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The Krabi, Thailand Guide for More Discerning Tourists

I’m going to do something that I swore I’d never do: I’m going to “blog” about Thailand. Krabi, specifically (although I have also included a couple of places in the neighboring provinces of Trang and Staun).

I told myself I wouldn’t stoop to writing about Thailand because the tourism industry in Thailand (the non-seedy kind), by and large, is horrible mass tourism. If you’ve ever found yourself staring longingly at some Instagram model’s Maya Bay photo-op and thought, “I wish I, too, could enjoy paradise on earth,” I’m sorry to be a buzzkill, but you’ve fallen for a carefully curated illusion.

Maya Bay (and many other places in Thailand) are more comparable to places like Cancun or the more soulless parts of the Mediterranean.

Want a list of 150 of the most unique nature and wildlife travel experiences?

The SEO-optimized pages that have conquered the top of the search engine results–the ones imploring you to visit “James Bond” Island and Ao Nang Beach–are the same lists of the same tourist traps and tourist trap restaurants covered in the same superficial manner that everyone else trying to appeal to the Google algo is writing, and they are tailored to (for lack of a better word) normies–people whose idea of the Krabi experience is Koh Phi Phi and three-day-old, 150-baht green curry from a restaurant with a name like “Pirate Bar” that claims to specialize in Thai food, Pizza and Tacos.  

I’ve been coming to Krabi (and the south) for 4-5 months at a time since 2017, and despite the province’s reputation for mass tourism, the, let’s call it, more authentic side of Thailand is still available to those who care to look and you don’t really have to look all that far. 

Why I love Krabi

huay toh waterfall in Phanom Bencha National Park in Krabi, Thailand

I like Krabi because it’s a nice mix of traditional Thailand and the better parts of globalization. Every other person sells long gon out of the back of their truck, local mom-and-pop restaurants still go up into the hills to harvest bamboo, and you will occasionally see farmers using elephants as beasts of burden, but you can easily find a nice bottle of London gin or Scottish whiskey and the city’s private hospital offers great, inexpensive care (as a Canadian, I am easily impressed by halfway-decent healthcare).

It’s also touristy enough that most people working in the service industry–both the more tourist-oriented and more local ones–speak enough English that you’re not completely SOL when trying to get your point across or ask for something. You can hedge your bets (and show a little respect) by knowing your numbers in Thai and some basic salutations. Offline Google Translate is also handy.

I always stay in Krabi Town because you don’t get the mass tourism nonsense of Ao Nang (as I said, Krabi still retains a lot of its Thai charm, especially rural Thai charm), but you don’t feel like such an extraterrestrial as you would walking around somewhere like Trang or Satun.

It’s also nice because the Thai people here (outside of, perhaps, the main drag in Ao Nang) aren’t as jaded by the tourism industry as they often seem to be in places like Phi Phi, and it’s easier to strike up genuine acquaintanceships and friendships with the recurring faces in your day-to-day life–the lady you buy fruit from, the waiters at the roti place you go to–if you’re here long enough. You don’t (generally speaking) feel hustled or perhaps even disliked in the same way you sometimes can in the “must-see” places your run-of-the-mill vlogger travel couple covers. 

It is also close enough (within a 45-minute scooter ride) to some very nice nature, strategically located in the south for jungle or snorkeling trips further afield, and reachable by direct flight from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur if you’re coming from elsewhere in Asia.

Having spent so much time here over the years, I’ve got my haunts.

My list

I’m going to share (most) of that list with you, more discerning tourist, but I will be skipping a few of my most special spots because I genuinely don’t want other people to know about them. A normie wanderlust YouTube couple with a large enough following of hoi polloi and a ravenous local tourism industry can turn an idyllic spot into a soulless hole pretty fast.

My curation is going to be a mix of my favourite places to eat–which I don’t mind sharing because I’ve grown to quite like the people who own and work at the restaurants I’ve been coming to for years, and I’m happy to send them whatever extra business I can–and my favourite places to explore. 

Here we go. 

The food

I keep coming back to Krabi for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is the food scene. It’s just so goddamn good.

