Islands of Krabi province – Part 1

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Princess Bay 6 Sandcastle 2JPG‘Island hop til you drop.’ Normally a tourism website slogan like this would leave me cold. But in Krabi province, I felt compelled to answer the call. We did three island-hopping tours in the space of a week, visiting around 13 islands. And I’d do it all again tomorrow!

First up was the ‘4 Islands Tour’ by longtail boat, starting at Phra Nang (‘Princess’) Beach near Railay — strictly speaking not an island, though it feels like one as it’s only accessible by boat: limestone cliffs bar access from the mainland. Princess Beach is an exquisite crescent of gold sand and aqua water overlooking a bay studded with limestone islands. We fell in love with the place and subsequently made it our regular morning swimming beach, travelling there each day by longtail boat from a ‘taxi stand’ at Ao Nang.

At Princess Cave (Tham Pranang) at the end of the beach, locals pay homage to the spirit of an Indian princess believed to have perished there in a shipwreck in the 3rd Century BC. Fishermen pray for a good catch, while women pray for a good catch of another kind, leaving offerings of flowers, food and phalluses to the princess spirit; the cave is full of graphically carved wooden penises, some almost as tall as me.

Next stop after Phranang Beach was Poda Island — more gold sand, aqua water — where schools of green, black and white striped Admiral fish swarm in the shallows to eat bananas offered by tourists. Then we cruised around Chicken Island — named for a rock formation which does look remarkably like a chicken — and snorkelled in deep water off the boat. Despite having Tash on my back (both of us in life jackets), I managed to see some Moorish Idols, parrot fish and purple-lipped clams, while Roo saw an octopus.

4 Islands tour 5 sandbar 1Last stop on the 4 Islands Tour was Tup Island where a sandbank appears at low tide, connecting it to Chicken Island and another rocky outcrop. When we arrived, people were wading knee deep between the islands, but by the time we left, the sandy bridge was fully exposed and we could walk from one island to the other. Tash and Roo made sandcastles while I went for a solo snorkel, the highlight of which was spotting three families of False Clown Fish living in wavering pink anemones.

Our second tour was to the Phi Phi Islands, this time by speed boat. It was enough to convince us to take a longtail boat next time around. The ride might have been less wild and bumpy if bare-chested young Thai men weren’t at the helm — everyone on board was soaked by the spray — though in their defence, the sea was choppy. Get fitted with a life jacket before embarking and take towels for protection if you choose to go by speedboat.

First stop on the Phi Phi Islands tour was Bamboo Island for rock-pooling, then a long trip to Phi Phi Ley, a rugged, uninhabited island of limestone cliffs. We toured Pi Leh Lagoon, a secluded bay enclosed by sheer rockface, then stopped at Lohsamah Bay for snorkelling. Tash freaked out in the choppy water so we contented ourselves with feeding bread to the fish from the boat while Roo snorkelled.

Phi Phi Is Roo Then it was on to Maya Bay, insanely popular because the 1999 film of Alex Garland’s novel The Beach was filmed there. It is a lovely beach — white sand, aqua water, limestone cliffs on three sides — but it loses some of its ambience when there are 24 speedboats and 10 longtail boats moored in its relatively small bay — and that’s in a low year!

Lunch was at Ton Sai Beach on Phi Phi Don, the main tourist island. The Lonely Planet describes Koh Phi Phi’s beauty as a curse and I could see what they mean. The beach was built up, wall to wall, with bars and restaurants all advertising parties at night — you could imagine the din as they all competed for customers. Koh Phi Phi’s beaches were flattened by the December 2006 tsunami. Sadly, rather than take the opportunity to question the scale and impact of unbridled development, the place was simply re-built as it was before. Some say it’s even more ‘developed’. Pity, really, because the beach is lovely.

Last stop on the Phi Phi Islands tour was Monkey Bay, my favourite of the day’s destinations. A crescent of white sand so soft my feet sank into it like sponge. A bay of turquoise water fringed with a coral garden alive with colourful fish. Kid-friendly pools and shady trees. So picture perfect, I enjoyed it too much to take any photos.

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