Early morning in Krabi Town. I patiently await the departure of a longtail boat under a pavilion in the Chao Fa old pier amongst locals Muslim. Women wear veils and chatter animatedly. Men laboriously load longtail boats that will head to the islands off the Krabi coast with merchandise from the city: ice, meat, onions, bottled beverages, fruits and vegetables, and all kind of goods from the morning market…
The sun is already heating the air while I am whisked away from town. From the boat, Khao Phanom Bencha, Krabi highest mountain, is clearly visible and has a single puffy cloud towering above it. The waters of the estuary of the Krabi River are calm, the perfect day for a tour of the mangroves; boats from the other direction are full of people from the islands who commute daily to town for shopping, working or simply socializing
It is for this and for several other reasons that I love Krabi. The town in itself might not be a particularly attractive one in the conventional sense, but it is a real rough diamond that tourists use as a base for visiting the major attractions in the Krabi Province, and save time, hassle and money. This picturesque city is usually a transport hub for travelers on their way to places such as Ao Nang, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and other destinations in the South of Thailand. The main bus station is located here, and you will undoubtedly pass through Krabi Town on your way to anywhere you want to go in the province. It is a charming town, with a more ‘local’ feel to it than the tourist areas. There are good restaurants and bars, but they might not be as obvious to come across. The accommodation in Krabi will be cheaper, as will the food, especially if you eat at the food markets. The people are genuinely friendly and helpful and with the new addition of maps located on prominent stands along the pavement, it is easier to find your bearings. The best way to explore the town is to just walk and see what you can find. Sooner or later, I always seem to end up back where I started.
In the town itself there aren’t a lot of activities apart from shopping and eating. You can take longtail boats from Chao Fa pier to do some sightseeing along the river; navigating upriver the boat will take you through the impressive mangrove forests and you will come to Khao Kanab Nam. Very much the symbol of Krabi, the two towering peaks of Khao Kanab Nam are part of a national conservation area of 4 million square meters home to different species of fish, monkeys and birds. These two dog-ear shaped rocks, about 100 meters high, are separated by the Krabi River and form the town’s most prominent landmark. Skeletons of human descent were discovered in Krabi, dating back some 43,000 years, making them some of the oldest ever found. Get off the boat and climb the towers via a staircase for some truly spectacular views. These are caves that are worth exploring, with their impressive stalactite formations.
If you are up for shopping, there are loads of interesting places to spend a few Thai Baht; take some time out and wander aimlessly throughout the smaller side streets (Soi) off Maharaj central road and you will be amazed at what you may come across. Traditional, handmade jewelry and crafts, beautiful silk garments tailor made for you, gems, pottery, antiques, wonderful wooden furniture and plants can all be found here, usually in a non descript shop with the craftsperson working away. Soi 8 off Maharaj Road is now designated as a pedestrian walking street during 5 to 10 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The zone is called Walking Street, a great place for local premium quality local products such as souvenirs, food and beverage, herbal products, antiques plus many more, as well as for some local music.
Visitors take advantage of Krabi’s fantastic night and day markets at various sites around the town and indulge in the magnificent views to be enjoyed from the riverbanks. Eating places are everywhere and are open day and night. Some of the best authentic Thai food can be found at the local food markets. Chao Fa Pier night food market is a good bet, as well as the larger night markets that take over whole streets from dusk. This is the best ‘fast food’ you will ever have, and is usually served at the same time you take your seat. Try a few things and remember they will be cooked the local way, spicy! If you are missing the flavor of your home country and need a little comfort food, there are a few restaurants in the town that offer western food. Italian restaurants are particularly good. These are usually owned and run by ex pats so the food is excellent. During the day, there are plenty of noodles and chicken stalls on street corners to keep you going throughout the day, as well as food chains like KFC, Dairy Queen and Dunkin Donuts all located in the Vogue Department Store, the only one in the city center. If you have a craving for some ice cream, pay a visit to Swenson’s, located here as well!
And if you are going out by night, around the Maharaj Road are some well-known places for some late night fun and games in the town. Expect loud music, DJ’s and good times fuelled by lots of local whiskey. Elsewhere, the nightlife scene here is relatively subdued. There is more of an open-air restaurant vibe to the place. You will see small groups of locals gathered outside small grocery stores, sharing bottles of the local beer and playing checkers with bottle caps; you will see couples, backpackers and families here and there is a relaxed atmosphere around the place.
HISTORY: Pronounced ‘Gra-bee’, this small town is located 900 kilometers and 90 minutes by air from Bangkok. There are 132 pristine and untouched islands of all shapes and sizes surrounding Krabi. Historically speaking, at the start of the Rattanakosin period, about 200 years ago, when the Thai capital was finally settled at Bangkok, elephants roamed wild in the Krabi area and an elephant kraal was established in Krabi by order of the then Rajah and Governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat, which was by then a part of the Thai Kingdom. He sent his vizier, the Phra Palad, to oversee the task of ensuring a regular supply of elephants for the larger town. So many emigrated in the steps of the Phra Palad and settled down here that soon Krabi had a large community divided in three different boroughs: Pakasai, Klong Pon, and Pak Lao.
THE NAME: As for the origins of the name Krabi, two legends co-exist; according to one of them, Krabi would derive from the name of the local tree Lumphi. The Malay and Chinese merchants pronounced it incorrectly Ka-lu-bi or Kho-lo-bi, which finally turned the name into Krabi.
SLEEPOVER: Krabi is pleasant enough to spend a night or two. Most accommodations are located alongside Chaofa Road, a prolongation of the old Chaofa Pier. Hotels range from simple and inexpensive guesthouses to nice boutique-like resorts. There is also a choice of hotels in the city center along Maharat Road and also on the riverside near the Thara Park area.
HEALTH: If you fall ill whilst in Krabi, the local Krabi Hospital is not far from the town center – 075 611202, 611210, 611220. The closest international hospital is in Phuket – some 2 to 3 hours drive away. Ruam Phaet private clinic in Talat Kao is a good alternative. If your problem is not an emergency you can walk into any of the pharmacies you will find everywhere and they can offer free advice and even dispense prescription medication.
INFO: The main post office in Krabi is to be found on Uttarakit, near the police station. From Monday to Saturday the post office is open from 8.30am to 15.30pm. Tel: 075 611050. Emergency services include Police 075 611222 or 191, Fire brigade 075 611111 or 199, and Search & Rescue 075 622581.
TRAVEL: The new bus station from where you can get cheap transportation to most of the rest of Thailand is located in Thalat Kao, about 4 km outside the centre, any tuk tuk driver will know the way (say satanee rot bus). Also, the local sowngthaew pick-up busses (basically a covered pick-up truck with 2 long benches at the back) continually roam the town, beeping their horns; raise your hand to stop them anywhere you are. Krabi International Airport is at a few km from town, on the way out of Talat Kao, past BigC and Tesco Lotus Shopping Malls. The airport bus leaves Ao Nang Beach and passes in Krabi Town every hour or so.