Elephant trekking, kayaking in underwater caves, off-roading on ATV’s and mountain climbing are some of the many great things to do in Thailand, but we didn’t do any of them. With bad knees, bad backs and sunburn, the kayak’s were too low, the elephants too high, the trekking too strenuous and the off-roading too bumpy. Wherever you are in Thailand the list of island getaways, afternoon boat trips and temple visits offer the kind of sweeping scenery that you’d find on the back of a travel brochure or Hawaiian shirt. We were in Krabi, the emerald of the Andaman Sea with a full week ahead of us to explore this coastal resort town, swim aimlessly in the clear waters and learn a thing or two about the people. As the smiley tour agent suggested sightseeing programs, rattling off the dozen or so activities included, we all too easily decided that spending an entire day island hopping, riding elephants through the jungle and swimming under a waterfall would be the first of many things in Krabi we simply wouldn’t do.
For a first timer to Thailand, however, trekking with the elephants is beautiful. The camp is just 7 km from Ao Nang and set in the lush green tropics, alive with birds, monkeys and the sound of the gently flowing waters. The elephant trek takes you along a fresh running river through the camp and into the forest at the foot of the mountain. There are half day and full day guided tours including a Thai style lunch, swimming in the river and watching the elephants bathe and splash at the end of their trek; it’s a natural and gentle connection that leaves you a little spellbound. But on this trip, the idea of trekking anywhere in the hot sun wobbling on an elephant seemed a little too ambitious. We figured if we did that, our backs would get such a jolt that we’d be unable to sit comfortably for the rest of the trip. Besides, we were in Krabi to relax, to see the sparkling sea and fall into its rhythm, to rest our tired minds and unwind. So as the afternoon began to fade we headed to the beach, perfect timing to jump into the ocean and watch the sea and sky change colour. As we walked towards the water, we noticed the evening tide was pulling away and the stretch of sand exposed. Millions of tiny crabs scurried weaving patterns into the shoreline that kept expanding further and further away and the waves revealed rocks and rough corals. So we didn’t swim either.
Bright and early the next morning, on a buoyant and full tide, we hired a long-tail boat. These wide hulled wooden boats with colourful strips of fabric tied to the bow epitomise the waterways of south-east Asia. We had booked the 4 island tour, taking in the aptly named Chicken Island, Koh Poda, Tup Islets and Phranang Cave Beach. But we couldn’t do that either, well not in the morning anyway with the tide too high. The attraction of Tup, or Tub Island as it is often referred, is that apart from the pristine and private beach, low tide reveals the sandbar that you can walk across from Chicken Island to Mor Island. It’s why people flock to this little gem in the Archipelago and as this land bridge forms into one of Koh Kai’s two beaches, the waters surrounding the island provide the many visitors with great snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities. After waiting so long for the tide to recede under the searing sun and weary from splashing about in the water, we jumped back on the boat. Our boatsman asked if we wanted to go snorkelling, suggesting a perfect little coral reef at the next island. We looked out across the horizon, the fat monsoon clouds turning pinkish in the setting sun and watched as people squealed and jumped into the water. It did look tempting; but sandy, burnt and exhausted we decided to skip that too and headed back.
Snorkelling would come the next day when we dived right in and booked an all day, adventure packed tour of Phi Phi Islands. Situated off the coast of Phuket, Phi Phi Islands comprises 6 islands that are a photographers paradise. With their sheer limestone walls jutting skyward and silky white beaches, they’re paradise for selfie-loving tourists too. Swarms of people striking a pose, haphazardly draping chiffon scarves across themselves and arranging their hats and pouts in the most arresting of postures. With our new camera poised and ready to capture the emerald skyline and imposing island backdrop, the posturing and posing of tourists took over every scene. That day, we didn’t do much photography either. We wanted to, we really did, but there was so much clicking going on around us and so many people photobombing every scene that we just lost our mojo.
Island hopping through Phi Phi is really the only way to discover the tranquillity and beauty of Thailand’s coastline. The tour takes in Maya Island, with waters so bouncy and blue that you’ll drift away to your happy place. There’s plenty of spots for snorkelling amongst colourful rainbow and angelfish above the corals and a stop for lunch in a quirky island marketplace. By mid-afternoon, the tour takes you to the restful Bamboo Island, a much larger sweep of white sand surrounded by azure waters with currents that push and pull so much you feel like a kid tumbling in the wash of the waves. It’s truly beautiful and again, packed with tourists clambering for the perfect profile pic.
Krabi is also famous for it’s two beautiful Buddhist temples, which in part we also didn’t see. Wat Kaewkorawaram on Maharat Road in the town centre was built only six years ago and its crisp white walls sparkle in the sun. Unfortunately, that was when we arrived at the main gates and were so hot and thirsty that we turned it down in favour of cold coconut water and spicy noodles. The oh so pretty boys serving us lunch told us about its brief history and what the interior is like, so we figured that would do. Even tour guides will tell you there’s no need to go in, just seeing it from the roadside you get to take in its architectural grandeur. On the other side of the road are the mangroves where local guides will take you through the serene and fresh backwaters, but we’d already done that in Kerala and anyway, it would require the same suppleness as sitting in a kayak so that was out.
The real temple worth spending the morning at though is the Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi Noi. The surrounding rainforest of Wat Tham Suea is home to many old trees in the Kiriwong Valley and shelters the temple complex situated in a broad cave opening. It is said that a Vipassana monk who frequented the cave during his meditations witnessed tigers roaming around the cave and though they have long since gone, the temple pays homage with magnificent tiger statues. The complex houses a beautiful Chinese Temple positioned at the end of a long walkway. Its also home to hundreds of energetic monkeys bounding along the path, jumping to take snacks and tidbits out of your hands. They do bite and people have known to be hospitalised, so we crossed another temple visit off our list. If you’re willing and able to take the 1,237 step climb to the pinnacle, which we weren’t, a magnificent golden Buddha statue peers out from the summit to the town of Krabi below. In photo’s Buddha shines against the clear blue sky, perched on top of a carefully carved lotus flower. It’s a spectacular scene though not wanting to get caught in the possible monsoon downpour and in any case, lacking the vigour needed to do the climb, this was probably the last thing in Krabi we didn’t do. But with its warmth and adventure, serenity and tropical sunshine, Thailand is full of possibility, whatever you choose to do.