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Islands In The Sun

Limestone cliffs on one side and golden shores on the other, with an abundance of nature and cultural attractions in between, Krabi perfectly exudes the allure of an ultimate beach getaway. 

Words: Irvin Hanni Photography: Affandi Abd. Hamid/FND

I’ve always been fascinated with interesting legends that explain the origins of a place. In this modern and fast-paced world, legends, folklore and mystery add a dash of wonderment to an otherwise grey landscape. One such story is about a Princess Goddess and her commoner lover in Southern Thailand. The villagers apparently were dead against this union, as the couple hailed from differing social spheres. Hurt and dejected, the princess cursed the villagers and turned them into islands.

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     Fast forward to the present. There is an estimated 200 islands around Krabi: A few large ones, some accessible, others remote and a few totally untouched by man and modernity. But one thing’s for certain, the islands off Krabi are definitely beautiful gems blessed with white sandy beaches, azure waters and warm island breeze. 

Island Allure

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From Krabi International Airport, Ao Nang is just a 45-minute drive by car. After checking into my hotel, I wasted no time for my fun-in-the-sun vacay. Armed with beach hat and sunglasses, I hopped on a longtail boat from Ao Nang Beach to explore the famed islands off the coast of Krabi. 

     First stop was Tup Island. There were already plenty of sun seekers when I arrived at the island but that didn’t stop me from appreciating the beauty of the place. What’s unique about Tup Island is the ‘bridge’ connecting it to Chicken Island. Between these islands lies a submerged sand bank that becomes visible only during low tide, enabling you to walk from one island to another! Imagine my delight as I gingerly stepped on the sand bank to walk from one island to the other with gentle waves licking my feet from both sides of the sea!

     As I was leaving the island by boat, I noticed a ‘monstrous’ chicken staring out to the ocean from atop the rocks. Well, it wasn’t a real chicken but a rock shaped like one. Then it made sense why this island was called Chicken Island. It really looked like one! And its neighbouring islet looked like a turtle. Did the princess curse the animals too, I wondered.

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Water World

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Southern Thai meals like this tom yam dish are known to be spicier compared to other regions in Thailand.

The ocean around these islands was simply stunning and beckoned me to dive into the crystal clear waters. After half a day of swimming with the fishes, sunbathing and imagining myself marooned on an uninhabited island, I was famished. I practically jumped for joy when told that lunch was waiting for me at Railay Beach. The spread of seafood dishes and tom yam soup was predictable but delicious nonetheless. Having devoured literally everything, I knew I couldn’t look like a beached whale and had to lose the extra kilogrammes I had put on over lunch. Taking a brisk walk around the restaurant led me to Walking Street, which was lined with restaurants, bars and shops. The path eventually led me to a jungle trek that cut across some heavily wooded area. What was truly remarkable about this place is that, although Railay Beach is located on the mainland, the beach is only accessible from the ocean as the area is a wooded fortress!

     My island-hopping journey continued with a quick trip to Phra Nang Beach. Another beautiful beach, this area is home to a bizarre attraction. A short walk to the end of the beach led to the Phra Nang Cave, where a small shrine dedicated to the Princess Goddess is located. Not for the prudish, the shrine is filled with offerings of wooden phallic symbols of all sizes, colours and shapes. Part of a fertility rite, locals swear that these offerings help them conceive.

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Charm Of Koh Lanta

The next day I set out on another island adventure. Just two hours on a ferry ride from Noppara Tharat Pier is Koh Lanta, a gem of an island that has evaded the party island vibe that the island of Southern Thailand is known for. Most travellers overlook Koh Lanta for the more popular islands like Koh Phi Phi or Phuket, which is why a trip here is perfect for those seeking a spot of tranquillity surrounded by calm waters and powder soft beaches.

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     I decided to visit one of the bigger islands within the cluster, Koh Lanta Yai. The island measures just 25kms in length and has good roads an circling the it, so it’s easy to get around by car. But if you’d rather have the sun on your back and the wind in your hair, rent a motorbike for just about THB250 a day. It is cheap, efficient and you’ll get to work on that tan too.

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     Upon reaching the island, I headed straight to Kok Kwang Beach, quickly spread a batik cloth on the soft sand, and soon, was lost in my copy of The Godfather, serenaded by the gentle sounds of crashing waves, and the soft clouds shielding me from the direct sun.

