Siam Island Hopper Guide to Krabi

It might not be an island, but Krabi is one of Thailand’s most stunning provinces. From mangrove forests to uninhabited limestone islands just off the coast, Krabi is full of natural beauty to discover. Watch and see just what Krabi is all about.

The entrance to Krabi Town is strange and beautiful, like most things you’ll find in this unique province. The town is on the Maenam Krabi river, guarded by two giant limestone karsts jutting out at opposing angles. You can even climb one of the two mountains, which are together referred to as Khao Kanab Nam.

The province of Krabi is best known for being a one or two day stopover for travelers going from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi. What most people don’t do, however, is spend enough time in Krabi to get to know this outdoorsy, challenging, breathtaking, and often mysterious, coastal province.

Views of Ao Nang and Nong Talay lake.

On the mainland beaches of Krabi, giant limestone karsts create 90 degree cliffs straight out of the sand. These rocky walls have attracted climbers and adrenaline enthusiasts from around the world. Yes, the sense of adventure is strong here.

That’s not to forget about the local population. The people who grew up here and feel less mystery and more familiarity with the winding rivers and limestone cliffs. Krabi is home to a significant Muslim and Buddhist population, who have pretty strong ties to the land and Animist beliefs. Krabi is also home to Thailand’s Moken population, an ethnic group sometimes called Sea Gypsies.

To get the most out of this island hopper destination, keep an open mind and a high level of energy. Because, if you let it, Krabi will challenge you. Challenge your mind with a sense of wonder and adventure and it will challenge your body as you climb limestone cliffs and paddle through sea caves. And at the end of each day there’s a beautiful coastline or island beach, and a cold beer, with your name on it.

Get your beach on

The mangroves and beaches of Railay peninsula.

Ao Nang Beach is the main tourist zone of Krabi. So steer clear. Just kidding, we love ourselves a good massage as much as the next island hopper, and here you’ll find massage tents as far as the eye can see. There are tons of street side souvenirs (cheaper in Bangkok if you have a chance), fake designer goods (also cheaper in Bangkok) and every form of cuisine from Indian to Swedish.

For a more peaceful beach experience head north to Nopparathara Beach. Here the water is deep green and the sand is shaded with tall pine trees. The terrain is very different from Koh Phi Phi and Phuket. And it’s quiet here – you won’t find lines of identical beach chairs. As the tide recedes you can walk all the way out to little islands just offshore.

Life on Krabi’s Railay peninsula.

South of Ao Nang is the Railay peninsula. With those iconic limestone cliffs, it’s no wonder Railay is famous for climbing. For decades people have traveled from across the globe to slip into sweaty rented climbing shoes and make their way to up Railay’s daunting cliff walls. There are climbing routes and guides for everyone from bikini-clad beginners to highly skilled climbers (who probably have their own shoes).

Climbing limestone karsts on Phra Nang Beach.

Just south of Railay West, further down the little peninsula, is Phra Nang Beach. Reachable from Ao Nang via 20 minute longtail ride. This stretch of fine white sand has a great view of the giant limestone karst Koh Rang Nok just offshore. The secret’s been out for a while though, so don’t expect to get the beach to yourself.

There’s a small cave on the southernmost side of Phra Nang filled with wooden phalluses in all shapes and sizes. Some might think it strange, but people pray to the goddess of fertility here, so a cave full of giant carved wooden phallic symbols kind of makes sense. Stop by for some nice photo ops. Stay too long and risk contracting penis envy.

If you’re up for a challenging hike with a scenic reward, follow the signs from Phra Nang to the viewpoint and lagoon. You’ll head up a vertical, often muddy, path with a few worn ropes to guide you. It will take about 20-30 minutes to climb up but you’ll be rewarded with a view over the whole Railay peninsula, with Railay East beach in front of you.

To reach the lagoon, follow the signs from the viewpoint and scale down a 90 degree wall of rock. Then another, then another. Oh, and one more. No, this trek is definitely not for everyone. Bring your hiking shoes or be forced to go barefoot. There’s more rope here to help you reach the blue green pool enclosed by rocky cliffs. Go at high tide so you can swim. The strangely colored pool and eerie limestone formations make it worth the trek.

Deep water soloing on Koh Poda.

The islands of Koh Hong, Koh Kai, and Koh Poda off the shores of Krabi are beautiful, and thus a must-see stop on the itinerary of every tour boat. Skip the tour and make like an island hopper in your own longtail boat. Go at non-peak hours in the morning and evening to get some of the beach to yourself. Head around the back of Koh Poda and climb up the ladders made for deep water soloing. With proper shoes (or barefoot if you dare) you can climb up the jagged rock and jump into the deep water. Or just hop over to some of Krabi’s most uncrowded beaches.

Where to eat

Thai sweets for sale at Krabi’s morning market.

If you’re in Krabi Town try the fresh seafood at Nong Joke. Order the fried fish, Pla Insee Tod Nam Pla, or try the local favorite Koong Phad Sataw. Sataw is actually called stinkbean in English, so it might be an acquired taste for some. Kotung Restaurant, also in Krabi Town, is another well-known spot among locals and Bangkok tourists for its Thai and seafood dishes.

Near Krabi Airport on Petchkasem Road find Ko Choi Fried Chicken. Also famous among locals and Thais, this little shack is worth a detour from the beach. Order fried chicken with rice noodles and spicy southern curry.

In Ao Nang check out the little restaurant/shophouse Ja Dam. Order Muslim staples like Khao Mok Nuea, beef with yellow rice, and Khao Yum, spicy rice salad. The rice salad is healthy a local southern dish filled with fresh herbs and topped off with fermented shrimp paste.

