Krabi is not just another coastal resort. From a shrine with curious offerings to a 'tiger' cave of Buddha relics, this Thai province definitely offers more than meets the eye.
Once upon a time, a beautiful princess and her prince were sailing on a ship to Satun, one of the southern provinces of Thailand, to get married.
However, their journey was disrupted when a naga (dragon) attacked them. The prince fought the monster in vain. Their ship was split into two and the princess drifted on a plank to a beach - now known as Railay Beach, in Krabi.
Although legend has it that the prince survived the attack, he was not able to find his princess, who later died pining for her love.
This tragic tale was recounted to us by our animated guide Henry during a visit to the Thai paradise of Krabi.
I was among a motley group that included the media, on a familiarisation trip to this world-famous tourist destination, courtesy of Firefly during its inaugural flight there on Sept 11.
What struck me most was a unique shrine at the Princess Cave at Railay Beach in honour of the princess - the offerings were penis-shaped woodcarvings!
Henry said there were several versions of how such offerings came to be.
"More than 20 years ago, fishermen would come to pray at the shrine for good fortune and safety before they went out to sea. They would present food offerings. However, one day a man came to the shrine to make a wish.
"He wished to marry a girl whom he fancied - and his wish came true. One night, the man had a strange dream. A woman appeared in the dream and asked for "an organ of a man" as an offering to the shrine," narrated Henry.
It was believed that the woman was the princess.
Railay Beach, located to the south of Aonang Beach, is only accessible by sea although it is connected to the mainland of Krabi - by limestone promontories and steep jungle valleys.
Railay Beach is also a haven for avid rock-climbers. One of the ideal sites is just a stone's throw from the shrine. The limestone rocks are pretty tall and imposing.
Since we were pressed for time, we did not explore the whole area. Do note that the sea here is not suitable for swimming as its waters are quite murky.
As our trip to Krabi took place during the wet spell, it was considered low season for tourists. We were lucky to be blessed with sunshine at most times of the day.
Mention Krabi and images of the sun, sand and sea come to mind. Many even hail it as the Maldives of the East. Thus, island-hopping is definitely a must-do if you are ever in this part of the world.
During island-hopping trips, those prone to seasickness are advised to bring along their medication.
It is also good to have a waterproof bag to store your handphones and cameras when you board the boat.
Krabi is made up of part of the Thai mainland as well as more than 130 islands.
There are a few islands (called koh in Thai) with beautiful coral sand beaches and crystal clear waters near Noppharat Thara Beach (just a few minutes away from Aonang town), which the locals call the "Four Islands".
They are Koh Tup, Koh Mo, Koh Kai and Koh Poda, all of which are located less than 10 minutes away from one another.
As that beach has no proper jetty, we had to get our feet wet (up to our knees) to board the boats. The journey to the islands was pretty bumpy yet exciting. A trip to Koh Tup from the Noppharat Thara takes about 20 minutes.
At Koh Tup, I was amazed at what I saw: the mystical tha-la whaek (or the divided sea) which occurs between Koh Tup, Koh Mo and Koh Kai. The water level was low and the three isles were linked via white, sandy stretches. A simply awesome sight!
I was told that the timing has to be right for visitors to observe the divided sea.
It is also said that the natural phenomenon occurs about twice a month, from the 12th day of the moon's waxing or waning to the 5th day of the new moon when the sea's ebb and flow peak.
The tour to this place should be timed an hour in advance of the phenomenon. Imagine how exciting it is to be able to go from one island to another, in the Andaman Sea, by foot!
Koh Kai (Chicken) also offers a beautiful spot for those who enjoy snorkelling. The island got its name from a rock shaped like the head of a rooster, on the island's limestone mountain.
The island is surrounded by plenty of coral reefs and beautiful fishes, something that snorkellers can appreciate.
Visitors would be pleased at the sight of Poda Island with its exceptionally clean and clear sea. Its white sandy beach is one of the best spots for sunbathing.
Beach-goers should not miss the chance to pose for a photo with the majestic Tang Ming Rock at the back, visible from Poda Island. This island also offers one of the best places to swim in crystal clear waters.
Despite its fame, Krabi is, thankfully, not as commercialised as other beach havens such as Phuket. It still maintains its old-world charm, idyllic beaches and traditional villages.
Beachcombers need not fear being harassed by touts promoting water-scooter, parasailing or banana boat activities here as the authorities have banned them.
These activities are considered dangerous to tourists and could also pollute the sea. Besides that, visitors can take in the full view of the sea as there aren't any chairs or giant umbrellas blocking their view.
Entering the 'tiger's lair'
Our tour also covered one of the biggest temples in this coastal province - the Wat Tham Seua or Tiger Cave Temple. It is located about 40 minutes away from the Krabi International Airport.
Upon entering the temple premises, we saw an 89m-tall structure named the Rakhangthong Pagoda that is currently under construction.
Henry said the construction of the pagoda started some 17 years ago, and the building cost has since risen to about 100 million Baht (S$3.9 million).
He added that the funds to build the pagoda came solely from public donations, and upon completion, Buddha's relics from nine countries would be placed at the top of the pagoda. Currently, the relics are kept in the Tiger Cave Temple.
Those who would like to have a view of a golden pagoda and a sitting Buddha should first gauge their stamina by climbing 1,237 steps to the top of a mountain beyond the Tiger Cave Temple.
The mountain is approximately 600m above sea level. As we were pressed for time, and the journey up and down the mountain would take at least three hours, we had to opt out.
However, I managed to see Buddha's relics and explore the small Tiger Cave, without any unexpected encounters with the fearsome animal (phew!).
On one of the nights, I took a stroll in Aonang town, which is the central point of Krabi.
It reminds me of Pantai Chenang in Langkawi Island where the main street is also lined with myriad souvenir shops, restaurants, pubs, massage parlours and tour companies. The shops along a beachfront road sell pretty much everything, at tourist prices.
For a better shopping experience, I decided to head over to the famous "Walking Street" market in Krabi town. The market is held from 6pm to 10pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Akin to our local pasar malam, it features stalls selling local delicacies, handicraft and clothes, among other items. The one in Krabi town is located in Soi Maharaj 8, behind the Vogue Shopping Centre.
This place is recommended for bargain-hunters and visitors to glean insight into the local culture while indulging in shopping. Travelling to Krabi town from Aonang via tuk-tuk takes about 30 minutes.
Krabi certainly has something for everyone.
Firefly has one return flight between Penang and Krabi on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Details, visit www.fireflyz.com.my or call 03-7845 4543.