Koh Krabi – A Travelogue By Punam Mohandas
I don’t mind admitting I was in two minds about Krabi. On one hand, I’d never visited and was curious about checking it out. On the other, I met some British tourists in Koh Phangan, who told me Krabi wasn’t really worth it and that Koh Samui was an infinitely better option. Well, curiosity ended up killing the cat so I’m small potatoes in comparison and eventually, after haggling AND beating down the price of the ferry ticket! I wend my way from Samui to Krabi.
The journey is of course a combination of bus (till Surat Thani) and ferry (on to Krabi). What a lovely, pleasant day it is; the sea is placid and the ride is calm, unlike the ride over from Phangan to Samui. Also, this is the big ferry and not the small boat which makes for choppier going.
From the pier, a bus takes us into Krabi (all part of the ticket fare already paid). Krabi town by itself is nothing, so don’t waste your time here. Take a songtaew (the open tempo-like things) for just 50baht, to Ao Nang, which is Krabi’s most popular beach. The songtaew stop for Ao Nang is a good ten minutes walk from the bus stop so, if you have a lot of luggage, take a tuktuk or mobike taxi else, you can hoof it.
So now here’s the first thing you gotta know. It’s fine to go with a Brit to a pub for a pint of beer, coz they seem to lead with their noses there, but listen to them for precious little else. If anyone tells you Samui is a better bet than Krabi, ask for a shrink report first!
Once again, I have made a booking through TripAdvisor recommendations, at ‘Ben’s House’; most fortuitously, since I don’t own a credit card and never have – and never will – all my bookings are done thru phone calls, emails and goodwill! You must remember Thai people are very trusting and there is no earthly reason not to believe a tourist won’t show up after taking the trouble to call and mail, so they do hold a room for you. Ben’s House comes with some wonderful stories of being about 7-8 minutes from the beach and surrounded by restaurants and shops. My first warning oughta have been when the songtaew dude didn’t know of this hotel from a hole in the ground! At any rate, he offloads me onto the main promenade and I begin my hike – turns out to be a good thing actually, as I notice many other hotels along the way. I can’t find the darned place and three phone calls later, when they are equally inept at giving directions and I’m hot and sweaty and tired and moreover, way off course from the beach by now, I tell them I’m not moving an inch more – either they come get me or I move to another hotel. The threat works, coz they send someone to pick me up 🙂 No wonder I can’t find the goshdarned place – one has to turn off the main road and it’s tucked away somewhere in some galli; the only shops and restaurants here will be when I go into business myself! I’m beginning to hate TripAdvisor:-( Also, Ben’s House had promised me a sea-facing room (HOW? When we are miles away from the beach?!) so I consider I’ve done my noblesse oblige bit by dutifully showing up and would be a complete moron to actually stay here (see? This is where not having a credit card helps coz then you don’t have the added stress of worrying about money paid online and how to get it back!) bid them a fond farewell, and hike it back to the main road where I sink into one of Krabi’s unique tuktuks, so different from Bangkok, and wave him on back to the promenade.
I had passed a little hotel here called the ‘La Venice’ in the middle of Ao Nang’s Walking Street. My luck – the receptionist is bored, and willing to chew the cud a bit. I emerge victorious in a game of ‘tol mol ke bol’ having beaten down THB1200 to a thousand. “No blekphast!” she must have the last word. “Mai pan rai kha,” I say airily and carry my bag upstairs. I’ve lucked out, coz the room is really large and comes with a balcony.
