Krabi town has evolved into a mash-up of funky bars, Western restaurants, old-school markets slinging fiery curries and the same sorts of modest shophouses found in any Thai provincial capital. Somehow these pieces fit into a fun and intriguing puzzle, all set to a backdrop of mangrove-lined rivers, longtail boats, jagged karsts and a busy patch of the Andaman Sea.
Travellers and tourism workers constantly pass through, contributing to a youthful energy that pervades the town. Some use Krabi for a quick pivot to Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta or Railay. Others laze in the cafes and stroll the vast riverfront parks while taking a break from the far pricier islands and beaches. Krabi’s local character endures amid the well-dug-in traveller scene, keeping tourism’s trashy side confined to nearby Ao Nang.
Thai Muslims make up the most noticeable sector of the city’s 30,000 residents: if you dig pungent curries, biryani rice and roti, you've come to the right place. Vendors in Maharaj Market and elsewhere are accustomed to serving travellers from all over the world, making Krabi an easily accessible place to sample fantastic local fare without speaking a lick of Thai.
Decades of revenue from the booming palm, rubber and tourism industries have made Krabi a lot more affluent than your average small Thai city. In recent years, many millions of baht were poured into massive new provincial office buildings, a marina, life-size elephant statues and a “cultural walk” on Chao Fah Road sporting 28 bas reliefs that depict aspects of the area’s notably long history.
Excavations have unearthed human remains, tools, jewellery and cave paintings dating back at least 5,000 years, probably much longer. Parts of Krabi province are thought to be among the oldest human settlements in what’s now Thailand. It’s easy to imagine the ancients taking shelter in the many limestone caves while subsisting off abundant marine life. Thousands-of-years-old paintings can be viewed in Tham Phi Hua To and other caves in the province’s northern reaches.
Krabi town is also one of Thailand’s more scenic provincial capitals. Across the wide Krabi river stretches rural Ko Klang, the cliffs of Khao Kanab Nam protrude to the north, Wat Tham Seua’s golden chedi twinkles in the background and the lush Khao Phanom Bencha mountain rises above it all. These are just some of the worthwhile attractions that can be reached as day trips from town. The province also boasts several coastal beaches and 150+ islands, including lesser-known destinations like Ko Jum, Ko Hong and Ko Yao Noi.
With so much to see, do and eat in all directions, many travellers pass through several times in a given trip. Some stick around for longer than expected, taking advantage of the hefty selection of good-value accommodation. Krabi town is recommended for budget travellers, foodies and anyone who appreciates a “lively town with lovely people”, as the local motto accurately says.
By David Luekens.