For a more upscale dinner experience in Ao Nang try Hilltop Restaurant or Lae Lay Grill. Situated next to each other, both spots have spectacular views overlooking the water. Hilltop’s lawn is especially beautiful. With European dishes to round out the restaurants’ Thai-focused menus, it’s worth a little splurge one night. For a casual but delicious seafood experience on Nopparathara Beach check out Wang Sai Seafood. It’s on the southernmost tip of the beach, nearest to Ao Nang.

Food for sale at Krabi’s morning market.

With Krabi’s vibrant local population comes vibrant local markets. Wake up early and go for breakfast at Maharaj Market at Maharaj Soi 9 in Krabi Town. This open air market has recently been renovated, but it still retains its local charm. Sit at a coffee counter and drink a strong cup of kaffe boran, old fashioned Thai coffee, alongside Krabi’s old timers. Indulge in a breakfast of jok (rice porridge) and Thai sweets made of sticky rice and coconut milk all wrapped up in banana leaves.

Khao Mok Kai, a local Muslim style dish of chicken and rice.

The Ao Nam Mao local market is at the junction of Krabi Road and Ao Nang Road every Sunday and Wednesday from 3:00 pm until 6:30 pm. This local market sells everything from clothing, household items, cooked dishes and raw ingredients. A more touristy but still interesting stop is the Krabi Night Market in Krabi Town. It happens every evening from Friday to Sunday.

Party in Krabi

Krabi is not a crazy party destination, at least not compared to Koh Phi Phi or Koh Phangan. But in recent years the party scene has developed along with the influx of tourists, and the bars dotted along Ao Nang will definitely provide a great night. You’ll find plenty of neon signs and live music competing for your attention.

For a chill bar scene head to Tonsai Beach. Join the climbers to watch the sunset from beach bars like Freedom Bar or Joy’s Bar. Pull up a wooden chair, grab a beer and relax, whether you’ve been climbing all day or just lying on the beach. Don’t worry, no one will know.

Views of Railay and Ao Nang at night.

Along the mangroves of Railay East you’ll find chic, relaxed resorts overlooking the water. Although pricey, the luxurious pools and restaurants are worth a splurge at some point.

For the flashpacker experience, check out Railay Walking Street off of Railay West beach. Find your favorite reggae bar and start chatting with the bartenders about life.

Another great chill-out spot is the aptly named Chill Out Bar & Bungalows on Tonsai Beach. Get here by longtail from Ao Nang. Or stay in one of the jungle non-aircon bungalows if  you’re up for roughing it. If not, at least come for the chill party vibes. Lie back on one of those iconic triangle pillows and thank the God of Beach Bums that you’ve made it this far. Smoking and ingesting various substances from Mother Earth is optional, but encouraged, at this fine establishment. But if you ask us, sipping a beer and listening to the live reggae and ska bands is already a perfect night.

Sleeping it off

If you want a front row view of Railay at all times, then the luxurious Rayavadee Resort on Phra Nang should be your first choice. Or, check out Railay Bay Resort & Spa just a few minutes walk from Phra Nang. The atmosphere is island-escape-meets-spa-retreat with all the comforts of home, of course. Plus, it doesn’t come with a price tag quite as hefty as Rayavadee.

The sprawling, yet secluded, Centara Grand Beach Resort and Villas is around the corner from Railay on its own little beach, accessible by boat or a single jungle path from Ao Nang, guarded by hundreds monkeys. Needless to say, these guys are used to having their photo taken.

Looking for more low key accommodation? There are a ton of resort and guesthouse choices on Ao Nang. The Small Hotel is a quaint little hotel with 38 rooms and a rooftop pool with a view. The boutique Red Ginger Chic Resort is about 10 minutes walk from the beach in Ao Nang. With bottom floor rooms opening right out into the pool, being away from the beach doesn’t seem so bad.

Stay in Krabi Town to get a feel for local life while keeping close to the action. Rooms @ Krabi Guest House is right at the mouth of Maenam Krabi. If you’re feeling adventurous why not go inland and get a unique villa experience in the middle of Krabi’s green landscape? You’ll have your very own slice of paradise all the way out there.

Other stuff

Kayaking through Ao Talen.

Krabi is known for dense mangrove forests. Rent a kayak and explore the waterways and jungle caves. We recommend Ao Talen, north of Nopparathara. Waterways twist through mangrove forests and bring you to some amazing island caves.

If you’ve opted to stay inland, rent motorbikes for a day and explore the countryside. Head up the road from Ao Nang towards Nong Talay to explore Krabi’s lush jungles, rubber plantations and hillsides. The rubber trees lined up neatly in rows make for great dirtbiking. You’ll encounter villages, friendly locals, temples and lots of greenery.

The Emerald Pool and Blue Pool.

Sra Morakot, or Emerald Pool, is Krabi’s natural mineral springs about 45 minute drive from Ao Nang. It seems far, but the drive takes you through some of the most scenic roads in the province. Go early in the morning before families and children descend on the pools and have quiet soak after a night of partying. Walk through the forest to reach the Blue Pool. You can’t swim due to muddy quicksand, but the view alone is fantastic.

Krabi’s mix of adventure and relaxation is a unique one. It’s all about being outdoors and experiencing the natural wonders of this amazing, and strange, place. Let yourself be challenged by nature. All you need is energy and an open mind and you’ll feel at home here in Krabi in no time.

Photography by Guy Houben

Read more island guides:

Siam Island Hopper Guide to Phuket

Siam Island Hopper Guide to Koh Phi Phi

Siam Island Hopper Guide to Koh Chang

Siam Island Hopper Guide to Koh Samui

Siam Island Hopper Guide to Koh Tao

Siam Island Hopper Guide to Koh Phangan

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