     Having had my fill of sunny beaches and blue waters, I walked towards the old town of Koh Lanta. The place retains a rustic feel with an aging jetty, new lighthouse, a simple courtyard where local kids play sepak takraw, a little roundabout and a main road lined with old shops and houses. Some of the newer shops here are pretty touristic but I personally found the pre-war shops quaint and full of character. There was one shop still processing rubber the old way, another one had been converted into a mini Buddhist temple, while a third had been turned into a roosting ground for swiftlets (to collect bird’s nests for sale). Nostalgia came a-calling as this place reminded me of my own grandfather’s village in Malaysia.

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Young rice plants in the flooded paddies of Koh Klang

Caving In

My last day in Krabi was pretty adventurous, to say the least. From Chao Fa Pier in Krabi town, I took a longtail boat to the Khao Khanab Nam Cave. Inside, a mysterious world unfolded in the darkness with stalagmites and stalactites extending from the roof and floor. The occasional flapping of bats added to eeriness. It was a little scary for my personal liking but the caves house very important relics of prehistoric carvings and drawings, some dating back to up to 6,000 years ago. Viewing these drawings was a special experience knowing that they have survived six millennia of wear and tear.

     Having had my fill of pre-historic art appreciation, I yearned for sunlight and hastily headed out to Koh Klang to see Thai village life. This time around, I grabbed a tuk-tuk for a slow ride around the village.The scenery was simple, albeit a rich and diverse. Green paddies, wooden houses with chickens scratching around the compound for food, songbirds cooing from their cages, and village folks gathering in simple coffee shops to catch up on the latest gossip – life unfolded in a very real and unencumbered way here. As dusk fell, a kind of hush descended, signalling the end of yet another day, as residents got ready to hang up their daily woes and get a good night’s rest.

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Tiger’s Blessing

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My trip ended on a serene note with my visit to Wat Tham Sua or the Tiger Cave Temple. Even before setting foot inside the main temple, I was engulfed by a sense of supreme calmness. The complex comprises the main temple, a pagoda that honours the Goddess of Mercy, a library, as well as little shops. The main attraction that is still under construction here is the bell tower, a majestic structure that can be seen from a distance. Built at the cost of THB200 million, the tower (upon completion) will be 90 metres tall, making it one of the world’s tallest bell towers!

     For the psychically fit, the must-do activity here is to climb the 1,237 steps that lead to the Khao Kaeo Peak. The climb to the summit takes about an hour but I thought it was well worth the huffing and puffing, though I was drenched by the time I got to the top. Apart from amazing 360 views of the town, the shore and the islands in the distance, I also got to view a replica of Buddha’s footprint, the Pagoda of the Holy Relic, as well as a huge statue of Buddha. As the sun prepared to take its daily dip into the ocean, the horizon lit up in a blaze of warm colours. Krabi on one side and the far-flung islands on the other all seemed like one large painting. Perhaps the Princess Goddess’ curse has been finally been lifted and she is no longer angry with the people of Krabi and, has bestowed the area with beauty, peace and tranquillity.

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GETTING THERE AirAsia flies daily to Krabi from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Go to www.airasia.com for details.

EASY ISLAND TRANSFER

  • Travelling to your favourite islands in Thailand is easier with AirAsia’s island transfer service. You can now pre-book and have a vehicle waiting for you at the airport to transfer you to the ferry pier and then to the islands of your choice.
  • Fly from Bangkok to Krabi for easy transfer to Koh Lanta or Koh Phi Phi
  • From Bangkok to Hat Yai to go to Koh Lipe
  • From Bangkok to Surat Thani if you want to go to Koh Samui or Koh Phangan.

THINGS TO DO

Sea Canoeing

Canoes are easily available for rent at most beaches around Krabi, with rates ranging from THB200 to THB250 per hour.

Scuba diving

For divers, the nearest dive sites to go to are Koh Podah Nai and Koh Podah Nok. Other dive sites such as Koh Phi Phi, Shark Point Marine Sanctuary and Hin Daeng and Muang are accessible via speedboats from Ao Nang.

Rock climbing

Before you think that this is an extreme sport only for the pros, think again. There are beginners’ courses available at Railay, Tonsai and Phra Nang beaches for everyone to try.

WHERE TO STAY

Pilanta Spa Resort

Koh Lanta

www.pilanta.com

Ao Nang Princeville Resort

Ao Nang Beach

www.aonangprinceville.com

For travel to Krabi and around the islands, contact Ao Nang Travel & Tour Co. Ltd at www.aonangtravel.co.th

EXCITED ABOUT KRABI AND ITS ISLANDS?

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