Krabi's spectrum of beaches

Secluded gems on Krabi's islands

Secluded gems on Krabi's islands

By Jan Schauseil

Krabi, located 814kms south of Bangkok along the kingdom’s western coast, is undisputedly one of Thailand’s premier beach, sea and tropical park destinations. Its incredible array of beach scenes, tiny islands, healthy coral reefs, and verdant jungles replete with waterfalls and caves provide a little of everything to the nature-loving traveller.

Krabi Province covers both inland tropical jungle as well as more than 130 offshore islands sprinkled around the Andaman Sea. Some of these provincial islands are quite famous, such as Phi Phi, but the bulk of them are tiny, unpopulated affairs best enjoyed by hiring a long tail boat to take you out there for the afternoon. At the center of urban life is Krabi Town, the hub for arriving travellers by air, sea, or land. While Krabi Town offers only mangrove swamps for its coastal scenery, there are countless beaches within easy striking distance that provide everything from a party scene to absolute seclusion. But rest assured, even the ugliest beach around Krabi is pretty impressive.

The centre of beachside activity is the small town of Ao Nang, just a few minutes by road north of Krabi. Once a tranquil fishing village, Ao Nang has developed into a major resort destination capable of providing accommodation, dining and nightlife to a full range of visitors. The bulk of people who visit Krabi seem to gravitate to this small but interesting town, and for good reason.

Ao Nang is extremely convenient in that you can drive to the resorts. While the beach is certainly adequate, it pales in comparison to Krabi’s more remote beaches and islands. But the accessibility of its amenities and comprehensive range of tour agencies and adventure outfitters make it a worthwhile destination all the same. If it’s selection you want in terms of diverse dining, mellow partying, shopping and sleeping, Ao Nang is the best choice.

Although nearly every beach destination in Krabi offers in-house tour arrangement, Ao Nang boasts the most agencies. Popular excursions in the area include sea kayaking, snorkelling and scuba diving, boat trips, bird watching and jungle treks. Prices for most activities are very reasonable, and the service is generally consistent across the board.

If you’re a rock climber, or just want to experience a truly unique beach environment, a trip to the vehicle-free peninsula of Railay Beach is one trip you won’t forget. Besides boasting some of the finest water, sand and scenery in the Krabi region, Railay enjoys the distinction of being cut off by road due to the towering cliffs that surround its beaches.

To reach this popular site, you’ll need to catch a long tail boat at either Ao Nang or Krabi Town pier. At Railay you can the pleasure of being able to walk everywhere on nicely paved pathways or sand with only an occasional electric golf cart as a hazard. Railay has two sides: an eastern bay dominated by mud flats and mangrove swamps and a western bay where the sand is soft and the water clear and shallow. Naturally, everyone hangs out on the western beach along with long tail boats waiting to ferry visitors back and forth to Ao Nang. Boats from Krabi Town arrive only on the eastern side. Railay tends to lure a younger set looking to socialise and enjoy the bounty of outdoor recreation of offer.

Railay Beach is backed by impressive limestone cliffs

Railay Beach is backed by impressive limestone cliffs

Rock climbing is what first put Railay on the map many years ago. There are literally dozens of established climbing routes in all levels of difficulty, including some of the world’s most unusual and challenging climbs. Several climbing shops right on the beach can provide all the gear and guidance needed. Full details on Railay beach.

If rock climbing doesn’t interest you, the sea kayaking off the western side of Railay is simply sublime. The Andaman Sea is typically as placid as a lake, making paddling easy and safe for just about anyone. You don’t need a guide to kayak, and there are countless little coves, caves and nooks carved into the towering limestone karsts. It is these monolithic limestone karsts popping out of the water that give the Krabi region its special scenic appeal.

Railay is arguably the best beach in Krabi for nightlife, but like everything else around here it’s pretty tame compared to other Thai hotspots. The western beach quickly fills with people around sunset as locals play football, tourists throw Frisbees, and the rest drink beers as the sun drops behind the horizon. Only the puttering sound of long tail boats fills the distant air.

