Away from the bright lights and noise of Krabi’s tourist strip, the secluded island of Koh Klang is a refuge of culture and quiet. Its focus on eco-tourism allows its few inquisitive visitors a perspective of Thailand that most tourists never get to see.
As the long-tail boat pulls away from Khong Kha Pier and its iconic giant crab statue, the mangrove looms closer – mysterious and somehow more tropical than the palm trees lining the beachside resort town of Ao Nang.
We’re heading for Koh Klang – literally ‘island in the middle’. This large island is right in the centre of the mangrove forest, facing Ao Nang across the broad opening to the Krabi River.
And like two sides of a coin, they couldn’t be more different.
Here’s our video of our time on Koh Klang:
Very few travellers make it to Koh Klang, which is the way the locals like it. Their focus is on eco-tourism and culture, and they’re happy to leave the partying and hedonism to the mainland.
Indeed, the 98% Muslim community here – something unsurprising the further south you travel in Thailand – means alcohol is not allowed, neither is pork nor inappropriate or immodest dress.
And as we pull up to the rickety wooden wharf, we meet our driver on Koh Klang and our ride – a tuktuk sidecar motorbike. There are no cars on the island’s narrow little roads.
We’re soon zooming through the lanes that cross flat farmland and dense jungle; the occasional water buffalo moping at us from its field or the even more occasional house sprouting from the trees.
Things to do on Koh Klang
English is not widely spoken on Koh Klang, but visitors seem to get by. Locals are welcoming and patient, and they’re keen to show visitors around.
They’re proud of their culture and heritage, and have worked hard at the eco-tourism approach.
This wax and dye art form is found all over the world, from Egypt to China and goes back thousands of years.
We’ve tried this before in Borneo – it’s very satisfying watching the dye bleed across the surface of the fabric to the edges of the wax.
But sitting the sunshine on this peaceful little island, the resident water buffalo keeping an eye on us makes this batik experience even more memorable.
This is also a workshop for professional artists, and you can see their work in the main building. There’s also a shop where you can buy their finished pieces and you get to keep your work too as part of the experience.
Sponsored by the World Vision Foundation of Thailand, the Batik Patek Housewife Group is locally run so that all the money they earn here stays with the workers.
Further down the road, we pull over again by a village of sorts. A simple collection of buildings, many with open walls and dirt floors, others with woven wicker and bare concrete.
The people here have set up a business similar to the batik group, though more rustic.
Here you learn to make tie dye – a traditional technique of the area. The women here use natural dye as well: tree bark, berries, roots, whatever they can forage from the local area.
By tying pieces of wood to folded fabric, boiling it in dye then soaking it in water to fix the colour, we make some beautiful patterns in the cloth.
You can also buy pieces from the racks – anything from shirts and scarves to tote bags.
This workshop and community store sells incredibly intricate model boats that the owner has made. They’re historic miniatures of the prawning boats his father once built, though these days modern motorboats are more common.
He also makes wooden muskets that fire balls of baked clay. I’m really surprised at how powerful and accurate these guns are.
Traditional rice production
We also stop in at a place that sells the rice from the island. The rice here is multicoloured – ranging from white to red – and is unique to the world.
You can also have a go at using traditional machines that de-husk and pound rice grains.
Do you know where cashews come from? We stop in at our driver’s friend’s place where there are three or four huge cashew trees in the garden.
I’m fascinated to learn that the nuts grow underneath a kind of pear-shaped fruit that are incredibly juicy and tasty. When they’re ripe the fruit turn bright red and are even sweeter than when they’re yellow.
The cashew nuts grow inside thick shells that are almost impossible to crack.
Back at the wharf, we board our boat with the voice of the call to prayer from one of the island’s four mosques resonating to the water’s edge. It’s been an unforgettable experience.
Getting to Koh Klang
From Khong Kha Pier, it’s only a 10-minute boat ride to the nearest point on the island. Longtail boats hold up to eight people and it costs TBH300 for a return trip.
You can hire a boat for longer if you want to explore more of the mangrove forest. This will cost around TBH600-800 depending on how long you want to sail for.
For more stories on Thailand, check out our guide to Ayutthaya – Thailand’s forgotten capital, 11 reasons to visit Chiang Mai and our romantic honeymoon itinerary in Thailand.
This region of southern Thailand started out as a tourist destination a couple of decades ago when regulars had had enough of over-tourism of Phuket across the bay.
They went in search of a new paradise and what they found was an untouched province surrounded by those dramatic karst islands and spectacular beaches Krabi is known for.
Of course Krabi – or more specifically Ao Nang – is now suffering at the same hands that shaped modern-day Phuket.
Koh Klang and its unchanged aesthetic are a subtle reminder that true authentic Thai experiences are never too far away, but also how different the area is now.
To think that this whole region once looked like Koh Klang is somewhat bitter sweet. It’s important that places like this still exist.