Chichicastenango – one of the oldest Mayan Markets in Central America

CHICHICASTENANGO MARKET and LAKE ATITLAN, GUATEMALA: Visiting Chichicastenango Market is almost a must if you want to experience the unique culture and centuries old history of Guatemalan Mayans. This is a perfect place to talk to the locals, get a glimpse of their lifestyle, or just to enjoy their daily hustling while doing some shopping. 

There are 25 different cultures in Guatemala and 22 of them are from Mayan ethnic group. Unfortunately, (what our guide told us) Mayan language is only taught in private schools here now. 90% of the highlands people in Guatemala are Mayans and visiting Chichicastenango gives you a small window to that rich heritage. 

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A scene of Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala

This was my first excursion in Guatemala. I booked this online couple weeks before reaching the country. It was $75 per adult for a 12-hours of day trip from Guatemala City, organized by Gray Line Guatemala. We were picked up around 6:30am and were returned to our hotels around 7-ish in the evening. Lunch was included with the package. It was a small group of only 6/7 people in a big van. I won’t lie, this was a long trip and we were in the car for more than 3 hours before reaching Chichicastenango Mayan Market. But I have to say Gray Line Guatemala was a very friendly and accomodating tour company and I loved our guide, Juan Pablo. 

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Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala

MY HOTEL: I stayed in “Oh Espana”…a bed and breakfast-style accommodation in Zone 13 in Guatemala City. The capital is divided into different zones; make sure to pick your hotel carefully, as some zones are not safe for the tourists. The owner lady and the cook were very friendly and helpful. Although a traditional breakfast was included, the location was not that great. It was in some kind of a military residential neighborhood…very safe and gated. But there were absolutely no restaurants or stores within walking distance. Thanks to my ramen cup noodles that I brought from home, which I had to eat for few of my dinners. It was only 3 minutes drive from the airport and hotel had free shuttle service…but again, I wouldn’t stay there again next time I go to Guatemala. 

My recommendation, if anyone is going to Guatemala for a vacation, is to stay in Antigua. It’s about an hour away from the airport. But once you are there, it’s heaven. I know for sure, if I ever go back to Guatemala, I’ll stay in Antigua…especially Hotel Porta Antigua looked fantastic to me inside and out. 

TIME of TRAVEL: I visited Guatemala during the long weekend of Thanksgiving, 2019. I had 3 full days to roam around different parts of the country. 2 more extra days here would have given me the flexibility to visit Tikal, the famous Mayan ruins site in Central America. It gets pretty chilly at night and early morning around this time of the year. During the day time, you can go out with a t-shirt and it’s very pleasant. But if you are traveling with kids in November to Guatemala, I would recommend carrying a sweater.

EATING and SHOPPING: Our lunch was included in the package and it was in Chichicastenango Market. It was in a cozy, 2-floored restaurant, called St. Thomas. While I was waiting near the balcony on the 2nd floor and looking out the door to the local vendors on the street, I was served with some black corn tortillas with a bowl of soup. For the main dish I ordered chicken in papiene sauce (a pepper sauce) that came with potatoes and avocado on the side. While I didn’t really enjoy the chicken main dish, the soup and the black tortillas were amazing. The restaurant itself is decorated beautifully with colorful local decors and comes with very friendly waiters. 

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My delicious lunch – black corn tortillas with soup in Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala

FYI, with 10 different species of corn in Guatemala, I guess, trying out different types of corn is a must. 

Chichicastenango Market is a heaven for souvenir hunters, like me. It’s a colorful and attractive outdoor market with variety of items from fresh vegetables, fruit, and local dishes to textiles, wooden masks, potterries, and other decors. Most of the vendors here are Mayan women. Don’t forget or feel frustrated bargaining with each vendor…it’s their culture, so enjoy it without overthinking the process or fear of losing money or getting a better deal somewhere else. I bought 6 small wooden bowls for $20 and 5 table runners (combination of cotton and silk table runners) for $120, which I later found out, I probably could have gotten these a bit cheaper price. 

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Traditional Central American dolls in Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala

Coffee, chocolate, vanilla, jade jewelry, textiles, pottery, hammocks, masks, and wooden trinkets are some of the popular gifts to buy from Guatemala. 

PLACES I’VE VISITED: This tour was about 12 hours of long journey which highlights only 2 places…Chichicastenango Market and Lake Atitlan. I had 2 more extra days in Guatemala for which, I spent a day in the capital and my last day in historic Antigua.

