Far from the madding crowd

Krabi's tiny hamlets offer peacefulness and otherworldly scenic beauty

Sunrise over the lake of Ban Nong Thale.

The town of Ao Nang in Krabi was quite busy and crowded with local and foreign tourists. Most of them visit Krabi due to the beauty of its nature, be it beaches, islands or cliffs. Only a small number of tourists perhaps visit Krabi for community based tourism (CBT).

A kid in Ban Nong Thale. Like Ban Na Tin, most of the villagers are Muslim.

Yes. There are some local communities in Ao Nang that welcome visitors to experience the local way of life. To help promote CBT, the Phuket Office of Tourism and Sports selected Ban Nong Thale and Ban Na Tin as role models for CBT in Krabi this year, expecting travellers to see another side of Krabi.

Cruising in the lake of Ban Nong Thale

The Sun rose slowly over the lake of Nong Thale. The golden light warmed the cool morning air. A local drove a tourist boat to the shore to take us around the lake.

Nong Thale is a natural reservoir for the Ban Nong Thale community in tambon Ao Nang. The name Nong Thale was not familiar to me and my travel companions. The locals recently promoted it as Krabi's latest destination.

Kwanta Pagamad is the person behind the tourism project. She resigned from her work in the hotel business in Krabi to develop her community to be an ecotourism destination.

"This is my home," said Kwanta, the chairwoman of the Ban Nong Thale Community Based Tourism Club.

"I want to use tourism as a tool to preserve our natural resources, especially the lake and the forest, for our next generation," she said.

Kwanta saw the potential of her community every time she returned home and watched the sunrise over the lake. Its beauty inspired her to tell other people that her village also has hidden treasure.

Two years ago, she spent time trying to convince community leaders and imams to support the tourism initiative. They finally gave her an initial fund of 200,000 baht. She spent some of it to build a one-storey building with a meeting area that the community can use for welcoming tourists. The facility is located not far from the pier where visitors can board tourist boats. She also purchased kayaks to add a touch of adventure.

"The size of Nong Thale is about 500 rai. It is the biggest reservoir in the area, that is the reason why we called it 'thale' [meaning sea]. It flows to Klong Rud before ending at the sea. The lake is also the main freshwater source for the Provincial Waterworks Authority to produce water for people in Krabi," she said.

Our boat gradually moved away from the shore. The driver steered it slowly toward the direction of the Sun. Thin layers of fog floated along the mountain range. Some visitors paddled kayaks as their morning exercise.

Within an hour, we reached a small islet called Koh Tam Sao where some locals prepared khao yam (rice served with a selection of raw vegetables, flowers and a sweet-and-salty sauce made from preserved fish) with hot and cool drinks. After the meal, Kwanta led us to see local trees and birds.

Kwanta and her team also prepared a workshop for us to assemble a wooden egret, a kid's toy that can be used as a home decoration. Our morning activity ended when we returned to the shore and had lunch with the locals. One of the best dishes was namchub khlise -- a chilli paste mixed with dried coconut shreds and tamarind juice. It was served with fresh and parboiled vegetables and fruits including young bananas.

Ban Nong Thale can easily impress visitors with its scenic view of the morning mist over the water's surface and the beauty of the mountain range plus the warm-hearted people.

Experience way of life in Ban Na Tin

From Ban Nong Thale, we travelled about 6km south to Ban Na Tin (also spelt Ban Na Teen). The village has been in the tourism orbit since it founded the Ban Na Tin Community Based Tourism Club in 2001. The well-established community is home to a Muslim community of farmers and fishermen.

"Our village is located not far from Ao Nang resort town. I saw many of us, especially men, leave their farmland and fishing boats to work in Ao Nang because they needed to find more income for their families," said Bancha Kwaenglee, the head of the Ban Na Tin Community Based Tourism Club.

"If no one decided to do something, the situation would lead to broken families and social problems in the future."

Bancha initiated the idea of tourism as a way to keep people working in the community. He worked with a handful of people who agreed with his idea to open a homestay.

"We know that those who travel to Krabi want to go to the beach and swim in crystal clear water. We want them to spare perhaps half-a-day to visit us and to see our way of life," he said.

During the first couple of years, they asked travel agents and hotels in Ao Nang to help promote their community to tourists. But a lack of commission resulted in a less than enthusiastic response from the agents.

The tourism club then joined several groups in Krabi including the Tourism Association, the Hotel Association and the Chamber of Commerce. They wanted to promote the homestay and asked the associations to help bring tourists to the community.

