Krabi is a pleasant, vibrant town, located picturesquely at a mangrove estuary. Karst rocks pepper the surrounding landscape. Krabi itself doesn’t hold the attention for long but it’s a great base for exploring the attractions nearby. One can go swimming at a beautiful Railay beach (accessible only by boat), kayaking in the caves and karst lagoons, climbing the never-ending stairs up the Tiger Hill and hiking to the top of the stunning Dragon Crest. Krabi isn’t just a tourist destination – it’s mostly a normal, local town where you can get a glimpse of Thai way of life.
After 10-days of lazying on Ko Lanta, we took a minivan to Krabi Town. I wasn’t very happy about that place at first. After all, I moved from an almost-deserted beach to a busy town. Our accommodation was facing a huge market so the traffic and the noise bothered me a bit. On the other hand, we stayed in a massive, spotlessly clean room with a powerful fan – the best value for money accommodation we found during our entire stay in southern Thailand.
I started warming up to Krabi as soon as I realised it was actually very nicely located at the mangrove estuary of the Krabi River. Krabi Town even had its own karst formations- the iconic twin rocks of Kanab Nam- emerging from the river and visible from the town’s promenade. I enjoyed strolls along the promenade or buying food at the night market and eating it while sitting at the river bank.
The fact that I was staying in the middle of the town didn’t affect me much as I would rarely be there during daytime. We would normally spend an entire day exploring the surrounding area and come back only in the evening. We were expecting to stay in Krabi for just two nights but we ended up extending our stay to five nights. There was so much to do in the area!
Markets and food
By far the most exciting thing about Krabi was food. We heard that Krabi morning market is the biggest of its kind in southern Thailand. It opened around 5 am when it was still completely dark and became quiet and empty by around 8 am. Inside, there was a huge section serving fresh meals, as well as numerous stalls with incredibly cheap fruit.
Staying at a hotel facing the market had its advantages. Every day, I could see from the windows of my room a group of Buddhist monks forming a neat line to receive alms from the markets vendors. The initially very annoying music blaring out for a few minutes every morning turned out to be a national anthem. It had the power of bringing a bustling square to a standstill.
The walking street market provided diverse food (including purely vegetarian) at night. Sometimes we would visit also a night market near Chao Fah pier but that one has much fewer stalls. Besides, there were some cheap eateries and stalls strewn all over the town. My biggest discovery was Hong Nin restaurant – a Chinese vegetarian restaurant serving two (very tasty) dishes with rice for just 35 baht.
Boat ride to Railay beach
Our first day trip out of Krabi and an absolute priority was the famous Railay beach, accessible only by a boat. An around 45 minutes journey with a long tail boat from the Chao Fah pier on Krabi river cost 150 baht one way. We actually bought the return ticket at our hotel since the price (the same as at the pier) included a pick-up. Our departure (the first departure of the day) was quite late – about 8.30- 9 am. Since the last boat would return at 5 pm, we knew it was going to be an intense day.
The boat journey was quite pleasant. We could admire the views at the mangroves and -after entering the open sea- plenty of rocky islands peppering the sea.
Our boat arrived at the eastern pier. The East Railay beach was covered with mangrove therefore unsuitable for swimming. However, it took us just 10 minutes to walk across the land densely packed with resorts and reach the western side.
There were very few people on the West Railay beach that morning and it was easy to find some shadow under the bushes. The beach was beautiful, with two karst rock outcrops at either end and a long half-moon of white sand. It wasn’t very convenient for swimming, though. The tide in the late morning was so low that I had to walk very far forward until the water got deep enough to swim. It was quite easy to get cut on sharp rocks near either end of the beach. On a positive note, water’s low level allowed me to approach the rocks and the caves inside them just by swimming.
We were originally planning to venture inland in order to visit the Diamond Cave (located a short walk from the West Railay). A 100 baht entrance fee to the ‘national park’ (somehow covering only the area o the cave, no other part of Railay) was a successful deterrent. We just walked underneath large stalactite-like formations and admired the rocks from up-close.
The best beach on Railay Peninsula
We then moved to the Phra Nang Beach which turned out to be our favourite. A large cave accessible by walking or swimming was fun to explore and the beach was just perfect for swimming. The only nuisance were boatloads of organized tours coming and going incessantly until late afternoon. In between of those short ‘invasions’ the beach was relatively quiet throughout the day.
By the late afternoon, the beach became almost empty, perhaps because it started to recede rapidly, taken by the tide. I enjoyed having the sea all for myself and even swam to the nearest rock, completely unaware of the danger. Once I got out of the water, I saw a sign which definitely wasn’t there before, warning of the presence of Portuguese man of war, one of the deadliest jellyfish in the world.
There was one more attraction at the Phra Nang Beach – Phra Nang cave shrine– which we checked only when the crowds were gone. This dry cave situated just at the beginning of the beach was used as a shrine of fertility spirits. It was filled with hundreds of phallic statues of various sizes, some of them quite explicit.
Originally, we were planning to end the day by going to the Railay view point located just above the Phra Nang but since we forgot to take proper sandals with a grip, it would be an unwise thing to do. It became quite clear that flip-flops wouldn’t be suitable when we saw the start of the hiking path, (located half way between the East Beach and the Phra Nang Beach). The path was a vertical, muddy ascent with some ropes installed for more support. We read in numerous blogs that getting to the top would require a bit of fitness and definitely a proper shoe wear. With heavy heart, I let it go.
Returning by boat was a bit of a thrill as due to approaching storm the sea became rather rough. We ended up sprayed with water all over but luckily the storm just passed by.
I was quite upset that I couldn’t climb to the viewpoint yet I still really enjoyed the day. It would have been nicer to stay on Railay for one day longer but it certainly wouldn’t have been cheap. We agreed that we were satisfied with that one day visit and we were ready to do something else than staying on the beach.
How to get to Krabi?
In the peak season, you can get to Krabi by ferry from most of the islands of the Andaman coast, like Ko Lanta, Ko Phi Phi, Phuket and more. All those ferries stop running between May and September.
Krabi is not very convenient to get to from Bangkok: a journey by bus is 11 hours long and it costs minimum 400 THB. The journey from the east coast takes similar amount of time but is much cheaper- 150 THB for a bus from Surat Thani to Krabi Town. The short bus journeys include also Phang Nga Town, Khao Lak and Phuket.
The tourist minivans would drop you off at your hotel but if you’re using a public bus, be aware you’d need to take a songthaew from the bus station to the town centre.
Prices in Krabi [in Thai baht as of May 2018]:
900 THB a half-day kayaking trip to Bhor Tor
300 THB return long tail boat to Railay beach
300 THB minivan Koh Lanta- Krabi Town
200 THB scooter rental for one day
200 THB a large double room with en-suite bathroom and hot water
70 THB dinner with a drink at the night market
35 THB lunch at a Chinese vegetarian eatery
20 THB songthaew from the town centre to the bus station
20 THB fresh coconut
5 THB one pineapple at the morning market
5 THB postcard