AO NANG (sometimes confusingly signed as Ao Phra Nang), 22km west of Krabi town, is a busy, continually expanding, rather faceless mainland resort that mainly caters for mid-budget and package-holiday tourists. Although it lacks the fine beaches of the nearby Railay peninsula (an easy 10min boat-ride away), it is less claustrophobic, and has a much greater choice of restaurants and bars, masses of shopping (mostly beachwear, DVDs and souvenirs), plus a wealth of dive shops, day-tripping and snorkelling possibilities and other typical resort facilities. Adjacent Hat Nopparat Thara, part of which comes under the protection of a national marine park, is prettier, and divided into two separate beaches by a khlong. The uncrowded, 2km-long eastern beach is effectively linked to Ao Nang by a conurbation of accommodation and shops, but the western beach, sometimes known as Hat Ton Son, across the khlong, is an altogether quieter and more beautiful little enclave, accessible only via longtail or a circuitous back road. Fifteen kilometres’ drive west of Ao Nang, Hat Klong Muang is no great shakes as a beach but does have some attractive four- and five-star accommodation.
Ao Nang is Krabi’s main centre for dive shops, with a dozen or more outlets, the most reputable of which include Kon-Tiki and Poseidon; they have a price agreement for PADI courses, but Poseidon is cheaper for dive trips. Diving with Ao Nang operators is possible year-round, with some dive staff claiming that off-season diving is more rewarding, not least because the sites are much less crowded.
Most one-day dive trips head for the area round Ko Phi Phi (from B3500 including two tanks; B1700 for snorkellers with Poseidon) and often include dives at Shark Point and the “King Cruiser” wreck dive (see Diving and snorkelling off Phuket); the Ko Ha island group, near Ko Lanta, is also popular but more expensive.
Two dives in the Ao Nang area – at Ko Poda and Ko Yawasam – cost B2700–3200 (B1900 for snorkellers), much less if you go in a longtail with Poseidon. PADI dive courses cost B5500 for the introductory Discover Scuba day, or B14,900 for the Openwater.
The nearest recompression chambers are on Phuket; check to see that your dive operator is insured to use one of them.