Krabi province has long been known for the sights of the Railay peninsular, Ao Nang beach and islands such as Koh Phi Phi slightly further afield. But word is getting out more and more about the namesake town – here’s why you would have to be an utter fool to head straight to the beach without stopping off first.
If you’re heading to Railay or the islands around Krabi, prepare to be flabbergasted by prices inflated beyond imagination. A fruit shake that costs you 20 or 30 baht in Bangkok will cost 60 baht, curries that are 50 baht at most go for almost two hundred, and even a bottle of water for which a mainland 7-11 store would charge 6 baht will cost you 20 or 30 baht here. Naturally, rooms with a sea view are pricey too – figure on 2,000+ baht for an air-con room on Railay or an island that you could probably snag for 600-800 baht elsewhere. Luckily, while even the local food is still slightly more expensive in Krabi town – think 70 baht for a bowl of southern curry ‘gap kao’ (eaten with a separate plate of rice, rather than served over rice as one dish, i.e. you get a bigger portion) – by and large the price are far more affordable. Much of the food on Railay and the islands has to be transported in by boat, and some islands don’t have access to the public electricity grid, meaning the price you pay is also covering the cost of running generators to keep shops and restaurants open. With more competition and lower transportation costs in the provincial capital, you can rest your head in a cute guest house for a couple of hundred baht – our place of choice is Chan Cha Lay with its whitewashed wood and tasteful hues of blue – and enjoy a couple of days of downtime without breaking the bank.
The food is awesome
One thing is for sure – you will not go hungry in Krabi. Food on Railay and the nearby islands of Koh Phi Phi and the like is catered towards the largely foreign tourists who make up a huge part of the population at any one time. Think pizzas, burgers and chips – hardly authentically Thai, and at overinflated prices to boot (see above). Krabi town can be your antidote to all that – and boy would you be missing a trick if you didn’t stop by to sample its array of delicious, homemade curries, best sampled at the town market, where they are chowed down by locals and tourists alike. It is the place to head, and worth skipping the much faker, tourist-oriented night market by the river, which serves up very samey menus that you could place you just about anywhere in the country. Back at the town market, don’t miss sampling a few local southern curries – like gaeng neua, a coconut milk based beef curry similar to but more fiery than a typical red curry; gaeng som, a sour orange curry with fish; massuman, a rich and creamy, flavoursome but not too spicy curry with chicken or beef; and gaeng luang, a southern yellow curry also often made with fish. Various restaurants also sell Thai-style chicken biryani, or khao mok gai – including Abdulloh Halal Food on Maharaj Road, who also serve up a particularly delicious gaeng neua; tuck into a serving over rice for 30 baht, and don’t miss the mini haw mok talay fish curries, wrapped in stapled up banana leaves and left on your table for you to sample. At 10 baht a piece, it’s easy to get through a few! If you fancy something sweet, make time to try the local roti grob, or crispy pancake – a large platter of crispy, crunchy, condensed milk smothered roti that’s just asking to be devoured. Eat it alongside a cup of hot milk tea, or cha nom lawn – you’ll see plenty of locals congregated at tables alongside street stalls each evening; think of it as the far more innocent local equivalent of streetside bars.
It’s a little off the tourist track…
Krabi town feels just that little bit less touristy than other similar places, and certainly a million times less so than the nearby islands for which you might be using it as jumping off point. Sure, there are a million and one guest houses to choose from, plenty of western-style drinking holes and enough places selling full English breakfasts for you to think for a split second that you were in the east end of London, but it is a kind of tourism that is less garish and in-your-face than is the case elsewhere. There is a real mix of people travelling here – many young, some older, some on gap years and others spending part of their retirement in the town or nearby spots. There are plenty of French and German tourists here, a few Americans and not many Brits. We’re not saying that makes it a nicer place, but the crowd that drops by here are certainly, well, the right kind of crowd – friendly and looking for a good time, without being rowdy and obnoxious. Particularly if you pick a good place to stay, you’ll find people up for a smile and a chat in ways you wouldn’t in other more full-on parts of Thailand.
…but it’s developed enough to be comfortable
No one is pretending Krabi is the back of beyond, or undeveloped. Developed it certainly is, and tourism seems to be big money here. So, while it is lower key than other places you might be headed before or after, it still has all the things you need to make it somewhere a bit more comfortable to stay than a clapped out old camping spot in the jungle. Rooms are cheap , come in fan or air-con form and largely feature hot water. Getting around is easy and relatively cheap and, while there are few must-see sights to speak of in Krabi, it makes a pleasant spot to pass away a few days of wandering and lazing. Koh Klang island, just across the river, is worth a particular mention as it receives very few foreign visitors and a ride around its well-paved roads feels like you have jumped a few hundred miles and are literally in the middle of the countryside – think buffaloes and rice fields. Better still, it costs just 20 baht to get here by longtail boat, and if you leave from the Thara Park pier, you can even take your rented motorbike on the boat with you at no extra cost.