When the invitation was extended to me, little did I know that I would be joining a five-day VIP tour for the ASEAN Ladies’ Circle, a highly privileged club consisting of the wives of ASEAN ambassadors, foreign affairs ministers and attaches, to explore Krabi, Suratthani, Nakhon Sri Thammarat and Songkhla. The ASEAN Ladies’ Circle entourage led by Datin Seri Ismalina Ismail; Datin Seri Hafipah Mohd Shah; Datin Mariani Bongsu, spouse of Brunei Ambassador to Malaysia; and Madam Suwanna Phukphat, spouse of Thai Ambassador to Malaysia. The objective of the tour was to promote cultural exchange among club members, who entirely hail ASEAN countries.
ECO TOUR AROUND KOH KLANG
Leaving Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) 2 slightly after 1:30 p.m., we landed at Krabi International Airport after an hour and a half flight. Whisked into the luxury bus, we were transferred to Chao Fah Park Pier at Krabi Town to visit Koh Klang, a charming Muslim fishermen village on a 26 kilometres squared island on the mouth of Krabi river. To reach Koh Klang, we rode the long tail boat known locally as hua thong traversing Krabi river and mangroves.
It took only 10 minutes to reach Koh Klang via Baan Ma Yhing [(Facebook: Baan Ma Ying)(Website: www.baanmaying.com)(Contact Number: +66 081 271 6102)(Opening hours: 9am – 8pm)], a famous halal seafood restaurant where we enjoyed coconut drinks and snacks before proceeding with our tour. As there is no car allowed on the island, we hopped on the multi-coloured three-seater tuk tuk to commute around Koh Klang. Our first stop was a shop selling the organic Sangyod rice, a type of brown rice only grown in Koh Klang. The quality of the Sangyod rice is unrivalled due to it being planted in a mix of fresh and saltwater. Tourists who come to the shop could try their hands at pounding the grains using traditional wooden mortar and pestle.
We also had the opportunity to roam the paddy fields and witnessed paddy-harvesting demonstration, first done manually and the other using a harvesting machine. The paddy fields set against the contrasting blue skies make excellent photos. We then indulged in colouring handkerchief-sized cloth patterned with motifs of nature after learning about pateh, Thailand’s version of batik. The only difference is that the production of pateh uses the metal blocks that are already carved with intricate and complex designs.
Before leaving the charming Koh Klang, a sumptuous dinner at Baan Ma Yhing is a must. The all-time favourite dish at this restaurant is definitely the oregano crab.
TIME FOR KRABI’S FOUR-ISLAND HOPPING
Swimwear, beach bag, flip flop, sunglasses – all checked as we proceeded to Nopparat Thara Beach Pier to board our speed boat that would bring us around Krabi’s four islands: Tup, Koh Kai, Poda and Phra Nang. It is always exhilarating to be sitting on the open air deck of a speed boat basking in the sun with the VIP view of the azure blue ocean, rugged limestone rocks and natural arch surrounding Krabi’s famous four islands.
Tup Island and Chicken Island are connected via a sand bank. During low tide, it is possible to walk from one island to the other. Though there aren’t many corals around, thousands of small tropical reef fishes are ready to feed on your dead cells. Of course it felt ticklish as they nibble away, but it is importantly that you do not get panicked. We also snorkelled to see the underwater beauty of Krabi islands. We also had our halal barbeque lunch on Poda complete with somtam, which is spicy green papaya salad, a traditional Thai dish.
The last spot we visited was Phra Nang. Therein lies a cave dedicated to a princess goddess named Phra Nang. Interestingly, the cave is associated with fertility and offerings come in the forms of phallus. The stretch from Phra Nangup towards the shores of Railay is popular among climbers and there are more than 600 climbing routes for them to choose.
Read: Magical Krabi
EXPLORING THE ROYAL TEMPLE IN SURATTHANI
On the third day of the trip, we departed for Surat Thani, which is two hours’ drive away from Krabi. We stopped for lunch at Sugarree Muslim Restaurant [(GPS Coordinate: 9.169012,99.139848)(Contact No: +66 86 685 4971) (Opening hours: 24 hours)]where we were introduced to local dishes such as khonon jin, southern Thai rice noodle with fish or crab curry and Thai stuffed crab.
We then proceeded to Wat Praborommathat Chaiya Worawahin [(GPS Coordinate: 9.384637,99.184270)(Contact No: +66 62 202 2511)], a royal temple of the highest rank. Inside, there is a structure containing Chaiya Buddha’s relics, believed to have been built around the 13th or 14th century. The Chaiya Buddha’s Relics is the symbol of Surat Thani province and the advent of Buddhism in Surat Thani over a thousand years ago. We also explored Chaiya National Museum [(GPS Coordinate: 9.384637,99.184270)(Contact No: +66 7743 1066) (Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4p.m.)] that contain valuable artefacts since the times of Sumatra-originated Srivijaya rule back in the 8th century, situated next to the royal temple. It was interesting to find out that the Srivijaya empire was responsible in expanding Buddhism to the whole of Peninsula Malaysia and Southern Thailand, and the fact that Chaiya was one of its capitals.
