The tour: Krabi Rainforest Tour + Elephant Trekking (click for itinerary and guide price)
The lowdown: This is a packed itinerary covering a lot of ground in a single day. You’ll be exhausted at the end of it, but if you have limited time it’s an excellent way to tick several boxes. The company who runs this tour also offers programs with various combinations of the items in the complete package we review here, so you can also apply the relevant parts of this report to the following tours:
- Elephant trekking
- Elephant trekking + Tiger Cave Temple
- Elephant Trekking + Hot Springs + Emerald Pool
- Hot Springs + Emerald Pool
- Krabi Rainforest Tour (Hot Springs, Emerald Pool + Tiger Cave Temple – no elephant trekking)
The details: we took this trip as part of the normal group tour on 28 March 2015 and all photos on this page are taken from this day / trip. You can click on the pictures to see bigger versions.
The first thing to note about this trip is that the itinerary order varies from day to day. The owner of the company tried to explain the various factors while we sat and waited for the minivan to arrive, but it was quite confusing. The bottom line is that this company runs several programs with various permutations of the same four activities – hot springs, emerald pool, Tiger Cave Temple and elephant trekking – so they plan the day according to how many people are booked for each and the available transport. Overall, it seemed fairly slick and well-run, and the timing is not critical to your enjoyment of the day; the only significant thing that is affected (on the full day tours only) is that lunch can be taken in one of two places – a lakeside restaurant near the elephant camp, or a restaurant next to the entrance of the Emerald Pool – depending on which one you are closer to at lunchtime; the food is similar at both.
On this particular day, we were informed by our guide, Nadja, we would be visiting the temple first, which was a short (15 min?) drive from Ao Nang.
There were 10 adults and 4 children in our group and we stayed together only during travel and at lunch.
TIGER CAVE TEMPLE
On arrival at Tiger Cave, Nadja gave what has unfortunately become a standard speech for guides in Krabi these days (all companies, all itineraries). It consists of informing guests in no uncertain terms that if we were not back at the appointed time, the rest of the group would leave without us and we would have to find our own way back. It’s not a great way to welcome people, but sadly it seems this speech is based on regular experience of people disrespecting guidelines and therefore spoiling things for the other people on their tour.
With that out of the way, it became a bit more friendly. We had an hour and a half here, which we found was just enough to get to the top of the viewpoint, take some pictures and admire the views, and head back again. The full day rainforest tour (without elephant trekking) gives you a bit more time here (2+ hours), which would be useful if you also wanted to explore other areas of this big complex – the caves, rainforest nature trail and various shrines, for example, which we didn’t get to see on this occasion. If you are not planning on doing the climb, all of these other things, plus watching the ever-entertaining monkeys (hide your snacks and cameras!), can be done instead in the alloted time.
After we were all back on the bus, it was time to head off the elephant camp. Water was handed out to help cool us down after the heat outside.
The camp was located around 15 – 20 mins drive away, in a palm oil plantation. It looked clean and tidy, with plenty of shade. The elephants were lined up, getting their post-trek treat of bananas from the group before us. We spotted an adorable baby elephant who was trying to sneak under all the trunks to get to the bananas.
This is a commercial camp, but one of the better run ones in Krabi – the mahout informed us they do a maximum of 6 x 30 minute walks per day. This can be compared with the 8-12 walks the pachyderms are made to do at other camps, which often results in injury. The hook is carried here, but was not used, at least during our trek.
We mounted the elephants via a big platform, accessed by easy steps (no ladder). Transfer is quite straightforward as it is at the correct height. After adjusting seating positions so that the chair was balanced, it was time to set off. The path lead steeply uphill first on what seemed like an impossibly muddy slope – but our elephant made light work of it, surefooted and steady. Turning around to see if the others were following, we caught a glimpse of a magnificent view through the trees.
The path came out at a lake, which was once a fishing park. This was the elephants’ favourite bit, as they all crowded around the side, sucking water up into their trunks and blowing it out over their backs (and our legs) – very refreshing! The little baby trotted alongside all the way, in and out of the legs, there was something so delightful and mischievous about her. The trek lasted around 30 minutes, which felt like the right time for us – and probably for the elephant too, as it is not too comfortable for either.
Back at the camp, it was feeding time. Baskets of bananas are available for sale at 60 baht, and it was fun to see how dexterous and gentle these creatures are, accurately picking the tiny fruit from outstretched hands. Photos of us on the elephants were already printed and ready for sale (optional) at 150 baht each. After a quick water break and a few last pictures, it was time to get back in the van.
EMERALD POOL & HOT SPRINGS
The Emerald Pool site, our next stop, was around 45 mins drive away, and most people took the opportunity to have a quick snooze! The heat is tiring and those who had done the climb at Tiger Cave were feeling it most. When we arrived, we went straight to the restaurant for lunch, at 1pm sharp. The crowds milling around were quite surprising as our last visit had been on a rainy day in low season, when the place was semi-deserted. Now there were large double-decker tour buses, and rows of minivans in the car park.
Our tables, arranged in a long line, were already set with the food – the guide Nadja had called ahead to let them know we were on our way so no time was wasted. Four dishes, including prawns, made this one of the better tour meals we have had. There was green curry with chicken; big prawns in sweet and sour sauce; chicken stir-fried with vegetables and cashew nuts; and the usual stir fried mixed veg with soy sauce. A big bowl of rice, and watermelon to finish. Nadja told us later that any vegetarians would get a different menu, if they were informed ahead of time.
45 minutes later we were at the entrance to the Emerald Pool site. We were given a bit of background info and possible routes to explore, without much detail, then we were left to our own devices for an hour and a half. The guides on these tours are fairly hands off, but most (like Nadja) are happy to chat if you approach them with questions. We took the shorter route through the forest and again, were surprised at the crowds when we reached the pool – it was Thai school holidays as well, which only adds to visitor numbers.
We had a nice swim, remembering to be careful around the very slippery edges. These also make exiting the pool highly undignified – think hauling yourself out like a seal! – as it is difficult to get a grip. Some people from the group had chosen to walk on to the Blue Pool, which is perfectly possible in the time allotted.
Around the main entrance to both the Emerald Pool and the Hot Springs, there are many vendors selling snacks, drinks and even full meals, so it’s easy to pick up a shake or an ice cream on your way out (food is not allowed inside). The guide allows time for this on the half day tours, when lunch is not included.
The Hot Springs were a 10 minute drive away, and we reached here around 3.30pm. This site was slightly quieter – at least when we arrived – and it was nice to end the day soaking in the hot water and gazing up through the leaves. Once you’ve reached your heat limit, you can jump down into the cool river at the bottom for a swim. We had 45 mins here, which was short, but probably enough.
The drive back saw every single person in the van (except the driver, guide and me) fast asleep within 15 minutes! We reached Ao Nang just after 5pm, absolutely exhausted but happy at having packed so much in to one day.