Our trip to Krabi defies my ability t describe it. Krabi is in the South of Thailand, about a 1 hour flight from Bangkok and about the same latitude as Phuket, its more famous resort town cousin that was devastated last year by the Tsunami.
We got off the plane in the three gate Krabi International Airport and boarded a van that took us about 45 minutes, to the town of Ao Nang and our “Check In” area for the hotel. This is pretty much where the strangeness began. When you check in to most hotels, you are at the hotel, but not so for the Central Krabi Resort. The check-in area is a fifteen minute drive from the “pier” which is another fifteen minute boat ride from the resort. The Central Krabi is accessible only by boat or by foot. More about overland access later.
The resort is brand new, having opened its doors in November of 2006. It is built in an isolated cove protected by massive limestone cliffs on three sides. It is plush with all the normal luxury resort trappings. Similar to what you would expect in Hawaii or the Bahamas. Rooms start at about $1000 per night. Luckily for us, they END significantly lower in cost than that.
The water is emerald green and pretty clear. We were told that another 1 hour boat ride South into the Andaman Sea results in crystal clear water with visibilities in the 150 foot range, perfect for snorkeling or diving. This trip did not allow us to check that out. Maybe next time.
We had read a little about the resort on the web, and we knew about the overland route to the resort. Good thing, because none of the resort staff knew anything about it. On our first night there, we decided to find the trail which is described as a wooden, lighted trail maintained by the national forest service and passing over the headland onto Ao Nang Beach and on into the beach town of Ao Nang. All of that seems to be true except that the wooden trail comprises a 400 foot climb over a ½ mile path. The trail is a series of double 1x4 planks separated by 3 to 5 inch gaps. The steep climb is pretty unforgiving. A missed step could easily result in a sprain or worse if your foot dropped though the gaps in the planks. The path was solid, but off kilter in places that made you pitch forward or to the side unexpectedly. I told Brenda that it seemed like something that kids would build to gain access to their “fort.” But we survived it, and made it into Ao Nang for a pretty nice evening of people watching and dinner.
Ao Nang is definitely a beach town and anyone who has been to Virginia Beach, Galveston, Pennsacola or any of the US beach towns would feel pretty much at home in Ao Nang. Interestingly, many of the signs and restaurant menus were also printed in German. And I was actually approached by a Thai street vendor speaking German to me. I guess I look like the master race. Anyway, Ao Nang is apparently a destination for Eastern Europeans and we saw (and heard) many German and Scandinavians while we were there. We saw almost no Thais except the ones working as wait staff or in the shops. If you didn’t know you were in Thailand… well, you might not know from the people you saw either.
We retraced our steps after dinner, mostly because we wanted to see the trail back to the hotel after dark. It was well lit, but still precarious. Signs along the way warned that we should not feed the monkeys because it would upset the natural balance of the ecosystem. No problem. The monkeys were elsewhere during our visit.
When we arose in the morning, we had a resort style breakfast, a buffet with everything imaginable that cost about $40 for the two of us. So much for getting value for you money in Thailand. Well, maybe it was worth it. If you wanted honey for you biscuit or pancake, you got it from an actual honeycomb dripping slowly into a collection bowl. No bees, just honey. That’s gotta be worth something. After breakfast we headed off to connect with our Kayak tour that we had booked before leaving Bangkok. And so another adventure began.
While the boat that delivered us to the resort was a modern, twin engine fiberglass “seat boat”, the boat that took us to Ao Nang to find our tour was a traditional Thai long boat powered by a 4 cylinder car engine mounted on a pivot point with a 15 foot propeller shaft sticking out the back. To turn the boat, the boatman pulls or pushes hard on the tiller which turns the whole engine and propeller shaft. These are heavy wooden boats in which you can see the ribs and outer planking. They move surprisingly well though the water, but they are very loud. Sitting on the beach you hear what sounds like a constant hum from school bus sized bees, the sound of the long boats.
Another surprise awaited us when the boat beached at Ao Nang, but not at the “pier.” It pulled up to the beach like the landing at Normandy and another boatman ran out to tip the boat over a bit so we passengers could more easily exit the boat into the calf deep surf. With wet shoes and trousers we walked up the beach where we were told to expect a tuk tuk (three wheeled motorcycle) in which we could continue our journey to meet our excursion guide. Hmmmmm. No tuk tuk. But after a few minutes, a “bus” pulled up behind us beeping it’s horn with the driver finally opening his passenger side door to ask us in Thai where we were going. We told him and despite his slightly confused look we piled into the back of the “bus” where we joined eight adults and three school children who were already huddled in bed of the pick-up truck er.. I mean Bus. I swear it was labeled “official bus.”
As Brenda and I discussed the probability of actually arriving anywhere near where we were supposed to be, we reminded ourselves that vacations, like everything else in Thailand are going to be an adventure. As the saying goes, when ordering a meal in Thailand “order what you want, eat what you get.” Same thing for travel I suppose.
But we did arrive where we expected to, and in relatively short order. As we got off the bus, Brenda kept assuring me that “they have our name” so finding the tour would be easy. Well she was right. They had our name, and after walking around for fifteen minutes asking everyone I could find if they spoke English (Khun Phuute Angrit Dai Mai) one of the boatmen responded to our request for “Thailand Sea Kayak” by pointing back up the beach toward a van marked only in Thai and with two young men standing near it. After we slogged our way back to where we were dropped by the “bus” one of the fellows by the van asked if we were who we are. “I am you guide” he said after we confirmed and we piled into the van to begin the next hour in our trip after which we arrived at the Sea Kayak headquarters and began to prepare for the actual adventure part of our day. Whew!
In this discussion, I have tried to convey the uncertainty with which we were met at virtually every turn of this trip. We were never certain about our accommodations or our ability to arrive at the places we intended. Never-the-less we always arrived exactly where we intended, and pretty much at the time we expected. The Thai style of travel was making a mockery of our Type A personalities and US style logistics. What fun.
But from our arrival at the Sea Kayak dock until the end of our trip some six hours later we had a wonderful time. We kayaked through mangrove forests on a river that only three hours before we began our trip had been completely dry. The water we kayaked in had swollen up from the sea with the tide and took us along the edge of the forest and into the limestone caves that pepper the area. Several caves were barely high enough to get through in the boats, but once through they opened into 300 foot shear cliffs that surrounded us bringing to mind the Lost World movies or Jurassic Park. We almost expected a dinosaur head to peek out from among the heavily jungled wall of limestone at any time.
Among the more unusual sights we saw were tree crabs (I named them”tree crabs” because that’s where they were, in the trees.) These crabs make their living in the mud left behind at low tide, but at high tide they evacuate to the roots and branches of the mangroves. A strange sight seeing a crab climbing a tree.
We also saw a monitor lizard sunning itself on a rock and an eagle fleeing our rattling and banging attempts to kayak quietly through the river. But the best part of the trip for me was seeing the 3000 year old cave paintings in the cave of the Big Headed Ghost. There are over 200 cave paintings in the cave and some are in remarkable condition. And some just make you go Hmmmmmmmm. You can see more at my photo album which I have had to move to Flickr because photobucket has just become unusable.
All in all a great trip. We should probably go back.