Before leaving for our next destination, which was Nakhon Sri Thammarat, we went shopping for good quality silk at Pha Mai Phum Riang. We had dinner at Chao Rue Restaurant in Nakhon Sri Thammarat.
WAT PHRO MATHAT WORAMAHAWIHAN & THE ECO VILLAGE OF BAAN KHIRI WONG
On our fourth day exploring South Thailand, we visited Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, [(GPS Coordinate: 8.411015,99.966149)(Contact No: +66 75 343 411)(Opening hours: 8a.m.-5p.m.)] the main Buddhist temple of Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. The present town of Nakhon Si Thammarat is the ancient town of Tambralinga, mentioned in the Pali cannon of Buddhism as one of the prosperous port towns in the Eastern world since the 5th century.
Inside the temple complex lies the gigantic-bell-shaped main stupa called Phra Borommathat Chedi, literally translated as the ‘Great Noble Relics Stupa’, which is directly inspired from Sri Lankan Buddhist art. This stupa is held sacred by Buddhists, which signifies the transfer of King Asoka stupa tradition from India to Sri Lanka, and the effort of preserving Buddhism by following King Asoka’s footstep.
Soon, we left for Baan Khiri Wong, [(Address: Tambon Kamlon, Amphoe Lan Saka, Nakhon Si Thammarat)(Contact No: +66 7530 9100)] the village located at the foothill of Khao Luang Mountain that stands 1,835 metres above sea level, which enjoys the purest air and best atmosphere in Thailand. Behind the tranquillity of Baan Khiri Wong is the story of local resilience and exemplary ecotourism management since the Khiri Wong community endured three severe natural disasters. The conferment of Thailand Tourism Awards to Baan Khiri Wong in 1998 attests to the effectiveness of community-based ecotourism in helping to uplift a community’s standard of living.
Walking through a garden that grows stink bean, mangosteen, betel nut and various vegetables, we reached the workshop area where we had the opportunity to use our creativity in creating designs on a plain white handkerchief-sized cloth using tie-dying technique. To do that, each of us used wooden sticks to pin the cloth in various ways to come up with different patterns. Thereafter, our pieces of art were gathered and boiled in water mixed with natural tie-dyed materials such as tree leaves to give them colour. The beauty of tie-dye art is such that the final piece remains a surprise until the end of the process.
The souvenirs of Nakhon Si Thammarat include silverware, brassware, nielloware and Yan Liphao basketry.
SEAFOOD IN KOH YOR & CULTURE LEARNING AT INSTITUTE FOR SOUTHERN THAI STUDIES
On our final day, we went to Nodething to shop for natural palm fibre handbag with genuine leather. I was told that the brand is quite a hit among the Japanese. Some of us bought more than three bags at once.
We had our lunch at Sirada Restaurant in Koh Yor. [(GPS Coordinate: 7.172551,100.546126)(Contact No: +66 74 591 595)(Opening hours: 10.30a.m.-9.30pm)]It is an open secret that if you want to eat fresh and reasonably priced seafood, Koh Yor is the place. We enjoyed pineapple fried rice, grouper fillet with Thai chilli sauce, salted egg soft shell crab, stuffed crab, and prawn in coconut tom yam, including water spinach.
We also spent our time at Koh Yor’s Institute for Southern Thai Studies, established for studying, preserving and propagating southern Thai arts and cultures. It is also serves as museum with 30 exhibition rooms offering wide range of displays and programmes to introduce southern Thailand’s lifestyle, religions, traditions and means of livelihood. One particular interest is the jaw-dropping room containing over hundreds of coconut graters and trust me, you have to go and see them for yourself. From the Institute for Southern Thai Studies, you will be rewarded with the viewpoint of Songkhla Lake and aquaculture farms along its shores.
No visit Songkhla is complete without having your photos taken with the mermaid bronze statue at Samila Beach. This statue, created in 1966 by Jitr Buabus, is taken from the main character of an old Thai story written by Soomthorn Phu, the great king poet of King Rama II. The story revolves around a mermaid who combed her hair with a golden comb on the beach. She was frightened away by a young fisherman who waited for her return but to no avail.
- Aonang Fiore Resort: 764, Moo 2 Ao Nang, Muang, Krabi 81180, Thailand
- Twin Lotus Hotel: 97/8 Pattanakarn-kukwang Road, Amphoe Muang Nakhon Si Thammarat
- Haad Kaew Resort: 163 Moo 1, T. Chiang Kao, Sing Nakhorn, Songkhla
Gaya Travel Magazine expresses our heartfelt gratitude to Tourism Authority of Thailand for inviting the writer to be part of the VIP Tour to explore South Thailand together with the members of the ASEAN Ladies’ Circle, who were lovely travelling companions.