We go island hopping in Thailand and falls in love with the white sands and emerald waters

It is easily one of the best days of my life. Hundreds of fish in different colours — yellow with black stripes, tiny black ones, dotted and in ornamental blues, olive green sea urchins and more — swim around me in circles. I am breathing through a snorkel, as an amazing new world rushes towards me in the clear waters across layers and layers of coral reef mountains. I resurface, and dwell on the buzzing marine life just beneath the calm sea.

Snorkelling at Chicken Island on the Andaman Sea in Krabi is an experience that will last a lifetime. I feel humbled as I leave the sea behind and climb on to the speed boat. The sun is blazing and tour guide Matt appears with sliced pineapples and watermelons. We dig in hungrily.

This is Day 2 of a trip that began when we met at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport, from where we take AirAsia’s connecting flight (about one and half hours) to Krabi, 820 km away on the Andaman Sea. The trip is sponsored by AirAsia and Ao Nang Travel and Tour. Discovered in 1872 and spread across 4,708 sq.km, it is made of limestone mountains and strips of coastal plains. Krabi (meaning crossed swords) has pleasant weather from end-October to April, prime season for tourists, especially Scandinavians, who come here to sun on the beaches.

“Welcome to sunshine country,” greets Matt, as we start from Krabi airport to Nopparatara Pier, home to over 150 small islands. The 30-minute drive is green with endless rubber trees, plantain farms, and coconut groves. “Krabi is known for quality rubber, cashewnut, coconut, and plantains,” says Matt. He teaches us to say hello in Thai — sowadee krap to men and sowadee ka to women, with folded hands.

From Ao Nang beach by the emerald waters of the Andaman Sea, we board Ao Nang Princess, the ferry that takes us to Koh Lanta, the island of smiles. As the ferry sets sail, the summer breeze caresses my face and there’s an occasional splash of water, but what awes me are the island clusters with towering limestone cliffs. It is surreal, the rock formations sprouting from the sea, beautifully sculpted by nature into mindboggling shapes. Adding to the pleasure is coffee and strawberry cake. Koh Lanta is unspoilt, part of an archipelago of over 50 islands, and the place where The Beach and Hangover were shot. After lunch, we hit the West Coast Road and drive along the beaches (over a stretch of 30 km) for a tour of Mu Koh Lanta National Park. From the watch tower, we get a spectacular aerial view of the beach. “Koh Lanta is quiet and ideal for honeymooners,” says Somkait Subhate, director, Krabi Tourism Association.

The evening draws to a close with a visit to the Old Town, steeped in history. Hundreds of years ago, sea gypsies from Malaysia, Indonesia and China made this their home. Baan Yao, the 200-year-old wooden homes in traditional Chinese architecture, have dragon-shaped lanterns hanging from the eaves. Outside, locals sell dried mangoes, plums, apple and cherries, and ethnic bags, footwear, clothes, and knick-knacks. Fishing is the main occupation here, and Buddhists, Muslims and Chinese live in harmony.

Our itinerary advises us to ‘relax, sunbathe and enjoy water sports’ on Day Two. We do exactly that at Nopparatara Pier. We walk barefoot on the powdery white sand and take in the clear blue skies and the blue-green colours of the sea. It is hypnotising.

We head to Railay Beach from Chicken Island and Matt points to a gigantic limestone mountain that stands 100 ft above sea level. “There are more than 100 ways to climb that mountain,” he says, adding that it hosts climbing competitions every April.

At the historic Phra Naang cave on West Railey beach, Matt narrates a fascinating story of a childless couple who prayed to the serpent for a child. He granted the wish, but he wanted the couple’s daughter to be married to his son. However, Nang, the daughter, fell in love with a fisherman, and the parents prepared a wedding feast of sticky rice and invited their community members. This angered the serpent who spit poison on the feast and cursed the men to turn into stone. The 150 islands represent the cursed men while the serpent is the long, curving mountain range. The sticky rice turned into shell fossil. Fishermen believe the spirit of Nang lives in the cave and they pray here for good luck. When their wishes are fulfilled, they offer incense sticks, flowers and lingams.

“We preserve the local culture and people here love a peaceful and calm life,” says Ittirit Kinglake, president, Krabi Tourism Association. “Krabi is like family, please come back soon,” he adds. A few hours of street shopping, followed by a relaxing Thai body massage… life is bliss at Krabi.

How to get there

AirAsia now lets you book ferry transfers to Thailand’s popular Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and Koh Lipe islands when you book a ticket on www.airasia.com. Upon arrival, you get a transfer to the pier from where you can take a ferry ride to your chosen island.

Where to stay

Pilanta Spa Resort at Koh Lanta has 49 rooms with Jacuzzi, private swimming pool, and separate massage section. Check it out at www.pilanta.com

Princeville Resort and Spa on Ao Nang beach has honeymoon suites and rooms in traditional and contemporary styles with a fabulous view of sunsets on the beach. Check it out at www.aonangprinceville.com

What to eat

Deep-fried whole sea bass, stir-fried crab with curry powder, deep-fried prawns with tamarind sauce, broccoli with fried shrimp, and stir-fried squid with sweet chilli paste. Try Laanta Seafood Restaurant in Koh Lanta, Sand Sea Restaurant on the East Railey Beach and Kanambnam View, a floating seafood restaurant and fish farm, in Krabi.

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