“There are no secrets in the world” – Thai proverb
The best part about traveling has always been the unraveling of mysteries. The Easter eggs among tourist traps. That little book cafe at the end of the alley. That breath-taking view only seen from your end of the hilltop. A theme park “fast pass” that actually works.
The rare, hidden gems that travellers long to unearth. And we are no different.
So when we discovered that Nakamanda, the place we’re staying in Krabi is actually a ‘Small Luxury Hotels of the World’ (SLH) establishment, we were stoked. This is mainly because at the price we got it for, one would only expect a ‘Small Hotels of the World’ franchise.
“Off to a good start,” we thought.
Krabi is a province on the west coast of southern Thailand. It’s an up-and-coming destination about 150km away from its more prominent cousin, Phuket. By air, Krabi is about a 1.5-hour flight after a 1-hour walk from your LCCT gate to the AirAsia plane.
So it’s not that far. A good choice for a short 3-day trip.
The other reason we chose Krabi was the promise of the majestic blue waters and white sandy beaches at its peaceful islands; that we’ve seen in pictures. Pictures which we would later learn were either photoshopped to remove the hordes people and boats out, or actually taken in the Maldives.
Previously a much more reserved city than Phuket, Krabi now attracts more than two million visitors each year. Half of them, visiting about the same time we were there.
The congested islands aside, Krabi is a quaint and laidback town with a population of only about 30,000. Thus the traffic is not too bad. Krabi is believed to be the oldest settlement in Thailand and takes its name from an ancient sword. Over the years, Krabi has rapidly grown into a vibrant tourist destination with more than 150 hotels and one Tesco Lotus.
We touched down Krabi Airport (KBV) around noon and were pretty impressed with the place. It’s a single terminal airport servicing Thai Airways, AirAsia and Tiger Airways flights coming in and out throughout the day. There was a plan to launch “kAir” back in 2007 as an airline that flies exclusively from Europe to Krabi. The proposal was later shelved due to business reasons and probably because the idea was kind of rubbish.
Despite its size, KBV appears very well-maintained and modern unlike most small airports that I’ve been to e.g. Kerteh. Then again Siem Reap International Airport wasn’t too bad either. I guess I shouldn’t be comparing airports that lead to hotels with the ones that lead to oil rigs. Although those two might look the same at times.
After a smooth drive in their Nissan Teana, we arrived at Nakamanda about an hour later. True to its SLH label, the place had everything we could ask for. A villa nestled in the green shade of nature, a view of the Andaman Sea, a private beach, separate wardrobes, and ESPN.
Even the complimentary drinking water was nicely bottled. I had to check the minibar menu a few times to make sure it was really free. Wouldn’t want to spend what’s left of our budget on a pompous USD10 bottle of Perrier.
Nakamanda is located along the sleepy strip of Klong Muang in Nong Thale, where most of the fancier, up-market hotels are. But with every little trendy shop-house accommodation calling themselves “boutique” these days, there’s just no telling which is which anymore. Most of the hotels in Krabi are either at Ao Nang, the more developed area closer to downtown, or Rai Leh. So if you want more action, go to these places. Klong Muang has got the bedtime of a retirement home.
As the sun retires itself over the horizon, we made our way out in search of food. Again, with Klong Muang being the quieter side of Krabi, only a handful of eateries were open and reachable within walking distance.
Most of the hotel guests dine at the house restaurant but trying to be thrifty, we ventured down the road into the Coconut Restaurant. There wasn’t much choice anyway and this place had a whiteboard showcasing the praises they had received on TripAdvisor. While we later learned that their actual score on TA is about 50-50, their fried banana balls with ice cream was pretty good.
The plan for the second day was to retreat to the islands. It’s the main agenda on most itineraries. And by most itineraries, I mean 120% of the time. The route we chose was a journey to Ko Phi Phi (ko means island), about 45 minutes away. Along the way, we will be stopping at Ko Mai Phai (Bamboo Island), Monkey Beach, and the infamous Maya Bay; where The Beach was shot.
The thing about the available routes to Phi Phi is that if you ever think of choosing one that’s more private and exclusive, forget about it. If any of the travel agents tries to sell you this idea, they’re actually laughing inside. Phi Phi is right smack in the middle between Phuket and Krabi. So the millions that fly into these places every year will almost always make their way to Phi Phi. Maya Bay for example gets such heavy traffic because of the whole Beach thing there is actually a queue for boats to dock there. You can almost hear the islands whisper, “Screw you, Hollywood.”
This large congregation of people however, is appealing to a good majority of the tourists there. So while I was cringing over an old man in tight speedos hacking a loogie in the middle of the beach, the crowd there appeared to be enjoying themselves. You can hear music in the air and people dancing to the beat of T-Pop -- if there is such a thing. Not our idea of paradise and if it isn’t yours as well, tell your guide you prefer to be on water.
The noisy crowd aside, Phi Phi and its surrounding islands are doubtlessly some of nature’s most enchanting beauty. Every island has a story behind them and even named after its resemblance e.g. Chicken Island. The smaller ones are mostly nameless but if we are to go by that rule, there are probably a few Penis Islands there.
You might have also seen the formation of limestone karsts often used in portraying the islands’ beauty. These natural structures have become a haven for rock climbers from all over the world. The water is gorgeous as well and on a good day, there is quite a variety of underwater life seen even to the naked eye. Will that good day ever come, however, is beyond anyone.
The trip to Krabi was as a whole, a relaxing one. While the trip to the islands was slightly bumpy, our stay at Nakamanda has definitely recharged us over the 3-day break. We arrived in Kuala Lumpur rejuvenated and refreshed and would definitely return. Answering questions from friends and family about the trip, however, we could only say, “Skip the islands.”
More photos by Azalia Suhaimi here.
Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]
Busking Barefoot is the travel blog of Asrif Yusoff and Azalia Suhaimi.
Here's what happened.
Western Australia (Video)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Malaysia License.