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.
Orientation Some 800 km south of Bangkok and 275 km north of the Malaysian border, Krabi province’s eponymous capital is wedged between a series of rivers, canals, mangroves and limestone cliffs, with mountains rising further north and the Andaman Sea to the south.
Maharaj Road begins at the city centre and cuts north and then northwest towards the bus station. Uttarakit Road runs north-to-south alongside the river before cutting slightly inland and running parallel to Chao Fah Road to the south of town. The majority of guesthouses are found on Uttarakit and Chao Fah, with several others located on and around Maharaj Soi 10.
Head north up Maharaj or Uttarakit and you’ll eventually reach Phet Kasem Road (Highway 4), which is the main highway running through Southern Thailand’s western provinces. To the west of town and shooting roughly parallel to Maharaj, Route 4034 (aka Krabi Road) cuts west and then south to the beaches at Ao Nammao, Ao Nang and Haad Noppharat Thara, all about a 20-minute drive away and clearly marked by signs.
With boats departing for Railay, Ko Klang and Khao Kanab Nam, Chao Fah pier is located off Uttarakit Road near the city centre. A few hundred metres south of that is Thara Park, an expansive riverside green space with a tiny beach (expect some amused looks if you swim or sunbathe here) next to another pier with local motorbike ferries to Ko Klang.
Great for a morning jog, the riverside promenade begins at Thara Park and runs north for several km, passing Chao Fah pier, the whole downtown area and locally famous statues of eagles and black crabs. To the south of town is Khlong Jilat pier, where boats depart for Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta.
Krabi hospital is located on Uttarakit Road, about a km north of the city centre. The police station, immigration office and central post office are all found to the south of town, just south of the imposing city hall and elephant statues on Uttarakit Road.
Internet cafes are available at Yellow House, which is across from the pier on Chao Fah Road, and Cha Guesthouse on Uttarakit Road, among others.
Banks and ATMs can be found at several places, including near the river on Uttarakit Road, just north of Maharaj Soi 6.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 31st October, 2016.