How the beaches measure up

Day 55
Ao Nang, Thailand

The Bangkok train station had nothing on Beijing, but it was still busy last night. At 6 p.m., the national anthem played and everyone stood to face a painting of Thailand’s beloved king. Our leader, Kim, passed out tickets which, on the reverse side, stated: “Strong smell food/fruits are not allowed in the air-conditioned coaches.” After a quick bag check, we got on board at about a quarter past seven.

Today was one of, if not the, most difficult travel day of this trip so far. While the overnight train wasn’t terrible, there weren’t sleeping compartments and the ride down was bumpy, so it was only possible to get a couple hours of shut eye.

When we arrived in Surat Thani about 12 hours later, we were hot, greasy and needed to brush our teeth. But the day was only beginning. We then boarded an absolutely cramped public bus with no air conditioning — fortunately, Kim put up a real stink and we were soon transferred to a less crowded bus with still no air conditioning. The four-hour ride to Krabi was pretty brutal. From there, it was time to hop into a minivan (the pick-up truck was a no-show) for the final 30-minute leg to Ao Nang, where we are now. Entire trip from Bangkok: just about 24 hours.

Yet, it was worth it. We’re staying at J. Mansion, not a “mansion” per se, but a clean, comfortable place a block from the beach with amazing showers that left us quite happy. After a spicy chicken pizza and Chang beer at a café overlooking the water, we took a short orientation walk and got our first taste of Thailand’s beaches. Lined with limestone outcroppings, the backdrop is spectacular for the white sand and crystal clear waters that must be around 80 degrees fahrenheit — if not warmer.

We took a longtail boat to Railey Beach, a 10-minute ride away. It was relatively quiet and local kids playing soccer outnumbered tourists. On our way back, we witnessed a spectacular sunset. The longer I’m here, the more I’ve come to understand why some visit this country and never leave.

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