Trucking around Ao Nang

We’re ensconced here at the Sabai Mansion for the foreseeable future, or, at least likely until it’s time to head off to Kuala Lumpur. The weather’s ok, very variable, a result of the transition into the dry season. Most days we’ve had some rain, usually in the late afternoon or evening, and it’s been hot during the day. But the beautiful thing about this place is its good sized pool which I’ve taken advantage of every day.

Usually we have breakfast at the little poolside restaurant, surf the internet, read email, and then head down the hill to the beach. Our favorite spot is the Last Café, the last establishment on the beach right next to the huge limestone cliff that dominates this area.

This section of the beach is frequented by regulars, middle-aged and older European men in tiny speedos and their wives letting it all hang out in tiny bikinis – no body image problems here.

The contrast between these sand denizens and the vendors who ply the beach could not be more pronounced; the Thais are fully dressed, often with woolen hats, and laden with trinkets and gadgets for sale.

We see the same people each time we’re there – the flute dude, the wooden fruit bowl man, the smiling table cloth lady, the many old female shell animal sellers, the corn man, and the chicken grill woman, among a host of others. Usually we don’t buy anything but once and a while Ty succumbs to the charms of another toothless old woman and purchases one more tiny knic knac we don’t need.

Yesterday we happened to be hungry as the corn and chicken sellers appeared and flagged them down for a snack. Along with the food vendors came the blond beach dog, a cagey veteran who knows enough not to gobble down the bones he’s tossed all at once but hides them in the sand at the Last Café for later consumption. Our corns on the cob were delivered with a toothpick conveniently placed in them; to this innovation, Ty enthused: “Wow, this guy is really in front of the curve” (of corn-selling protocol, presumably).

We haven’t found a good Thai food restaurant here yet; we have, though, found really good Indian and passable pizza. For some unknown reason all the restaurants that offer Indian food are selling it at 20 or 30 percent off; possibly not many of the people who come here are familiar with Indian … we’ve also found a small sidewalk bar, the Chill Out, that serves cheap happy hour cocktails from whose premises we can watch unwary passing foot-draggers trip over the small concrete rise in the sidewalk, sometimes to great effect.

Today we flagged down a passing tuk-tuk and hired the driver for a two hour cruise around Ao Nang, stopping at the sea water fish farm research centre, the “Nemo Farm”, Shell Beach (sometimes called Gastropod Cemetery), and Ao-Nam Mao beach and pier, where long tail boats depart for Krabi and Railay. Tuk-tuks, motorcycles with covered sidecars, are great – I love riding in them because they can’t go very fast and there’s lots to see. The countryside around Ao Nang is quite lush but the villages seem strangely deserted – very few tourists about.

I enjoyed seeing all the fish at the Nemo Farm, including a manta ray, and all the beautiful tropical batfish, parrotfish and angelfish. The Lion Fish looked out at me balefully as I tried to get a good picture of him, none too pleased to find himself trapped in a small aquarium. This research centre is also raising quite a few turtles; the tiny ones seemed to really enjoy dunking their heads in the streams of water running into their pond.

We had been told by the proprietor of the Sabai Mansion that Shell Beach wasn’t really much but I did want to see it anyway, visualising in my mind vast quantities of gigantic fossilised snail shells.  Well, of course it was nothing like that, being instead a small area of what look like dozens of concrete slabs stacked on one another, but, in reality, are compressed layers of rock with billions of tiny shellfish about 40 million years old embedded in it. Apparently, this is the only such site in the world (at least as far as I could tell from the rather tortured English on the faded description sign).

The entrance fee for tourists is 200 Bht each (about $6.60), a shameful rip-off, but even though we only had 100 between the two of us, the guard impatiently waved us in anyway. I enjoyed watching the iridescent green crabs crawling on the surface of the shell slabs and battling one another over territory.

On our way back to Ao Nang we stopped at the Ao-Nam Mao pier and watched the longtail boats come and go for a while. Having grown tired of that, we headed back into town past the signs advertising villas for sale, and houses and shops for rent, all probably in place since before the economic crash of 2008, after which nothing much in the way of economic development seems to be happening in this area. We asked our driver to drop us off on the beach at the Last Fisherman restaurant and bar for a milkshake (great!) and nibblies, before trudging back up the hill to the Mansion and into the pool. Just another day here in Ao Nang …

See more photos here.