Chicken Island. Image by Rajeshwari Iyer
Priya Mirchandani Shivkumar
Krabi, the jewel of the Andaman Sea, has remained a well-kept secret within the international diving community, until very recently. The tourists usually flocked to neighbouring Phuket, while the initiated marine-buffs quietly headed right. But that’s changing, thanks to Hollywood, Full Moon parties, and intrepid snorkelers. Krabi is on its way to being titled Thailand’s most stunning offering to the world. Seemingly a sleepy little tropical outpost, the magic of Krabi hits you only as you approach the coastline. The land-sea horizon is perforated by a series of massive, surreal-shaped rock formations that are the size of islands. Krabi is but a stepping-stone, a cross-over, to these clusters of paradise.
Imagine you’re a Greek shipping tycoon, getting away from the media glare for a couple of days. Pick a new beach everyday of your entire vacation. The seascape is dotted with innumerable islands rimmed with golden sands, some with restaurants and resorts, some uninhabited, where you can spend an idyllic day with the beach entirely to yourself. All manner of boats are readily available, both chartered and public.
Most notable islands: Hong, Phi Phi (location for The Beach, starring Leonardo De Caprio), Koh Poda, Koh Kai, James Bond island ( location for The Spy Who Loved Me), Chicken island, Tup island., Lading and Pakbia.
Golden sands, waters that are gentle yet not dull, temperatures that are paradise-perfect are just the lowest common denominator. It only gets better from here—you can discover hidden coves and secret lagoons in and around every island. Phi Phi islands’ Maya beach, anonymous and isolated until recently, has become Thailand’s pin-up beach, post De Caprio’s adventure. Tonsai Bay and Monkey Bay are close seconds. But special mention goes to ‘miracle beach’, Thale Waek, a golden sandbank that magically appears between islands Dam Kok and Dam Khwan only around the full moon nights. For the rest of the month, this beach is off limits for humans, and becomes home to some amazing under water creatures.
Krabi is described as a karst and mist landscape, with hundreds of caves hidden beneath thick vines, and towering teak trees. Limestone monoliths house hundreds of maze-like tunnels, caves and ancient shrines, with underground rivers and ponds. The legendary Tham Lod, for example is a subterranean cave full of columns of stalactites and stalagmites, with a river flowing below. It is accessible only by kayaks. While not for the feeble hearted, Tham Lod hits the spot like little else can, especially when the nesting colony of Pacific Swifts flies out of the cave like a massive school of airborne fish. Cave Tham Pi Maen wears a shroud of mystery, ever since coffins dating back 1700 years were found inside. Tham Sua Nok, Khao Pheung, and Mai Kaew, combine surreal limestone formations with prehistoric ancient rock paintings. Wells or large doline collapses can also be found in the ground, and the Nam Bua Phi is one of largest known natural holes that can be descended into by the adventurous.
Welcome to the Ibiza of the Orient. What started in 1986 as an impromptu beach party by a few tourists has turned into a legendary international event attended by professional DJs, musicians and party-lovers from across the world. The Full Moon Party, on the crescent shaped Haad Rin beach on Koh Phangnan island, is sometimes attended by as many as 40,000 people. Funky bars and restaurants dotting the beach make rich pickings for party animals. Drink and music flow till dawn, alongside fire throwers, jugglers and fireworks amping up the party vibe. Funky bars and restaurants dotting the beach make rich pickings for party animals.
Warm waterfalls and cool natural springs
Sra Morakot the Emerald Pool, and Sra Gaew the Blue Pool, are in the heart of what is possibly Thailand’s only remaining tract of virgin forests, Khao Nor Juji. Also known as the crystal lagoon, these scenic swimming spots have become a bit of a pilgrimage due to the mineralized water’s spa benefits. Warm water pools carry a bluish tint, while the cooler ones are green, lending the pools their names. Apart from them, the area is filled with waterfalls that etch mesmerizing grooves into the limestone landscape, giving it a Grand-Canyon-like edge.
Koh Panyee, it is believed, was built by a community of wandering fishermen from Indonesia, looking for fertile waters. The remarkable little fishing village, built in the shadow of a monolithic rock, entirely on stilts, has a floating mosque, floating school and even a soccer pitch on stilts! What an ingenious way to shorten one’s commute to work. If the fish won’t come to Mohammad, Mohammad must come to the fish, to put a spin on an old saying.
The lush forests and orchid gardens on land are mirrored by dense and colorful underwater gardens below the sea. The best dive sights can be found in the Phang Na province, off Similian, Surin and Bamboo islands. Rare sea turtles nest around Toh Rin La island, cartoon fish abound in Khao Kad canal, while stingrays hover around James Bond island. With more dive shops than grocers in Krabi, you’ll find the most sophisticated equipment and qualified professionals around every corner.
Rock climbing. Image by Rajeshwari Iyer
Rock Climbing Tours
The local karst-studded topography is a rock-climber’s wet dream. Krabi offers over 600 mapped, graded, and bolted routes, while Phi Phi has over a hundred. Exhilarating challenges await climbers both professional and amateur.
Room with a view
Undoubtedly the most unusual room in the world, with its liquid turquoise floor bursting with aquatic life, encircled by towering limestone walls. Hong Lagoon is a delightful hidden spot, revealed only to those that persevere by boat through dense coastal mangroves and the steep rocky gorges. Needless to add it’s totally worth the toil.
Adventures on Land & Water
Monitor lizards and iguanas strut across the beaches like they own the place, which of course they do. The vast tracts of protected animal reserves built in Krabi as well as Hong Island are home to a variety of exotic species of animals, reptiles and birds. Treks can be made by foot, jeep or elephant-back, through open forests and hills or the protected nature reserves. All sorts of water adventures beckon too, from leisurely long-tailed boat rides to commercial high-speed catamarans, simple kayaks to fancy chartered yachts. The Mae Taeng river in the Chiang Mai province brims with adrenalin-surging rapids, perfect for rafting. And kayaking through underground ponds and prehistoric caves is an experience that will take a while to top.