Ah, now this hotel is more like it – bang in the centre of things. I go for an amble, now that I have a place to lay my weary head come the night 🙂 Tattoo parlours abound. The itch comes upon me, and I walk into a couple wanting to see work in progress. The first one has a Chinese dude furiously scrawling on a German leg with his tattoo machine – I manage to upset both of them by asking what it is. Apparently, it’s a dragon and they’re mad it obviously doesn’t look enough like one so I could tell. I haul ass outta there and walk into another joint where a middle-aged Danish guy is getting a huge tatt done on his forearm. He’s mighty pleased at how awed and solicitous I look till I ask him what the meaning of his tattoo is. ‘Way so serious?’ “Noooo,” he bawls, “I want ‘wHy so serious’!” Danish accent meet Thai vocabulary – welcome! He can’t thank me enough for saving him from this disaster, coz tatts of course can’t be wiped off with a wet sponge when they go wrong. Meanwhile, here’s another tattooist not looking too happy with moi, so I take myself off to Jeanette’s for a hearty repast – jolly good food.
On my return ramble, destiny guides my footsteps in the other direction, past my hotel. I soon see why, as I come to Family Tattoo and walk in for my now-usual check 😉 There is a Swedish guy on the bed, manfully undergoing a Maori design on his arm – when I hear that he paid 27-thousand baht for this, I need to sit down myself and get my breath back!! Talk about crazy! However, I have to say this tattooist is really painstaking and doing a mighty fine job. Before I know it, I’ve made an appointment for myself the next day!
Back to the La Venice where I’m fearful of a good night’s rest, having experienced the din at Koh Samui. However, I need not have fretted; in spite of being located in Walking Street the noise level is bearable and dies out around midnight.
Next day, I’m at the pier, where I buy a 200baht return ticket on a longtail bat to Railay beach. Katja, the Norwegian girl I met on my Cambodia trip if you’ve been following my travels, absolutely endorsed this place. Railay is 20-minutes away from Ao Nang…..a gorgeous beach of sea-green waters and powdery sand, dominated by towering cliffs. The sea is placid and still; now I know what the description ‘like a mirror’ when applied to water, means. I am lucky that the beach is not crowded today. I marvel that we are just twenty minutes away from the tourist hustle at Ao Nang, and it’s so peaceful and quiet here. There are a couple of hotels on Railay, but much more expensive than those at Ao Nang, obviously.
A ten-minute walk along Railay beach is the beach of Phrang Na. It begins to rain as I walk along the sandy path, so I, the newly-resourceful backpacker, pull out a hotel shower cap from one of the many zippers on my handbag and scuttle along. On the way, I come across this restaurant on the east side of Railay and decide to grab some hot tom yam soup while the rain lessens. The view is of mangroves and tethered longtail boats; scenic and serene.
On my way again. A narrow dirt path leads to some rock formations and overhanging branches from age-old gnarled trees; this path and the formations are beautifully maintained by an ecological trust. The branches and fossilised rock form a natural roof along the pathway.
And I emerge rather suddenly, onto the most captivating, bewitching place that is more lagoon than anything else. Phrang Na has near-white sand, soft and sensous to the touch, with limestone cliffs looming over turquoise waters. This beach is very popular for rock climbing and also for its coral reefs. I am a little stumped to find a little cave full of lingams (phallic symbols); apparently, this is a shrine dedicated to an ancient fertility goddess where local fishermen still leave offerings. This beach is utterly spectacular; must be one of the last places God made.
I’m really quite sad to leave, but it’s getting on for 5pm now, and I’ve got a date with Khun Chhu – remember the tattooist?! I head back quite sick with excitement and trepidation, wondering what I’ve let myself in for. I’ve decided to do the Buddhist prayer for protection (made popular by Angelina Jolie, incidentally), which is not written in Thai but in Pali, the old language of Buddhism, and where better to get a tatt like this done than Thailand, which follows the religion and therefore should know what’s being written! Since this is etched very delicately, in five fine lines, Khun Chhu draws it on my arm rather than tracing it on a paper, and we’re good to go. He is very patient and more importantly, the set-up is pretty clean and hygienic. Much later, after we’re done, he tells me “you very stong lady”; apparently he used a thinner smaller needle to achieve the delicacy, which pains much more!
I am absolutely thrilled with my new tattoo. It really has come out marvelouslly well. I am to leave for Koh Lanta the next morning (which is a story for another day!) however, while there, I keep thinking I ought to go back to Khun Chhu for some more tatts! The guy is not only patient but relatively pain-free. Before I change my mind, I call up his wife and tell her I’ll be back in five days!
