sign in a cave in Laos

23 August 2008

Krabi cleaned up - Star

THE STAR Weekend
Saturday August 23, 2008

Krabi, cleaned up

A look at how Krabi has changed since the tsunami.

I recently went to Krabi for the first time since the tsunami and was amazed at the number of tourists there. It was packed and there was a surprising number of European children. I guess a lot of parents are taking winter breaks.

Krabi, just south of Phuket, has long been a popular tourist destination for its beaches and islands. The beaches include Ao Nang and those on the Railey peninsula, while the islands of Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta are all accessible from Krabi.

Whilst Ko Phi Phi and parts of Phuket were devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, Krabi didn’t suffer as badly. I was interested to see how things had changed since the tsunami.

Krabi airport opened about seven years ago and now handles international as well as domestic flights. This, of course, has led to a huge increase in the number of tourists visiting the area.

From the airport, tourists have a choice of taxi or shuttle bus to Krabi town, or Ao Nang beach.

I chose to stay in town, as accommodation is cheaper than at the beach, and it’s easier to get local food. I found hotel rates in the town have not increased much since the tsunami. There are several new guesthouses catering for backpackers, several of which offer WiFi access.

In town, I noticed a few of the old guesthouses and shops have been replaced by Internet caf├ęs, or more modern coffee shops, hand phone shops etc. A large new wat, or Buddhist temple, is being constructed on the hill at the back of town, accessible by a wide flight of steps.

An ape statue holding up the traffic lights at Manus Borarn Square. — LIZ PRICE

The main crossroads in town is now called Manus Borarn Square, and there are large ape statues holding traffic lights at each of the four roads.

The statues are to commemorate the archaeological findings made in the Krabi district. These include 43,000-year-old human skeletons unearthed from under a cliff at the Tab-prik School in Krabi. Also 27,000-year-old human skeletons were found at Mor Keaw Cave, at Ban Na-Ching in Krabi.

The oldest finds are fossils dating back to 37 million years, found in a lignite mine. They are jaw bones of an ancient primate, later named Siamopithecus eocaenus, (the signboard says Siam Moipithecus erectus, which is wrong), which could be an ancestor of humans.

Down by the river is a large stone eagle, similar to the one on Langkawi, but smaller. The signage says it is a White-breasted Sea Eagle, Nok Awk, and goes on to describe the bird. At the waterfront, one boatman said that business was very bad, as most tourists preferred to stay at the beach.

Ao Nang was busy with people. The beach road hadn’t changed much since the tsunami and I recognised many of the shops from my last visit in 2002. But now there were more Western fast food places, coffee shops and small shopping centres opening up. And of course, new guest houses and luxury resorts.

One new luxury resort occupied the entire bay south of the main beach, and is reached by a boardwalk. With room rates starting at 6,000 baht (RM590), it is not cheap.

Despite the increase in the number of buildings and people, things seemed orderly. Thailand realises tourism makes up a huge part of the country’s income. Therefore, they take steps to encourage tourists.

The main thing that struck me along the main beach was the number of ATM machines, located every few hundred metres. The authorities have realised that tourists spend money and need easy access to cash. And so they have set up ATMs everywhere, all of which take foreign credit cards.

One big change is that the boats to the islands and beaches are now all strictly controlled. The longtail boats are all moored together in one area, which ensures the safety of people swimming in the other areas.

And there are two ticket offices, at each end of the beach. Gone are the days of the boatmen and their touts all shouting and jostling to compete for your custom. Now the prices are prominently displayed. Along the beach, there are numerous tsunami warning signs.

These tell you to go to high ground or inland in the event of an earthquake. And the signs point which way to go.

I also counted around 20 massage stalls on the beach, with prices prominently displayed. At a mere 200 baht (RM20) an hour, the stalls were fully occupied.

There were also signs asking smokers not to throw their cigarette butts into the sea — “The beach and ocean are not an ashtray”.

So many people treat the sea as a rubbish bin and this is particularly unpleasant for swimmers. And cigarette butts take years to break down. All the beaches were very clean. Having litter bins placed in many spots helped.

Restaurant prices at the beach have increased since I was last there. In Krabi town, you can still get a delicious meal, with free cold water, all for a mere 30 baht (RM3).

About 40% of Krabi’s population is Muslim so there are halal eating places, including roti shops. The rotis are always smaller in Thailand than in Malaysia, but the curry is delicious. One shop proudly announces that tourists are charged the same price as Thais.

The authorities certainly seem to be doing their bit to keep the place clean and safe, and to make sure things run smoothly. Obviously, the ever increasing numbers of visitors will have an impact. Hopefully, this won’t spoil the tropical paradise that they have come to see.

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