Thais love to eat, and why wouldn’t they? Their cuisine is so much more sophisticated and delicious than the vast majority of everything else on the planet. The access to incredible locally sourced raw ingredients, the admixture of different regional influences (Malay, Chinese, Indian), the pride Thais take in their food and the high standards to which they hold local cooks, combined with the amount of time they’ve been perfecting their recipes, have created a culinary culture that’s hard to beat. 

Even within Thailand, Krabi is a well-known foodie hub. The city hosts food festivals pretty much all year round, and they are well-attended. People fly in from Bangkok and bus in from all over the south (as well as Malaysia) to come and eat.

With that said, here are my favourite places to eat in Krabi Town.

Mr. Chef (Khrua Sirinthip)

This is a place I was taken to randomly by the owner of Booze Bar in Krabi (great pool table and live music) on the river road. We were talking food and trading our favourite spots and he asked if I’d tried pad grapao at a hole in the wall restaurant run by a local “celebrity” chef who simply went by the name “Mr. Chef.” 

I hadn’t, and since I was several gin and tonics deep at this point, he was adamant that we go the very next morning to cure our hangovers. 

Best Pad Grapao (fried pork belly with basil, thai chilis served with rice, a fried egg and a bowl of broth) I’ve ever had anywhere. And 80 Baht. This guy gets requested to cook for visiting bigwigs and dignitaries all the time, and he proudly informed me this year (2023) that people from the Michelin Guide had been in and were talking about potentially awarding him a Michelin star. I wasn’t surprised.

Everything here is cooked to perfection, from the rice to the egg to the basil to the pork belly. Even the broth has the perfect amount of garlic in it. It’s one of those culinary experiences where every aspect of the food is so good that your brain never really tells your stomach it’s full because the dopamine rush is just so non-stop.

This place is also a real-deal hole-in-the wall. Concrete floors and walls, a simple kitchen at the front where you can see everything happening, and absolutely no pretension, just incredible food. 

I’m actually not entirely sure what this place is called, so don’t quote me on the name I’ve provided in the subheading. It’s from Google Maps, but all of the signage is in Thai. The photo I included below is the actual facade of the place, though.

Oddly enough, there are no Google reviews with which to confirm the name. I’ve had a few conversations with Mr. Chef about using social media to promote his business and how easy it would be, given the fantastic food, but I get the feeling he doesn’t really care to.

He opens around 7:30 a.m. (closed on Sundays, Mondays and sometimes even Tuesdays), and he’s usually finished by around 2 p.m. He also tends to sell out of the pork belly before 12 p.m. 

Not something you want to eat every day, for obvious reasons, but it’s a nice little treat after a hike or run. 

Pad Thai 50 Baht

Another literal hole-in-the-wall. You would have no idea what this place even was if it weren’t for the owner standing outside in front of a massive hot top cooking all day. This place only makes one thing: Pad Thai. 

You can get it with muscles, chicken or shrimp, I believe, though I always get the vegetarian option with tofu. It’s made to order, served with a plate of veggies and halved limes, and all the tables have squeeze bottles of tamarind sauce, crushed peanuts, and chilli flakes. 

This guy has been here for many years, and I’ve been eating his pad Thai since I first came to Krabi back in 2017. Apparently, he is cooking his mom’s recipe, who is a well-known Pad Thai icon in Krabi Town. Best Pad Tahi I’ve had. 

Pad Thai is a tourist classic, and every Italian-Mexican-Thai-Indian place with an English name serves it, but I find most places that cater primarily to tourists don’t put the kind of effort into their Pad Thai (or anything else) that Thais expect from their favourite restaurants. 

Issan Chicken Place

Another place where I am not really sure of the name (again, it’s in Thai), this restaurant is more or less right across the street from 50 Baht Pad Thai (and directly beside the 7/11). I’ve always just referred to it as “The Isan Chicken Place.”

The northern province of Isan is famous for, among other things, its grilled meat and holy shit, is it good. They also make really good Som Tam. Their menu is huge, but I’ve only ever ordered the barbecue pork/chicken and the Som Tam. 

You can get it with either sticky or steamed rice (I like steamed better), and it’s served with a plate of vegetables and a side of sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. The majority of the waiters here don’t speak any English (it’s not a place I’ve ever seen a single foreigner), so I often have to get up out of my seat, walk over the grill and point at what I want. 

