Krabi - Island Paradise
you came all the way from Scandinavia, about to enter the frigid, wintery
months of long, chilly nights and dark mornings, a holiday on the white
sandy beaches of southern Thailand would seem like heaven, shangri-la,
paradise. Indeed, Krabi, a fishing town off the Andaman Sea would be
a perfect destination for those looking for a relaxing beach vigil or
a jaunt in the south to catch the suns rays whilst perhaps doing a spot
of rock climbing, scuba diving and snorkelling.
Krabi's scenery is certainly breathtakingly
beautiful. Nam Ao Bay has 300-metre limestone outcrops that jut overhead
with incredible ostentation. The cliffs cut off all access to the peninsula
by land, making the headland hard to get to except by longtail boat.
North of Phra Nang Beach is Ao
Nang beach. Accessible by road, it is used chiefly as a jump-off point
for outlying islands. From Phi Phi Family Pier, along the Krabi River
you can island hop to popular Koh Poda, 6km to the south. Beyond Poda
is Chicken Island, its limestone head shaped like (you guessed it) a
chicken. More beautiful and farther on are Hong Island and Bamboo Island.
Shaped like a horseshoe, Hong Island is about 40km northwest. Its beautiful
lagoon is best reached at high tide. And 35km south is tiny Koh Mai
Phai, Bamboo Island. Fine white sand rims 95 percent of the island.
Farther afield are overdeveloped Koh Phi Phi Don (45 minutes south by
speedboat) and its sidekick Phi Phi Le.
the way from Ao Nang is the prize of Rai Le beach, a white-sand crescent
that is part of Had Nopparat Thara National Park. But this being Asia,
even the national parks are not off limits and this once virginal and
pristine beach has been overrun with bungalows, restaurants, shops and
hotels, catering to a burgeoning tourist industry that seems limitless.
Although still gorgeous and definitely dramatic in terms of both scenery
and natural wonder, Krabi's best beach spots, Rai Le in particular,
have lost that mystical 'untouched' appeal that many a traveller searches
for in a beach vacation.
Discriminating travellers will
notice the changes that have taken places so quickly here. When we first
visited 6 years ago, Rai Le was quiet, a haven of peace and hardly crowded,
with few bungalows and a loyal following of professional rock climbers
who sought out the beach for its famed cliffs and well-known climbing
trails. The average visitor was a climber, a back packer on a budget
holiday staying in a 200Baht bungalow or a very upmarket tourist staying
at the Dusit Rayavadee Resort. Over the years though, the discovery
was no longer a well-kept secret and travellers started to picking their
way over to Krabi from Samui and Phuket ensuring the end of a once paradisical
Now, small wooden thatched bungalows
make way for the concrete bunkers with air conditioners and modern amenities
that mid-budget tourists seek, lower budget travellers have moved on
to Phangna and Koh Tao as prices have surged to all time highs and once
great deals have soared into the realm of 'over valued' and 'over priced.'
With the increase in demand comes
the increase in island pollution and a wear and tear on the natural
resources and habitat that must come hand in hand with over population
and usage. Every year the tide goes out farther and farther so that
we must wade for 15 minutes before the sea reaches our hips, this is
because there is no longer any live coral to hold the tide at bay and
the mangroves are dying in a plague of shrimp farms.
Lying on pretty Rai Le can still
be a treasure if you go in the low season when the tourist rush is non-existent,
the un-muffled longtail boats that shriek across the water at all hours
are at a relative minimum, the price gauging is kept to a reasonable
level and there is still that sense of island calm pervading the atmosphere.
But since the Krabi Airport now
links the beaches to Bangkok and Singapore by PB Air, and it takes only
about an hour to reach the resort by car and speedboat transfer, this
calm may not last long even in the low season. So, is it still an island
paradise? Well if you just came from Stockholm in the dead of winter,
this place is heaven. But if you knew what heaven used to be like, you
would wish that this bit of paradise was still a hidden jewel in the
Andaman Sea, undiscovered, untested and untouched.