KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We flew into the Krabi airport after deciding to stay in Krabi Town for one night before taking a boat to Koh Phi Phi. Koh means island in the Thai language. We decided to try the Krabi City Seaview Hotel, one that was recommended by the Lonely Planet. It turned out to be an excellent choice for us as we enjoyed the peace and quiet along the channel that runs inland from the sea. Its location also allowed us to walk through the town and experience the Thai people as they came out in the evening to enjoy a street fair a few days before Songkran, Thai New Year. After several days of Thai meals, we visited a great Italian restaurant and had pizza and red wine for a change of pace.
The next morning, we were picked up in a songkeaw, a small covered truck with benches along the sides for transporting passengers, and delivered at the ferry dock for our trip to Koh Phi Phi. We were happy that we were some of the first people to arrive because it meant that we were able to get some seats with plenty of legroom on the ferry. I wouldn’t say that the ferry was overloaded, but we were pretty crammed in and it was a little claustrophobic in the lower cabin with all the other travellers and their luggage, mostly backpacks. I was glad that the trip took no more than an hour and a half and even happier when we were able to step out onto dry land again. The sun was shining and the water was an incredible shade of turquoise, almost too beautiful to describe.
Our guidebook had prepared us for the shock of the prices for accommodation on Koh Phi Phi. The island had suffered extensive damage and great loss of life during the 2004 tsunami and had to be rebuilt from the ground up. We were told that the island was almost unaffordable for backpacking travellers now, but felt that now that we are ‘suitcase draggers’, we should at least come and see the island and its famed beauty for ourselves. There were tons of young people arriving along with us, I guess they decided they would bite the bullet and pay the higher prices in order to enjoy the incredible snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities.
We found that the hotel nearest the pier was fully booked so we left Anil with all the luggage and Audrey and I set out to find rooms for the night. We headed off to the right of the pier where our map told us many of the hotels and bungalows were located. We were surprised to see how little beach there was along this area. I should tell you a little about the unusual shape of Koh Phi Phi. There are really two islands rising out of the sea here, with a wide isthmus between them, much like a large sand bar, but substantial enough to support a host of hotels, shops and local housing and even a small mosque. When the tsunami struck, it washed away most of the buildings on this low-lying area. It’s hard to say how much the beaches were affected by the powerful waves but, along with the rebuilding, a retaining wall was constructed and when we arrived the tide was high and the water was right up to the wall and there was no beach to speak of at all.
We continued walking and eventually came to a little beach with a few swimmers. There were several boats parked on the beach, but this was the most inviting spot we had seen so far. We had stopped to see some places along the way, but they were marginal at best at not worth the rates they were charging. There was a nice-looking hotel with bungalows and a swimming pool at this point so we had a look at the Koh Phi Phi Villa Resort and learned that they had a large bungalow, which the three of us could share by paying an extra charge for a cot. This made the cost more affordable and we decided we would stay only one night and head back the next day to Krabi. After all, we weren’t into diving or snorkeling too much and felt we were just there to look around anyway.
After a light lunch, we changed into our swimsuits and headed to the pool. We were so hot by this point; we were looking for a refreshing dip. Much to our dismay, the pool was as hot as a bathtub and we were out within minutes. It seemed the only people who were enjoying it were the little children playing in the shallow end. Before long, we were back in the air conditioning to get a break from the heat and humidity. We waited till evening and then headed across the isthmus to see the beach on the other side. Once we were away from the hotels along the beach, we saw the simple housing where the Thai workers live and the contrast was unsettling. It didn’t seem that much of the rebuilding energy was focused here. Many of the houses were little more than shacks and they were crowded together along the edges of the hills rising at the end of the isthmus.
When we arrived at the northern beach, we were shocked to see that the tide was out and the rocks were completely exposed. There were dozens of beach chairs with umbrellas and many tourists in them, but the scene was really ugly to our eyes, nothing at all inviting. I’m sure it was beautiful at high tide, but again there seemed to be very little beach on this side as well. We walked back inland a little to where all the new shops were built and found a lovely bookshop with an expresso coffee machine and indulged in some lattes. Revived by the coffee, we set out to walk around some more but before long we decided to eat dinner and call it a day.
