Leading beach destination Krabi is home to far more than sand and sea
Bang Loh, the chauffeur of our “skylab” – as this curious motorcycle with a sidecar is dubbed – talks to us over his shoulder as he pushes his overloaded Yamaha across the hot concrete path. From our seat in the sidecar, we look in amazement at the Koh Klang landscape, which appears not to have changed in centuries. Yellow fields of rice paddy ripple in the sea breeze and we occasionally spot a farmer at work harvesting his crops. Goats and water buffaloes graze lazily in other fields that stretch out to the sea.
“Did you understand anything?” Bang Loh shouts over his shoulder, as he rolls us into the village. I have to admit that I didn’t.
The two girls who are sharing the sidecar with me shake their heads too, though one of them whispers that she thought she made out the word “sorry”.
“Some tourists who come here say this is not right. This is not Krabi,” Bang Loh repeats for our benefit.
“It is Krabi, but not Krabi as they know it.”
Lining the coast of the Andaman Sea in Southern Thailand, Krabi is one of the best beach destinations in Thailand, indeed in Southeast Asia. It draws tourists from around the world for its island hops, powdery-sand beaches and postcard-perfect lagoons. For the tourists, Krabi is all about Ao Nang Beach, Koh Hong, Thale Waek and Phi Phi Island,
It certainly isn’t about Koh Klang, a small island that lies about 25 kilometres east of Ao Nang.
More than 150 years ago, Muslim settlers left Kelantan in Malaysia and discovered the peaceful delights of Koh Klang. They built houses, established the mosque, made boats, grew their own crops, produced their own clothes and caught some fish. It was a simple and satisfying life.
The island has changed, of course, since those halcyon days with electricity, motorcycles mobile phones and even Wi-Fi arriving one by one. Yet for all these advances, the island has remained the same.
There are no cars, no luxuries and no adventures, unless you count braving the potholes in the sidecar. But tourists are today coming to Koh Klang drawn by the simplicity and the peace.
“The island seems an ocean apart from bustling Ao Nang Beach,” says Bang Loh. “After a week of tourist-filled beaches and bars, Koh Klang offers an escape and a great breath of fresh air.”
During a stopover at one village, the girls leap out of the sidebar to pet three adorable baby goats. Their mum doesn’t look too pleased but we soon make peace with her and are led to a small farmhouse where pieces of floral-patterned cloth flutter on the clothesline.
“When we are not at the sea or the paddy fields, we make batik,” says sprightly octogenarian Prajim Lekdam, adding with pride that orders from Japan and Indonesia come flooding in.
The word “batik” originated in Java, and means “printing in wax”. Hot liquid wax is applied to fabric either drawn by hand or printed by hand using a pattern block. The fabric is then dipped into a dye solution – the waxed areas protect the cloth and the dye can only penetrate the unprotected areas.
“What am I supposed to do with this piece of batik?” I ask, sounding even to my own ears like a silly urbanite.
“You can wrap it around you waist. Cover your head. Wear it around your next as a scarf,” the old lady replies graciously.
Visitors can also get their hands dirty by volunteering to painting the batik pattern.
Koh Klang is also one big organic rice farm. The brown rice of Koh Klang, or “khao sang yod” as it is known to its fans, is a produce of the brackish-water paddy fields.
“It is unique in many ways,” says farmer Prawat Klongrua. “The crop produces smaller grains than other Thai varieties. It has a kind of musky smell and nice flavour.”
I find out exactly what he means at Ban Maying, a small restaurant that serves authentic southern cuisine.
Fuelled by turmeric powder, lots of chilli and shrimp paste, dish after dish of southern food find their way to the table. Yellow curry, pan-fried chilli crab, streamed crab with a sensational dipping sauce and chilli paste served with a variety of raw vegetables take it in turns to burn my tongue.
We stop by the handicraft centre where artisan Sombon Mankha, who crafts miniature boat, shows us how the fishermen used to catch the fish without the benefit of line or net.
“This is known as a ‘haunted’ boat,” says Sombon, showing us a miniature of a long boat that has a wood panel along one side. “With this boat, some people can catch fish without using a net. They paddle into the canal and sink the wood panel into the water to block the fish.
“When the fish are chased to this side of the block, they have nowhere to go so they jump into the boat. Nice and easy.”
Bang Loh, with his magical skylab sidecar, “flies” us from one village to the next and we stop at several cottages to chat with the locals and admire their favourite doves.
Sadly though, the day is soon over and we have to leave this peaceful island and return to the tourists at Ao Nang.
The writer travelled to Krabi as a guest of Nok Air.
If you go
_ Budget airline Nok offers two flights between Bangkok and Krabi. Koh Klang can be reached by taking a ferry at Chao Fa Pier in Krabi.
_ You can rent a motorcycle with rider to explore the island.
_ Homestay accommodation caters to those wanting to stay longer and is priced at less than Bt500 per night.