From Krabi’s striking limestone rocky mountains to its palm-fringed, white sand beaches, the island boasts not only some of Thailand’s most captivating scenery but also the country’s most eclectic adrenaline-pumping activities. Ranging from rock climbing to rafting, sunbathing and diving, you name it, Krabi is a must-visit in Southeast Asia.
Although most backpackers and holidaymakers flock to either Pucket and Ko Phi Phi for the ultimate tropical getaway, I consider Krabi to be Thailand’s real hidden gem. While you can sunbathe and take part in action-packed activities in those two islands, a trip to Krabi will submerge you into the real Thailand, filled with its gastronomic delights and cultural relics.
Where to stay
Even though we booked our hotel in Krabi Town, most visitors stay in the coastal area of Ao Nang. Both choices are equally acceptable depending on your plans in Krabi. While Ao Nang offers tourists a mixture of restaurants and clothing stalls along its paradisiac beach, Krabi Town provides a real cultural experience that stems from its traditional architecture, local markets and life along the river.
From Krabi Town it took us 20 minutes to reach Ao Nang by taxi. There we walked along the sea-path, shopped around, visited that heavenly beach and had a drink while enjoying the view of the sea. Although the several stalls in Ao Nang account for a huge diversity worth of a shopping spree, some of these shops have a notice warning tourists they are not willing to bring the price down… and what’s the fun in shopping in Thailand if you can’t haggle?
Krabi Town, however, allows you to soak in the culture while bartering at the local market, feasting on cheap local delicacies at the food stalls near the river, all while indulging yourself in the beauty of the view and finishing your day like a champion by getting a Thai massage. For the thrifty travellers, Krabi Town is the place to be as all of the activities mentioned above are cheaper than in Ao Nang.
What to do
Determined to get some adrenaline pumping during our stay, we stopped at one of the many travel agencies in Ao nang to inquire about adventure packages. After browsing through a pile of brochures, we found one that comprised what we wanted to do and hence we asked one of the travel agents about it. Once she had given us all of the information, we said we were going to check other agencies before booking. As struck by lightning, the agent brought down the price from 1,700 Bahts to 1,000. That’s 35% discount just because we wanted to weigh our options. We knew that despite Thailand being the most awesome country in the world, we wouldn’t be getting that lucky again so of course we booked it and we couldn’t have made a better decision.
The package included a visit to a beautiful waterfall set in the rainforest, a trip into a cave that is not only a Buddhist temple but is also home to playful monkeys, water rafting, all-you-can-eat Thai lunch and zip lining across the jungle, surrounded by elephants walking by. We opted to skip riding an elephant out of respect and compassion for these grandiose animals who are somewhat mistreated and exploited in Southeast Asia.
Since the Adaman Sea is buzzing with sea life, diving and snorkelling are also popular activities in the area. There you can see turtles, the clown fish (Nemo), sharks and colourful corals.
What to see
Although Thailand boasts endless temples and shrines, Tiger Cave Temple is a must-see when you visit Krabi. Set in the rainforest, the temple is built in a limestone cave just outside Krabi Town. Its name was inspired by a nearby stone shaped as a tiger’s claw.
If you charter a long tail or canoe, you can reach the Ao Luk caves which are located in the sea just offshore. Apart from admiring the stalactites and stalagmites that permeate the interior of the sea caves, you’ll be able to dive into Thai superstition by visiting Hua Galok Cave, which is said to be haunted.
Thailand is famous for its gorgeous beaches and Krabi is no exception. The most popular beach there is Railay Beach, which combines a heavenly stretch of sand for sunbathers with impressive interior landscapes for climbers.
Another hot spot is Fossil Shell Beach which is a 20-minute songthaew journey from Krabi Town. When the tide is low, visitors are able to see 40-million-year-old fossils on the beach.
From Krabi you can rent a boat to take you to one or more of the 130 islands nearby. Private, beautiful and scenic, these islands provide the perfect getaway to relax and let yourself be mesmerised by the heavenly surroundings.
Where to eat
While many holidaymakers opt for a fancy restaurant in Ao Nang with the view of the beach, I would recommend you to have street food instead from one of the food markets in Krabi Town. The food market by the river does not only offer cheap and exquisite local food, but it also excels in ambience. You’ll find yourself relaxing by the river surrounded by gleeful tourists.
Krabi is home to some of the finest seafood in the country and you can try cheap succulent barbequed fish from a roadside stall. For instance, from a street vendor, you can buy red snapper – which is rather expensive in Europe and Australia – for only 200 Bahts or less.
If you happen to be just passing by, opt for a delicious fresh juice; they are healthy, refreshing and can be made with exotic fruits that are hard to find elsewhere in the world. If you’d rather have something sweet, there you can find a sweet that is similar to a crepe but way richer in flavour and much crispier.
Customs and etiquette
Krabi abides by the same customs and etiquette as the rest of the country. Although I’m not sure why any sane person would tap another on the head, most travel agents warn you not to. So if one of you had that on your bucket list, please scratch it off. Another important rule is to take your shoes off before entering a temple.
Once you step on Thailand’s airport, you’ll find a sign warning you not to use the image of Buddha anywhere and you’ll keep finding signs like that at every tourist site. The one I found most amusing is the one that warns you not to get a tattoo of Buddha. It’s not that I think it’s a silly rule; on the contrary, it surprises me people feel like they need to get that kind of tattoo to prove God-knows-what – I said, the person who almost got a tattoo in Mandarin which was translated into “water.” No, common sense is not that common after all. Thais had to make that rule because of people like me. Also, if you are a Republican, feel free to insult the monarchy of your country, yet save your opinion on the Thai royal family as they are worshipped across the country.