A trip to Krabi, Thailand
It has been a little while since my last update here – the result of my laptop breaking down on me! Thankfully, I am once again up and running and only too happy to post more of my ramblings.
On Friday 13 January, I set off on a family trip to Thailand. This time to Krabi. Despite this being my 15th visit to the Kingdom, Krabi isn’t somewhere I have ever visited before. It is situated in the south of Thailand, just a stone’s throw from Phuket, and a little over an hour by air from the Thai capital – Bangkok.
It was considerably cheaper to book the flights separately, and, as I nearly always do, I went with the cheapest airlines on both routes – London to Bangkok and Bangkok to Krabi. Etihad Airways were offering £373.00 fares to Bangkok, whilst Thai Smile Air (owned by the flag carrier, Thai Airways International) was offering Krabi for around £60.00 return.
Friday 13 January was my last day with Home Group and my last ever day as a Housing Officer after securing employment in a thankfully unrelated industry. With a 26 January start date, it meant that I could comfortably squeeze in a 10-day holiday, and it was much needed. My last long haul trip was in April 2016 to Florida, with a handful of closer to home holidays more recently.
I finished work at 2.00pm, allowing plenty of time to shower, change and stuff the last few bits and pieces in my suitcase, before the 8.00pm flight.
I last flew with Etihad Airways back in 2006. At the time, they were a brand new airline, and flying into both London Heathrow and Gatwick. The airline is now enormous, with a vast route network and an ultra-modern fleet, including the Airbus A380, which serves Heathrow three times every day.
Etihad were acceptable. The Airbus A380 was very comfortable and very spacious, the entertainment selection was adequate for the flight (around 6 hours 40 minutes to Abu Dhabi) and the meal service was reasonable. I had ordered a special meal – specifically low fat – for each of the four flights on my itinerary. Being a through the night flight, it was quick, and the four of us soon found ourselves in incredibly unpleasant and chaotic Abu Dhabi International Airport.
It appeared that a number of flights had descended on the airport at the same time. The security ‘queue’ for transit passengers was crazy. A long corridor leading to the security screening area was filled with hundreds of passengers with as many as 10-abreast. There was absolutely no organisation to it and it’s safe to say that the wait time for most would have been in excess of an hour! Taking advantage of wheelchair assistance (which was genuinely needed), we sailed through security, and soon found ourselves at the gate for the onward flight to Bangkok.
Having just flown on the Airbus A380 from London, anything other than the A380 was sure to disappoint. The Boeing 777 operating the flight to Bangkok looked old and grubby inside. In fact, everything about the flight was shabby in comparison. The service was mediocre (at best) and the low fat meals were frankly appalling. I excitedly opened my roll, which was served about an hour before landing, only to find that it contained a sad looking piece of lettuce, some tomato and some cucumber! I popped it back in the bag and handed it back to the crew.
The timings of our flights to and from Krabi meant that we had to stay overnight in Bangkok. We stayed at the Sinsuvarn Airport Suite, situated just five minutes from the airport. It is a hotel that I have used before. Whilst far from luxury, it is clean, the service is reasonable and with a room costing around £16.00 for the night, it’s the perfect choice when in transit. My only criticism is the lift situation. The whole point of a lift is to eliminate the need for stairs. Not at the Sinsuvarn! The lift here stops between floors so you’ve still got stairs to climb or descend when you reach your desired floor.
Thai Smile Air were impressive. Very impressive. When you spend a mere £60.00 on a return flight, you don’t expect very much, but Thai Smile offered all of the fancy extras without charge e.g. an allocated seat at the time of booking (and the option to change it without charge), 20kg of checked baggage and complimentary meals/snacks/drinks during the flight – with the food presented in a nice little paper bag. Aside from a slight delay on the return journey, the experience was faultless! I cannot recommend the airline highly enough.
