Can you imagine to stay in a touristic Thai town, livable indeed, but with its cars, its traffic, with a daily life activity, its crowded shopping malls and its normal parking problems? And can you imagine that, starting from there, with just a few minutes boat trip, you can turn back the time and reach a place who is living a more traditional life style like it could be 40 years ago?
It may sounds quite strange for us, the westerns, which it could happen anywhere in the world, but here in Krabi this place exists. Just descend from the town to Tara Park, hire one of the many long tail boats, cross the Krabi river, get off in Koh Klang and you will see the hands of your watch scroll quickly backwards.
Just approaching the opposite coast of Krabi River you will soon realize that something is becoming different: an irregular bamboo canes fence to break waves caused by boats and protect the coast from erosion, the line of local boats parked and a host of wooden stilts, simple, as dictated by local tradition. The only reminder of the modern world is the wharf where mini ferries load and unload people and scooters. The turbans, the chador and the clothing of the fishermen, consumed by life and by the salt, take the place of jeans, t-shirts and shirts; The rhythms are slower, smiles seems to be more real and life flows more human.
Moving inward and looking at your back, you have the feeling that the world with its little miseries is moving away: spectacular sceneries made of palm trees, water buffaloes and white herons take over, by passing unnoticed that even here some changes are taking place and the wish of some comfort, especially in housing, is becoming a reality also here, but it is also evident the desire to keep their traditions alive. So, if you are lucky enough to arrive on the right day at the right time, you may run into a singing birds contest:
Dozens of wooden cages, each containing a “red-whiskered bulbul”, are lined hanging from a frame. Near the cages a couple of judges who observe carefully the performance of the winged little champions, a man sitting on the sidelines ahead of a basin of water calculates time with a prehistoric method and all around the audience formed mostly by owners of birds and several curious.
I have to admit that at my first attendance as a spectator I didn’t understand that much of the contest trend, I will go into, but what impressed me was that, despite the methods of judgment, anything but scientist, I did not notice any doubts or hints of dispute. The little winner won for his master the sum of 500 baht, showing also that his market value of about 50,000 baht is not usurped.
Koh Klang is a charming, peaceful island, not a “paradise” of white sandy beach, but a traditional fishing community where visitors can see the living relationship between islanders and the sea. Is populated mainly by Muslim and Islam is the center of local life so that prayers and Islamic festivals are devotedly observed. The majority of the inhabitants works in the agriculture, most of them are fishers and rice farming is considered one of the highlights of the island due to the quality of the rice.
Koh Klang is in fact the land of the traditional hi-quality strain of brown rice called “Khao Sang Yot” generated by rice seeds coming from Patthalung Province and grown in a soil where fresh and salt water find their perfect balance. Farmers conserved the practice and the spirit of rice farming, working together in the fields, side by side, to plant, usually in August, and harvest normally in December.
Artisans are another expression of the culture of Koh Klang’s people. Proceeding by tuk tuk inside the island, there are two places that should not be missed.
Mr. Sombun Mankha workshop is a place where the art of building “Hua Tong”, the local long tail boat, is handed down from the memory of the past to the new generations. His father, Mr. Matdap, was a master boat builder for over 50 years and when in 2002 Krabi’s governor was looking for a unique souvenir to reflect the identity of the province, he suggested model fishing boat.
In the frame of his intention to preserve the memory of the past lifestyle of the resident, Mr. Sombun organized a group of boat builders to make model long tail boats and he is proud to have been able to pass the ancient father’s wisdom of boat building to the future generations.
Last time I went to the Island I couldn’t meet with him as he was in Bangkok, teaching his art in a university and this is the measure of his ability and his popularity.
Don’t call them batik, they are pateh and the custodian of this art form is Grandma Prachim Lekdam, whose ancestors came from Malaysia and due to her origins she decided to go to learn about pateh in Naratiwat province.
The difference between pateh and batik is in the pattern-making. In the production of pateh, metal blocks with intricate and complex designs are used, while for batik patterns are made with a tool called canting that contains hot wax for application on the clothes.
Designs of Grandma are inspired by nature and surrounding way of life and visitors can make their own experience in design by themselves their colorful souvenir. Like Mr. Sombun, Grandma Prachim established a group that now has 30 members who, besides the handing down of this art, provides an important income source in addition to fishing.
The islanders’ attention to their tradition has developed also a form of niche tourism which has found an attraction not only in the human aspect but even in its natural environment of caves, canals and mangroves forests that surround the whole island. A boat trip along the canal, before visiting the village, is a discovery in all the senses and allows the visitors to get a complete view of this little world and this ecosystem. Cruising along mangroves, besides the fish farm located here and there along the canal, can be seen birds, lizards, monkeys and, if you have a good sight, also some snakes twisted lazily to the mangrove roots. With the low tide on the mud will appear as if by magic small fishes, known as mud-skippers, able to “walk” on the sand and with them several species of crabs, including that “fiddler crab” with one of the claws much more developed than the other.
Through the fishing lifestyle and local Muslim culture, and making use of the rich natural resources surrounding them, the Koh Klang Villagers have an outstanding local community that has received numerous awards, including the “Outstanding Community Tourism Award” and the “Thailand Tourism Award” on the occasion of His Majesty the King’s Birthday Anniversary on December 5th 2007 by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).