The first thing you notice in Krabi is the total lack of noise. My friends Anna, Kari, and I stepped off our ferry from Phuket, where noise is so pervasive that it becomes a fixture in life rather than a passing annoyance. We felt a breeze gently rustle our hair and the leaves of the many trees lining the road. It was the only sound besides the Thai ferry workers telling us to get going to our hotels. The quiet, of course, said nothing, which conveyed one word to me: relaxation.
I almost didn’t travel to Krabi because I thought it would be another Phi Phi islands, the popular stop before Krabi that is swarming with neon-painted sun worshippers in their early 20s with buckets of sloshing booze glued to their hands. I’d enjoyed visiting these islands, going on a boat tour, chilling in Maya Bay, and watching the fire dancers at night, but the hedonistic nature of it was too hectic for me and it seemed there was nowhere to escape the party or the trash it left behind. Luckily, Krabi had all the beauty of Phi Phi, but without the trashiness.
As we rode on the back of an open-air bus, along the beachfront into Ao Nang’s center, I weirdly felt there was a resemblance to California’s coastlines. The streets were clean, everything seemed wrapped in a layer of “chill”, and people were actually strolling down the wide sidewalks. In Phuket, it’s very rare to see people walking because sidewalks hardly exist and cars show no mercy. In Phi Phi, you can wander down the alley-like streets, but they’re almost always packed and you end up having to side-step groping men from all over the world. My California heart felt at home and I immediately announced, “I already love this place.” Anna and Kari agreed, asking, “Why have we never come here?”
Our hotel, Ancora Blu, was reasonably priced, nautical-themed, and about a five-minute drive from the main drag. Taxis and tuk-tuks were incredibly cheap, compared to Phuket, so this was no problem. The hotel even offered an embarrassingly decorated, but free tuk-tuk that also followed the sailor theme. Walking into town wasn’t too far and on our way, we passed a hostel named Sleepover that advertised “sexy jenga” and seemed to be full of male models. This was appealing to three single ladies, but the party vibe of the hostel seemed out of place with the general chilled out and mature air of Krabi, so we walked on. But, not without several glances back . . .
On the beach of Ao Nang, we were able to hire a long tail boat for 200 baht round-trip to Railay beach. Boat tours at Phi Phi run from 400 baht to 1,000 or more, so we gleefully paid and hopped on for the short 15-minute ride. The views from the boat were utterly stunning. Limestone rocks jutted out of the aquamarine water like prehistoric giants and all around us, the sea glittered and stretched to the horizon. Our surroundings continued to stun when we stepped off at Railay beach.
“The sand feels like silk”, said Anna, dipping her toes in and out of the spongy sand with pleasure. “Look at this. Just look around us!”
The beach was certainly full of people, but still felt relaxed and hardly busy. Limestone reached high into the sky and down below, on the beach, groups of friends, elderly couples, and families lay stretched out sipping fruit shakes or hid in the shade of the trees drinking coffee and laughing and speaking in languages I didn’t understand. It looked like a television advertisement for paradise.
The obvious difference from Phi Phi is that people were drinking, but there were no buckets and no one was outwardly drunk or obnoxious. Drinking wasn’t really the main occasion; as there were fun trails through the island to places like Tonsai Beach and Phranang Cave and many of the people at Railay were there to rock climb the magnificent over-hanging cliffs. We took the trail out to the caves and felt a bit Planet-of-the-Apes when we saw monkeys crawling all over abandoned furniture in the middle of the jungle. The younger monkeys were cute, but the parents were large and gave us stern looks that made us keep our distance.
The caves themselves weren’t too wild, as they followed a man-made path and had sitting areas, but they were nice to walk through and even more so when we reached the beach and got to swim through parts of them. Most interesting was the cave under the limestone over-hangs that was full of wooden penises and altars. We were first alerted to this cave when, while swimming, Anna pointed out a bright red dildo fixed to an outcrop of rocks. It’s not usual to see burning incense, candles, and a three-foot tall penis stuck in the sand, especially in a demure place like Krabi.
Apparently, this cave is to honor the fertility goddess, who was not someone I needed to pray to at this time in my life. We swiftly got out of there after cracking some immature jokes and taking intimate pictures, which Kari feared would upset the fertility goddess and curse us for life. Our apologies, oh goddess.
Our few hours at Railay were hardly enough and we kicked ourselves for not booking a hotel there, but the golden sunset, on the boat ride back, softened the blow. Ao Nang at night was the polar opposite of Phi Phi. It was, dare I say, classy. Us girls even dressed up, which is something we rarely do in Phuket, and went to some fine dining along the beach. We were definitely in the younger age bracket of Krabi, while in Phi Phi, we are in the older group. I saw some travelers drinking beers outside the 7/11, Sleepover Hostel was happening, and people drank cocktails while listening to live music, but there were no ragers going on. Only some relaxed imbibing.
When we boarded the ferry the next afternoon, I was missing Krabi before we’d even left port. It had been nothing like Phi Phi and for that I was glad. I’d been wanting a stress-free weekend, where dudes in tank tops didn’t yell at me to come play beer pong and I could get some spa treatments in an establishment that didn’t have passed out dudes (probably the very same ones) in it. Krabi completely delivered. But, if you want to dance all night with a bucket in your hand, to Phi Phi you must go. Just head to Krabi afterwards to soothe your aching head and be a grown-up (at least for a little while.)
Words and photos by Hannah Smith