The next morning, we ate breakfast and then explored on foot some more before making arrangements to take the boat back to Krabi in the afternoon. The photographs I took of the beach and the pool at our hotel look pretty inviting, but all in all, we did not find Koh Phi Phi to our liking. Too bad we had never made it here before things boomed on the island and it was a more simple place to spend some time. I’m sure people who are keen to sea kayak, snorkel, rock climb and scuba dive would find this island a little bit of paradise. I guess we’ll leave it to them to enjoy and head over to see the beaches near Krabi.
We headed back to the City Seaview Hotel in Krabi and received a warm welcome from the friendly staff there. For dinner, we returned to the Pizzeria and tried the pasta dishes; it was like coming home. We decided we would continue to stay in Krabi town and visit the beaches from there. We enjoyed the peace and quiet and the absence of foreigners on the streets. We stopped by the pier on the way back to the hotel and arranged to hire a long-tail boat the next morning to take us to Railay Beach and outlying islands.
After a great breakfast on the fifth-floor terrace we headed to the pier with our swimsuits and towels for a day exploring the beaches along the Andaman Coast. It was a lovely morning out on the sea and we headed for Chicken Island to see the strange rock formation that resembles the head of a bird. We stopped for a bit of snorkeling a secluded beach there, but the water was murky and there were few fish. Before we knew it, several other boats had dropped anchor and dozens of tourists were in the water. We jumped on board and headed away from the crowd. We circled the island and continued on to another island where a crystal white sand bar juts out into the water to connect a rock outcropping with the main island. The sand bar was fast disappearing as the tide came in and it was strange to see people walking on the sand bar with water above their armpits. They looked like they were bobbing out in the middle of the sea. We landed our boat on the shore and waded in the amazingly clear water there. Hundreds of colourful fish were swimming around the wader’s legs, enjoying the treats being sprinkled on the water. Normally I would be unable to join in the fun due to my fear of fish, but I was proud to be able to overcome the terror and actually enjoyed seeing the beauties up close.
At last we headed across an open stretch of water for the Railay Peninsula where we said goodbye to our boatman. It was Friday and he had to go to the mosque for prayers. We arranged to meet him on a neighbouring beach at 6:00pm. We walked across the narrow peninsula from Railay Bay East To Railay Bay West and walked along the lovely beach there. We stopped for great mango shakes and then carried on out to the point of the peninsula to Ao Nang beach. This is reputed to be the best beach in the area but it was quite crowded and a little overrun by vendors. Just as we were settling in on a spot near the cliffs, the police arrived and dozens of hawkers scurried to bury their wares beneath the sand. One woman quickly dug a pit for her corn-on-the-cob and then grabbed our shoes to place on top of the pile to mark the spot. We laughed at her earnestness and agreed to keep an eye on her goods. After chasing most of the vendors off the beach, the police disappeared and things quickly got back to normal.
The most interesting aspect of the beach is the large cave at one end. Swimmers can enter the cave from the water and then climb up onto a ledge for views out into the ocean. There is a small shrine near the mouth of the cave where fishermen place carved wooden phalluses in hopes of ensuring fishing success. The tourists love taking pictures standing in front of the carvings, some as tall as an adult. I took a photo but none of us were interesting in posing.
We met our boatman as scheduled and he headed out to sea for a great view of the spectacular sunset. Our guidebook said the sunsets off Railay are spectacular, and we were not disappointed. The only problem was that it was almost impossible to take a good photo while bobbing on the water as the sky exploded with gold and scarlet. It was almost completely dark by the time we reached Krabi town, forty-five minutes from Railay.
All in all, it was good to see the beaches in the Krabi area, but in our opinion, they can’t compete with the other beaches we have visited in Thailand. We especially enjoyed our time at Koh Chang (near the Cambodian border), Koh Samet (near Pattaya) and Koh Samui. Maybe we are getting a little jaded by being able to see them all, however it does mean that we can return to the ones we like the best in the future.