Friday 17th Feb
As usual we were up early, having adapted to the routine common in most hot countries: to rise early in order to make the most of the cooler hours, and rest during the hottest part. Sleeping in would have been impossible anyway as we were in the middle of a busy longtail route and they start ferrying passengers back and forth early! The constant drone of their engines was beginning to get beyond irritating after an hour or so. It was a relief, therefore when Paul was able to confirm a place at Krabi Boat Lagoon and we moved off immediately so that we would avoid the lowest tide on the route. It was a bit hairy anyway with mudbanks either side of us and the depth monitor showing mostly 3 metres but dropping to 2.8 at times. It only needs 1.5 for us to go aground and although it has happened before and Paul says it’s nothing to be scared of, it’s an unnerving sensation. Anyway we kept to the ‘path’ (mostly – Paul took a bit of a short cut to speed things up a bit) and then all we had to do was identify the entrance to the river. Spotting things on the horizon at sea, it’s easy to become confused regarding perspective. We could see no way in even with the help of binoculars until we were fairly near. The landscape is a lot flatter in this area and there was a long row of trees forming part of the mangrove swamp at the edge of the marina entrance and they carried on almost all the way to the pontoons. We were guided to our berth by Ben, the marina manager and once securely tied up we checked in with him at the office. Ben gave us some useful information and maps on the area. By then it was 1 30 and too hot to do much else than work or read with the fans on in the cabin. We went for a drink and dinner at the bar later (where they were more than happy to cater for my vegan, and Paul’s non-spicy requirements) and Paul arranged a hire car for the following day.
Saturday 18th Feb
The early morning chorus of birds here makes you look up (or wake up) and take notice. Their cries are so different to those of the seagulls or wood pigeons back home. One bird’s very loud call sounds exactly like Mr Punch from Punch and Judy. I really thought it was someone on a nearby pontoon practising for that act (in Thai, naturally)! Paul, hearing it just as he was waking up, sleepily asked ‘is that a bird, or a screeching woman’? The morning after that, Mr Punch’s cry was responded to by an even louder bird call similar to that of a jammed car alarm and this time Paul muttered ‘Crikey, I wouldn’t want to mess with him!’. Try as I might I could not get a glimpse of the birds so I have no idea what they looked like. Anyway we collected our car on a very hot Saturday morning and drove out on to a village road bordered by lush, jungle-like vegetation. We also passed salt pans, which Paul explained are huge ditches filled with sea water and left to dry so that the salt can be collected and sold. Further on, I noticed that Krabi Province differs from Phuket in quite a few ways. Tethered cows and bulls are a common sight: they graze in gardens, on roadsides and in fields – but there are never more than two. The roads are considerably wider and colourful flowers often form part of the verges. Houses and gardens are well-tended, there are fewer shacks and roadside cafes appear smarter. There is an air of affluence here and yet it isn’t as much of a tourist destination as Phuket.
Our first stop was Ao Nong Beach which didn’t impress us much. It was crowded, tacky in places, and felt soulless, or maybe we expected more after observing the smart towns and villages we’d driven through. A little further on, though we found a fantastic café bar on the brilliantly-named TubKeak Beach. The view from the tables was glorious and we sat at one of them for a late lunch of Calamari and fries and a tomato sandwich for me. The guy who served us was a typically friendly Thai gentleman who couldn’t understand why I didn’t want any chicken in my sandwich. It was a lovely location to sit out the hottest part of the afternoon before heading into Krabi Town. Purely by chance we parked outside a gift shop that doubled as a second hand bookshop. It was a real treasure trove full of crime and thriller paperbacks…so Paul went off to look at the river for half an hour or so :). In the town centre, we had a walk around and caused a bit of entertainment buying bread from a bakery. In quite a few shops and stalls in Thailand there is a system in operation whereby if no one is around or behind the counter, someone will suddenly appear, acknowledge us and then go off to fetch the owner/assistant. Admittedly this time we’d entered the cafe next door instead of the bakery but when we found the correct place, someone had to come and explain to the confused baker that we wanted to buy the big brown loaf we’d pointed at and we didn’t want it sliced. Both the lady baker and her helper thought this was quite amusing and got us to confirm it twice in case it was a joke. All I can think was that it was rather a large loaf for two people and as they don’t really go much for bread in Asia, we had probably stumbled into the bakery that provides for the cafe rather than a shop. Anyway it was very tasty bread. Next it was on to the market in Krabi Walking Street. I found this much better than Patong’s larger street market, which can get a bit manic. This one reminded me of the kind of stalls and street food found at music festivals. After ambling around for an hour or so we were tired and still had the Tesco shop to do, but luckily we only had a few fresh items and drinks to stock up with so that didn’t take long. We used Google Maps to find our way back to the marina – sometimes it’s quite nice to get lost and come upon interesting places, but we were eager to get back for a rest and to plan where to go on Sunday.
