Thai culture in Krabi

Unlike the north and centre of Thailand, which is almost entirely Buddhist, Krabi’s population also consists of Muslims, Chinese-Thais, and a small community of sea gypsies (known as chao lay). In keeping with the famous Thai spirit of tolerance, all these groups live in harmony and mutual respect and each contributes their own flavour to Krabi’s unique cultural scene.

Much of the population still lives from the land - you don’t have to drive too far out of the touristy beach areas to be deep into the countryside, passing traditional wooden houses and local temples and mosques. Vast plantations of rubber, palm oil, coconuts and pineapples dominate the interior landscape - long before tourists arrived, Krabi enjoyed relative wealth through its agriculture. Perhaps because of the predominantly rural population, there is little in the way of formal or decorative arts here. Artistic skill is traditionally shown in practical ways, in the design of a bamboo fishing creel, the shape of a coconut shell cooking implement, or the painting of a longtail boat.


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Brief guide to Thai culture in Krabi

The annual festival calendar in Krabi celebrates this vibrant mix of religions, with events almost every month - be it the water-splashing of Songkran, the nine-day Chinese Vegetarian festival, the boat-launching ceremonies of the sea gypsy people, or the annual Muslim cultural fair in Krabi Town. There’s also plenty of secular fun, with the Andaman Festival in November and various longtail-boat races, food fairs and travelling markets throughout the year.

Lately, the Malaysian art of batik has come to Krabi, as part of the government-sponsored 'One Tambon, One Product' (OTOP) scheme to encourage and support handicrafts. As a result, small co-operatives now produce sea-themed designs on shirts, sarongs and wall-hangings.

Other handicrafts make use of local products, such as the boxes and notebooks made with dyed ‘pineapple paper’, handmade from the leaves of old plants, or highly-polished coconut shell artefacts, such as wine glasses, model boats and hair pins. It is possible to visit these workshops and watch the designs being made.

Locally made or not, there are plenty of shops around Ao Nang beach selling wonderful Thai handicrafts. They are delicate, charming, unique and good value, though most of them come from Chiang Mai. All the same, the range is astonishing and they make good souvenirs and gifts. Most are handmade according to traditional techniques using natural materials, and they are usually genuine Thai cultural articles.

Thai massage is also a unique cultural skill, which is offered by massage shops liberally scatted around the main tourist areas. Here you can spoil your aching body after a day of activity by having it gently kneaded and pulled back into shape.

One key cultural difference in Krabi, instantly noticeable to Thai visitors, is the local language. Southerners have their own distinct dialect, which is considered impenetrable by people from the rest of the country. The roots of this dialect is strongly connected with the locals' identity, and the diverse range of cultures residing in the area. The dialect uses different words and tones from those of the central plains. Music played by local bands who sing in this southern dialect is very popular - plays and shows that use this cultural aspect also gain favour. And if you say mai preu to a southerner, instead of mai pen rai, you will have a friend for life!

Some of the hotels put on Thai cultural dance backed by a traditional Thai orchestra, but you are more likely to see a genuine show, put on for tourists of course, in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.

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