Well-maintained roads carrying little traffic, enveloped by extraordinary
scenery en-route to view a marvel of nature and a wonder of man's
That's us, coasting to Krabi. It's the rainy season,
but the sky is blue; some fluffy clouds lumber by, unthreateningly.
Don't tell the "good-weather" tourists, for then
we would not have the road almost exclusively to ourselves! Despite
the fact that there are not too many roads to confuse the navigator,
as detailed a map as possible will save possible frustration. A
useful tip is to memorize the names of the places you intend to
visit and to have a friend write them down in Thai, so that, with
a little assistance from people along the way, you will competently
reach your scenically captivating goals. We ar e heading for Wat
Bang Riang, just beyond Thup Put, an awe inspiring hilltop temple.
Then we will move on to the Krabi area, probably close to the beautiful
Ao Nang Bay for the night before heading off to discover the striking
caves deep in the mangroves of Tham Phee Huato.
When hiring a car for this journey, the only practical way to do
it; be sure to hire from one of the well-known, worldwide chains
such as Avis or Budget. Although they may be a little more expensive
than the guy on the corner; you are assured of full insurance and
recovery in the event of a problem. With mind at rest because you
have a reliable, comprehensively insured car, also now put your
mind into cruise mode; for where we will take you during the next
two days there will be no race to win, no schedule to meet. You
will have ample time, so enjoy. "Sabai, sabai", as the
Thais would say, "take it easy", you might travel this
road only once.
North on the 402. About ten kilometres from Phuket town, just past
the turning to Rawai and Patong, you will reach Chan's antiques.
Stop for a few minutes, remember, you are in cruise mode. Stop and
have a chat with the man who has arguably the very best quality
collection of Thai and regional art and antiques in Phuket. You
may not buy anything but you will have had a refreshing drink and
encouraged your mind to enter quasi-cultural realms that will stay
with you over the next two days, indisputably enhancing your trip.
A few kilometres further along the road to the north, take a five-minute
halt at Wat xxx to view one of the most imposing golden reclining
Buddas in Thailand. Benevolently, its huge and tranquil frame watches
over the travellers passing by; some rather too quickly!
Settle back now as you cruise towards Sarasin Bridge, passing through
the newly reconstructed village of Thalang, where road-widening
activities during the past couple of years has meant that all buildings,
often brick by brick, have been demolished and faithfully reconstructed
some twenty metres back from the road. Soon after the village you
will begin to notice that the traffic flow has become lighter and
so it will remain until your return tomorrow.
Exiting Phuket Island on the lower Sarasin Bridge we see the serene
harbour of Yacht Haven with many white sticks of masts reaching
to the still blue sky, even the ambling clouds have wandered away.
You will see small fishing boats at anchor under the bridge whilst
a lone fisherman casts his line from its crest, not really caring
whether he catches anything, simply content to be there. Immediately
after the bridge you will see numerous roadside stalls selling appetizing
large red crabs and small mountains of pineapples, both at Phuket-beating
prices. We want to purchase, but where to keep them until our return?
Regretfully, we coast onwards. Forking right onto the A2 (4) in
the direction of Phang Nga, we are not tempted to deviate further
right to follow the signs luring us toward James Bond Island. We've
heard the stories of a beauty spoiled by tramping tourists, not
for us today.
Our route to the temple in the sky at Bang Riang (don't take
the turning to Krabi, rather head for Phang Nga town) takes us through
the clean well-managed town of Phang Nga before rising up the hill
to luxuriate in the flourishing greenery backdropped by the peerless
splendour of unique limestone monoliths rising pillar-like from
the earth. The road, encapsulated in dense plants and trees is a
little twisting, but remember "sabai, sabai" and take
it easy. Time and life is on our side. Sit back, stop for photo
shoots and enjoy this scenery which is unique in Thailand, unique
in the world. Descending into Thup Put, a main road joins us to
the right, which, presumably, would have been the road we could
have taken, signposted to Krabi. We were thankful we had chosen
the small diversion. Almost immediately on our left we see a sign
directing us to Wat Bang Riang, our primary destination of this
first day of our adventure.
This supremely scenic temple was sponsored by the King of Thailand
and although it has not been in place for many years, gives us the
impression that it has always been there, watching tenderly over
the surrounding countryside. The Temple contains many images of
the Lord Buddha and sits squarely in absolute and dazzling isolation
on the summit of one of the highest hills in the region, encompassing
views of great depth and beauty. It is a radiant cornucopia of opulence
and colour, further heightened by a colossal golden sitting Buddha
that faces the magnificent temple. Further around the hillside,
looking down into the valley, is one of the largest white and gold
female figures in Southern Thailand. Everywhere harmony, serenity
and peace girdle us. A space of limitless horizons. Soak in this
calmness for a while; there is no hurry; "sabai, sabai".
Down to earth literally and figuratively finds us back in Thup
Put town trying to spot something to eat. We discovered one stall
come restaurant with a selection of lukewarm rice, spicy chicken,
nondescript pork and many smiling faces. It would be enough to sustain
us until our evening meal.
