A Year in Bangkok – Road Trip to Krabi – Part 3

22 11 2010

Not so long ago, this area was devastated by a tsunami. Now these signs are the main reminder.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Krabi is a beautiful area. A pity that it rained so much but that’s what you get for coming in the rainy season. The combination of rainy season and the massive downturn in tourism here meant that Krabi, one of Thailand’s most visited areas was almost empty.

Still beautiful in the rain.

We stayed at Ao Nang which is a usually very busy resort area. Sadly, things are so bad here that our hotel rates were reduced by almost eighty percent just to get people in there. The hotel was a Best Western which I usually find are okay places. This one was okay, not worth the rack rate but about right for the amount we paid. The staff were lovely. We usually avoid the major tourist areas but it has to be said that the people we encountered here all had a real idea of providing a service, unlike many of the places we go to. As we wandered through the empty town on our first evening, restaurant runners tried to entice us in with ever increasing discounts from the menu prices. One guy was less than amused when I asked how much he would pay us to eat there.

Every village, no matter how small, has at least one mosque.

I think everybody who visits Krabi goes round the islands in the Andaman sea and goes snorkeling – those are the things the area is famous for. We immediately booked an island trip but it was cancelled due to the weather conditions. There is a lot to see and do inland too and one of the first things we did was visit Ban Laem Pho. This small headland is often called the shell cemetery and is the world’s only major coastal site of mollusc fossils. They are about 75 million years old and are preserved in fossil beds which are between one and two metres thick. Most of them are beneath the high tide level but are exposed when the tide goes out. They looked rather like broken slabs of concrete but, up close, they were absolutely filled with fossils. I was surprised that we were allowed to walk on them which, coupled with the tides must cause a lot of erosion. Apparently the tsunami also did quite a bit of damage.

The fossil beds looked like broken slabs of concrete.

I had heard a lot about Railay beach and particularly wanted to go there. Again, it is on a headland but this one cannot be reached by land, you can only get there by boat. The downside of there being so few tourists about was that not many boats were going so we hired our own.

Heading towards Railay Bay.

One reason I wanted to go was to see Hat Phra Nang which Lonely Planet describes thus: “quite possibly one of the world’s most beautiful beaches with squeaky white sand, frolicking monkeys and views of limestone islets peeking out of the cerulean sea.” What can I say? Basically, I was not as impressed as the person who wrote those lovely words. I can’t begin to count how many beaches I’ve been to in Thailand which seemed far more beautiful to me never mind in other countries. The frolicking monkeys were a nuisance, stealing food from people on the beach and, due to their natural fear of humans having gone, behaving in quite a threatening manner. You could see the islets but, because of the weather, the sea certainly wasn’t cerulean although it usually is in this area. Ah well, Railay itself was lovely and I’m glad we went. Plenty of beaches but some of them surprisingly busy and a lot of holiday accommodation spoiling the area.

Hat Phra Nang - at least we could see an islet!

There is a rather interesting cave here called the ‘Princess Cave’ which is adorned with phallus symbols. According to local legends, an Indian princess was drowned here in the third century BC and her spirit inhabits the cave. She happily grants favours to all who come along to pay respect and local fisherman, keen to get her help, place the phalluses in her cave hoping she will provide them with plenty of fish.

The Princess Cave,

The rock climbing here on Railay is amongst the best in the world and there are about five hundred bolted routes catering for all abilities, from absolute beginners to serious climbers. There are also proper climbing schools here offering a range of courses for the plucky and foolhardy. The big trend here at the moment is called deep water soloing. This involves free-climbing (i.e no ropes etc) on ledges over deep water so that if you fall (and many deliberately do so) the chances are you will just get wet. Even beginners are doing this now! Clearly, these people are far more daring than me.

A braver man than me!

As we got on our boat for the trip back to Ao Nang, storm clouds were gathering. The boat was a little rocky at first which made for some interesting video footage. Soon, it really started to roll and we decided to don life jackets. As it continued to pitch and roll, we were hanging on for all we were worth and, at the same time, praising the skill of the boatman who miraculously got us back to dry land in one piece if ashen faced with terror!

Railay beach west.

Being gluttons for punishment, we went to visit Phi Phi island by speedboat the next day. Once we had left and were, therefore, trapped, they told us they were expecting rough weather. So the life jackets came out and we cursed our stupidity for doing this. It was rough but nothing like as bad as the day before. However, the weather meant that some of our scheduled stops had to be cancelled including the beautiful (or it was when I was last there, just before the tsunami) Maya Bay which was the location for the movie ‘The Beach’ and, by all accounts at the time, had been seriously cleaned up by the film people. We got to Pileh Bay, a very pretty lagoon and then on to Phi Phi Don for lunch.

Phileh Bay.

Last time I was at Phi Phi it was pretty much spoiled by the development there. The tsunami hit it from both sides, completely wiping out the development here. A great opportunity could have been created from that tragedy but no, the backpackers need their island resort and it is again being ruined, to the point where I fail to see how this despoilation can be sustainable.

Looking down on Phi Phi Don from the tsunami evacuation route.

All of this region now has well signed tsunami escape routes but here, shopkeepers use the signs to hang clothes and other things on so the signs are completely hidden. If the unthinkable were to happen again, I wonder whether any of the tourists here would have clue where to go.

Beach on Bamboo Island.

On our way back, we passed Viking Cave. About a dozen people live in this cave to protect their investment here. Swiftlets nest in the cave and, after breeding has finished each year, their saliva nests are collected for bird’s nest soup. Because the nests are in such inaccessible parts of this huge cavern, it is not unusual for a nest collector to fall to his death. What the boat people didn’t tell us is that this remarkably inaccessible cave also has some prehistoric cave paintings in it.

Viking Cave.

I think that, after the obvious impression created by the limestone karsts, my other memories of this region will be the rubber plantations and the mosques, which you see in every village no matter how small.

Rubber plantation - you see these all over the south.......and at my friend's place in Surin!

We drove back northwards the quick way, following the main roads. Of course, it rained. Oh boy, did it rain making the driving even more hazardous than driving here is normally. We were heading for possibly our favourite hotel in Thailand, the Long Beach Inn at Dolphin Bay. As we got to Pranburi, just a few miles from our destination, we saw the end of the rain clouds ahead of us. At last, a bit of luck weather wise!

End of the rain clouds.

A lovely night chilling at the hotel where the owner had very kindly upgraded us to the best room, complete with Jacuzzi before we made a very short drive to the five star Evason Hua Hin for the last night of our holiday. Current low prices made us go for a luxurious finish.

Pool at the Long Beach Inn, Dolphin Bay.

I don’t know why they call it Evason Hua Hin when it is not in Hua Hin. It’s about half an hour drive away, via Pranburi. It is very nice but ludicrously expensive, even by western standards. We bumped into somebody we know there and went out together for dinner in Hua Hin and then had a leisurely drive back to the concrete jungle the next day. A lovely little holiday had just come to an end but no problem as the schools are still out so we’ll be off on our travels again very soon.

A poisonous sea urchin.....and something he found on the sea-bed.



One response

22 11 2010
Lola rainey

Great travel piece.

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