  1. CHICHICASTENANGO MARKET: Chichicastenango Market was about 3 hours drive from Guatemala City. So you have to start the day very early. This is a Mayan market which is more than 500 years old and believed to be one of the oldest outdoor markets in Central America. The city of Chichicastenango itself a beautiful city on a small hill which we passed by upon entering and has about 60K people.
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Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala

After reaching the market, we pushed the crowded small streets of vendors to reach our first spot. It was the big indoor area where fresh produce and other local food items are sold. It’s very colorful and is an energetic place to see locals going on with their daily lives. Mostly Mayan women are the sellers in this market. This is a crowded place with lots of vendors, local buyers, and tourists. Therefore, this is a very common place (as we were told by our guide) for pick-pocketing…keep your belongings very careful here. 

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Indoor market of Chichicastenango in Guatemala, where fresh produces are sold

Next we were taken to St. Thomas Church. This Catholic church is located at one end of Chichicastenango Market and was built around mid to later part of the 16th century by the Spaniards.

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Right outside St. Thomas Church in Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala

While outside of the church was packed with flower vendors on the stairs and countless people nearby, this is a very simple church inside with a calm and peaceful courtyard. Interesting fact and a beautiful scene in this church is that, you can see both Catholics and Mayans are doing their own rituals and using it equally. While the beautiful incense were burning and spreading mystical smell, we saw Catholics were praying closer to the main altar and a Mayan woman walking on her knees to the altar. This was beautiful to watch as they kept their own heritage while being very respectful to the other believers. 

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Inside St. Thomas Church in Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala

One of the most beautiful places in Chichicastenango city is the colorful cemetery where we didn’t go but saw from the hill from a bit far away. The color of the tombstone in that cemetery represents the favorite color of the person who passed away. 

In the market, especially near St. Thomas Church, it’s very easy to get lost. In fact, for a few seconds, I couldn’t find my group and was frantically looking each direction for them. Thanks to our assistant tour guide who saw me and told me where they are. Use some basic cautions when you are there, especially if you have kids or traveling with a large group.

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Some locals of Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala

2. LAKE ATITLAN: The drive from Chichicastenango Market to Lake Atitlan was about an hour and fifteen minutes in the district, called Solola in Guatemala. We stopped at San Francisco Panajachel town to visit Lake Atitlan and spent anywhere from 30-45 minutes by the lake, just walking around the lake, taking some shots, and checking out the Mayan market. 

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Lake Atitlan in Panajachel, Guatemala

The lake, in a massive volcanic crater, is surrounded by mountains, especially 3 volcanoes around the lake. We were told by the guide that the lake is 23km long and the deepest point of the lake is 350 meters. 

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Lake Atitlan in Panajachel, Guatemala

Overall, I wasn’t a big fan of Lake Atitlan for the effort and time it took to get there from Chichicastenango Market. Lake Atitlan is a beautiful place with mountains and volcanoes, but the long winding journey was not fun and if I knew, I would have just gone with half a day to Chichicastenango Market.

Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas – Getting out of The Strip

RED ROCK CANYON, LAS VEGAS: When you think about Las Vegas, for most of the tourists, you don’t really imagine it being a place where people go hiking or mountain climbing or go mingling with nature as much. Only half an hour ride from the heart of Las Vegas Blvd, Red Rock Canyon is a fantastic getaway from the city chaos and to appreciate the great outdoors. Locals love Las Vegas, not for the boulevard, but for the spectacular hills and valleys that it has to offer. 

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

This is an open museum to enjoy some natural views, stunning landscapes, rock formations, and learn some facts on how Indian tribes lived here hundreds of years ago in the harsh environment. My kids definitely loved it and learned a lot on some local history, native Americans and their lifestyle, geology, and etc. According to our guide, the park has so many hiking trails that even if you hike everyday of the year in Red Rock Canyon, you still won’t have to repeat your trail. 

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

I booked this trip online through Viator with Red Rock Canyon Discovery Tour weeks before reaching Las Vegas. For about $75 per person, we had this guided 3 hours of tour. We started around 9am and were dropped off by noon. There are other longer and different versions of Red Rock Canyon tours with different activities and prices. But for me and the kids, 3 hours out of The Strip was perfect and were back to the city right on time for lunch. 

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Stratosphere Hotel or The Strat this time. Red Rock Canyon Discovery Tour doesn’t have pick up from here. So we met up with the guide in front of Treasure Island on The Strip. 

