Driving to Krabi and Ao Nang

Phuket Travel Guide

Krabi: As recently as 1973, the only surfaced road inKrabi province was Highway 4, linking the township with Phang Nga to the south. Ao Nang was linked to Krabi Town only by a dirt track. The land route between Ao Nang and Had Nopparat Thara was a footpath. (The area is now the habitat of weekenders with new Honda Civics.) Coconut plantations and mangroves clothed the coast. The interior was still only accessible by cart tracks cut through swathes of lowland rain forest to access rubber plantations, mostly operated by industrious Thais of Chinese origin.

By the late 1980s, Krabi was much more accessible due to a growing network of surfaced roads in the Ao Luk, Klong Tom and Panom Bencha areas. As in the rest of the country, sturdy Japanese pick-up trucks became essential tools for farmers. As ownership of these vehicles became more and more common, even the deepest recesses of rural Krabi were opened to agriculture. But the changes were bittersweet. On the one hand, they brought more income and a better quality of life for rural dwellers. On the other hand, road access also put immense pressure on remnant mangrove and lowland rain forests which fell to the farmer's power saw.

The first phase of foreign tourism in the late 1980s was concentrated in the Ao Nang and Phi Phi beach areas. Now overseas travellers are turning their attention to the interior of the verdant province. With access to a self-drive jeep, a rented motorcycle or mountain bike, it's easy to explore serene cave temples, emerald plunge pools in the forest, hot springs, towering waterfalls and picturesque kampongs in the plantations. And local people are usually delighted if a foreigner stops by for a soft drink and a chat. 

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Where to Go

"Wat Tam Sua, Klong Tom hot spring and nature trail, the Ao Luk waterfalls and the Susan Hoi shell cemetery are the highlights of Krabi," suggests Sudawan Siriphan, activities manager at the Rayavadee Resort on Phra Nang Beach. Perhaps the most satisfactory trip she says, is 40 km south of Krabi Town on the newly resurfaced Highway 4 to Klong Tom. Wat Klong Tom Museum, beside the main road, is full of artifacts from when a semi-mythical local town called Kuan Lukbat, from around the 5th century onwards, acted as a gateway port for emissaries crossing the southern Thai peninsula.

The next 15 km or so east of Klong Tom to the natural hot springs is a dirt track -- not exactly suitable for Porsches. "Jeeps can go, no problem," says Maliwan Kong-on, manager of SR Tour in Krabi Town. "If saloons try it, it's a little difficult." But it's still possible, especially in the December-April dry season, if you drive slowly.

Endurance of the rutted laterite tracks is soon rewarded by a chance to bathe in natural and soothing warm pools that empty into a much cooler klong, or canal, ideal for swimming. A further 10 km eastwards, again following a dirt track and then over a rickety bridge, the Tung Tyco nature trail in the Khor Nor Chuchi Lowland Forest reserve is delightful for its signposted forest walk and emerald plunge pool near the park sub-station. This option is safe and fun for children as well as adults.

"If you go to Klong Tom take a lunch, swimsuit and towel," advises Sudawan." The road from Klong Tom to the hot spring is not favourable but it's a nice adventure.

The Huay Dto Waterfall is also a good trip, says Sudawan, but best if you go with a guide -- not so much for the drive there, but to lead the way up the steep viewpoint and waterfall footpaths, which can be slippery. The waterfall on the western side of Khao Panom Bencha National Park is at its most impressive between September and December, just after the rainy season.

Motorcycle theft from the car park has spoiled the trip for a few visitors in the past. Make sure vehicles are locked and demobilized. The waterfall is 19 km along a surfaced road north of the Talad Gow (Old Market) part of Krabi Town. 

With an early morning start, it is possible to combine Huay Dto waterfall with Wat Tam Sua, or "Tiger Cave Temple". The temple is signposted 1 km south of the Huay Dto road. So both sites can be visited in one day.

Tiger Cave Temple gets busy at weekends, with residents from around southern Thailand coming to pay homage. The main bot is sculpted onto the side of a cliff. There is a delightful forest glade walk past the monks kuti, or sleeping huts. Monks still meditate in the forest. A steep staircase rises around 300m to a Buddha footprint viewpoint. The ridge commands a sweeping view of 1,360m Khao Panom Bencha, a mountain in Krabi township, and miles upon miles of rubber and palm oil plantations -- the backbone of the Krabi economy.

