Cruising to Krabi, Thailand
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 Cruising to Krabi

Well-maintained roads carrying little traffic, enveloped by extraordinary scenery en-route to view a marvel of nature and a wonder of man's aesthetic accomplishment.

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.


- October Issue, 2002

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