When most people think of Krabi, kayaking probably isn’t an activity that immediately springs to mind.
Trips and tours are plentiful but predictable – Hong Island, Phi Phi, Railway, a combination of the above. Whilst there’s a lot of fun to be had hopping between the various islands dotted around, it’s equally something that can be done most anywhere on the Thai coast.
With a few lazy days in Ao Nang between Christmas and New Year, we decided to look for something a bit different and came across just the thing: sea kayaking around the coastal mangrove forests of Ao Thalane.
Sea kayaking in Krabi turned out to tick a lot of boxes for a great experience, which is why I’m dedicating a full post to it!
Our kayaking trip was fun, affordable, showed is something unique and threw in a little exercise to boot. As a bonus, in my book at least, it was done and dusted by lunchtime, leaving ample time for other activities (napping and gin) all afternoon.
First Level Kayaking
First of all, picking a tour company. We would recommend First Level Kayaking which is who we went with. They keep the group sizes small – 6 or less at the moment (Dec 2020). They also start the earliest, with hotel pickup at 8am we were in the water by around 8.30, meaning we had the mangroves to ourselves and we’re done before the sun really got going.
Trips with First Level are a bargain 1,150 baht per adult at time of writing, and can be booked direct on their website.
Like all good trips, this one started with a bouncy trip in a Songthaew driven by our guide and master of all things kayak, AK (as in 47), ably assisted by his son who was about 10 years old. In the age of Covid with schools closed, every day is bring your kid to work day.
As it turned out we were the only ones on our trip – a common theme in 2020.
Kayaking in Krabi: mangroves, karsts and film sets
And so to the water. Safely loaded into our 2 person craft, AK and mini-AK led us out into what quickly became breathtaking scenery.
Around Ao Thalane is a thick expanse of mangroves fringed by high-sided limestones cliffs on one side and clear seas on the other. The forests gave us some shelter and the tide helped us float along without much effort
The mangroves in Thailand are something of an ecological success story. According to our guide, until the 1980s the forests were heavily hunted, fished and chopped up to make charcoal (he was at pains to stress that mangrove makes really, really good charcoal).
The government subsequently put a firm stop to any such activity, and the mangrove is now a thriving part of the coastline and home to all manner of wildlife, as well as spectacular natural views.
As we paddled, all alone, we heard the familiar whoops of gibbons in the forest, echoing off the cliffs.
After lazily floating up the main channel, we branched off into the maze of inlets and rivulets that run through the mangrove forests like arteries.
This makes for a dramatic change of scene and slightly more boat handling is required, the mangrove channels are narrow and the thick foliage hangs overhead. The gnarled mangrove roots really are dense and home to a wide variety of things which call, croak and chirp, yet it felt extremely peaceful and quiet.
We started to come across other, larger groups along the way, heading in the other direction. 99% of people are fine at steering a kayak, but we definitely met the 1% out and about, memorably a family who speared directly into a tree and another who tried to take a narrow, rocky gap at full pelt with predictably stupid consequences.
Luckily the kayaks are plastic and hard-wearing so no harm came to man or mangrove.
Clearing the mangroves, we came to an area of the towering sea cliffs – karsts – which are synonymous Krabi. It was fun to kayak up close and personal to the big limestone chimneys which form a catacomb of paths towards the sea.
These areas are popular in film sets including The Beach and apparently a recent Bollywood spectacular in which they blew up a longtail boat in this very lagoon.
We crept through a gap in the rocks and all of a sudden were on the open sea. This marked another significant change of scenery as we pulled in for a break at a sheltered, tiny piece of beach as a lone fishing boat dropped their nets in the bay.
Again, it’s something you just don’t get on your average trip.
After a quick stop for some well-earned 7-Eleven raisin bread we paddled towards home, completing a loop of around 6km in a little over 2 hours.
If you’re remotely fit this is a doddle, and we saw lots of family groups with young kids, so there’s little barrier to kayaking in Krabi.
As we headed for the pier at Ao Thalane we were in for one final surprise. A monkey, perched on a patch of sand in the middle of the river channel, casually plopped into the water and began to swim back to shore. I for one was unaware of swimming monkeys until now, and it is delightful and terrifying in equal measure.
— Mark in Bangkok | thaispicy.co (@thaispicytravel) December 30, 2020
We tracked the simian swimmer all the way back to shore where it hauled itself a lot more gracefully than we did, and that marked a fittingly excellent end to our trip.
I think that kayaking in Krabi is a must for any visitor to this part of Thailand, and for the price it’s up there with the best activities we’ve done in Thailand full stop. A great choice for an easy, fun and different half day trip in Krabi.