Many travellers pass through Krabi town as quickly as possible, seeing it as nothing more than a jumping off point for Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta. Before (or after) you dash off to the beach though, we recommend a day or two to let this riverside town work its magic. Those who linger are rewarded with cheap yet fabulous food, a relaxed atmosphere and several worthwhile attractions.
It's true that the city of 25,000 doesn't seem like much at first glance — cookie cutter concrete shophouses line the main roads and life bustles as it does in any small Thai city. Considering some of the world's best beaches are an easy boat ride away, it's easy to see why the town gets overlooked. Like most of Thailand's provincial capitals, it takes some time and effort to uncover Krabi town's treasures, the first of which is its exceptional local food.
At the heart of Krabi town, Maharaj Market is lined with hundreds of authentic curries, soups, fried fishes and chilli pastes. Pile your rice high with addictive gaeng nuea (beef curry), curried frogs or gaeng som (sour yellow curry with fish), perhaps with a side of fresh local mangoes to ease the spice. If you're not up for the heat, go for a mild but equally tasty plate of khao mok kai (Muslim-Thai style biryani rice with chicken). With a slab of deep-fried roti, wood-fired kopi or milky Thai iced tea for dessert, you'll quickly forget the watered down, over-priced Thai food that's all too common in the islands.
While the food is reason enough for us to stick around, Krabi town is also a pleasant spot to simply loll around for a day or two. Climb the dragon-guarded steps to lavish Wat Kaew. Relax in a riverside gazebo at Thara Park. Sit back for a drink in one of of the many inviting cafes and bars. Even Krabi's busiest streets aren't really "busy", and the town retains a laidback local character despite the area's huge tourism trade.
For a glimpse of rural southern Thai fishing village life, hop on a cross-river ferry to Ko Klang and cycle or stroll among the modest houses and colourful boats. Few foreigners make it to this mangrove island, but the slow-paced atmosphere and great bird watching can be a highlight for the right sort of traveller. If you prefer to see the area from a longtail boat, Chao Fah pier has no shortage to whisk you through the narrow streams of Ko Klang and caves of Khao Kanab Nam.
Though for many the Krabi area calls to mind only one thing — beaches — a handful of nature-oriented attractions are worth checking out in the province's inland reaches. North of town in the Ao Luek area, Than Bok Khrarani national park is home to waterfalls that gush over smooth-sloped tiers into emerald pools. Kayaking enthusiasts might cruise the national park's web of inland rivers that meander through lagoons and caves, some of which contain 3,000 year-old cave drawings in pristine condition.
Closer to Krabi town and easily reached by motorbike, Khao Phanom Bencha national park boasts the area's most spectacular waterfall — Nam Tok Huay Toh. Sourced from the majestic 1,350 metre-high Phanom Bencha mountain, the falls cascade over 11 tiers, including a dramatic 70 metre-high cliff with a swimworthy pool at its base. Take the trail that leads up to several smaller, more isolated falls to find a pool of crystal clear mountain water all for yourself.
Easily visited on the way to or from Khao Phanom Bencha, don't miss the "tiger cave temple", or Wat Tham Seua. This forest Buddhist temple complex includes a wooded meditation centre, a massive statue of Kuan Yin and a cave where a wild tiger often took shelter back when the temple served as a safe haven during the Communist insurgency of the 1970s. If you can manage all 1,237 steps — and the brazen water-thieving monkeys that hang around on them — a breezy platform affords magnificent views of mountains, cliffs, rivers, city and sea.
Spending a day or two in Krabi town has one more advantage — a wide selection of inexpensive, quality accommodation. With guesthouses like PN, Gafiyah and Chan-Cha-Lay offering comfy digs in the 200 to 600 baht range, you could easily enjoy Krabi town for as little as 500 baht per day. If you stick around for an extended period, the picture-perfect beaches and phenomenal rockclimbing of Railay and lively atmosphere of Ao Nang can easily be reached as day trips.
Compared to the inflated prices of nearby island and beach destinations, Krabi's inexpensive rooms and meals tend to keep backpackers hanging around, but we feel an extra day in Krabi town won't disappoint even if you've more to spend. Don't worry — the beach isn't going anywhere.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 23rd May, 2015.