In 1992, when Highway 4 from Thap Pud in Phang Nga province to Krabi Town was being resurfaced, tourism and other business slumped as the repair work dragged on for a year over the 60 km stretch. The then Krabi deputy governor Sira Chawanawirat lamented at the time: "Everyone knows Krabi is beautiful, but getting there is difficult. Let them finish the road first, then we'll go."

Since its completion in 1993, the road has been among the best in southern Thailand. It's wide with a good surface, bright lines painted everywhere, and not too much traffic. It takes just 25 minutes to reach the highly scenic Ao Luk area from Krabi Town. However, by following the more westerly minor roads, such as the 4034, travellers can stop off at the Sra Kaew plunge pools near Baan Nai Sra or veer westwards to Coconut Home bungalows for a meal and spectacular sunset view over the Koh Hong island group. You'll need an MT dirt bike or a 4WD jeep, as the last 2 km on the side trip to Coconut Home is unsurfaced and impassable in the wet season. 

The Ao Luk area itself has much to offer travellers. About 1 km south of the town's major crossroads, a sign points east down a plantation track to Diamond Cave, at the entrance to which you'll find a Buddhist shrine Take a torch and non-slip shoes to inspect the huge stalactites and stalagmites inside.

One kilometre southwest of the major Ao Luk intersection, along the, surfaced 4039, a sign leads drivers to the tumbling creeks and forest paths of Tanboke Koranee National Park, where a deep stream emerges from a cave.

If you park 6 km west of Tanboke, it's possible to rent a longtail boat for a 15-minute ride to inspect Tam Lawd Cave stalactites and the majestic Tam Hoa Gralok (Skull Cave), where sinister cave paintings date from prehistoric times.

At the southwestern end of the 4039 you'll discover an ideal way to end the day. The two seafood restaurants overlooking the sea are renowned among Krabi people for their natural setting and good food. The restaurant owners don't mind if you buy a fish from the fishermen next door and get the kitchen staff to prepare it to your specifications.

With Ao Nang as your base, the best options for mountain bike daytrips are Sra Kaew plunge pools near Baan Nai Sra-village, a ride out to the natural springs just north of Andaman Holiday Resort., or an easy 45-minute ride to the Susan Hoi shell cemetery. Hardier travellers can take their mountain bikes on the ferry to Koh Lanta. The island's 19 west coast beaches are linked by a bumpy dirt track, ideal for mountain bikes. 

Where to Rent Cars in Krabi

In Krabi Town, SR Tour (tel [075] 611 930) and Thammachart Tour (tel 612 536) in Kong Kha Road both offer air-con Suzuki Caribians for 1,200 baht for 24 hrs including insurance. Thammachart also offers minibus tours with driver-guide for around 1,800 baht, depending on itinerary.

Grand Tower guesthouse (tel 611741) has 90cc step-through motorcycles at 200 baht for 90cc and 300 baht for 125cc motorcycles.

In Ao Nang, Krabi Ann Car Rent (tel 01 722 0096) has Caribbian jeeps for 1,200 baht for 24 hrs, as does Gift's Bungalows, which also offers mountain bikes at 180 baht for 24 hrs.

Maps: the best motoring and tourism map available of Krabi province is undoubtedly the "Guide Map of Krabi" by V. Hongsombud (40 baht). 

Recommended Krabi Day Drives

Klong Tom Museum, hot spring, nature trail: Best with a jeep or MT-style motorbike. Full daytrip. Take walking shoes, lunch and swimming gear.

Huay Dto Waterfall and Tiger Cave Temple: Suitable with any motorized vehicle. Take non-slip shoes for walking around the waterfall and modest, proper clothes for the temple.

Ao Luk, Diamond Cave, Tanboke Koranee Waterfall park, Hoa Gralok Cave, Laem Sak dinner: Full daytrip. Suitable for any motorized vehicle. Take a torch and non-slip shoes for cave exploration.

Baan Nai Sra, Coconut Home: Take swimming gear. Coconut Home is virtually inaccessible by road from August to November due to flooding and mud. In the dry season only jeeps, pick-ups, MT and mountain bikes can readily get there.

Mountain bike options from Ao Nang: Susan Hoi shell cemetery, or the longer route to the natural springs just north of the Andaman Holiday Resort.

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