TIME of TRAVEL: It was during the winter holiday of 2019 when we came to Las Vegas. Red Rock Canyon can be slightly colder than the city. Make sure to bring a hoodie or a heavy sweater and wear very comfortable shoes here. If you are coming in summer, bring plenty of water and maybe a hat. Since it’s out in the desert, I can imagine the extreme heat can cause some serious problems if you are not prepared, especially if you are planning to hike. 

EATING and SHOPPING: There isn’t really any place to eat in the conservation area that we’ve seen. Not sure if picnic is allowed here either. Officially camping is prohibited inside the park but climbers still do camp on the high hills when it gets dark. 

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: After the visitors center, we stayed on the Scenic Loop Drive to stop at different areas of the park. The roads are clearly marked with all the signs. Some places we stopped at are below:

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

CALICO HILLS: This was our first and probably my favorite spot. Beautiful red rocks, small hills, canyons, and the sheer rugged beauty of this place is simply breathtaking. 

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

HIGH POINT OVERLOOK: This was another look out point with vast landscape and small mountains. 

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

WILLOW SPRINGS: There are few hidden falls and streams in the park which we didn’t get to see. Willow Springs is a point where a tiny stream flows in the woods. We also saw ancient handprints on a stone wall here. Other tribal hieroglyphics can be found few areas in this park. Our guide also gave us some insights how native Americans used different plants for different purposes and how they helped them survive. 

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Can you see some hand prints? Red Rock Canyon, NV

 

Planning a vacation to Anguilla – Here’s the mistakes to be avoided.

The Caribbean’s best-kept secret is the island of Anguilla. The island has an embargo currently on casinos, cruise ships, and high-rise hotels, so if you love fuss-free adventure and low-key beachfront rentals, this paradise puts you right into deep relaxation mode. The live music scene is also fun to experience, and the luxurious resort side to this island offers more amenities and premium exhibitions.

Even though it is one of the smaller islands at 15 miles long and 3 miles, it still boasts 33 different beaches. Wtih gThe powdery smooth sand and crystal blue waters is mesmerizing, and the palm trees swaying plays into every relaxing meditation video you have ever seen. While beautiful, there are some things that can put a damper on your trip.

These tips can make your trip more memorable and show you the best parts of the island while also staying in the best possible accommodations.

Don’t Miss Sandy Island

For a day of snorkeling and relaxation around the edges of Anguilla, going to Sandy Island is a must. You can take a small charter boat out to explore or catch a shuttle to the Sandy Ground Beach pier. Either way, this is one of the best day trips to try when visiting Anguilla. Unlike many of the smaller trips, Sandy Island also has some restaurants and a rental station where you can pickup snorkeling gear.

Pick the Right Season

The best time to go to Anguilla is between May and August. This is when you will likely get the best weather and avoid the terrible hurricane season. Hotel prices and Anguilla luxury house rentals tend to be lower in April and September, which is considered the off season. The most expensive time to visit is when most of the island shuts down, which is from early winter until March.

Saving Money in Anguilla

Since there aren’t any direct flights from the US to Anguilla, you may think you have to charter a flight to the island, but you can actually fly to nearby islands like Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Antigua, or St. Martin-St. Maarten. Then, you can catch a connection flight.

Hotels are a waste of money when you can spend so much less by searching Anguilla luxury house rentals. Many of the hotels here offer all-inclusive pricing, which can lead you to not experience the island and spend more at the resort. Instead, you can avoid gratuities and incidental hotel fees by renting a luxurious home on the island or a villa.

In addition, renting a house allows you to save money on food, too. You can shop at the local markets on the island, experience some of the culture, and then make your own dinner for quiet nights by the beach at home. The live music scene ramps up when the sun goes down, and there are plenty of places to explore and find dancing until the early morning hours.

Don’t Hire a Tour Guide

You may wind up in an Anguilla tour, which can be quite expensive, but if you plan correctly and look at things to do beforehand, you can just experience the best parts of the island. In addition, the taxi drivers make the best guides to understanding where to eat and what to do once you get there. It’s also the best way to get around since there are hardly any street signs on some parts of the island.

Some of the local favorite hot spots include:

  • Rendezvous Bay: Along this beach, you’ll find the best restaurants and fun things to do with the family or as a couple’s night out.
  • Shoal Bay: This is the best spot for snorkeling and dolphin watching.
  • Sandy Island: For a day trip, charter a boat and experience snorkeling along coral-lined beaches.
  • Meads Bay Pond Beach: For sunsets, you should definitely head out to this amazing and picturesque natural area one afternoon on your stay.

