After a few days, you'll see that Krabi is so absurdly beautiful that you may find yourself
spoiled rotten and somewhat immune to the magic unfolding every time you turn your head.
There's so much vying for your attention on the drive into Krabi Town. You crane your neck to see how high up the cliffs lining the road reach into the sky, you want to steal a glance into each roadside shop as you whiz by, and with each motorbike driving the wrong way towards you or caravan of semi-trucks rounding a curve inches away from your bare shoulders, you grip the waist in front of you a little tighter with one hand and continue to look out for the turn on your phone in the other.
Krabi Town is about a thirty minute drive from the stunning landscapes of the coast and the province's namesake city. It's actually the oldest continued settlement in Thailand and is home to a lot of rich history. Immediate impressions of the town were mixed- there are a number of large buildings and a fair amount of infrastructure (side walks, traffic lights, etc.) but not very many people. Unlike a lot of the places in Thailand I've described so far, Krabi Town is a true Thai town and doesn't really cater to tourists save for an English translation on the restaurant menus. Most of the people I saw were Krabi locals going about their days at that typical relaxed Thai pace. By the time we had parked the bike, I knew I really, really liked this town.
Scanning the array of tropical fruits I've come to recognize, I selected a portion of a massive jackfruit to try. The jackfruit is about the size and shape of two heads stacked on top of each other and inside isn't entirely unlike a pomegranate with seeds surrounded by fruit held in place by a membrane that you remove, except each seed pod is the length of your index finger. On a bench by the river, I determined that jackfruit tastes like banana with the color and texture of a mango, and it's delicious.
Walking along the paved, manicured riverfront, you might forget you're in the land of cracked, uneven pavement and sometimes decrepit or nonexistent walkways. Across the water, the tangle of mangroves and the characteristically Thai lopsided green peaks are reminders that, yes, you're still in Thailand. We bargained with a longtail boat captain to take us down the river towards those two green peaks like two sides of a gate opening the waterways to Khao Khanap Nam Cave. The river was quiet. We were one of two boats on the water, and it was a peaceful feeling I savored.
The main part of the cave was pretty lame. Half-interestedly, I meandered through reproductions of skeletons excavated from the caves decades ago and plastic figures of archaeologists. The caves are certainly historically significant- the earliest examples of tools in southeast Asia were found here in addition to remains from 30,000 years ago believed to belong to the first species of human. It would have been cooler if some of those artifacts were displayed there. It wasn't until Dain started climbing a rope dangling from the wall that I realized we could make our own adventure here. I motioned Dain over to a person-sized hole with a 40-foot ladder and challenged him to climb down. Climbing down through a dark cave tunnel was creepy and a little unnerving but exciting. We forged paths through other small caves in the park before heading back to the boat.
For a while we took our time wandering the town, popping into shops, and people-watching on a bench by the water. Everyone we met was so friendly and genuine and although it doesn't sound like much, I immensely enjoyed the experience of Krabi Town so much so that I wished we hadn't already booked a ferry leaving the next day. This felt like the place I'd had in mind when I landed in Thailand a few weeks prior. I'd describe it as coming to San Francisco and seeing Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf before finally going to a place like Jack London Square in Oakland.
Around 6 o'clock the market started getting busy and one by one the stalls opened up to reveal a variety of fruits being cup up for sale, curries warming in huge bowls, sesame donuts frying in a bubbling wok of oil. It took is a while to meander through the market, tracing and re-tracing our steps until we settled on one of the most delicious-looking and unassuming folding tables. A lovely woman scooped hearty portions of freshly caught prawn and green papaya curry and spicy mushroom fish curry onto a plate of rice and ushered us in towards a table. It seems that I had finally found the super spicy, flavorful, fresh seafood and curry flavors unique to southern Thailand, and it was amazingly delicious.
I sampled a coconut sesame doughnut (also yummy) and purchased some papaya, pineapple with chili salt, peanuts, and pumpkin chips before jumping back on the bike. The only thing making it easier to leave was knowing I'd surely be back. Krabi as a region is a must-see, but Krabi Town is an essential stop to live like a Thai local in an easily accessible spot. Hopefully this place has a few more years left like this before the quick-moving tentacles clutching foreign currency start to change it.