Returning to the A2 we coasted through Nanua, enveloped by coconut
trees and the ubiquitous, although not indigenous, rubber-tree plantations
reaching to touch the wondrous pillars of limestone. This is the
scenery you view from your aeroplane when descending into or flying
out of Phuket. As wonderful as it then seems, there is no substitute
to being actually within it, encompassed by it. Through the small
town of Ao Luek we drove. It will be our return destination tomorrow
as we seek its mysterious caves amongst the mangroves. The approach
to Krabi is along an excellent, straight and well-maintained road,
a delight for the driver and passengers alike. We have travelled
some 200 kilometres since leaving Phuket town and enter the somewhat
quainter and quieter Krabi; although we can see, even now, that
it is fast preparing for its own influx of tourists. For the moment
the graceful and weakly flowing klong priding itself with well-manicured
gardened river banks, washes down to the Andaman Sea; perhaps it
will ever thus remain.
We retrace our steps a little then head south on the 4202 to Ao
Nang bay, where we intend to stay the night. An unwelcome shock
awaits us. The beautiful Ao Nang beach has become a building site!
The entire beachfront is being rebuilt to accommodate a new sea
wall and pedestrian walkway. Unfortunate for those booking a holiday
today, their trek across rubble and past gigantic cranes to the
beach being nothing less than tortuous, but perhaps, for those visiting
in the high season, progress will have been made. We couldn't
but reflect, however, that we were probably witnessing a mini Patong
rising from the mud.
We took to the road again, wondering where to stay the night, our
original plan scuppered. Fortunately, within a few kilometres we
saw a sign directing us to The Andaman Holiday Resort. As evening
was slowly threatening to close in, we decided to risk a visit.
We were so very elated we had done so, for we came upon enchanting
chalets, each with a private rooftop terrace, a few steps from a
glorious beach. We rapidly grabbed gin and tonics from the gracious
hostess at the quaint sunset bar and, sitting on the rocks at the
extreme end of the beach, water dancing at our feet, we watched
the lustrous russet sunset kiss the hills of Phang Nga. O K, so
I didn't want to say we were in "Paradise", it's
just a little trite, - but if we weren't then I simply don't
know what qualifies. No more to be said, words are not adequate.
The following day we watched as the highly motivated team, from
all departments of the hotel, worked together to construct a new
pathway for their guests. As it is the low season, the management
of the hotel wisely retains the loyalty of their staff by keeping
them employed in projects that will enhance the appearance of the
hotel in the high season. The teamwork certainly impressed us and
they seemed to be having fun! High tide was at 11.a.m. and the beach
disappeared, so we decided to take the cue and get back onto the
road once more. It had been a delightful moment in our lives, an
oasis in a bustling world.
We coasted for 20 kilometres after leaving the hotel, rejoined
the A2 in the direction of Phuket, signposted at 173 kilometres
distant. At the Ao Luek traffic lights we turned left from the main
road, through the town, past the police station on our left. Almost
three kilometres from the police station we took a right turn then
the first left to Tham Phee Huato. Soon we reached the sea food
restaurant at the water's edge, where we boarded our long-tail
boat for the caves deep in the mangrove swamp. The jetty is well
constructed and the long-tail boat well-maintained and skippered
by an ever smiling "captain".
The cool endlessness of the mangrove swamp was a welcome relief
from the closer confines of the car. We passed canoeists and other
long-tail boats out exploring, but the balmy sway of mangrove branch
against composed water soon lulled us into placidity. Exiting the
somewhat unstable craft we ascended a few steps into the cavern's
mouth. We drew breath and waited for the monsters to appear. The
rock formations of stalactites and stalagmites allow the imagination
to run absolute riot. We could see elephants and Buddhas, snakes
and skulls, dragons and monsters, beautiful women and ghouls. The
cave paintings of six-fingered hands, horned monsters and shrimps
are reputedly over 5,000 years old. What tales could they tell!
As we look from inside the cave - known colloquially as "The
Skull Cave", we gaze through two enormous dead eyes and a fiercely
gaping mouth to the completely overwhelming vista of amazing Phang
Nga bay. Majestic in its dimensions, power and beauty.
Back in the cave we are smitten by an uncanny resemblance of cathedral-like
architecture surrounding us; arched supports and rounded pillars,
pews and candelabra. Reluctantly, but fulfilled, we stepped back
into our age-old craft and remained silent for a while. There was
nothing more to be said. We were ants in the size of the universe,
in our knowledge, in the passage of time, - not even ants.
Flanked yet again by proud coconut trees and luxuriant vegetation
we coasted on the final part of our journey along an apparently
little used yet always excellent 415 road. At 34 kilometres from
the pier we rejoined the A2 (4) heading for Phuket. Soon we were
approaching Sarasin Bridge, feeling we were coming "home".
Remember "sabai, sabai"? Too many people rush the last
stage of their journey. There is no need so to do. We wanted to
wind our two day's down in a peaceful, non-hurried way, so
we turned left into Boat Lagoon, just before we would inevitably
be consumed by the hurly-burly of frantic Phuket and wound our way
to the far side of the marina. There we stopped at Scampi's
restaurant, had a quiet coffee and sandwich and reflected in tranquillity
of the two days we had spent amongst the wonders of man and of nature.
We felt very privileged.