Whenever we go on holiday, we like to venture away from the really touristy parts of the country. Don’t get me wrong, I like touristy and the kids like touristy. Hubby, on the other hand likes it less. He wants to do more authentic things like camping in the desert, hiking up active volcanoes or trekking through the jungle with each person carrying their own gear (despite the fact the girls have a hard time carrying a single shopping bag, never mind a backpack). Unfortunately for him, these ideas are more fantasy than reality. But as much as I love touristy, I enjoy an adventure, getting off the beaten track and experiencing the culture of a place.
Recently, we got cheap flights with Air Asia to fly to Phuket, Thailand. We loved Phuket, despite warnings that it is full of Australian and European tourists and is not the real Thailand. But we found it a wonderful spot to enjoy a fantastic family holiday. We stayed at Kata Beach and Kamala Beach (both much quieter and much more family oriented than bustling Patong). We thoroughly enjoyed the beaches, food, sightseeing, and accommodation.
We often break up our holiday by going somewhere different and maybe just a little off the beaten track. Although hubby doesn’t consider something off the beaten track unless it literally has no road and involves the bush or jungle. We had heard a lot of great things about Krabi, spectacular scenery with vast limestone cliffs jutting out from the crystal clear ocean and much less touristy than Phuket. We booked a wonderful villa just outside Ao Nang which was a peaceful haven.
Whenever you travel, the weather can be quite unpredictable, especially when you go during the monsoon season. The weather had been fantastic in Phuket but the day we left for Krabi, the rain began. We left Phuket with light rain but soon after, the rain became heavier. It wasn’t long before we hit torrential rain with heavy winds. Many parts of the motorway were flooding but that didn’t stop our driver. He seemed like a madman determined to beat the storm. I don’t think anything would have stopped him from getting us to our destination, dead or alive. I was silently panicking, praying that we escape harm.
The winding road, limestone cliffs and the pounding rain created very dramatic scenery. Hubby loved every minute of it. There is nothing better than driving at top speed in a monsoon storm with spectacular views to make his day. The kids were too busy watching movies and playing games on the iPad, to even notice the rain, not to mention the thunder or lightening. I, on the other hand, was convinced we were not going to make it to Ao Nang alive.
Needless to say, we did arrive in one piece at our destination and although it rained the entire night, we didn’t care, because we were staying in a beautiful villa.
The next morning the sun was shining bright for another perfect day in paradise. We spent the morning walking around Ao Nang, which is a small charming coastal town. There are the usual tourist shops and plenty of restaurants. What makes Ao Nang so fantastic is that it is a great destination to base yourself for exploring the local islands. As in Phuket, you can pretty much do anything in Krabi from scuba diving, snorkeling, white water rafting, elephant trekking, cooking classes etc. The only difference is that it is much quieter, less people and a lot more countryside.
Once we had walked the main street, had coffee (my impatient kids hate waiting for hubby and I to have our morning coffee because they a. think it is a waste of time/money and b. they don’t get anything to eat or drink because we are too cheap), sorted our squabbles, had a pit stop for more food, we finally arrived at the pier. There were no queues at the counter and we booked a longtail boat to take us to the local islands for a day. Long tail boats are old fishing boats with heaps of character and are driven by one or two local fishermen. To get into the boat, you have to wade in the sea about waist high and hoist yourself in. The great thing about a large family is because there are six of us, we essentially get our own boat with a few extra tourists who have to fit in our schedule. Since we make up the majority of people on the boat, we get to dictate the schedule. Well to be honest, I get to dictate the schedule. One of the benefits of being the mum.
We spent several days island hopping on long tail boats. We only touched on some of the islands, Chicken Island, Hong Islands, Koh Poda, Koh Tap and Koh Mor, James Bond Island, Phi Phi Island, to name a few. You could easily spend your whole holiday island hopping. It is cheap, fun, and peaceful. Great for snorkeling, kayaking, swimming and best of all relaxing. Driving on the open seas is spectacular and the scenery is stunning. It rates as one of the best experiences of our holiday.
Another highlight of our trip was elephant trekking. The girls for some reason were desperate to ride an elephant. My eldest daughter said it was her dream to ride an elephant despite being absolutely terrified once she actually got on it. I think her dream quickly disappeared when she saw the size of the elephant. I’m not sure her reality involved a large wrinkly massive animal and not a cuddly cute stuffed animal.
When we booked our tour, it was raining lightly but by the time we got to the jungle, it was pouring rain, which goes without saying. We bought the obligatory raincoats, which my teenagers surprisingly agreed to wear. I thought we all looked cute despite shrieks of horror as I took photos. As the tour operators were debating whether to cancel the tour, the rain slowed down and they decided to take us. Again it was just our family on the tour as we needed 3 elephants. As a small tour operator, they didn’t take many people out at a time.
Because it had been raining so heavily, the ground was very slippery and very muddy. The elephants were slipping and sliding a fair bit. The boys went together and were leading the charge. As self-obsessed thrill seekers, they were loving the experience as the elephants trudged slowly up the hill, through the jungle, weaving in and out of the trees. Their elephant was also a bit temperamental which they thought was good fun and didn’t worry them in the slightest. My youngest daughter, who is fearless like her brothers went with Hubby and couldn’t take the smile off her face. Hubby was also having a great time whooping it up especially when the elephants would lose their footing. He thought it was great as it was much more challenging and dangerous than it would have been on dry ground. He was pleasantly surprised that the rain created some excitement and that it wasn’t your typical boring tour.
On the topic of tours, I must say that Hubby hates organised tours and goes out of his way to avoid them unless he is outnumbered by all of us and forced to go. But even he admitted that the only way we could ride an elephant was to go on a tour. Not really possible to ride a wild elephant in the jungle on our own accord. He was also in a good mood as the tour we chose was very cheap. I do like to indulge my cheapskate hubby now and then by going for the cheapest deal. But it just shows, you don’t have to choose the most expensive tour to have the best time.
The two family chickens (my older daughter and I), well in this case, actually only one chicken (my daughter) were together. Usually I am the scaredy cat but I didn’t have the time to indulge my fears. I was too busy calming my daughter down and reassuring her that we weren’t going to be crushed by the elephant. After about 15 minutes of heavy counselling, a few hysterics and deep breathing, she began to relax and enjoy herself, even patting the elephant sporadically. She was so proud of herself afterwards and it made me happy to see her overcome her fears and feel confident on this beautiful animal. To me, that is exactly what travel is about. She still talks about how much fun she had riding the elephant and keeps a photo of her and the elephant on her bedside table.
There is so much to do in Ao Nang, Krabi. It is the perfect place to go off and do your activities. It is less touristy, cheaper and more authentic than places such as Phuket. Don’t be afraid to venture out into the countryside, you’ll reap the rewards and you will have so much to laugh and talk about with your kids for years to come.