THAILAND In addition to the sun and sand, K. Jeshi finds the legends and stories irresistible as she goes island-hopping in Krabi

What joy! The Andaman Sea, all to myself. It’s dawn at Aonang Beach in Krabi, and the only sound is that of crashing waves. A morning walk on the beach turns out to be my favourite part of the day.

Beach cleaning

The first event on the sunny day is ‘Save Aonang Day’, a beach-cleaning initiative, and green T-shirts on volunteers scream ‘Less Pollution Best Solution’. In Krabi province (one of the 77 provinces in Thailand), organisations and individuals take up the beach-cleaning twice a year as part of corporate social responsibility.

Next, we take a long tail boat to the Khao Khanabnam Mountain, opposite a mangrove forest on Krabi River. The river runs between the mountains and into the sea. This makes it a unique fresh- and salt-water ecosystem. We take in the pollution-free air at Khao Khanabnam National Park, and stop to look at a 43,000-year-old human skeleton buried there. This marks the entrance to a cave on the mountain and seems like a good starting point to a journey back in time. Stone steps lead into the dark cave, where pre-historic men once lived. There’s an eerie calm, and we see stalactites and stalagmites. These are incredible natural formations, easily 30,000 to 35,000 years old, and revered as treasures.

Inside the cave, there is plenty of evidence of life in the form of human remains, seeds, shells, stone tools and fragments of pottery dating back as many as 43,000 years. The fossil of a primate is said to be nearly 40 million years old. It is also believed that Japanese soldiers took shelter in this cave during storms.

After lunch at a floating sea-food restaurant called Kanambnam View, which also has a fish farm, we photograph the gooey bubble fish and head to Koh Klang Island on a tuk tuk. The island has four villages spread over 6,000 acres and has a population of 5,000 people, with Muslims a majority. The scenery here is reminiscent of Kerala… lush green paddy fields, rubber plantations and plantain farms. On the island, we meet Prachim Lekdam or simply Mariam, who runs a batik outlet. She has an infectious smile, hugs us warmly, and leads us to her unit at the backyard. Batik’s a painstaking process involving waxing, painting and dyeing processes, and the result is sheer art. I buy a pink sarong, and wave goodbye to a smiling Mariam.

We shop at One Tambong One Product, a boat-shaped outlet that sells handicraft and food unique to Tambong, a sub-district on the island. There are fish pickles, dried prawns, salted cashewnuts as well as souvenirs.

Along the paddy fields, I spot a row of wooden cages, and sitting pretty inside one of them is a red-whiskered bulbul. “We call it the singing bird (Noh- Kong-Vah). Every house in South Thailand has one. We have an annual singing competition too for the birds,” says our tour guide Matt.

In the evening, we reach Wat Thumsua, a popular Buddhist temple on the limestone mountain. The story goes that a tiger once took refuge here, and the people began to refer to this spot as ‘the tiger cave’. When a venerable Buddhist monk led a group of monks and nuns to live there, the tiger is said to have left the cave and retreated into the Phanom Mountains.

The silence is calming. After we pass a number of golden statuettes of the Buddha in meditation, there are steps that lead you into a cave. There, a statue of a tiger stares at you. “You have to climb 1,237 steps to get to the top to see the footprint of the Buddha,” Matt announces. Though a view from the top seems worthy, we keep it for another day and proceed to Chao Mae Kuan Yim or the Temple of the Goddess of Compassion. A golden Kuan Yim (the princess) standing atop a dragon with a child on each side is amazing. I send up a silent prayer and then bid Krabi goodbye.

(The writer was in Thailand at the invitation of AirAsia)