The estuarine town of KRABI is both provincial capital and major hub for onward travel to some of the region’s most popular islands and beaches, including Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, Ao Nang, Klong Muang and Laem Phra Nang (Railay). So efficient are the transport links that you don’t really need to stop here, but it also makes an appealing base, strung out along the west bank of the Krabi estuary, with mangrove-lined shorelines to the east, craggy limestone outcrops on every horizon, and plenty of guesthouses. The beaches of Ao Nang and Railay are both within 45 minutes of town, and other nearby attractions include the mangrove swamps and Ko Klang peninsula across the estuary, the dramatically sited Tiger Cave Temple at Wat Tham Seua and Khao Phanom Bencha National Park. A number of organized day-trips in the Krabi area, including snorkelling and kayaking excursions, are available (see Activities around Krabi, Ao Nang and Laem Phra Nang).
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Krabi town has no unmissable sights, but is small enough for a pleasant stroll around its main landmarks. Its chief attraction is its setting, and a good way to appreciate this is to follow the paved riverside walkway down to the fishing port, about 800m south of Tha Chao Fa; several hotels capitalize on the views here, across to mangrove-ringed Ko Klang, and towards the southern end the walkway borders the municipal Thara Park.
Inland, in the centre of town, you can’t fail to notice the bizarre sculptures of hulking anthropoid apes clutching two sets of traffic lights apiece at the Thanon Maharat/Soi 10 crossroads. They are meant to represent Krabi’s most famous ancestors, the tailless Siamopithecus oceanus, whose forty-million-year-old remains were found in a lignite mine in the south of the province and are believed by scientists to be among the earliest examples worldwide of the ape-to-human evolutionary process.
A boat trip through the eerily scenic mangrove-lined channels of the Krabi estuary is a fun way to gain a different perspective on the area. As well as a close-up view of the weird creatures that inhabit the swamps, you’ll get to visit a riverside cave or two. Tours are best organized directly with the longtail boatmen who hang around Krabi’s two piers and the surrounding streets, but can also be arranged through most tour agents.
The estuary’s most famous features are the twin limestone outcrops known as Khao Kanab Nam, which rise a hundred metres above the water from opposite sides of the Krabi River near the Maritime Park and Spa Resort and are so distinctive that they’ve become the symbol of Krabi. One of the twin karsts hides caves, which can be explored – many skeletons have been found here over the centuries, thought to be those of immigrants who got stranded by a flood before reaching the mainland. You can also choose to visit the Muslim island of Ko Klang.
Life in a mangrove swamp
Mangrove swamps are at their creepiest at low tide, when their aerial roots are fully exposed to form gnarled and knotted archways above the muddy banks. Not only are these roots essential parts of the tree’s breathing apparatus, they also reclaim land for future mangroves, trapping and accumulating water-borne debris into which the metre-long mangrove seedlings can fall. In this way, mangrove swamps also fulfil a vital ecological function: stabilizing shifting mud and protecting coastlines from erosion and the impact of tropical storms.
Mangrove swamp mud harbours some interesting creatures too, like the instantly recognizable fiddler crab, named after the male’s single outsized reddish claw, which it brandishes for communication and defence purposes; the claw is so powerful it could open a can of baked beans. If you keep your eyes peeled you should be able to make out a few mudskippers. These specially adapted fish can absorb atmospheric oxygen through their skins as long as they keep their outsides damp, which is why they spend so much time slithering around in the sludge; they move in tiny hops by flicking their tails, aided by their extra-strong pectoral fins. You might well also come across kingfishers and white-bellied sea eagles, or even a crab-eating macaque.
Though the Krabi mangroves have not escaped the environmentally damaging attentions of invasive industry, or the cutting down of the bigger trees to make commercial charcoal, around fifteen percent of the Andaman coastline is still fringed with mangrove forest, the healthiest concentration of this rich, complex ecosystem in Thailand.