On arrival in Krabi, we patiently waited for our taxi, which had been arranged through Hoppa. With Krabi being so small, it takes, at most, 5-10 minutes to get from the aircraft to the arrivals area. We had allowed far too much time between our 08:30hrs arrival and our taxi an hour later. After much waiting, and waiting well beyond the agreed time, we figured that our pre-paid taxi wasn’t coming for us!
An English speaking Thai lady, taking pity on us, allowed us to use her phone to call the local company providing the vehicle – Discovery Transport Company Limited – but they weren’t in the slightest helpful, telling us that Hoppa had failed to confirm our booking so the transport wasn’t coming. Our repeated requests for a vehicle to be sent were denied.
We eventually found alternative transport at the airport and were soon on our way. Hoppa were contacted as soon as we reached the hotel and they refunded the entire booking along with the cost of the taxi to our hotel.
Despite the taxi hiccup, we still arrived at the hotel long before the permitted check-in time. Still, the hotel was just about ready for us. The finishing touches were being made to one of our two rooms.
The hotel – the Best Western Hula Hula Resort – was in the livelier town of Ao Nang. When I say ‘livelier’, I do not mean that it was a party town. It really wasn’t. But it had everything. It had enough to see and do, whether a beach (and the beaches here, I should say, were very good), a little bit of shopping or some quality food. Few of the hotels in Krabi were beachfront but few were not within walking distance of picture postcard style beaches. Our hotel was a 10-15 minute walk to the beach or a 2-3 minute moped ride. With moped hire being cheap across Thailand, there being few checks by the businesses renting them and little police presence in the resort, it makes for a fun (and safe-ish) way of getting around. Parking is available all over Krabi and never do charges seem to apply. It is worth being aware that you are not insured should anything go wrong whilst riding one. If you damage it, you pay for it. If you have an accident, most probably your insurance company isn’t going to assist with your medical bills!
The Hula Hula Resort is brand new, having only opened in 2016. More recently, it has been acquired by the Best Western chain. This seems to be a recent acquisition though as there was absolutely no Best Western branding – not above the door, not on any hotel signage or on any of the literature provided in the room. There are around 70 rooms and villas of various sizes, giving the hotel a nice almost boutique feel.
Our rooms were most comfortable and generously proportioned. Both overlooked the pool from the balconies. My only criticism of the room was the sloppiness in housekeeping standards and this sloppiness seemed to occur every single day – even after raising it with the front desk nearly every single day! I am by no means an untidy traveller and our maid obviously agreed – so much so that she didn’t really do very much in the room. A couple of new towels and that was about all. Keen to save the planet, I agreed not to have new bed sheets every day but the card placed on the bed requesting that they be changed occasionally was most of the time ignored. The maid also failed to replenish our drinking water on multiple occasions and toiletries were never replenished (so we resorted to helping ourselves from her unattended trolley).
The few facilities at the hotel were really quite nice. Unfortunately, there was some confusion over the gym, which had been turned into a business centre by the time we arrived. Along with internet access, this was another essential facility, and one of the reasons that we chose the hotel. The gym had been turned into a business centre shortly before our arrival. Further frustrating to us was that at the time we checked in, the hotel’s own website continued to list a gym as one of the hotel’s facilities.
Included in the price of the accommodation (around £60 per room per night) was breakfast. Hotel breakfasts in Thailand are different as they try to cater for the Western and Asian palates. The offering was limited but more than sufficient for me. I was, after all, still watching my weight. Most mornings would start with some chicken sausages and ham, a slice of brown toast, some fruit, natural yoghurt and some rice.
The swimming pool was nice with ample seating, a waterfall at one end and plenty of shade for those wanting it i.e. me. The Hula Hula is definitely not a hotel where guests are out at 6.00am reserving sunbeds. No matter the time of day, finding somewhere to plonk yourself is never difficult here.
