It is no doubt that Krabi is suitable for eco-tourism and sustainable programs linked to local communities. Last month we made our way there to be part of a Community Based Tourism (CBT) tour organised by a community of farmers and fishermen at Baan Khuan O. The tour explores the mountain of Khao Garos by means of boat and kayak, paddling along waters enclosed by one of the most majestic canyons in Ao Luek district, Krabi.
At our arrival at Baan Khuan O pier we were introduced to the boat owner, a proud member of Baan Khuan O community, as well as an explorer and discoverer of all the natural beauties we were going to visit. We were informed that there are 160 villagers involved in this project, a total of 8 communities adhering to the CBT program. Baan Khuan O project limits the tour to 120 visitors per day, with only 60 per day allowed inside the canyon in order to preserve the environment there.
Following the introductions and initial chat, we split: some boarded the longtail boats for the much-attended tour of Khao Garos canyon, while some boarded their kayak and started paddling. I had the luck of initially being in the boat with our guide and his daughter, and while the guide propelled the vessel towards the maze of mangrove canals, I took in the amazing views of the limestone mountains that surrounded us all around. The rest of the group kayaked along the mangrove-sided huge canal.
We slowly approached the high rock face of Khao Garos mountain, and understood the meaning of the name: Garos in ancient Malay language means ‘not beautiful’, and this was clear seeing the ragged and rough surface of the mountain rock. The guide informed us that in the past Khao Garos was used by Chinese and Malaysian sailors to shelter from monsoon rains. We sailed alongside the long-range mountain and towards the sea, with the canal getting wider and wider. We neared the sheer rock covered in its near entirety by trees; at the top of this huge mountain range there is a flat plateau accessible only through treacherous climbing.
One of the main features of Khao Garos is a hidden lagoon surrounded by vertical cliffs and only accessible with smaller boats and in high tides. It was now my time to kayak. We stooped by a small cave, our changing base from longtail boats to kayak. A few minutes later I was paddling inside a quiet amphitheatre where the only noise was our voices amplified by echoes, and birds and cicadas singing. Around us, healthy-looking mangrove trees that constantly produce new roots; these drop from branches towards the water, eventually reaching the seabed and establishing there to give more life to forests that house a rich and complex ecosystem. The vegetation growing on rocks around us comprise rare endemic plants, including spectacular specimen of yellow Ron Tau Naree Luan Krabi orchid – the symbol of Krabi, which grow on top of the trees.
Bare, strangely shaped rocks and boulders protrude from the waters. Eerie-looking rock shapes started to appear on wall faces – skulls, masks, and other undefined shapes. Sheer cliffs covered the sun rays, giving the area an infernal feel. The kayak peacefully entered the submerged cave; it was like entering another world. Stalactites of different shapes stack out of rock ceilings, and the air turned fresh and humid. Myriads of fossilised shells were encrusted on the cave suspended ceiling; the proof that sea level in Krabi was quite high in ancient times.
We exited the cave and sailed alongside Khao Garos, with our guide giving us accounts of hidden caves containing treasures – quite a possibility as they could be easily camouflaged by natural features. He then pointed us to pictorials on the rock walls. One resembled a centipede, another a human-looking icon featured climbing a rope and aiming at a box at the top. This would be the hint to the place where treasure was hidden. These are the words of an ancient local poem: “Long line mountain amongst the sea, Whirl sea water as a signal, The treasure is above, Let’s take it home”.
According to a local legend, a few locals who tried digging rock to find the alleged treasure heard voices screaming in the distance. The number of treasure hunters has since declined; locals now believe there is magic and spirits that harbour in the cave, and fully respect it. There are a high number of unexplored caves in Khao Garos mountain, and some of these are being researched, though funds are limited. In some of them, researchers have found pottery and human skulls dated 3,000 to 5,000 years back.
We quietly returned to our departing point, most of us made speechless by the eternal beauty we experienced. Ao Luek is the cradle of civilisation in Thailand, and we were glad to have explored some of its natural features in the company of a local community.
Khao Garos looks like an island but it is not an island – Khao: mountain, Garos: ugly
Khao Garos is also known as Khao Yao Nam Rop: long mountain surrounded by the sea
Khao Garos is home to local shells Hok Chai Teen and local orchid Ron Tau Naree Luan Krabi