Into the sea

A multitude of activities from spelunking to rock-climbing await those travelling to Trang and Krabi. But the real star is the Andaman

Koh Poda.

As the plane continued its flight to the southern town of Trang, my travel companions and I learned that there was a 70% probability of rain during our trip, so we didn't anticipate spending time on the beach tanning. But as we landed and all we could see was a brilliant blue sky gleaming over the Andaman Sea, it seemed like we had struck lucky.

Only 6km from the airport, we rushed to Chenjia Dimsum Cafe for breakfast and were greeted by a long queue at the entrance. Located on Visetkul 7 Road, it opened in 2020 and quickly became well-liked by both locals and tourists thanks to its delectable homemade dim sum flare and specifically crafted beverages with a Chinese-Thai twist.

With an open kitchen allowing customers to see how their dishes are prepared, it is designed to resemble a classic Chinese-style tavern. Ideal for sharing, we had bak kut teh, tender barbecue pork, deep-fried dumplings, steamed chive cakes, durian lava buns, and steamed shrimp dumplings with spicy Sichuan sauce. Black coffee with rose, latte coffee topped with a Trang-style sweet, and Trang roasted pork tea are the must-try morning beverages for caffeine boosters.

This is my second visit after taking a frog-nosed tuk-tuk tour around the old town of Trang five years ago. This time, we travelled for one hour to the Ban Nam Rap community in Kantang district for a leisure cruise to view a fishing village that has managed to maintain its way of life and its maritime natural treasures.

This leafy and lush hamlet is encircled by an extensive carpet of 3,200 rai mangrove forest, but in 2004 a tsunami severely devastated much of the marine ecology there. To rehabilitate nature, they started by planting trees and setting up a crab bank where local residents and tourists could learn about the life cycle of the blue swimming crab and how to safeguard both their food supply and marine ecosystems.

Recognising a potential for green tourism to generate income for a community, in 2014 experienced fisherman Kamol Bunnuan teamed up with local villagers to establish the Ban Nam Rap Rafting Community-based Tourism Enterprise in order to provide some intriguing half- and full-day recreational programmes and mouth-watering seafood meals.

Din Daeng Doi is a new popular viewpoint to watch the dawn over the Andaman Sea.

"Apart from a red snapper farm, around 90% of local fishermen make a living by catching blue swimming crabs, which lowered crab populations. We have transformed the Ta Pae canal into an open hatchery where anyone can release a crab and let them breed in order to restore the marine biological systems. When a crab is six months old, fishermen are permitted to catch it using a fishing net with a mesh size of 2.5 inches," Kamol said.

"We currently have 200 members and 20 of them work for an eco-friendly cruise fleet. There are five long-tail boats and seven rafts available to accommodate six to 30 passengers. We have developed a flexible programme of leisure activities like sailing to observe dugong, firefly and plankton, or capture fish and octopus so that people of all ages can enjoy."

Following a tidal-current timetable that is based on the waxing and waning Moon, we hopped aboard a classic wooden long-tail boat at midday and went on a 2km half-day voyage while acting like treasure hunters. The canal meandered through a dense mangrove forest, passing by several fishermen who waved to the tourists while they went about their daily activities.

We found a green heart-shaped island sprouting up in the middle of the canal while a group of monkeys hid in the trees, acting like spies as they watched the tourists. Just a short distance, we reached Khao Chom Pa in order to complete a physical challenge.

Phra Nang Cave remains a popular tourist attraction.

It was merely a 400m rocky hiking trail, but we perspired a lot because last night's rain left the path slippery. However, it is worthwhile to climb to the top of this 84m-tall limestone mountain to take in the breathtaking panoramic views of the dense mangrove forest that stretches as far as the eye can see.

After touching down, we carried on sailing until we reached the Andaman Sea estuary, where we moored at Talay Waek.

Here, tourists can unwind on the beach, swim in the crystal-clear waters, or explore a ghost crab colony while enjoying some fresh fruit and southern-style coconut pancakes to re-energise themselves.

After that, we went back to the mainland for dinner, in which villagers served us a variety of local dishes like yellow curry with fish, steamed blue crabs, boiled shrimp and squid with spicy seafood sauce, crab omelette and boiled jellyfish.

