A tour into Ao Luk province in the north of Krabi region, Thailand, uncovers a wonderful escape to the tourism trap. Northern treasures at Ao Luk include activities like swimming, kayaking, trekking and cycling; it’s all there for you to enjoy it, and in a ‘green way’.
It was with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to spend a couple of days with Khun Gift and with members of one of the Ao Luk Community Based Tourism (CBT), the one at Tham Seua Noi village. We had been out with them previously to visit Khao Garos Mountain, and a new exciting adventure was what we expected for this two-days trip.
The center point of Ao Luk district is the Tharnboke Koranee National Park, which can be easily reached by road from Krabi Town and Ao Nang respectively in about 45 minutes. Upon our arrival at Raipreda Homestay, the resort that would provide our team with accommodation, we were welcomed with traditional snacks like sticky rice and beans on banana leaves, and a nice hot coffee. After a chat with affable Khun Gift and with her father Khun Uray, one of CBT’s official explorers and discoverers, we got to choose our mountain bikes for the afternoon activity.
Cycling around the Tham Seua community was a marvelous experience. We followed our group leaders along a paved road before taking a detour through a dirt track to reach Tham Seua Noi cave, situated inside a broad limestone outcrop. This cave is home to a monastery and meditation center, the Wat Tham Seua Noi, where a couple of monks were doing their cleaning chores. We passed a big and nicely decorated statue of Buddha and walked on to a narrow tunnel to reach a small underground pond where the air was stale and humid. The guide pointed his torch to the far end of the cave to observe hundreds of bats flying in the hollow cavity not far from us. It was spooky, but interesting indeed.
We then continued our cycling tour, pedaling through rice fields and rubber and palm oil plantations along hilly tracks, avoiding holes, negotiating steep climbs, and breaking hard during descents until we reached a dead-end where we had to stop, leave our bikes and proceed on foot. Five minutes later we arrived at what resembled a small and dried-up lake in the midst of forested lowland, surrounded by a man-made platform on stilts that encircled the whole area. This pond had a sand floor that was covered by a thin layer of water. As we looked to the murky waters, the guides clapped their hands vigorously, and the sand reacted by bubbling up and releasing water from underground. This was a phenomenon I had never seen. I initially thought it was a hot spring, but the water was cold. We all had so much fun making as much noise as we could and watching the sand bubbling up more and more. Someone stuck a wood stick into the sand, which was immediately pushed out by the sand mass. The guides reassured me these are not quicksand so I leaned on the raised platform and stuck a whole forearm inside the sand, only to feel a mix of sand and water bubbling up around it. No one could explain to me what exactly was causing that, though one of the guys told me we were connecting with mother earth’s forces of the underground… The locals were told about this place by the elders, who recommended that nobody dared to step on the ground there, so there is an aura of mystery and respect surrounding the place they have come to call Nam Pud Prop Mue – or ‘water that splutters at hand clapping’. I promised myself to later make a Google search on the subject.
The rest of the cycling tour took us to the end of the paved lane, where a river separates the provinces of Krabi and Phang Nga. On the way back, the fittest of the team followed the guide to an arduous trek to the base of one of the limestone karsts where, partly hidden by thick jungle, a massive group of caves unveiled. These caves were recently discovered by a member of the community, and we were practically the first foreigners to explore the area. There was no sign of human passage; we climbed a steep path to reach the cave upper level where, torches lit, we ventured inside total darkness. A narrow passage developed into a wide cave with lots of stalactites and stalagmites, alive and dripping in the never-ending process of change inside these unique monoliths where once an ancient civilization lived. I was one of the last to turn back and got to explore a good kilometer of the cave with one of the guides, passing through areas as narrow as my body, by several little calcified water deposits. The guide told me we could be going for ages inside that maze, and that there was a real danger of losing the way if we were not careful to remember from what side we had come from. Not an easy task, I realized on the way back, since all rocks looked the same and totally different from what they had looked on the way in.
We arrived back at Raipreda Homestay at sunset, dropped the bicycles, showered in the outdoor bathrooms of our bungalows, and joined the group for a lovely dinner and to discuss the itinerary for the day after. Sleep came fast that night, at the sound of cicadas and birds…
The alarm clock went off at 5 am. Why are we waking up so early? Where am I? – I wondered. I looked out in the dark from my elevated terrace and saw pick-up trucks getting organized in the parking area below. I remembered where I was, and what we were doing. We were off to another unusual experience. All the group amassed at the back of one of the pick-up trucks and enjoyed the drive and the chill morning air. At the small pier by the river, we boarded a longtail boat and headed off upriver, only to get off, 10 minutes later, in an unassuming beach at the side of a foggy mangrove forest that did not look anything special at first glance. The river water was cold when we got off the boat, but on the way to the shore, we realized there was something different. The water under our feet was warmer in some places, and warm was also the sand we stepped on. What initially had looked like morning mist were in fact the vapors from hot river water at this geothermal beach named Hat Sai Rawn. It was an amazing feeling and we soon learned to step away from areas where the sand was way too hot. There was the real danger of getting seriously burnt as our bodies tended to sink in the hot sand.
The guides set tables and chairs and prepared coffee, while the Thai women who accompanied us on the trip placed bamboo beds on the riverbed and got ready to give us a therapeutic mud mask. The sun was rising fast and the river water was getting hotter and hotter, boiling in some places, and the sand nearby was unbearably hot. The supposed therapeutic qualities of hot sand, and in particular of black sand, continue to be exploited around the world. Hot spring therapy or hot sand spa is quite popular in Japan and is called Arenation: hot sand is applied, sprinkled upon an individual, or walked on. This hot sand mud can be used as a mudpack for a massage or for facials. Once again I was surprised to find this phenomenon here in Ao Luk since it is normally found in areas that sit right on a volcanic belt, which as far as I knew was not the case for this area.
By 7.30 am we were back at Raipreda Homestay where we had just enough time for breakfast before leaving for the last leg of the adventure: paddling a kayak at picturesque Bor Thor. Located on the banks of the Bring River, a mangrove-lined saltwater river that winds through the peaceful countryside until it finally empties into Phang Nga, Bor Thor maze of mangrove canals are best explored by kayak. The karst scenery that the area is so famous for provided the caves we paddled to and through: Tam Lod Nua, the ‘cave passing through’; Tam Lod Thai, a cave that winds its way past beautiful stalactites and leads to a stunning lagoon known as Tham Khao Wong; and Tham Pee Hua Toh or ‘Big Head Ghost Cave’, a huge chamber accessible only on foot where various paintings or picto-glyphs on the cave walls from a civilization that lived here 3,000 years ago offer a fascinating glimpse into Krabi’s rich cultural past.
We ended our tour with a lovely Thai lunch and a chat with Khun Gift to gather information about CBT and Raipreeda Homestay, as well as to recap all the activities done in the short span of two days. We loved the northern treasures at Ao Luk, and so will you. Visit this area if you have the chance, it will not disappoint your thirst for adventure.
For a stay at Raipreda Homestay check on http://www.raipreda-homestay.com/ and to book Ao Luk Community Based Network (CBT) tours, browse http://www.raipreda-homestay.com/index.php/en/package-tour/boattour