Ao Nang beach is located in Krabi province in the south of Thailand about 4-1/2 hours drive from Malaysia. The bustling beach is a peculiar place even for Thailand. A strange mix of farangs, Thais, Muslims, and salesmen from Bangladesh, India, or Pakistan inhabit the area creating an atmosphere likened to that of a twisted carnival filled with cagey clowns and clever game operators.

The carnies are always in hot pursuit of a sale. Their relentless quest for your baht is on par with the monkeys that will accost you for your belongings on the beach. Let your guard down for a second and next thing you know you’re the owner of a 3-piece suit or duffle bag full of “I Heart Krabi” t-shirts and other cheap trinkets made in China.  There’s nothing like commemorating your trip with a Thailand key chain made in that depraved communist country up north.

I grew tired of my repetitive robotic interactions with the fast talkers perched on their stoops like gargoyles. After passing just a handful of gift shops and tailors I figured out their script and decided to see how they would react to a curve ball. Unfortunately they just stuck to the script and moved on the next question. It starts with “how are you” followed by “where are you from”. After that I’m not sure what comes next because by then I’ve made my escape and moved on to the next swindler. When the panderer asked how I was doing I emphatically informed him, “I just shit my pants!”

He didn’t even flinch. Just moved on to the “where are you from” section of his script. I told him I was from his father’s urethra and that we were brothers from another mother. He didn’t believe me. I can’t imagine any of these guys wanting a customer with fecal matter sloshing around in his underwear inside their store trying on pants and getting measured but so be it; if there’s baht to be had then there’s work to be done!

To be honest the salesmen don’t bother me it’s the Muslim women that really freak me out. Gallivanting around town on their motorbikes sporting that mysterious hijab; letting me know they live under different rules than the rest of the women in Thailand. The hijab really is a sinister garment. Surprisingly I don’t see them out with their husbands much but I suspect they receive a reminder of the rules every time they leave the house. With eyebrows lowered their authority figures look them in the eyes, wave a clinched fist, and slide a thumb across the throat just to say, “You know the rules.”

I can’t help but notice how similar the words “Krabi” and “crappy” sound because most of the food in Krabi is well, you guessed it, crappy. Every other restaurant on the beach road claims to be Italian. Apparently Italian is Thai for coprophagic. It took visits to three separate “Italian” restaurants to arrive at that translation. Rosetta stone not needed. After repeatedly suffering through their maligned attempts at cooking I imagined what the kitchens must look like. Most likely run by a pack of cigar smoking chimpanzees hopped up on 4-loco and dulcolax. Their tiny hairy fists passionately yet indiscriminately pounding the pizza dough until the alpha male thrusts it into the oven with reckless abandon. Note to self, “Never eat pizza in Ao Nang again.”

The music scene in Ao Nang is predominantly Reggae. The Rasta influence is easily spotted as most bars display portraits of Bob Marley and those official red, gold, and green colors. This is comforting to me. I love reggae. Bob Marley has been practically non-existent in my travels throughout Thailand but he can be heard every night in most establishments in Ao Nang. If they are not playing an original track there is a band or single musician performing a cover song. Strangely enough, the other night a band was doing its best to play Metallica but I could not get over the fact that the Thai singer’s heavy metal voice was eerily similar to Grover from Sesame Street.

Easily the best part of Ao Nang is the beaches and islands. Once you get through the throngs of banana hammock clad Russians the beauty of the sand, water, and terrain is truly incredible. For a small fare there is a large fleet of long tail boats anchored on the beach waiting to whisk you off to a more remote location just minutes away. For just 500 baht (less than $17) I was picked up from my hotel and spent the day snorkeling and touring 4 different nearby islands. Even lunch was included. That to me is unparalleled value. Back in states $17 won’t buy you a trip to the movie theater. Here I enjoyed white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, and schools of colorful fish swimming around coral reef. Only a handful of those dastardly Russians were around to flaunt their ramshackle bodies, certainly not enough to ruin the trip.

      This tropical destination in Southeast Asia likely won’t satisfy your palate but the ocean, surrounding islands, and beaches certainly will overload the rest of your senses. Avoid the menacing grins and smooth talk from the salesmen and head straight to the beach. Explore on a kayak or long tail to experience the true uniqueness of the nearby beaches and skank all night to the reggae vibes. Ao Nang is a peculiar beach town but its experience is worthwhile and unforgettable.