If I were ever tortured, my captors would break me by playing the morning music from the elementary school next door.
— Dan, after the fifth straight day of waking up at 7:15 AM to enjoy a 45-minute syrupy Thai musical loop resembling “It's a Small World After All” followed by a live, 15-minute booming drum and bass cadence used to drive a herd of students to their seats.
For the second year in a row we've returned to the town of Krabi, one of our favorite southern Thai venues, for a little Krabi-style eating, catch-up and beach time.
What's changed in Krabi since last year?
1. School's in Session
On our first morning in Krabi, Dan jumped out of bed – camera ready – thinking there was a Chinese New Year parade taking place outside.
No, there was no Chinese New Year parade. We learned the hard way that school happens to be in session this time of year. The elementary school next door chooses to start each school day (including Saturday) in the manner described at the top of this post. Bizarre and mind-numbing. Truly.
If that’s not enough, the afternoon sometimes features Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” wailing through the loudspeakers. How this is relevant to a bunch of elementary school children is beyond us.
We've asked others if all this constitutes standard practice at Thai schools. Fortunately – for the Thais and the rest of the planet – the answer is “No.” It's only coincidence that our favorite place to chill out and catch up happens to be adjacent to some kind of twisted experiment in primary education.
“Why not change guest houses?” you ask? Good Dream Guesthouse works for us on every other front that a marching band alarm clock every morning can't drive us away.
Last time we visited Krabi (April 2007), we weren’t even aware of the school next door. Local schools were on break then, in observance of Songkran (Thai New Year and Water Festival).
Note to selves: Next visit to Krabi must coincide with a break in the school year.
2. Real Men Make Roti
Another item on our “dreaming of eating in Krabi” list: roti at the Muslim Restaurant on Prudsa Uthit Road. Think of roti as a Malaysian pancake or crepe. Although we have yet to visit Malaysia (we head there tomorrow), we find it hard to believe that the roti there could be any better, but we remain open-minded.
We were dismayed to find that the daughter who shepherded our previous roti experiences wasn’t around. Half our fun here consisted of watching her work the dough, fry the roti and pound the finished product in cloth to remove any excess oil. We console ourselves with the thought that she’s probably in school getting an education.
Her mother and father took her place. Particularly with the father, we were skeptical. But, it turns out that the roti-making gene was passed down through the generations. Although the energy of the father’s roti-making method did not quite measure up to his daughter’s, his result was similarly good.
3. Soup's On, But It Moved
So our favorite soup stand moved.
“Big deal,” you say.
Fair enough perhaps, but khanom jeen (or kanom jeen) is not your mother’s chicken soup. Made from a light curried fish reduction, fresh vermicelli noodles and an optional dollop of sweet peanut soup – and served with a trayful of fresh and pickled vegetables – it’s still one of the simplest and finest soup experiences we’ve ever known.
So perhaps now you understand our worry when we learned that the owners of the soup stand were given the boot by their sidewalk landlord. The stand was nowhere to be found during Chinese New Year. Luckily, it was just taking a break for the holidays. The soup ladies are back in action on Krabi's main street (Maharat #111) in front of a jewelry shop and next to Pornprasert Pharmacy on the corner of Maharat Soi #10.
This time we tried some of their fish cakes steamed in banana leaves. A little too much on the gelatinous side for Audrey's texture preferences, but the taste was spot on – fresh fish and a bit of coconut milk with a mild zip to balance things out.
4. New Breakfast Joints
Due to a motorbike accident, Good Dream’s breakfast cook was unavailable for a week. So we ventured out a bit more than usual in order to keep from starving. Here's what we found:
Relax Cafe on Chaofa Road (at the corner of Uttarakit Road): An extensive breakfast menu with all the basics (eggs and toast), egg on croissant sandwich, and new to us, Welsh rarebit. Their version features an open-faced ciabatta sandwich with egg, cheese and mustard and optionals like mushrooms. All very good. Lattes and cappuccinos are the best in town. If you go later in the day, the tuna melt and chicken satay sandwiches on ciabatta bread do well to fill any western traveler's craving for an authentic sandwich.
89 Cafe on Chaofa Road (up the hill from the corner with Uttarakit Road): We don't know what yogurt or muesli brands they are using, but it definitely works. The best in town. The drip coffee is pretty good for big-cup coffee and the American Breakfast (eggs, toast, meat, juice, coffee) is similarly a good deal.
5. New Favorites at Good Dream Guesthouse:
- Red curry fried rice: More of a dry curry than a coconut milk-based curry, it’s served with a hearty portion of rice (50-60 Baht). Although a bit more expensive than the night market, dry curries here are chock-full of meat (whichever you choose – we prefer the tender squid), or you can go vegetarian if you like. Red curry is our favorite. If you’d like to pull back on the spice, go for the green curry.
- Indian curry: Made with coconut milk like other Thai curries, the Indian-style curry features red curry paste as a base, but adds a dose of yellow curry powder (that’s a guess) to set it apart from the other local curries.
Some Things Don't Change
- The night market on Maharat Soi 10 is still a Thai curry fiend's dream and features more than 50 curry choices in the span of 20 meters. Our favorite market curries still include shrimp and long bean, greens and taro in coconut milk, and Penang pork. The price is the same: 25-40 Baht ($0.80-$1.30) for a plate of rice with two types of curry on top. Finish off your meal with a tray of sweet papaya (10 Baht/$0.30) or mango and sticky rice (25 Baht/$0.80).
- Viva Restaurant on 29 Prudsa Uthit Road still churns out authentic pizzas from a wood-fired oven and home-made pastas (tagliatelle and ravioli). It retains the prize for the best Italian food in town. Yes, we’ve tasted some of the others (Bolero and Firenze), but Viva still easily comes out on top.
Krabi Travel Information: Accommodation, Food and Transport
- How to get there: We flew Air Asia from Bangkok to Krabi (about 1 hour). Taxes and fuel surcharges are often the same price as or more than the ticket. We paid around $50 per person for a one-way ticket, including taxes. Watch your stuff at airport security in Bangkok.
- Transport from Krabi airport: Once you arrive at Krabi airport, you have the choice of a taxi (around 360 Baht) or a bus (90 Baht per person). While the bus from the Krabi airport to Krabi town is cheaper per person, it drops you off on Chaofa Road away from the center of town where several men are waiting to “help” you make reservations at over-priced guesthouses where they have connections. If you already have a reservation, they will drop you off – rather begrudgingly – at the guesthouse of your choice, but they will continue their sales pitch for other guesthouses until the end. Don’t be surprised if they feign both hearing loss and short-term memory loss and ask you repeatedly where you are staying. This is a scam – the Krabi taxi scam – and is a direct result of the Krabi taxi mafia’s corrupt grip on the Krabi airport and the government officials who dole out permits to operate there. Our recommendation: find yourself some people to fill a taxi and split the cost. Per person, the cost will be the same as the bus, but you’ll avoid extra time and frustration.
- Where to stay: We were welcomed back to Good Dream Guesthouse by owner Bryan Rilinger. The rooms are still a good deal and an additional wi-fi router/repeater means that all air-con rooms downstairs (450 Baht/$14) now get a strong wi-fi signal. The atmosphere and food are as relaxed and pleasant as ever. Address: 83 Uttarakit Road, email: [email protected], phone: 075 622993
- Where to eat: Krabi knows no shortage of excellent eating options. See above and our previous post, Krabi’s Cheap and Divine Eats.
- What to do: Check out the nearby beaches and enjoy the laid back atmosphere of Krabi town.