Starting with a small group of visitors, Ban Na Tin has gradually expanded from having homestay to tourism packages. They built a learning centre as a facility to welcome visitors.

The batik station is where visitors can try their art skills. If you have limited time, you can just try batik painting. You may add salt grains or sugar on top of the cloth while the colours are not yet dry. The grains will absorb colours. They will create a twinkle-like pattern on the design.

The centre is set in a lush green area. It has a large outdoor space for visitors to relax under shade trees as well as meeting rooms and an event space to host workshops. Those workshops are organised by local groups who have skills in producing handmade products such as making tableware from coconut shells, making batik or cooking southern style food.

The tourism club also has members who have goat farms. They open the farms for visitors to feed goats with fresh grass or with milk for young ones.

Bancha also created a walking trail in the community forest. The trail offers an opportunity for visitors to learn how fishermen catch mud crabs, to see a group of housewives make tap jak (a leaf panel made from fresh Nipa palm leaves and used for making a roof) and to taste khanom jak (a snack made by mixing flour, palm sugar, ground coconut and coconut milk. The mixture is wrapped in Nipa palm leaves and roasted on a stove).

We spent about half-a-day with these activities. For me, the time went by so quick. For those who have more time, Ban Na Tin has various programmes for tourists to choose starting from a half-day to three-day tours.

"You can catch squid with a fisherman, learn how to cook southern food, experience how a farmer gets latex from a rubber tree or take a boat ride to islands around Ao Nang. We can arrange the services for tourists," he said.

For almost 20 years, tourism has generated increasing income to the community, starting from 4,000 baht a month by average per family to about 20,000 baht today, he said.

"I am very happy that our tourism project received good co-operation among our people. It can also create extra income for us. The most important thing is that our community is still strong and united and this makes me proud," he said.

Ban Nong Thale and Ban Na Tin are not far from the beach and also the town of Krabi. Spare at least a day or two to visit the villages, then you will surely experience another beauty of the province.

Visitors kayak in Ban Nong Thale in early morning.

Kwanta plucks young leaves of ton chik (Indian oak). She told us that locals eat fresh young leaves of ton chik with nam phrik (chilli paste) or make a yam dish by mixing the fresh leaves with dried coconut shreds, chillies, fish sauce and sugar.

Our group led by Sirawee Waloh (wearing a yellow hat), director of the Phuket Office of Tourism and Sports, learned to make an egret toy in Ban Nong Thale.

Producing sugar cane juice the traditional way in Ban Na Tin requires a big effort. It needs a giant wooden tool, which is operated by three people. Two people are needed for inserting sugar cane while another one must use all his or her strength to push a log and swing it from left to right and right to left. I tried to push the wooden log, but couldn't until another person helped me. Making the juice is like a show. Many visitors want to take turns to try their strength. To promote the environmentally friendly initiative, locals serve sugar cane juice in reusable bamboo cups with bamboo straws.

A walking trail in the forest of Ban Na Tin village has five stations for visitors to learn a little bit more about the way of life of the community including the demonstration on how to trap mud crabs with a dead fish in a net trap and to make use of Nipa leaves. I like the khanom jak stop the most because the coconut snack was creamy and delicious. The group can also prepare a cooking station if requested by visitors. Bring a mosquito repellent with you to avoid being bitten by the insects.

A walking trail in the forest of Ban Na Tin village has five stations for visitors to learn a little bit more about the way of life of the community including the demonstration on how to trap mud crabs with a dead fish in a net trap and to make use of Nipa leaves. I like the khanom jak stop the most because the coconut snack was creamy and delicious. The group can also prepare a cooking station if requested by visitors. Bring a mosquito repellent with you to avoid being bitten by the insects.

Ban Na Tin has a showroom to offer handmade products for visitors including belts, hair pins and sets of spoons and forks made of coconut shell, models of boats and batik textiles and clothes.

Ban Na Tin has a showroom to offer handmade products for visitors including belts, hair pins and sets of spoons and forks made of coconut shell, models of boats and batik textiles and clothes.

Ban Na Tin has a showroom to offer handmade products for visitors including belts, hair pins and sets of spoons and forks made of coconut shell, models of boats and batik textiles and clothes.

Travel Info

Ban Nong Thale is about 30-minutes drive from Krabi Airport. For the boat ride service in Nong Thale, advance booking is recommended. Visit its Facebook site at kwanta152999 or call Kwanta Pagamad at 061-280-1014.

Ban Na Tin is open for visit daily. For more information, visit its website at bannateen.com or call Bancha Kwaenglee at 081-968-8532.

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