This is another place you’d probably just walk past if you didn’t know any better. At a glance, it looks more like a motorbike repair shop than a restaurant. Inside, it’s concrete floors, chain link walls, tarps, golf chairs and plastic tables and most of the time, it’s packed–very often a sign of something good. 

Bangnara Roti

This is a place that I eat at more or less every day when I’m in Krabi. It’s my go-to breakfast spot. 

It has a decent-sized menu (as well as a buffet, which I think is what most people come here for), but it is most famous for its Roti Canai–a Malaysian flatbread served with a small bowl of curry for dipping. I usually get two of these with two fried eggs as my post-workout meal. 

It’s 60 Baht (for two roti and two eggs), and it is (no exaggeration) one of the top 5 most delicious things I’ve ever eaten anywhere in the world. It’s almost always packed and it seems like every single Malaysian group tour bus that comes through Krabi takes people here. 

You see the occasional foreigner here, but it’s usually an ex-pat who has been living in Krabi for years and knows about the good stuff. They close around 2 p.m.

Chicken lady

Yet another place I don’t know the name of, I refer to this family-run market stall in the City Night Market simply as “Chicken Lady.” 

It’s run by a couple of very sweet Muslim Thai Ladies who are there every night (except Sunday) making delicious turmeric fried chicken. I usually get one piece of the fried chicken, and an order of the breaded chicken served over a bed of biryani-style rice that comes with a side of broth and an incredible homemade barbecue sauce. 

Any time I have a long trip ahead of me, either within Thailand or on my way out, I always pick up one of these to go the night before, keep it in the fridge overnight, and lovingly place it in my backpack to eat later in an airport or bus terminal.

I wouldn’t even know how to direct you to her other than to say that she’s hidden away in the heart of the City Night Market (the one across from 7/11 and beside what used to be May and Mark’s restaurant) directly adjacent to a flower shop. 

She has a small area behind the front counter with a couple of plastic tables and chairs where you can eat if you don’t want to do takeaway. When most people do decide to wander into this part of the night market, it is probably not the type of place they would consider eating (especially if it was their first time in Thailand) because of how grotty the seating area looks. 

The floors are bare concrete and covered in oil stains. I would not judge anyone who passed on this place at first glance.

But take it from someone who now has an abnormally sensitive stomach thanks to a decade of flitting from country to country and who has been traumatized by several food poisonings: it’s fine. As a matter of fact, I only found out about Chicken Lady because I was suffering through a particularly horrid gastro attack, and my girlfriend saw it at the market and thought chicken and rice would be the safest way to get some calories into me. 

35 Baht and delicious. The fried chicken is also the best I’ve had (in Thailand or anywhere else). 

Karabaw Noodle Duck 

Another cheap and delicious meal in Krabi that you only ever see locals eating is the duck soup at Karabaw Noodle Duck. This is pretty typical Thai Muslim soup, and there are a handful of similar places serving almost identical fare scattered around the city, but this one is the best I’ve had. 

50 THB for a bowl of rice noodles, chicken balls, bean sprouts, duck breast and spicy broth. If you’ve got a low tolerance for spice, try ordering the non-spicy option (I don’t get it because I find the broth a bit too sweet). 

And there you have it. Those are my top 6 places to eat in Krabi. The problem with these kinds of lists is that local ingredients are so good, people take food so seriously, and it seems like everyone has enough kitchen skills to open their own restaurant that it can be hard to have a bad experience (at least with Thai food). There’s a pretty big Indian diaspora in Thailand, and Indian places are also usually a safe bet. 

A lot of restaurants and cafes (at least in the more touristy parts of the country) try to offer up “Western” fare to satisfy the unadventurous or the expats who have been living here a long time and want the occasional taste of home. But very few places do it well (at least in the south).

Much and Mellow and Caramel Cafe in Krabi Town, as well as a couple of places in Ao Nang, know what good bread looks and tastes like, how to poach an egg and make good espresso drinks. 

But if you order a “continental breakfast” at most places in Thailand, what you usually get is an abomination–hotdogs, fried eggs, over-toasted Wonder Bread that turns to dust in your mouth, high-fructose packets of airplane jam and (for whatever reason) weird little iceberg lettuce salads drenched in some ghoulish mayonnaise-based dressing. 

