July 1 is the mid-year bank holiday in Thailand and this means a long weekend! Despite the fact that this is the rainy season in much of the country, on Saturday morning I was at Suvarnabhumi Airport (point A on map below) to catch the 9:25 flight to Krabi (B) and by noon I had checked into my hotel for the three-day weekend.
Krabi is a province on the west coast of southern Thailand, due east of Phuket on the Andaman Sea. Krabi is known for its beaches, for the limestone islands off its shore, and for the many coral reefs that are popular with scuba divers and snorkelers. As a tourist destination, Krabi is less developed and less well-known than Phuket and Samui, although more and more travelers are making their way here, particularly the Chinese.
The weather turned out to be fine except for a couple of short showers on Monday afternoon. Saturday afternoon was spent in a hammock near the hotel’s beach, but on Sunday I joined about 30 other people on a speed boat from Krabi’s Ao Nang beach (point A on map below) to journey south into the Andaman Sea to visit the Phi Phi archipelago. The archipelago is part of the Hadnopparattara-Ko Phi Phi National Park and it consists of six islands: Ko Mai Phai (B), Ko Yung (C), Ko Phi Phi Don (D), Ko Phi Phi Leh (E), Ko Bida Noi (F), and Ko Bida Nok (G).
After about 45 minutes, our boat reached Ko Mai Phai, also known as Bamboo Island, a small limestone island with a beautiful white sand beach, clear warm water, and a coral reef close to shore. We spent about 45 minutes on the island before embarking for Phi Phi Leh, the second largest island in the Phi Phi archipelago. Along the way, we passed Camel Rock whose name clearly derives from its shape.
Our first stop on Phi Phi Leh was Maya Beach, which is where the movie The Beach, in which Leonardo DiCaprio starred, was filmed in 1999. This beautiful beach is sheltered on three sides by 300 to 400 hundred foot tall cliffs. This stop is incredibly popular — there had to be 30 to 40 tourists boats and longtails parked along the edge and close to 1,000 people on the 700 foot long beach. I was impressed by how our captain was able to back the speedboat into a narrow space between two other boats while avoiding all the anchor lines.
We next motored through Pileh lagoon, a shallow reef lagoon surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs. The water is crystal clear and tropical fish and coral can easily be seen with the naked eye. There was literally a procession of boats in and out of this beautiful inlet.
From Pileh, we sailed up to Viking Cave, which takes its name from paintings of ancient ships on the cave’s walls. Currently, the cave is used by entrepreneurs who place bamboo in the cave on which swallows build their collagen-rich nests. These nests are ultimately harvested and sold as the main ingredient for Bird’s Nest soup. Perhaps it was just the time of day, but I did not see a single swallow anywhere near this cave.
We next stopped at Monkey Bay, home, not surprisingly, to a large troop of monkeys. There were about a half-dozen on the shore or on nearby cliffs pretty much ignoring the people in the boats who were taking their pictures.
The boat arrived at Ko Phi Phi Don, the largest island in the chain and the only one with permanent residents. The community traces its roots back to Muslim fishermen who settled here in the 1940s and it is still predominately Muslim. The island was apparently devastated during the December 2004 tsunami that hit Phuket and the islands in the Andaman Sea, although it has since rebuilt. We had lunch at an open-air, beachfront restaurant in Ton Sai Bay on the southern portion of the island.
After lunch, the boat anchored in the bay above two coral reefs for about an hour for snorkeling. The ship’s crew threw a lot of bread into the water, so the sea was quickly teeming with small fish. I do not know what species of fish they were, most likely nothing very exotic, but they were primarily black and yellow striped fish with the occasional solid blue one. In any event, it was fun to be surrounded by these schools of tropical fish.
Happy Independence Day!
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.