Sunday 19th February
Before succumbing to sleep, we had looked at a few recommended places on the leaflets we’d been given, and on Trip Advisor and all of them praised a place called Tiger Cave Temple, which doesn’t have any real tigers thankfully, just the footprint of a very large one that is said to have lived in the caves at the top of a very high mountain and it came to be thought of as a sacred place. All recommended the stunning views from the summit and the beautiful golden Buddha statues – and all warned of the strenuous climb to reach them. There are 1,237 steps to the top but they are very high steps apparently and the monkeys there can be vicious according to one lady on Trip Advisor whose review stated that she saw:
‘two monkeys attacking a lady descending a very steep ladder. We had to stop there as I didn’t want to risk my life’. (!)
Advice for visitors included the caution that the challenging climb is only for the very fit, puts a lot of strain on leg muscles and should definitely not be attempted on very hot days. It was a very hot day, and neither of us could be described as fit in the athletic sense. All the same I was quite tempted by the challenge and the promise of those views…until we contemplated the other place we’d looked at. Ben had urged us to visit Krabi Hot Springs, he had even marked it on a map for us. I had nodded politely at the time because I didn’t really know what a hot spring was. I’m not keen on saunas and hot tubs and assumed it was something like that. Paul explained that it would be relaxing, it had a pool – it even had a bar! Well it was getting a bit late in the day to attempt such a steep climb and as I’d never experienced a hot spring – ok I admit it, I was feeling too hot and lazy to tackle all those steps!
We set off for another brilliantly-named place: The Nattha Waree (not to worry?) Hot Spring Resort. Set in tropical gardens interspersed with nine hot spring pools, it’s a hotel resort and spa but welcomes day visitors for 300 Baht (about £7) each. We were given a towel and a bottle of cold water each when we paid, and once in our swimming gear we were free to roam around the lush gardens all day. It was practically deserted. We only saw two families the whole time we were there. The springs are graded by temperature, going up to 49 degrees and we started with the lowest one which was 39 degrees. Paul went in first and said it was really hot but felt wonderful. He immersed himself straight away and waded through the long pool with the water up to his shoulders. I could tell it was hot from the steam and I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would want to get into such hot water when it was so very hot anyway, but since it wasn’t fair to deride it without trying it, in I went. It was like a very hot bath, and it did feel nice but I still felt like I needed cooling off not heating up. We walked into most of the pools but baulked at the hottest one – it felt like boiling water just dipping a toe in. The highlight for me was the fish therapy pool. I had seen them in shopping centres where people were queuing up to plunge their feet in water for fish to nibble at them and it hadn’t held any appeal. Here, no one else was around and I thought I might as well give it a go. At first I pulled my foot back out because it felt so strange but I gradually got used to it and loved it. It was like having my feet gently brushed with soft bristles and was very relaxing. Paul couldn’t get past the ticklish feeling so he left me there while he went to the pool for a swim. Once I could tear myself away I joined him there and spent a pleasant afternoon reading, swimming, and relaxing. The only thing missing was a massage facility. I think we made the right choice for the day though. I had a look at some online images of the Tiger Cave Temple when we got back, and they weren’t exaggerating the steepness of those steps!
Before returning to Boat Lagoon we stopped at a tiny fishing village very nearer to the marina and took some pictures of this lovely place in the early evening sun.