On the way back from Lanta to Krabi again, I meet up with Brett in the same minivan, who is also going to Ao Nang. The next day, we walk the streets of Ao Nang together as he looks out for what he calls his “meat-on-a-stick”; Brett, I’ve discovered is a young man hungry on the hour! He was in charge of hiring a bike while I went off to rendezvous with the tattooist but he left it too late and now all the bikes are taken for the day 🙁 Anyway, he introduces me to some absolutely delicious, freshly-grilled street chicken, and digs into my peanut butter pancake, and then we walk on all the way down to Noppartara beach. It begins to rain heavily and we shelter under some trees where we also meet an Iranian hunk and a Finnish grandma (WHAT an adventure this is turning out to be, especially trying to find a common tongue to converse in!) Predictably, Brett is peckish, so we dash across the road to a restaurant where he wolfs down a huge sundae.
Brett works on me to stay on some more in Ao Nang, seeing as we’re gonna be on our ownsome for Christmas otherwise. Hmm. Makes sense. I do some quick eenie-meenie-mina-mo with my finances in my head, and figure that if I take the bus back to Bangkok instead of the train, I can use the money I thus save on a hotel room. The La Venice, to which I’d migrated like a homing pigeon 🙂 is full up and I find I can’t extend my stay. So I move to his hotel, where I work on the owner and get an AC room reduced to 700 baht! Whee! I’m getting real good at this! Brett’s paying 500 for a room with a fan so is a tad miffed at this 😉
Right, come Christmas Eve, and I’m back with my new best friend, Khun Chhu, for a coupla more tatts. Chhu goes to work on a Latin phrase for my arm, and Brett disappears to find an internet café to go chat with his girlfriend. Bless the boy, he’s back when I need him the most, coz I’m about to get the Chinese symbols for water and fire tattooed on my waist…..f***! This is like incisioning a kidney minus the anaesthetic! Chhu is aghast coz his “stong lady” has suddenly turned into a shrieking banshee! He wants to know if he should stop. How the @!!!@##!@ can he stop, with half a line done already! His wife holds my wobbling belly steady, Brett grips my hand firmly and reminds me I have three bambinos already, I grit my teeth, and Chhu calls upon his Buddha and gets to work! I have absolutely NO idea of how Brett managed to get these shots in while talking me through an ordeal I am pretty certain is more painful than childbirth.
I finally emerge from the tattoo parlour, proudly waving my clingfilmed badges of honour while Chhu sags against the wall, desperately drawing on a much-needed cigarette! It’s amazing how, in Bangkok, when my cling film was peeking through once on a tattoo I got done in India, people recoiled as though I had some dreaded disease while here, on the islands, it’s considered such a normal, natural part of tourist life. Complete strangers look at you approvingly, guess immediately it’s a tatt and stop and smile and ask what you had done. It’s like you belong to a secret society now 🙂
It’s back to Jeanette’s for Xmas Eve dinner, where Brett sportingly poses with the plastic wrap lady! Later, we walk the streets and check out the pubs to find people making disgusting spectacles of themselves in silly Santa caps and too much bubbly. Brett is a great companion to have along on a trip coz every time I want to buy something, like a silly monkey souvenir or a bikini, he compares the price to the day hire of a mobike, shakes his head, and tells me it aint worth it 😉 Men!
Christmas 2011! We wake early and go for breakfast to a place of Brett’s choosing, as dinner the previous nite had been my choice 🙂 Next, we go for a final meander around Ao Nang, as I’m leaving by the afternoon bus for Bangkok, and Brett is leaving the next day for Koh Phanang, to usher in the New Year there. We walk along Ao Nang beach one last time; the sun worshippers are out in force today, seeing as how it’s been raining the last coupla days and it seems a pity to leave this paradise today. I’m almost tempted to stay on but…And thus ends my Thai island sojourn. For now 🙂