Wrapping Up

As you head out around Anguilla, you’ll find a lot of the night life is in The Valley, which is in the capital city. However, it’s also home to some historic sites, such as the Wallblake House. Finally, you should always remember to pack your sunglasses, sunscreen, and a good pair of walking sandals. These are the best accessories in island exploration as you head out around Anguilla.

 

Treasures of Southern Iceland

SOUTHERN ICELAND: A place to be thrilled and feel the amplified nature in the vast empty space in Iceland is the southern part of this country. There are countless things to experience and discover in this part. The whole region is a treasure chest filled with long shorelines, magnificent waterfalls, lava fields, volcanoes and craters, black beaches, glaciers, wildlife, and lots more.

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Driving by Southern Iceland’s stunning landscape

This was our third and final excursion on our last day in Iceland. I bought it online in Viator for $80 per adult and lunch isn’t included. We were picked up from the Tour Bus Stop-12 in Reykjavik by Bustravel Iceland a little after 8am and were dropped off at the same place around 6pm. It was a big tour bus with comfortable seats and a restroom. Our guide was very knowledgeable, helpful, and a funny gentleman. He was also quite a good photographer and a story-teller. One thing I’ve seen here is that you don’t need to tip the driver or the guide in Iceland…they don’t expect it and haven’t seen anyone tipping them during any of our excursions. 

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Magical mountains of Southern Iceland

TIME of TRAVEL: It was during my kids’ summer break (end of July of 2019) when we flew to Iceland and my little sister flew into Reykjavik from the East Coast. We were in Iceland for 5 nights. Please check out my other posts/pages for all the trips/excursions we took in Iceland. Although we were prepared for rain and sun with waterproof jackets, hats, rain boots, and hoodies, it barely rained during our stay…nothing we couldn’t have handled with just a t-shirt. But it does get chilly and windy in some places. So, being prepared doesn’t hurt, especially if you are traveling with children like me. 

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Southern Iceland

EATING and SHOPPING: On the day of this trip, we had lunch in the Village of Vik at Icewear cafe…Iceland’s famous sweater and winter clothing store. This big cafe offers lots of options. I had Icelandic fish and chips with a side salad. By the way it’s different than the English style fish and chips. 

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Icelandic fish and chips in Vik, Iceland

Beside the cafe was one of the biggest Icewear stores with more selections than any other Icewear stores we’ve checked. 

PLACES I’VE VISITED: Enjoy the miles after miles of lava fields covered with soft green moss while you are in Southern Iceland…it almost looks like a fairytale land. Whole drive was very pretty with scenic landscape and stunning shorelines.  

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Driving by Skogafoss Waterfalls

  1. SKOGAFOSS: Our first stop after leaving Reykjavik is Skogafoss. South Iceland is known for its tall waterfalls and Skogafoss is one of them dropping straight down from 60m cliff. This is one powerful waterfall and you can get really wet if you try to get too close to it. Take a few minutes to walk over the trail that leads to the top of the falls. We didn’t take that walk, rather stayed near the falls where you can see it’s sheer mighty force. We spent about 20 minutes here enjoying the falls and the small river that flows from it. 
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Skogafoss Waterfalls in Southern Iceland

  1. SOLHEIMAJOKULL GLACIER: From the falls, our second stop was Solheimajokull, a 14 km long outlet glacier with a majestic lagoon. Ice-breaks from the glacier keeps the lagoon stocked with icebergs creating a stunning site to visit. 
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Solheimajokull Glacier in Southern Iceland

Be ready to walk and hike to get close to the glacier. The hike was about half an hour or so, from the bus all the way to the glacier. My 9 years old could do it with a breeze. They were thrilled to be able to touch the glacier ice and walk over them. 

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Solheimajokull Glacier in Southern Iceland

There are other tours/package you can take to actually go glacier hiking, which I saw some groups were doing with proper gears and guide. 

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Solheimajokull Glacier in Southern Iceland

  1. VILLAGE of VIK: From all the walking and hiking on the previous glacier, we were ready for lunch at this small but beautiful coastal town of Vik. There isn’t much to do in the town itself…or at least we didn’t have time to do anything here, other than just having a meal. This place gets lots of annual rains. The famous Icelandic winter clothing brand was born in Vik.

4. REYNISFJARA BEACH: Reynisfjara a gorgeous black volcanic beach, just a few minutes drive from the center of Vik. This is famed for its striking scenery. On one side the beach, west of Mount Reynisfjall, hexagonal grey columnar basalt formations can be seen surrounding a sea cave. On the other side is the rough sea with crashing waves. And in between are the standing bold rocks to add to the beauty of this whole seascape. 

