Krabi has gained rapid fame for the stunning beauty of its two most famous beaches, Tham Phra Nang and Rai Le. Anyone who walks on the sand here will be left with little doubt that these do, indeed, rank among the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Vertical rock pillars, or mountains of limestone karst, rise vertically at each end of both beaches. Lush foliage and coconut fronds highlight the soft white sands with green, and the waters that just lap the shores are crystal clear. Only 100 metres off Tham Phra Nang beach another stone monolith rises from the waters, adding yet more geographic grandeur to the scene.
Even nature seems to understand that here is a highlight amongst her creations, for this stunning little peninsula is locked away from the rest of the world by several kilometres of sheer rock walls. No roads can penetrate. Men cannot walk or climb in, and even monkeys, one would image from the sight of the forbidding rock walls, might have trouble entering. Only boats can access this special place, and the very process of arriving over the waves imbues the visitor with a sense of the almost mystical experience that is approaching.
These two beaches and their narrow peninsula offer accommodation of the extremes; 1-star and 5-star only. At the southern end a few dozen extra-luxurious villas are scattered unobtrusively through the coconut palms. The swimming pool of this, the Premier Rayavadee Resort, offers one of the world’s classic scenes of a tropical idyll. This is a positive example for big money developments entering an environment of fragile beauty; low density, minimum change to environment and impact upon the scenery.
Next door is another story. A couple of hundred of cheap bungalows are crowded into every space, almost wall to wall. The sump toilets seep directly into the limited water supply underground. Plastic and glass rubbish often burn on the sand, with the refuse later given a shallow grave. Old building materials rot here and there. But the bungalows are relatively cheap (most between 500 – 1,500 Baht), and are a favourite haunt of young backpackers who while away the days reading under the trees and playing volleyball on the sand. International rock climbers have discovered the challenge in the limestone walls here, and flock here too.
A couple of hundred beds on the peninsula can’t accommodate the thousands of visitors who now flock to Krabi. Thus, at Ao Nang Beach, where the road ends, a tourist village of hotels, bungalows, restaurants and shops has sprung up., this little town is relaxed and rather quaint, and the string of restaurants and bars that clings right to the sands at the north end of the beach is popular.
The beach at Ao Nang, where the majority of visitors find themselves accommodated, is not particularly beautiful and there is not a great deal to do here. Thus, many people take the 40 Baht boat ride around the rocky headland to spend their days on the beaches of the special peninsula, returning each evening.
The offshore islands are of great beauty, and money spent on a boat – your own longtail boat for the day, if you can afford it – will buy great memories of idyllic beaches, islands and crystal waters. A longtail boat should cost about 1,500 Baht for the full day, but be prepared to bargain to get the right price.
Krabi is a province of Thailand, complete with provincial town situated up a river, and a rocky landscape of exceptional scenic beauty. Since Ao Nang and the special peninsula is only a small area that is easily crowded at times, the visitor with some days on his hands should think of renting a vehicle and exploring more of the province. There is quite a lot to see, including temple caves, a national park, waterfalls etc. Merely travelling about the smaller roads of this region is an experience itself.
Rubber and oil plantations dominate the landscape, forever punctuated by Krabi’s famed, towering karst mountains. Roads wind between these, often in the shadow of magnificent, towering rock walls. Only small pockets of natural forest can be found, though these are of exceptional beauty. The original rainforests of the Thai-Malay peninsula are the oldest in the world, having survived 300 million years, and are the world’s most species-rich terrestrial environment. (see our Environment section for more info).
Driving through the hinterlands is strongly recommended for those with a few days in Krabi. We give more information on places to visit and things to do in separate pages available through the Krabi menu.
If renting a car, beware of vehicles without comprehensive insurance. It is safer to rent from an established company than to take a cheaper one offered on the side of the road.
National Car Rent has a Krabi base and delivers vehicles to the renter’s hotel.