All of that to say: stick to Thai food in Thailand–and, as a general rule, opt for places where the majority of diners are not foreigners–and you should have nothing but enjoyable meals. Also, walking street food is, for the most part, over-rated, gimmicky, largely fried and usually involves a disgusting amount of plastic. 

The nature

snorkeling just off sunrise beach in koh lipe thailand

I’m dedicating the other section of this article to my favourite places to explore. These are, if you’ll allow me the cliche, more off-the-beaten-path (at least for the average tourist) in Krabi, making them more worth your while. 

I’m not saying you won’t see other tourists there, but they are not the Tiger Temple or elephant sanctuaries or the Emerald Pool or Ko Phi Phi. 

I also strongly advise renting a scooter to do your exploring while in Krabi. The tours, minivans and tuk-tuks add up quickly in Thailand, and you will save a lot of money and time (as well as enjoy a lot more freedom) on a scooter.

That said, Thai roads are VERY hazardous. If your only driving experience has been in Western countries where people, more or less, obey the rules of the road and you can trust your fellow drivers to not constantly take major liberties with your life and safety, you want to really come to terms with this before tempting fate on Thai roads. 

If, however, you can tolerate the risks, exploring Thailand by scooter is exhilarating. Be aware that you need an international driver’s license here, and there are sporadic roadblocks set up around Krabi Town and Ao Nang to bust anyone without the requisite ID (that’d be most foreigners) and extract 500 Baht from them (1000 if they’re also not wearing a helmet). 

Ngorn Nak

walking down the wooden stairs at ngorn nak in Krabi, Thailand

Ngorn Nak, or “Dragon’s Crest” trail, in Nong Thale, is about 30 minutes from Ao Nang and 45 from Krabi Town, and it is one of, if not the best, hike in Krabi. 

If you’re a halfway fit person with decent cardio, it should take you 3-4 hours round trip (with some time at the top to take in the wonderful panoramic views of the province). 

Top to bottom, the trail is around 3.7 km, and a significant amount of climbing is involved. But you’re trekking through beautiful lowland rainforest that is relatively undisturbed (when you consider the entire surrounding area is oil palm and rubber). 

Because it is quite strenuous in parts, it tends to weed out mass tourism. Who you typically see are fit locals and foreign couples. It’s a national park, so it costs a couple hundred Baht to enter, but it is well worth it. 

Tha Pom Long Khlong Sam Nam

beautiful mangrove creek ecosystem (tha pom long khlong sam nam) in Krabi, Thailand.

This is a gorgeous mangrove creek habitat halfway between Krabi and Than Bok Korani National Park and, at least during the low season, it’s not really a place frequented by that many foreigners–not in the way that places like the Emerald Pool and the hot springs would be. 

It’s mostly locals that come here, including the occasional school field trip, so come knowing that the serenity of the place may be violated by large groups of kids and kid wranglers shouting out instructions via bullhorns. 

If you’re not so unlucky, and you come on a weekday, you will likely have the entire place (mostly) to yourself. There is wildlife to be seen here (birds, snakes sleeping in the trees, some very cool brackish water fish), but swimming, save for one not so appealing designated area, is prohibited in the river (which is crystalline and very inviting in many places). 

Presumably, this is to protect the integrity of this unique ecosystem, although it may also be for safety reasons, since there is a current in this creek and a lot of Thais are not good swimmers. 

Plai Plong Beach (AKA Secret Beach), Ao Nang

Full disclosure: this beach is not a secret. It’s in front of Centara Grand Beach Resort, which I haven’t stayed at, but it is isolated from the rest of Ao Nang thanks to the “Monkey Trail”–a semi-strenuous 15-minute hike/walk up the side of a limestone karst with an easy-to-follow trail and some fairly steep wooden stairs. 

It’s out of the way enough that it dissuades most of the Ao Nang riff-raff from venturing over. The backdrop behind the hotel is a stunning limestone massif, and you’ve got an unimpeded view of the Krabi Andaman just off the beach. No traffic noises, no one hawking shit. It’s as isolated and serene as it is possible to feel in Ao Nang.

The ocean here, as it is along the entire coast of Krabi, is nothing special. There would be no point in snorkelling as it’s too rough and full of river sediment. But it’s a very nice reprieve from the ear and eye-fuck of Ao Nang. 

