Pronounced ‘Gra-bee’, this small town located 814 kilometers from Bangkok is not a particularly attractive one in the conventional sense but a real rough diamond that tourists use as a base for visiting the major attractions and save time, hassle and money. 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 river banks. Krabi today is the main port of entry to the province and indeed a bustling fishing port on the mouth of the Krabi River. It is finally developing and acquiring the reputation as a worldwide famous destination, and the history of Krabi Town is an ancient one…
Krabi is a southern province on Thailand’s Andaman seaboard with perhaps the country’s oldest history of continued settlement. According to archaeological evidence, the area that is now called Krabi province had been a community since prehistoric period, yet there was no documentary evidence about this. After dating archaeological discoveries such as stone tools, ancient colored pictures, heads, pottery and skeletal remains found in the province’s many cliffs and caves, it is thought that Krabi has been home to Homo Sapiens since the period 25,000-35,000 B.C. In recorded times it was called Ban Thai Samor, used a monkey as the town symbol and was one of twelve Thai royal cities. The first recorded history dates 1,200 A.D. when Krabi, or Ban Thai Samor, was tributary to the Kingdom of Ligor, a city on the Kra Peninsula’s east coast better known today as Nakhon Si Thammarat.
200 YEARS AGO
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 Jao Phraya Nakorn (Noi), the 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 his task which was to ensure 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.
During King Chulalongkorn’s (Rama V) reign (1868-1910), this land was called Pakasai sub-county under the direct jurisdiction of Nakhon Si Thammarat province. In 1872, King Chulalongkorn graciously elevated Pakasai sub-county to town status and called it Krabi, a word that preserved in its meaning the monkey symbolism of the old standard. The town’s provincial administration office was situated at Krabi-yai sub-county (in Muang district at present) and Krabi’s first governor was Luang Tehp Sena. Krabi continued for a while to be a dependency of Nakhon Si Thammarat. This changed in 1875, when Krabi was raised to a fourth level town in the old system of Thai government in Bangkok. Administrators then reported directly to the central government in Bangkok, and Krabi’s history as a unique entity, separate from the other provinces, began. In 1900 the governor moved the center of the province from Ban Talad Kao to its present location at the mouth of the Krabi River.
As for the origins of the name Krabi, two legends co-exist. The first has it that villagers presented a large ancient sword (‘krabi’ in Thai) unearthed by chance to the governor. They also did the same when a smaller sword was found later. The governor regarded these two swords as sacred and auspicious, and as the provincial establishment was still in progress, he had them placed crossing each other in the cave named Khao Khanab Nam. This was the origin of the province’s emblem: two crossed ancient swords in front of the Indian Ocean and the Phanom Bencha Mountain, with its 1397 meters above sea level the highest mountain of the province. According to the second legend, 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.