Discovering Thailand’s Hidden Gems

There’s much more to Thailand than Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya and Chiang Mai. Virgin beaches, unexplored islands and new ventures towards eco-tourism await the enthusiastic traveller down south. Head to Krabi and its surrounding islands that are full of unique treasures and one-of-its-kind experiences for the conventional traveller and for those who like to take walk down the wild side. Archana Shenoy explores some of these hidden treasures.

Khao khanap nam2

Though the bright lights of a big city are seductive, its malls alluring and restaurants extremely tempting, it is often the lesser explored and populated areas of a country that offer a taste of authentic lifestyle, cuisine and culture.

Heading out of Bangkok and its mad traffic to serene Krabi, is probably the best thing we could have done. A short flight took us to the southern most part of the Thai mainland – Krabi town is set spectacularly amidst strangely shaped limestone karsts that jut out from amidst lush mangrove forests and surround spectacular beaches. After a local, but superbly prepared sea food lunch at a quaint way side restaurant in Ao Leuk, we headed for the Tree Top Adventure Park, Krabi’s newest attraction.

Almost hidden beneath a dense jungle canopy and enclosed by piercing limestone cliffs, its discreet integration into nature contrasts the exciting and thrilling sensations adventurers experience here.

Unleash the Tarzan within you as you zip-line from one platform to another and from tree to tree, balancing yourself through an assortment of obstacles such as rope bridges, swings, flying skateboards and witch’s brooms, a tight rope walk and giant zip lines. This is Tree Top Adventure Park’s third location in Thailand after opening in Koh Chang, Trat and Pattaya, Chonburi.

After five years of expertise in fun and safe tree top climbing, innovations continue to flow with unique games and better ways of protecting trees. The half-day course includes a serving of fruits and refreshments, lunch, brand new challenges such as air biking, and much more!

A few gruelling hours later, our tired bodies protesting vociferously, but our mind on a high for more daunting challenges, we get on a local fishing boat from Krabi’s jetty and head to Koh Klang, a tiny fishing village located across the Krabi river.

Koh Klang

Koh Klang is not a paradise of white sand beaches. Rather, it offers great opportunities to experience a simple life by the sea, get pampered in uninterrupted peace, meet local people and soak in the traditional way of local life. Life on Koh Klang is an intriguing tapestry of ancient versus modern, interwoven with family, faith and local wisdom passed down through generations.

The village is charming and peaceful, located 5 minutes by boat from Krabi town, or about 15 minutes from Krabi International Airport and has been inhabited for over 100 years. At the time of World War II there were only 8 houses on Koh Klang. Families lived inland, well away from the coast. In the past 60 years, the population has increased to over 5,000. Most families are fishermen, some are into rice farming and tending coconut and banana orchards.

The island is accessible only by boat. There are no cars allowed here. Local Tuk Tuks, motorbikes and bicycles are the only vehicles allowed to ply on the island’s small, winding cement road. Friendly Muslim families who inhabit the island maintain a simple and modest life, which they are proud to share with visitors searching for an insight into authentic southern Thai culture.

mangrove forest

It is a traditional fishing community where visitors can see the living relationship between islanders and the sea, observing daily life as the tides rise and fall. Community members use ingenious, local methods to capture fish, crabs and shellfish. Approximately 600 rai (the local meter for measurement as compared to the acre) of land in the interior of the island are dedicated to rice farming. Farmers on Koh Klang produces a variety of brown rice called ‘Khao Sang Yod’, which is considered delicious, due to its unique flavour, created by the region’s mixture of salt and fresh water. The island is surrounded by pristine mangroves with great bird watching opportunities. In addition to experiencing nature and culture, one can also visit several community arts and crafts like batik painting and mini-long tail boat rides.

This tiny, peaceful island is surrounded by sea, salt-water canals and large expanses of pristine mangrove forests, which together form an internationally recognised wetland ecosystem which seamlessly links mainland Krabi with the open sea. The mangroves are a nursery for marine life, providing a safe, protected environment for young fish to grow, before they head out to deeper waters. Diverse species of birds, marine and amphibious life also inhabit the mangroves.

