Krabi Cool 2-11-2005

Unspoiled, uncrowded tropical splendor

By: Arin Greenwood

KRABI, Thailand “See this fish?” Mahn, our kayak guide, pointed to a grayish fish with a boxy head, glassy eyes like two tiny marbles on top of its boxy head and a rather amphibious stance. The fish was perched out of the water, on top of a rock, but it didn’t seem distressed. “It’s called a mudskipper. It can breathe under water or up on land.”

The five of us on the day’s kayaking trip ogled the mudskipper, then we looked at Mahn. Mahn looked as a New Yorker might while riding the subway as if there were nothing even remotely unusual about sitting there in a kayak surrounded by giant towering limestone formations and observing an air-breathing fish. He had grown up around here, in the mangrove-lined rivers, bays and caves of Bor Thor, a stunning area in the Krabi region of Thailand.

Later, we paddled our kayaks to some of Bor Thor’s famous caves. Mahn pointed out the giant stalagmites and stalactites in one cave. Someone from our group tried to touch one and Mahn said, nicely but decisively, “Don’t touch them. It takes a hundred years for these to grow even an inch.”

Krabi is on the Andaman Sea approximately four hours by car from Phuket. It has a lot of tropical attractions: a hot climate, terrific beaches, dazzling scenery, wonderful food, soft-adventure activities, great spas and access to hundreds of islands. What Krabi doesn’t have is overwhelming crowds. Krabi is developed, but it still has a very manageable pace.

Some of the activities and attractions here are remarkable. I cannot recommend the kayaking highly enough, even for people who don’t like to self-propel. (There are guides available who will do the work while guests luxuriate.) In addition to the kayaking there are countless other things to do, both on land and in the water.

Krabi has, for example, what is thought to be some of the world’s best rock-climbing. (Those giant, beautiful limestone formations jutting high into the sky aren’t just for show.) There are also lots of caves, some of which have wonderful temples inside or nearby. Krabi also has elephant riding, jungle treks, wildlife tours, waterfalls and both hot and cold springs to enjoy. Just outside Krabi’s main tourist area, Ao Nang, are some several-million-year-old petrified shell fossils to visit, one of the only such places in the world. Scuba divers can dive in the clear, warm, fish-filled Andaman Sea, either on day dives or the many available live-aboard, dive boats (and non-divers can learn to dive, too).

There are lots of interesting villages in Krabi, too. Visitors can drive themselves around in rental cars (as we did), or hire other forms of transportation, including motorcycle taxis and tuk-tuks, or long-tailed boats will take you all around the region.

If your clients prefer less active pursuits, there are upscale spas, as well as places where you can get Thai massages for around $10 an hour. And Thai cooking schools will teach you how to shop for, and then cook, great Thai curries.

Around Krabi are hundreds of islands, some with hotels and a few that are home only to monkeys. They all have stunning beaches and some have a rather compelling film link, as well.

James Bond Island was in “The Man With the Golden Gun,” and is now visited by tourists coming in speed boats, long-tailed boats (a more traditional alternative) or, as Mahn said, by kayak, if you’ve got six hours and very strong muscles.

There are hundreds of places to stay in Ao Nang. Here are a few:

Krabi National Park, Success Resort
10 percent commission

Krabi Seaview Resort
Between 10 and 20 percent commission

Lai Thai Resort
10 percent commission

Railay Bay sits on a nearby peninsula that is a bit quieter than Ao Nang. There aren’t a lot of hotels on Railay on purpose it’s being developed slowly. The people who run Railay Bookings will make bookings for your clients and offer 5 percent commission to travel agents who book through them.

Lanta Island is one of the most beautiful islands in the province and is mostly protected as a marine park. D.R. Lanta Bay Resort
20 percent commission

Freedom Estate
20 percent commission


NOTE: While Krabi, which is around four hours by car from Phuket, and is on the Andaman Sea, was hit by the Dec. 26 tsunami, most hotels are open, Krabi’s activities are available and the beach is clean. All the hotels listed here were contacted after the tsunami both to make sure that the hotel staffs were okay, and to check if the hotels themselves were operating. In the words of Robert Reynolds, Lai Thai Resort’s general manager: “Yes we are all okay, we were quite lucky here. Ao Nang is back to 100 percent and now all we need are some customers.”

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