The trail starts right after C2 Beach Club, which, foot traffic permitting, you can ride a scooter all the way up to. Or, you can park somewhere along Ao Nang beach and walk. 

Koh Lipe

This is a bonus location and, yes, I know, not actually in Krabi, but I’m putting it in here for people who want a calm Thai Island vacation (and off-the-beach snorkeling) because that’s not possible in Krabi.  

While I have never been to Lipe during high season, if you stay on Sunrise Beach (Pattaya Beach on the other side of the island is where all the normies and Chinese package tourists stay) during the low season, you get the best views on the island, the best off-the-beach snorkelling on the island, and the cheapest accommodation options on the island, while still close enough to the main commercial area (about 10 minutes walking) to not feel like it’s inconvenient. 

view from sunrise beach in koh lipe thailand

I’ve added it to my list because it’s only a four-hour bus ride south from Krabi Town (or five if you want to try it on a scooter–not really advisable on anything less than 160cc) to Pak Bara Pier in Satun and then an hour and a half speed boat ride to Koh Lipe. You’re almost in Malaysia at this point. 

The extra effort required to get here has allowed Lipe to remain comparatively unspoiled. It’s a small, laid-back island inhabited by very chill Thai Muslims and Sea Gypsies (Chao Ley). 

If you are coming to Krabi, your M.O. is to avoid the tourist traps, you’re into snorkelling, and you’ve got the time to spare (you do burn more or less an entire day just travelling there and back), do yourself a favour and go to Lipe (aka, “The Maldives of Thailand”) and the best off-the-beach snorkelling in the country.

Below is a review video I shot for a snorkeling gear company filmed on location in Koh Lipe. We had fantastic visibility. You can read the full mask and gear review if you like.

Thung Kai Botanical Gardens

This one is actually in Trang (not a province most foreigners visit), but it’s close enough to Krabi Town that it’s something you could do in a day. 

You definitely need a scooter (or rental car) for this one, though. None of the local tour operators go here. 

It’s a wonderful, very easy trail that snakes through a very small, though nonetheless beautiful, remnant of lowland jungle and peat swamp in a province whose land has otherwise been almost totally sacrificed to palm and rubber. 

beautiful peat swamp lowland forest habitat in the Trang Botanical Garden in Trang, Thailand

The highlight is definitely the slightly sketchy canopy walkway. 

canopy walkway in the trang botanical garden in trang thailand.

Do plan on a scooter ride of around 2.5 hours there and back if you want to visit this place, some of which is nerve-racking Thai highway driving, but there are also plenty of backroads you can take. Get a data plan at 7/11 if you are going to be doing any motorbike exploring and try to take backroads whenever possible.

Wrapping up

Well, that’s it. If any of this has struck you as terribly elitist and arrogant, all I can suggest is that you become a bit more discerning. Thailand gets a bad rap as a prime example of distasteful mass tourism, and for good reason: much of what’s on offer is designed for the lowest common denominator punters out there. 

It bothers me that a) so many people come to a place as beautiful and culinarily exciting as Krabi and are content with what’s thrust in their faces by tour agencies selling the most generic, surface-level experiences in the province and tacky tourist trap restaurants waving menus around and b) so many of the “best of” and “top X” lists presuming to instruct visitors on how to spend their time and money while visiting Krabi recycle the same content at the top of the search results over and over offering little of value. 

The Emerald Pool, the hot springs, the Tiger Temple, Phi Phi, the 4 Island Tour, Bond Island, and the rest of the stuff you see on the tour agency pamphlets around Krabi are, IMO, lesser experiences (or flat out not worth it).

Unless you’re 21 and came to Thailand to party, I can say definitively that if you’re disgusted by mass tourism, 100% stay away from Ao Nang. It’s an abomination and not real Thailand–you can have the same experience in Playa del Carmen, Crete, Mallorca, Cartagena, etc. 

There are other places that are worth finding out about and exploring around Krabi, but if I told you about them, then I’d have to share them with you. 

A few commonly asked questions about traveling to Krabi

What is Krabi best known for? 

Is there a lot to do in Krabi? 

Is Krabi worth visiting now? 

Is two days enough time in Krabi?