PHUKET: Typically, upon hearing any reference of Krabi, the first thing that springs to mind is the stalactite-studded Railay, party-island Phi Phi or any one of the other 154 awe-inspiring islands that draw millions of visitors a year to this quiet province on the Andaman Sea. Without a doubt, visitors who come to this little corner of the world would be doing themselves a disservice by not witnessing its seaside splendors.
Alternatively, Krabi’s nearly 3 million rai of rugged karst interior offers plenty of attractions and opportunity for adventure to those willing to venture inland. Just because you turn your back to the sea doesn’t mean that you have to stray too far from the water.
A 60km drive southeast of Krabi Town on Highway 4 through verdant green jungle, giant sentinels of limestone and orderly rows of rubber and palm oil trees will lead you to the Khlong Thom District and the emerald pools. Keep an eye out for signs and head left on 4038. The route is clearly marked from here. You will also see signs for hot springs, but at the time, the thought of soaking in 40ºC water, with an ambient air temperature not much less than that, did not sound appealing.
The emerald pools are certainly not off the beaten track; this is a realization exemplified by the pay parking at the entrance to the pools. It’s a popular spot, especially among local Thais, and for a good reason.
Farangs will have to fork out 200 baht, slightly higher than the 20 baht Thai fare, to enter the National Forest that conceals the pools. Once paid up, take a leisurely 800-meter hike to the first watering hole: the Emerald Pool.
At first glimpse you realize that the pool was aptly named. The clear, green-tinged waters practically glow, changing color slightly throughout the day. Make no mistake, a late afternoon visit will result in the pool being filled with local kids, which is fun in its own way. To get the place all to yourself, sacrifice sleeping in and get there early – visitors start flooding in by 9am. Food and refreshments can be had at the entrance to the park, making it easy to lounge about all day.
There is plenty to explore in the area as the cascading limestone pools are all over, and raised boardwalks lead the way through incredible natural scenery. Be careful, the limestone is often very slippery, and the kids love to laugh hysterically when people learn this the hard way.
Even closer to Krabi Town lies the 31,250 rai Khao Phanom Bencha National Park, which features the province’s highest peak at 1,397 meters tall. To get there, head southeast from Krabi on Highway 4 for a quick 2km and make a left on 6017 – there is a sign, but go slow in the left lane so you don’t miss it. From there, follow the small, wooden signs to the park headquarters. The whole journey is only a 20-minute drive from downtown Krabi Town.
In addition to the highest peak, the park boasts some impressive waterfalls such as the three-tiered Huay Sa Khe falls and the five-tiered Huay To falls. Both are a quick stroll from park headquarters and are wonderful places to kick back and have a picnic. The cold water is nice respite from the hot weather.
Another compelling reason to visit Phanom Bencha is the abundant wildlife that you may not spot elsewhere. In fact, the brilliant plumage of wild peacocks can be spotted before you even get out of your car or climb off your motorbike. Other interesting species include tapirs, serows, wild boar, asiatic black bears, mouse deer, panthers, civets and gibbons.
Krabi’s naturally colorful pools and Phanom Bencha National Park are just a couple of locations across the bay worth a visit. They are perfectly suited for a day trip with the family. However, guest houses and hotels can be easily found, if you are not in a hurry to get back.
— Jeremie Schatz
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