However, Railay is no secret so if you want to enjoy that classic Krabi sand and sea without the crowds then you’ll want to head a bit farther up the coast where some truly spectacular beaches are just beginning to open up. Noppharat Beach is the closest of these, just north of Ao Nang. Although a handful of nice resorts have settled in along the beach, the area is protected by Hat Noppharat Thara-Ko Phi Phi National Park.

The three-kilometre beach is lined with casuarina trees and sees little tourism. Local Thais like to drive to Noppharat for an afternoon picnic or swim, making this a decent choice if you want to interact with the locals. At low tide you can even walk to some of the tiny islands that lie within the bay like Koh Kao Pak Klong.

There’s quite a lot of nature around, thanks to the national park. It encompasses some 80 islands in the Andaman Sea, including the popular Phi Phi Islands. But it’s the small, uninhabited islets that are well worth a day of island hopping. Beauties like Koh Gai, Koh Poda, and Koh Dam are a short pleasant boat ride away from any beach in Krabi.

Some of Krabi’s beaches have exceptional seaviews

Some of Krabi’s beaches have exceptional seaviews

For now, a quiet atmosphere dominates Noppharat Beach. There is a very mellow nightlife scene centred around a few beer bars and resorts, but a great place rarely stays quiet for long. As Ao Nang continues to creep northwards, eventually the two beaches will merge into one long and much busier strip.

Head a bit farther north and you’ll come to Klong Muang Beach and its charming neighbour Tubkaak Beach. This stretch of idyllic sand looks set to be the next hotspot in the Krabi area, and it’s definitely aiming at the upmarket crowd. Boutique resorts and five-star hotels like the Sheraton Krabi Resort and Tubkaak Resort are setting the bar pretty high for future endeavors.

While Klong Muang doesn’t boast the surreal limestone karsts found around Ao Nang and Railay, it does have some of the softest sand in Krabi and the water is incredibly clear and calm. The only company you’ll have at Klong Muang and Tubkaak will be guests of the resorts, a few fishermen and a handful of seabirds. The powdery sand seems to stretch on forever, with a cute little island dotting each end of the beach. If it’s a romantic getaway or just some quiet contemplative time you’re seeking, this is where to go. Best of all, Ao Nang and all its fun is just a 15-minute drive away. Even quieter than Klong Muang is Tubkaak Beach, a long strip of sand with only a few resorts scattered along the beach.

Even though Krabi’s mainland beaches are some of Thailand’s finest, don’t miss the chance to go island hopping one day and see some of those limestone monoliths up close and personal. The Four Island Tour is the standard option, taking visitors to Chicken Island, Poda Island, and the Dam Island pair. You can easily hire your own long tail boat for a very reasonable price, giving you about four hours of leisurely cruising, swimming and snorkelling.

But the reality is, you can tailor a half-day boat cruise to do whatever strikes your fancy if you hire your own long tail and captain. For something on the cultural side, head over to Cham Island or Sri Bo Ya Island, two Muslim-populated islands that have a truly authentic feel quite different from the tourism-saturated atmosphere around Krabi’s hotspots.

The Muslims who live on these isolated islands make their living by fishing, rubberwood cultivation and weaving. The locals are well known for their exquisite weaving style, and both islands have a few simple but comfortable bungalow resorts if you want to linger.

Krabi’s weather is dominated by the annual monsoon. There are only two seasons along the Andaman Sea: dry and rainy. The peak season for tourism falls between December and April, when the skies are blue and the seas ideally calm for underwater fun. It rains frequently from May to November, but rarely for long. Afternoon thunderstorms are the norm, and visitors during this season will have plenty of space to stretch out. The only downside to the rainy season is that rough seas hamper boat trips, snorkelling and sea kayaking.

Warning! When visiting Krabi travel insurance is essential. There have been reports of ferry accidents and those who are climbing or exploring the karst and islands are exposed to risky circumstances. It’s advisable to have an insurance plan secured before you leave home.

blog comments powered by Disqus