The following morning, we rose early to the beautiful views of Krabi's white sand beach before heading to Ao Nang village to take a luxury long-tail boat excursion that is gaining popularity with vacationers. Boats are elaborately furnished with comfy cushions, colourful pillows and a large mattress as well as a rooftop sundeck to ensure passengers can relax and enjoy beautiful views of Andaman Sea from every corner.

It took us around 30 minutes to get to Phra Nang Cave. To protect the coral reefs, boats must anchor behind the bay and visitors can walk through a towering tunnel of attractive stalactites and stalagmites. In a short distance, I was lounging on a white beach, watching a group of young foreign travellers show their cliff-climbing skills.

The cave houses the Phra Nang shrine, where people bring wooden lingams to offer prayers for offspring, love and success in business. Here, couples scale this cliff to apply for a marriage certificate on Valentine's Day.

A luxury long-tail boat excursion gives a first-class holiday experience.

According to legend, a young man once proposed to a beautiful maiden who lived on this island, but she turned him down and decided to wed another man from Naga Island. A hermit interrupted the two men's bloody battle for her affection by turning everything into stone. It is believed that they are Phra Nang Cave, Koh Poda, Koh Kai, Khao Ngon Nak, Khao Hang Nak and Fossil Shell Beach.

Eventually, we boarded a boat and travelled to Koh Poda, where we had a picnic on a white beach and marvelled at a picturesque view of Koh Ma Tang Ming as other visitors jumped into the azure waters of the Andaman Sea. As the temperature rose, a boat made its final stop at Talay Waek. We stood on a vantage point and a huge wave of tourists flooded the beaches which connect three islands through a long, sandy causeway.

We got up early on the morning of our final day in Krabi and hiked up to the Din Daeng Doi viewpoint to see the Sun rise over the ocean. But when a swarm of rain clouds formed to extinguish a candle of hope, we realised that our luck was running out. We were stuck in the rain as the whole forest was covered in a sea of mist. This scene became one of the most stunning ones to serve as a reminder of impressive moments.

Koh Poda is a perfect spot for vacationers to have a picnic and unwind.

Our trip ended at Dahla Batik, which is located on Krabi Road. The studio belongs to master craftsman Thaninthon Ruksawong whose family has maintained traditional techniques from generation to generation. She has turned factory space into a gallery to display 1,000 ancient carved copper blocks in different designs.

"Thanks to King Rama V's visit to Indonesia, we learned how to make batik to create our own clothing at home. Today, we've maintained traditional techniques while also adhering to fashion trends to fit current lifestyles. It's about colour matching. This year, a green palette is popular, giving a fresh and relaxing feeling," Thaninthon said.

Made from specially woven cotton-satin from Indonesia and cotton, her batik fabric features graphic motifs and auspicious symbols such as a Chinese hook, a garuda, paperflower, chrysanthemums, a Peranakan-style teapot and solar deity.

A handcrafted 2m batik textile is manufactured over a period of 15 days using wood burners to produce soft-toned yet brilliant colours. All discarded batik wax can be recycled into fertiliser. After learning a method, we took part in a workshop where we learned how to make a batik handkerchief with various designs of flowers and coral reef fish as souvenirs.

TRAVEL INFO

  • The Ban Nam Rap Community is situated in Kantang district, Trang. A long-tail boat tour ranges from 2,000-2,500 baht for six and 10 people. A meal is priced at 400 baht per person. To make a reservation, call 087-277-8017.
  • Dahla Batik is at 87/4, Krabi Road, Amphur Muang Krabi, Krabi. A batik workshop costs 400 baht per person. For more information, call 085-826-9895 or visit facebook.com/dahlabatik.

During the day, Talay Waek creates a sand causeway to connect to other islands.

Visitors can learn how to make handcrafted batik using conventional techniques at Dahla Batik.

The Ban Nam Rap community offers a classic long-tail boat tour to explore its lush 3,200 rai mangrove forest. Photo: Peeranut Pornnisen

Khao Chom Pa is a great viewpoint to see the striking panoramic views of the verdant mangrove forest and the Andaman Sea.

The Ban Nam Rap community offers a classic long-tail boat tour to explore its lush 3,200 rai mangrove forest.


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