world especially Asia, India and the Middle East, along with a smattering of the rest of us. She’s trashy but still lovely and after just a few days I’m feeling so relaxed that none of this even matters. That’s why I love Thailand’s islands and beaches. Sawasdee.