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Rock all day long among rock formations

"Everyone agrees.  It's difficult to stay crabby when you're visiting Krabi."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic

Krabi rocked my world.  There're sure a lot of rocks to see down there.

It's October 2008, and my then girlfriend -- now wife -- was deciding where to go for the October family vacation.  The previous year, we'd been to Phuket.  She loved the Andaman Coast so much that she wanted to return to the same general area but to a different beach, a different place.  I suggested Krabi.  I had been there for a very brief time in 1994 to make a lame attempt at rockclimbing on the barely developed Phra Nang beach and what I did remember I remembered fondly.  I had almost gone there with my father a few months prior.  We went to Koh Samui instead, a good thing it turned out, because I encountered an adorable cat at our pool in Samui whom I adopted and still have to this day.   My girlfriend subsequently spent hours on the Net researching all our options.  Within a few days, she informed me that we were going to Krabi.

Krabi centara

Boats, drinks, and karst formations

It was another overnight bus trip to get down here, and we arrived on a hot Saturday morning at 7 AM.   We caught a shared songthaew westwards for an hour to Ao Nang beach from the Krabi bus station and another taxi to our accommodation.  The girlfriend set it up so that our first three nights would be spent somewhere on the lower but comfortable end of the spectrum -- then USD 20/night.   The last three days we'd be living the high life at a 5-star hotel for which she was able to obtain a very seductive price.     

On the songthaew ride to Ao Nang, I marveled at the mountainous rocks which surrounded the twisting road to the beach.  I hadn't expected such startling scenery.  I must've seen all these spellbinding rocks and mountains years before and somehow forgotten it.  Living in Los Angeles for close to eight years will destroy vital cells, even if you're not regularly doing drugs.  

Getting Right Down To Business

My girlfriend immediately booked us on a five islands boat tour.  I'd love to tell you the price if I could only remember it.  Prices, as I recall, were reasonable and kids went for a half price.   What I most certainly did not forget was, at the time, when we tried to book a private boat so that just I, the girlfriend, and her son could go on a tour of our own making, the prices quoted bordered on fantasy fulfillment levels for the boatman.  My brother was in the Krabi area 14 months later, and by then, maybe the boatmen had become entrepreneurial.  He booked his own private boat for less than the commercial trips.  Okay, he didn't get a mediocre lunch included. 

You're not breaking new ground doing a five islands boat tour in the Krabi area.  Consider this akin to visiting the Eiffel Tower when you're in Paris.  It's just something you do.   You don't think about it, debate it, wonder if it's touristy.  You get your ass to the tourist location and do what's expected.  Stop trying to think you're so deep!


Centara Grand Emerald Swamp Krabi scenery hot springs Pakbia Island karst formations Pakbia
Krabi delights Doug savored (l to r):  the Centara Grand nestled right into the rocks and accessible either by a mountainous hike or by boat; swimming at the Emerald Pool in Khao Pra-Bang Khram Wildlife Sanctuary; the greenery of Phang Nga province; the Emerald Pool hot spring; Doug on Pakbia Island; the splendid karst rock formations Krabi is famous for; Doug posing in tree on one of the many islands scattered off the coast of Ao Nang.  Click on a picture to enlarge it, morons!

The five-island tour, wherever you book it or whether you take a longtail, big boat, or speedboast, will always run something like this.  You'll get picked up at your hotel between 8 and 8:30 AM and be at the pier just before 9 AM.   You'll stop in Pakbia Island, Lading Island, and Hong Island.  On Hong, you go swimming and snorkeling and dine on a picnic lunch that won't redefine culinary taste.  On Hong, you find out that the five islands tour is really a three islands tour.  The last two islands aren't guaranteed.   Rai Island is only accessible when the tide is low.   Daeng Island is a rock coming out of the seas and can only be visited at low tide.  If we saw either of those two islands, I am now suffering from amnesia.

Krabi tourOn another day, we rented a car and drove out to the Khao Pra-Bang Khram Wildlife Sanctuary, home to the Emerald Pool, an all natural 25 meter in diameter pool.  The color of the water changes depending upon the temperature and bacteria in the water.  It made for a wonderful day trip.   The Wildlife Sanctuary has some hot springs, also naturally carved into stones, quite nearby, and we bathed here until the sun set. 

Once we relocated to the Centara, we had free access to their kayaks and spent an afternoon kayaking a fair distance along the coast to Railay Beach West.  Huge cliffs cut off Railay from any road access.  You can only get in here by boat transport.  Check out the map.   Back in the 90's, accommodation on Railay was as basic as it got.   Today's Railay has its fair share of up market resorts.  We stopped at one such higher clientele restaurant for a bite to eat and some beer and then walked among the rocks for an hour or two.  The beachline was beautiful to be sure, and I can imagine how much more amazing Railay must've felt to the Old Skool backpacking crowd before the masses discovered it.    As we kayaked back in the direction of Ao Nang, we stopped at the end of the beach in a cove on the other side of the towering rocks from Ao Nang. This beach seemed to still possess some semblance of the feel that Railay had in spades in the Nineties.  With such pretty real estate and developer's infinite lust to exploit every square meter of anything a tourist even smiles at, Railway will probably one day be a forty-story shopping mall and cinema complex.   

Postcard Realities

This is one of those areas of Thailand that you can't believe you're immersed in scenery that is typically reserved for postcards. The rock formations give the landscapes an unworldly feel. Thailand has beautiful jungles and beaches, but you can find jungles and beaches elsewhere that can play stand in for Thailand. I bet you didn't know that the 1957 film The Bridge On The River Kwai was really filmed in Sri Lanka.  The uniqueness of the Krabi rock formations alerts one immediately that he's in Thailand.  The picturesque islands of Ko Phi Phi and Koh Lanta are only a few hours and a public ferry away. 

One unfortunate reality of the area, not seen in the postcard, is the expense.  The Ao Nang area stings with markups I've never experienced anywhere else in Thailand.  An example:  I've gone to Swensen's ice cream parlors from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui to Hua Hin to Bangkok, and the prices were always identical.  The Chiang Mai menu could be brought to Bangkok and no one would know the difference.  Not in Ao Nang. In Ao Nang, Swensen's must have their their own menu printed up, marking everything up an additional 25%.  Away from Ao Nang towards the Emerald Pool, we stopped at a Thai shopping mall, and there, the Swensen's prices were back to normal. 7 11 prices are usually standard, too, but not in Ao Nang.  A product which which typically retails for 14B costs 17B in Ao Nang.   Eating in Ao Nang will be twice as costly as eating in Krabi town.

So what's going on here?  Are businesses raising prices in the Ao Nang area just because they can?  I don't think that explains it.  A ma & pa shop will pull this stunt with regularity, but a 7 11?  A Swensen's?  These nationwide businesses are known for their consistent prices.  Why alter those prices just for Ao Nang?  If tourism influx is the reason, anywhere that's well trodden with tourists (Phuket, Samui, Chiang Mai) should have higher prices at the chain stores, and they don't.  

Doug's Republic's theory is the area's inaccessibility from any major warehousing center.  You would think that an island like Koh Samui would be pricier at the chain stores, yet it's not.   Big boats can ship bulk product to the island to keep the costs down, and once on Koh Samui, every place is easily accessible.  Everything in Ao Nang and the surrounding beaches must be brought in from Krabi but in smaller quantities.   If Ao Nang is considered relatively inaccessible, then Railay and Phrang Na are even more so, translating into even higher prices.  Bear that in mind before you come or you may shed so many tears, you'll destroy the picture perfect postcard reality you're supposed to be living.    


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