For many of our eight nights in Krabi, we decided to eat from a stretch of street stalls, just a stone’s throw from the hotel. The 20 or so stalls offered every sweet and savoury Thai dish imaginable with the vast majority costing around 50-100 Baht (£1-£2). Whether it was fish, a curry, a spicy salad or even a pancake, it could be picked up here. Many of the stalls were motorcycles with sidecar kitchens attached and everything was cooked fresh to order. Every night (and it really was every night – except Friday when the stalls were closed), I ate near enough the same thing – a starter of papaya salad with dried shrimps (40 Baht), a portion of sweet potatoes and crispy onions (20 Baht), red curry with mussels (100 Baht) and either steamed or sticky rice (10-20 Baht). Spending £3.00-£3.50 and enjoying what felt like an eat as much as you like buffet was heaven! I had a papaya salad on every day of the trip, convincing myself that it was healthy. On my last night in Krabi, I watched one being made, and after seeing a generous chunk of palm sugar going into the mortar and being mashed up with the other ingredients. So, far from healthy but very, very tasty, and a must for anybody visiting the country!
A lot of people are put off when you say ‘street food’, believing it to be a dangerous way of eating. It really isn’t. I have eaten this way on all of my 15 visits and not once have I been unwell as a result. It’s a fun, cheap and authentic way of dining, and for the budget conscious traveller, brilliantly cheap too.
As with any holiday resort, there are a countless number of tours available in Krabi, many going over to the various islands and national parks. I must admit, I have never been a fan of organised tours and on my last (my trip to Auschwitz), I vowed never to do another. I like to move at my own pace. If I stumble across an attraction that I like, then I want to be able to stay there, not to be rounded up with dozens of others, like sheep, shoved into a boat or onto a bus, and rushed to the next stop on the tour. What I saw of the beaches in Krabi, tours really weren’t necessary. The beaches on the mainland were impressive. Whilst the main Ao Nang Beach was really nothing to shout about, the beach at at Nopparat Thara was not only enormous but almost deserted. Better still was Klong Muang Beach, requiring a ride out of town, with its crystal clear waters and just a handful of visitors. What I loved about the beaches of Krabi, unlike other Thai beach resorts, is that the locals have not descended on them with their overpriced sunbed businesses. Take a towel and find some natural shade if you need it. The absence of sunbeds and visitors gave many of the Krabi beaches look as good as they do on postcards and in holiday brochures.
Our eight nights in Krabi all too soon came to an end and we found ourselves going back to the airport for the short flight up to Bangkok. The following morning, I would part company with the family, returning home, whilst they would enjoy another week in the sunshine.
The flight with Thai Smile was again good, despite them breaking one of our suitcases. That matter was settled by Thai Airways at the airport. With it being close to midnight, us all being exhausted, and me due to fly home a little over 8 hours later, we just wanted to find our beds for the night and not fight with the airline.
On arrival at the hotel, we didn’t get too excited when we were told that we had been given a free upgrade to a ‘deluxe suite’. Firstly, we were to be there for around six hours, so there was going to be no time to enjoy the extra facilities – whatever they were! Secondly, we knew not to expect too much from what was a very ordinary little hotel. As expected, the room was nothing special. The only difference appeared to be a different shaped armchair in the corner of the room and an uncontrollable air conditioning unit leaving us freezing for most of the night! I woke up shivering – and more so after having a luke warm shower.
Having checked in for the flight online, I wasn’t going to waste valuable sleep time sitting at an airport. I took the hotel’s complimentary airport shuttle at 7.00am, arriving at the airport at around 7.15am. With a departure time of 8.35am and bag drop closing an hour before, I was cutting it fine! Thankfully, it meant no hanging around at undoubtedly one of the world’s most unpleasant and overpriced airports. I passed through immigration, security, and, after arriving at the gate, found myself boarding my first of two flights home.
Etihad Airways were thankfully better on the return journey. The low fat meal options were substantially better. With both flights being only half full, it meant for a comfortable ride too.
Thailand was again great and Krabi definitely didn’t disappoint. It is by a long shot my favourite beach resort in the country and I will definitely return there in the future.