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The sea cave with basalat columns in Reynisfjara Beach in Southern Iceland

The powerful waves on this beach is known to be very dangerous. Be careful and never turn your back to the ocean. 

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Reynisfjara Beach in Southern Iceland

The sea cave, Halsanefshellier, is where the striking columnar basalt formations can be seen. These columns are formed when magma cools slowly and cracks into columns, usually hexagonal, as the surface area decreases. These columns stand perpendicular in hexagon shapes. By the way, if you are into Bollywood films, the famous song “Gerua” by Shahrukh Khan and Kajol was partly done here. 

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Reynisfjara Beach in Southern Iceland

  1. SELJALANDSFOSS: Our final spot of the excursion and in Iceland was this impressive . This is the famous waterfall in South Iceland which drops not only off a 60m high cliff, but also where visitors can walk behind the falls for a thrilling experience.
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Seljalandsfoss Falls in Southern Iceland

It is one of the most photogenic falls that you’ll see in most of Iceland’s travel guides. Yes, you can get slightly wet from the mist but with caution, children can do this easily. This is one of the biggest attractions in this side of the island and shouldn’t be missed. 

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Seljalandsfoss Falls in Southern Iceland

 

How to Find the Best Hotel in Ao Nang Beach Krabi in Thailand

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Photo: https://pixabay.com/photos/sunset-ao-nang-beach-krabi-thailand-489427/

Choosing a place to lay your head is an important decision when going off for a vacation in Ao Nang Beach. There are different factors that you ought to carefully think about when picking the best hotel for this trip. Everybody has different preferences. While others enjoy a hotel offering a bed, shower, TV and continental breakfast, others would want luxurious spas and some bit of pampering. Others still, would prefer something totally different.

Avoid any hiccups that could ruin your stay in Ao Nang Beach by thinking through the following points and get your “where to stay in Krabi” question answered.

1. Proximity to Attraction Sites

How close is the hotel to the tourist attraction sites? This is the first question you need to ask yourself when looking for a hotel. Some of the attraction sites include limestone islands, cliffs, caves, shrines, mangrove forests, railway beaches and kayaks. Hotels located near the beach guarantees you easy access to these sites. Since the sites are located in different places, decide what scenery you want to be close to and look for the nearest hotel.

2. Transport Modes

The Ao Nang Beach Krabi is long stretched with sand and has cliffs at its ends. This means that boats are the common mode of transport. There are also smooth roads for visitors travelling by vans. If you wish to travel by sea, choose hotels that have tour offices offering longboat tours to take you around and show you the depths of the beach. For some of these hotel boat rides are pick-up and drop-off. Look for a hotel with such a service.

3. Parking

The beach has plenty of bars, street vendors and restaurants for hangouts, you will probably need your car to go in some of these places. You may also want to take a slow and relaxing drive in one of the afternoons. If you have a car or planning to rent one, check the hotel’s parking options, costs and conditions. Confirm if it is on a first-come-first-serve basis or if the parking is guaranteed. If the hotel does not offer parking services, confirm the availability of parking nearby and the costs attached thereof.

4. Amenities

What are your exact vacation needs and does the hotel have sufficient amenities that would meet your needs? Check for facilities like gyms, bar, minibar, onsite restaurant, pools among other facilities. Is there a staircase or an elevator? Are you expected to carry your bags or bellhops are present? Is the bathroom shared or en suite? This will help you avoid hostile surprises.

5. Room size

The size of the hotel room to choose will be determined by the relationship and number of people you are with for the vacation. Some hotels have accommodation for families. Others offer single rooms suitable for solo trips. There is also a couple’s accommodation appropriate for honeymooners or a friends’ vacation. Some AoNang Beach hotel rooms have a balcony thus offering an excellent view spot for the fascinating sunsets at the Ao Nang Beach. Sunset lovers will obviously enjoy this.

6. Prices

The weight of your pocket will greatly determine the price of the hotel you settle in. Price is affected by factors like location of the hotel, the size of your room, amenities available, parking options, your period of stay in the hotel, and the type of trip you have undertaken. Some hotels charge for Wi-Fi connectivity and hence higher pricing of the hotel, whereas others do not offer the Wi-Fi at all. If you are working on a cut budget, consider staying a bit far from the beach where you can get affordable hotels. If you have a generous budget, you can get a luxurious hotel just along the beach.

This eclectic choice of things to think about when looking for the best hotel in Ao Nang Beach will be helpful to every vacationer. Make your Krabi family holiday thrilling!

 

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