This Christmas, Andrew and I decided to combine a Christmas vacation with our "babymoon" (last trip as a childless couple!) to Krabi province in southern Thailand. Although we've been to a few different islands in Thailand (Koh Chang and Koh Mak), we've never been to southern Thailand, which is renowned for its beaches. We may not have another opportunity to head down there for a long time, so we took the plunge and planned our trip.
We picked Krabi for a few different reasons. As I mentioned, it's in southern Thailand, and we wanted to see if it lived up to its hype (it did). Also, Air Asia is an Asian-based discount airline company that has incredibly cheap flights. Although we waited one day too long to buy the cheapest tickets, we could have bought round trip flights for $50 each from Bangkok to Krabi - definitely preferable to riding in a bus for 14+ hours to get down there! And I've always wanted to visit this area and see the famous sea karats (rock formations) that dot the landscape.
Our flight landed in Krabi Town, the provincial capital, late Saturday night before Christmas, and after a night at a cheap guesthouse (Ban To Guesthouse), we made the thirty-minute drive by public truck transport to Ao Nang Beach. It only costs 50 baht per person ($1.50 at today's exchange rate) and was easy to find, hanging out in front of the 7-11 on the main street in town.
We decided to stay on Ao Nang Beach, the most popular beach in the area. We splurged and got a hotel right across the street from the beach (Sea Star House) because at 7 months pregnant, I didn't want to be traipsing up and down the hill to get to the ocean. And it was definitely worth it. Ao Nang is very touristy, with lots of shops selling cheap knick-knacks, Western restaurants, and overweight Europeans in speedos (or topless). Luckily, most of those went out to the islands during the day, and Ao Nang beach was pretty relaxed, clean, and peaceful.
And every night, we were treated to the most amazing sunsets. It really did look like the travel photos.
Most people don't stay on Ao Nang Beach the entire time, and on Christmas Day, we went to check out a few other beaches reachable only by long-tail wooden boats. Railay Beach isn't actually an island, but because of the rock mountains separating it from Ao Nang, you have to go by boat. Luckily it's pretty cheap - 100 baht ($3.00) one way - and only takes around 20-30 minutes to get there.
Railay is really beautiful, but the beach was absolutely crowded with people enjoying a sunny Christmas Day. (Note - there are actually two Railay Beaches - east and west. The west beach is much better; the east is muddy and ugly, and not actually swimmable.)
We spent some time swimming and hanging out in the sun, then walked through the resorts across the peninsula to the other popular spot, Phra Nang Cave Beach. Phra Nang really is a beach with a cave - lots of rock formations you can swim beneath and clamber up on. The beach itself is tiny, and it was difficult to find a place to put our stuff. But the water was clear and deep - almost chest-deep within a few feet of going into the water. Lucky for me, I'm convinced that pregnant women float better - at least I felt like it was easier to swim with my big belly, instead of more difficult!
For Christmas dinner, Andrew treated us to grilled seafood at a popular restaurant. It's the first time I've ever had lobster for my Christmas meal, but it was so good, and definitely a special memory we won't forget.
Our last day at Ao Nang, we went on a snorkeling trip with a local scuba company, Scuba Addicts. Andrew and I love to snorkel, and Krabi has some amazing fish and coral reefs close to the beach. And I applaud the company for not being afraid to take out a 30-week-pregnant woman and letting her have one last hurrah!
We also learned a trick for keeping our snorkel masks from fogging up - spit in the mask, wipe it out, and you're good to go. A little gross, but it really does work.
Almost as soon as we dropped into the water, we were surrounded by hundreds of fish - so many different kinds and colors. I'm no aquamarine expert, but it was probably the best snorkeling I've ever done. There were also several scuba divers in our group, and it was really interesting to see them setting up their gear and going under. I would love to learn to scuba dive, but that may be a few years away for me...
Instead of going straight back to Bangkok, we spent an afternoon and night back in Krabi Town - and I'm so glad we did. Krabi is a more traditional Thai fishing town, but still had lots of funky cafes, shops, and several fascinating night markets. The shopping is much better in Krabi, so if you're looking at traveling through, you might think about stopping for at least a night.
The most popular night market is Krabi Walking Street, near the downtown, and is only open Friday - Sunday evenings. Luckily we were there Friday night and spent the evening trying out grilled squid, mushroom soup, ice cream shakes, and Thai sticky desserts. Andrew signed me up for karaoke on this massive stage, and about 300 people got to hear a shaky but passionate rendition of "The Power of Love". We also found a small both where you could paint your own batik for about sixty cents - the cheapest fun I've had in a long time!
I am so, so, so thankful that God gave us the time and money to take a week off, rest, and explore his creation in a new part of the world. It was refreshing to spend mornings journaling, reading, resting at the beach, then resting at the hotel, and seeing God's creative handiwork every night at sunset.
Being at the ocean is restorative - the waves, the soft sand, the warm damp air, feeling like every stress and care falls off along with your heavy clothes and anything else you realize is nonessential. I really hope that we can take our children to the beach on vacation and let them discover the joy of the ocean for themselves someday - an experience neither Andrew nor I ever had growing up.
I guess that's one of the casualties of growing up in Kansas that we are definitely rectifying now.