A journey across the limestone paradise – Ao Nang to Koh Phi Phi: A guest review

Behind a sea of moored longtail boats, towering karst peaks were marching through the scenery like trampling mammoths.

Those jungle-swathed limestone rocks stopped me dead in my tracks, reminding me of how infinitesimally small we humans are.

View from Nopparat Thara Pier
View from Nopparat Thara Pier

The hotel’s bellboy had dropped me off at Ao Nang’s Nopparat Thara Pier only minutes before my ferry was supposed to leave, but I just couldn’t help staring at the mountainous landscape, lost for words.

“Excuse me, your name Philipp, right?” asked a member of staff at the pier.

I’d booked my “Standard Ferry by Chureang Travel” from Ao Nang to Koh Phi Phi. It had been a hassle-free experience that cost me only $12.10, and now I was ready to travel.

The bliss of a trip that pampered all my senses

I’d figured leaving the hotel at 8:30am would be early enough to catch the ferry at 9am. After all, getting from the Ao Nang Beach area to Nopparat Thara Pier is a ride that should not take more than 15 minutes. Though I’d failed to take into account the possibility of 4-star hotel receptionists not bothering to book the taxi I reserved for the next day.

I don’t particularly like long waits hanging around jetties, bus stations, airports and the like, but the fact that the hotel’s jack of all trades started the engine of what looked like a golf cart at 8:45am put my adventurous mind to the test.

I needn’t have worried though, the guys at the pier were not in a rush. They didn’t even know which company I was going to travel with. I showed them my voucher and pointed out it was Chureang Travel, but they had to make several phone calls as nobody from Chureang Travel was present.

Since the guys were not Chureang Travel’s staff, they couldn’t give me the ticket for my connecting ferry from Koh Phi Phi to Koh Lanta that I’d also booked with Chureang.

There were only a handful of travelers loitering about, and the uniformed tourist workers were easy to be spotted. Standing behind desks, they were all clad in royal blue t-shirts that read “Ao Nang Travel”.

A small Thai woman gave somebody a buzz and asked me my name while she was phoning. She also wanted to know how much I’d paid for the ticket to suss out what kind of boat I was traveling with.

“It surely is the slow ferry, not the speedboat,” I said, and I reckon she understood what I’d just told her. Even so, I only got my ticket 10 minutes after the scheduled departure time.

I bought an ice coffee, a fruit juice and a bottle of water at the small shop that also sold nibbly-dibblies, and boarded Ao Nang Travel’s boat because there wasn’t anybody around from Chureang Travel. 

To get on it, I had to walk across several gangways that connected the docked boats. Between the second to last and the last ferry – and that was the one that I had to board – there wasn’t even a gangplank. I was glad I didn’t have to lug a large heavy suitcase, I was traveling with a small backpack only.

Walking across missing gangways

Before entering the air-conditioned room of the royal blue ferry, I took another peek at the amazing backdrop. Enjoying the puttering sounds of longtail boats and the fresh cozy breeze disheveling my hair, I was thoroughly pleased with this moment. 

At this time of the day, it wasn’t hot yet, and it was fairly quiet aside from the engine sounds. There were no masses beating the track, no boisterous tourists or crying babies. I went inside and took a seat in the lower deck that was near-deserted. 

Seats in the lower deck of the ferry from Ao Nang to Koh Phi Phi

The colorful fabric seats were comfy and clean. If the ferry wasn’t new, it was certainly well-maintained. The air-conditioner was working properly at first, but it didn’t turn the place into Siberia. I was fine without a hoodie.

The toilets were spacious and offered more than just a hole in the ground, and you could lock them from both inside and outside. In the upper deck, there were only seats in the open air. And to get there, I had to climb a steep ladder.

Waiting for the ship to leave, I was looking outside and studied the longtail boat captains who were transporting goods, working as both some sort of supplier and fishermen. 

Thais tend to be poised people in general, but here in the Muslim part of Thailand, it struck me that they behave differently. While Ao Nang and the Krabi region are highly popular with tourists too, the locals here came across more composed but less experienced with westerners than their compatriots in Koh Phangan.

It was 9:30am when the engines were revving up, billowing black clouds of diesel exhaust. Evidently, this was according to Ao Nang Travel’s schedule. At this time, some more tourists had boarded the boat, but it was still far from packed.

As the captain was navigating the narrows, I gaped at a quiet casuarina-lined beach and the unique features of nearby Ko Khao Sam Nuai – a tiny islet the shape of a one-humped camel.

This was only a foretaste of what was to come.

These rock formations blew my socks off

The captain was steering along the mainland’s coast, and gradually, the rocks became bigger and the green-tinted waters turned into emerald. I was on the edge of my seat when I realized we were heading for Ao Nang’s famous Railay Beach.

Approaching Railay Beach

Before long, everybody went outside and scattered. Enjoying the sea breeze, they gazed at karst peaks in amazement.

The small voice within me told me to stop taking pictures and just enjoy this moment, but I couldn’t help it.

Railay Beach from the ferry

“Dooooooooooooooot!” Certainly, I didn’t fail to hear the ship’s horn, but it took some fellow-travelers to make me realize that I was blocking the captain’s view.

The sight of that one-of-a-kind rock at Railay Beach that looks like a massive stalagmite was just too mesmerizing to pay attention to anything else.

Railay Beach

Fast forward to the last leg of this never-never-land journey. Passing Chicken Island and other specks of land, I watched the sea slip by and let the calming sway send me to another dreamland. I nodded off and met the sandman.

Waking up, I made out the unmistakable features of Koh Phi Phi Ley on the horizon and wasn’t sure whether I should be happy or sad that the island was closed to the public until 2021

On the trail of Di Caprio and The Beach, approaching Koh Phi Phi Don did not disappoint. The green waters were as transparent as they can possibly get, and the white sand beaches looked fine and powdery.

Getting closer to Ton Sai Bay – Phi Phi island’s pier – I saw a big boat leaving and it dawned on me that this was my connecting ferry to Koh Lanta. And obviously, I was not mistaken. Ao Nang Travel’s Boat arrived in Koh Phi Phi at 11:40am, ten minutes too late.

I was lucky though. The three women working for Chureang Travel told me to come back to the pier at 3:45pm so I could get on the 4pm ferry. My higher self told me to double-check that time on Bookaway, and that panned out because the scheduled departure time for the afternoon ferry was 3pm.

I literally looked on the bright side. Missing the connecting ferry to Koh Lanta provided me with the chance to be at one with nature. Behind a sea of moored longtail boats, towering karst peaks were marching through the scenery like trampling mammoths.

View from Tonsai Bay
Philipp Meier

Philipp Meier

I’m Philipp Meier – Freelance Travel and Content Writer, English / German Translator. I have a passion for Thai culture and traveling off the well-trodden tourist trail in the Land of Cheeky Smiles. You can find me at Writer Philipp Meier.
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