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Once upon a time in Krabi

Once upon a time in Krabi - Krabi Magazine article

According to archaeological evidence, particularly the many cliffs and caves that are marked with stone tools, ancient colored pictures, beads, pottery and skeletal remains, it is thought that the area of Krabi province has been home to Homo Sapiens since 25,000–35,000 B.C.

There are two legends mentioning the meaning of Krabi. The first had it that villagers presented a large ancient sword (“krabi” in Thai) they discovered to the governor. They also did the same thing when a smaller one was found later, so they were placed crossing each other in the cave named Khao Khanap Nam. This was the origin of the province’s emblem.

The second legend had it that Krabi was derived from a name of a local tree, Lumphi. The Malay and Chinese merchants made its pronunciation slightly corrupted and became Ka-lu-bi or Kho-lo-bi, which finally turned to Krabi.

Krabi’s political and administrative structure was changed many times before becoming today’s Krabi Province. In 1901, Krabi center was moved from Ban Hin Khwang to Pak Nam, the location of Krabi Town today. The transition from a far flung ghost town to a thriving tourism center took a surprisingly short time. The future of Krabi depended on the people who live and work in the province and on how the current generation copes with changing situation and responds to opportunities.

Fifty years ago, Krabi represented nature through its vast and lush jungle and was an agriculture field specialized in growing rice and also a fishing platform with numerous sea products. Krabi was unknown from tourists unlike Phuket and Koh Samui at the time.
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Around 1975, Americans began to arrive in Krabi.  Some of them belonged to the American Peace Corps who came to teach English and others were Baptists whose purpose was to extend Christianity. They used to stay in temples because they were no hotels or resorts at the time. After spending some time in Krabi they started to spread the word to their families and friends back in the USA about this undiscovered place and its beauty. At first, most of the foreigners that came to visit Krabi were American and little by little they began coming from all around the world.

This is how, thirty years ago, Krabi started to become as popular as Phuket but with much less accommodation facilities and buildings – allowing the province to preserve its authenticity as a prime example of nature in southern Thailand. Around this time, the burgeoning tourism industry began to overtake agriculture and fishing to become the main source of revenue for the Krabi Province.

Krabi Then and Now Krabi Then and Now
The only restaurant in Ao Nang at this time was Wanna’s Place, owned by Khun Wanna and her husband Stephan. The following year, they built nine bungalows to welcome the tourists, called the Ao Nang Beach Bungalows, more known today as the L Living Resort which is now currently extending to fifty two rooms. Another accommodation was available at the time, Ao Nang Villa which started the business with only a few bungalows. The first hotel that was built in Ao Nang was Krabi Resort that opened with only a few rooms. These were the three accommodations in Ao Nang able to welcome tourists.

Ten years later, the city has been confronted with more and more backpackers coming to visit and explore the gem of the Andaman Sea which lead to a surge of development in the area. Even if Krabi were more developed, its administration wanted to keep its “genuineness”, and this is why no high buildings were constructed – only low hotels and bungalows were built in order to promote Thai hospitality among the indigenous nature and palm trees. However, there was no airport at the time, all the tourists who wanted to come to Krabi had to land in Phuket and then come to Krabi by bus or car which was not convenient. This is why the major’s part of Krabi’s development was to build an airport. Krabi International Airport was constructed in the 90s and has become an important window for Krabi’s tourism.

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According to Khun Chuan Phukaoluan, the Head of the Krabi Developmental Policy Advisory Committee, eighty years ago the population of Krabi was just over four thousand. “There were many more wild animals in our vast jungles, to go to Bangkok we had to travel via Trang. The wealthy people sent their kids to study in Penang which took three days to reach. Nowadays it takes only six hours” he said. And he added “I believe that a prosperous town needed an airport and pushed to have one around 1975-1976. The airport was greatly expanded after 1991 in anticipation of the big tourism push. I invested in the first resort in Krabi at that time and now members of my original staff are valuable human resources for the Krabi tourism industry”.

Nowadays, it seems to be more complicated to preserve the genuine side of Krabi because of all the investments made by Thai and foreigners, especially in the real estate business. More and more hotels and condominiums are being built.  On the one hand it is a good way to attract tourists and offer them all the amenities that they need during their stay but on the other hand it compromises Krabi as a haven of nature and peace. Even if the prices have been increasing for fifteen years now, Krabi is more interesting for the investors than Phuket and Koh Samui because it remains less expensive despite everything.

The real estate business is not the only industry interested in Krabi’s beauty – the film industry is also an important source of income for the province. A lot of movie producers come to Krabi to film scenes or even entire movies from all around the world. One of the first movies to be filmed in Krabi was Cutthroat Island in 1994 and starring Geena Davis and Matthew Modine. But the most famous movie that brought Krabi to the international stage was in 2000 the American movie “The Beach” starring Leonardo Di Caprio. The crew stayed in Krabi for 3 months which was a great opportunity for most of the hotels, restaurants and storekeepers of the area. One part of the movie was filmed in Krabi Town (to represent Khao San Road) and the other part, the major one, was shot in Maya bay in Koh Phi Phi. This movie has opened the Province to the world and made it famous thanks to scenes that highlight Krabi’s amazing treasures such as white sandy beaches surrounded by luxuriant vegetation and those now iconic limestone cliffs.

Forty five years ago, the only way to go to Koh Phi Phi was by fishing boat. There were no passenger’s boats at the time such as longtail boats, speedboats or ferries. These days, and particularly after the release of the movie “The Beach”, Koh Phi Phi has lost its authenticity and has become very crowded. The island offers a lot of different accommodation options, from bungalows to five stars resorts. Some of the locals think that Koh Phi Phi has been ruined by tourist crowds and all the investments there.

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Krabi Province is being developed with a wide range of places to stay from small bungalows to five star prestigious resorts. Most accommodations are located around the beach areas of Ao Nang, Railay and Phra Nang with some small local hotels in the provincial capital, Krabi town. Over the past twenty years, Krabi has turned from a backwater village into a renowned province where public infrastructures have been improved to the point of being at the forefront of national development, especially the International Airport.

“We are building a bridge between the two Lanta Islands and in the process of setting up Andaman University, the first University on the west coast of the Thai peninsular. An important agenda for the future is to build a community that knows how to live together, to cooperate and be responsible for the environment and nature conservation efforts to keep Krabi as the Emerald of the Andaman far into the future” said Khun Pichase Phanwichartkul, a Member of Parliament, Krabi Province.