Beaches on Koh Klang are not for swimming, the seawater is clear but the sand is brown and most parts are mudflats. For those who long for different experiences, the healthy mangroves and brown beaches offer a rare opportunity to join the fun of shell fish hunting. There are approximately 35 species of shells underneath the sandy beach. During low tide in the evening, housewives and kids are on a hunting mission.

Islanda Eco Village Resort

The resort was born from a sincere vision to craft a peaceful, comfortable haven, woven seamlessly into the natural and cultural tapestry of Klang island. Built in the style of a southern Thai fishing village, Islanda is infused with easy going, southern culture. The resort’s 30 stylish bungalows are spacious, simple, tastefully decorated and equipped with modern amenities. It’s a tranquil retreat for nature lovers who want to listen to the waves lapping and birds singing, breathe in refreshing sea air, and kayak along nearby mangrove forests with their fantastic flora and fauna.

Inspired by fisherman-style housing combined with traditional Thai living aspects, the resorts boasts of 30 bungalows, a restaurant and bar, an infinity salt water pool and its own lush kitchen garden. Every bungalow is divided into two parts; a spacious air conditioned bedroom and multi purposing room with an open air shower.

It is the only resort on Klang island and apart from three home stay-style cottages that are extremely basic and meant for only those who want to experience local living, there is no other form of accommodation available here.

Khao Khanap Nam

A very popular place to visit in Krabi is Khao Khanap Nam, a couple of ragged hills, the natural gateway to Krabi, stretching 100 metres out of the water. Inside Khao Khanap Nam are several magnificent caves with impressive clusters of stalactites and stalagmites. The only way to get there is by boat from the Chao Fah Bridge in Krabi.

The two hills, roughly 100 meters high, flank the Krabi River running between them to form a distinctive vista and the town’s most prominent landmark. To visit them, you need to take a long-tail boat from the pier; travel time is just 15 minutes. From there a magnificent set of stairs leads up to caves resplendent with stalactites, stalagmites and limestone deposits. Local history states that these caves were a hideout for the Japanese army during World War II and a large number of human skeletons have been found here. It is theorised that they are the remains of people who came and established a home at these caves, but were cut off by an inundation and quickly perished.

Khao Nor Juji

Khao Nor Juji is supposedly Thailand’s last piece of virgin and fertile forest. A winding wooden path cuts through dense foliage to finally emerge at the Emerald Pool; this fresh water pool is named such because of its crystal clear fresh water that resembles the colour of emeralds due to the type of algae that grows on the pool bed. The pool originates from a warm stream in the middle of Khao Nor Juji forest.

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The intensity of the pool’s turquoise coloured water varies according to the light and time of day. A few hundred metres higher takes you to the Crystal Pool, another tranquil bit of forest land that surrounds a deep blue pool of still water that bubbles at loud vibrations or clapping sounds. The entire forest is home to some stunning flora and fauna and is being preserved by the local authorities.

Wareerak Hot Spring

A secluded hot spring retreat located along the bank of Khlong Tom River, just opposite the famous hot waterfall of Krabi province, Wareerak boasts of 14 units of tropical villas and cottages scattered around drinking quality mineral hot spring sources, exotic fruit orchard and tropical forest. They strive to promote better health through water, nature and wellness programs with award-winning hydrotherapy experiences, organic cuisine and truly natural surroundings.

The two small sources of 40 – 45 C spring water were discovered by chance in 1989 when digging ponds for a plantation. The water is clear and odourless; the PH value is 6.9 and is extremely rich in beneficial minerals. Also known for their hydrotherapy treatments – first dipping in hot water at 38° – 45° C and then cold water at 15° – 20° C activates the body to maintain its temperature. Benefits of hydrotherapy state that the system will be alert all the times, just like while exercising, which also results in a fresh and strong immune system.

A relaxed day at this tranquil spa was the perfect way to end our island vacation on a high note, before once again heading back to the bustling Thai capital city of Bangkok.