In the last few years, Phuket has become one of the more well-known parts of Thailand. Yet, of late, over-tourism has dulled Phuket’s sparkle. But it’s not the only Thai destination where you can marvel at white-sand beaches, decorative longtail boats, and striking island towers that seem to surge out of the water. You can savor these natural treasures in peace, away from the Phuket party scene, in the Thai province of Krabi.
While most of the province of Krabi, which lies due east of Phuket, is on the mainland, it also has an estimated 200 islands that surround the coastline. Outside of the town of Krabi, outdoor adventurers will be captivated by its thick jungle, steep limestone mountains with caves to explore and cliff sides to rock-climb, and, of course, aquamarine waters that lap up against irresistible beaches. You can fly directly to Krabi from Bangkok, and here’s what you can do when you get there.
Incredible rock climbing
The limestone cliffs of Krabi have all kinds of holds that make it easy for beginners to experience the most fun parts about climbing. Tonsai, Ao Nang, and Railay Beach are particularly good areas for climbing. If you don’t have your own gear, or if you’re trying out rock climbing for the first time, there are plenty of companies — like Hot Rock Climbing School, Real Rocks Climbing School, or The Rock Shop Tonsai — with experienced guides who will take you out climbing. You can also choose what kind of climbing you want to experience, from top roping to multi-pitch lead climbing.
If ropes aren’t your thing, go deep water free soloing. All you’ll need is a pair of climbing shoes, a bathing suit, and a desire for cliff jumping. Many of the rock climbing companies in the area also offer deep water free solo tours, where they’ll let you rent shoes and take you on a boat ride to some of the good spots for climbing. You’ll climb right up on the rock, fall safely into the water, and climb again. Once you’ve gotten a feel for it, rent a kayak and shoes and return to those spots again.
Irresistible island hopping
Jump on a boat and go exploring the outlying islands. Some islands are the area’s large, iconic cliffs of craggy limestone rock, covered in thick, green flora that shoot up straight out of the water. Others are flatter islands, where the water dividing them is so shallow you can sometimes walk from island to island. Many of them feature coral reefs that you can explore while snorkeling.
You can go island hopping DIY-style by paying a person to take you to different islands, or you can make it easier by going with a company — like Krabi Castaway Tours or Big Tour Krabi. You can also ask around once you’re there for a smaller, local guide. Many offer four- or five-island tours, allowing you to see many different islands in one day.
Many guide services will offer snorkel rentals where you can swim among a colorful variety of fish such as Pinnate spadefish, damselfish, and the Moorish idol. Dive closer to the rocks and coral on the ocean floor. Island hopping will guarantee crystal-clear water.
Many excursions will also provide a lunch of rice, prawns, and chicken with a Thai coconut curry sauce. They’ll also serve fresh fruit like watermelon slices for snacks as part of the package. The guides also know where the best spots are, where you can avoid the crowds, and how you can get the most out of your experience.
Stand-up paddling and kayaking
Now’s your chance to try the Instagram favorite: stand-up paddleboarding. You can rent them on Railay Beach and paddle yourself out to sea. One popular company is Freebird Paddle Co., which also offers night tours, including a bioluminescent tour. However, you can find just about any company renting boards on the beach. Some people have found options as low as $3 per hour.
In places like Railay Beach, the ocean waves aren’t too vigorous, so you can comfortably paddle a safe distance away. Depending on the time of day and the tide schedule, you can check out little inlets and caves alongside the limestone mountains and take your paddleboard through the cave.
If stand-up paddleboarding isn’t your thing, you can also try out ocean kayaking. You can find rental options on Railay Beach. Many of the beaches have rental options up and down the coast. Kayaking helps you maintain control, and it’s fun having a partner in the same boat as you. You can also usually travel farther in a kayak than you can paddleboarding and enjoy bobbing in the waves that the passing boats create.
Hiking to caves and temples
There are plenty of hikes available in Krabi. You can explore caves like Tham Pranangnai — also known as Diamond Cave — on Railay Beach, which features bats and otherworldly rock formations. Since Railay Beach is so small, it’s easy to walk to the cave. The cave is about $3 per person and is well-lit by lamps. It gets its diamond name from the reflection of water that trickles down in different parts of the cave. It’s a relatively short exploration, so you won’t get too cold inside the cave.
If you’re looking for a hike on your last day in Krabi, another cave to check out is Wat Tham Suea, also known as the Tiger Cave Temple. It’s six miles away from the Krabi airport, and many local hotels offer shuttles to take you there. The name is said to come from a legend about a monk witnessing tigers prowling around the cave as he meditated there.
Once you’re done exploring the cave, you can climb to visit the “Footprint of the Buddha” temple above. Do this early and bring water to beat the heat when you’re climbing all 1,237 steps. After you reach the temple, take off your shoes out of respect. The view of the temple and the surrounding lush mountains will be worth it.
Hit the beach
The ocean in Thailand is the perfect temperature: blissfully warm. During the warmest time of year, in March or April, the water temperature in Ao Nang Beach averages 86 degrees Fahrenheit. If you go swimming in the early morning, there are fewer people on the beach, and the water is much clearer. Plus, you can still enjoy the warm weather before the sun starts burning you up.
Near beaches like Ao Nang and Railay Beach, you’ll find the mainstays of Thai cuisine, such as the famed noodle fish Pad Thai or Khao Pad, which is made with fried rice. Try out a Thai pancake, which is basically a fried crepe, which you can have served with banana, strawberries, or even Nutella. Get a fresh mango smoothie or drink out of a coconut. And always take advantage of opportunities to eat fresh fruit, as the fruit is as sweet as candy.
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