Krabi History



Krabi is old.

Once you travel through the area, you will understand why—for eons—living creatures have wanted to hang out in Krabi. It’s a great place.

Places to visit, if you are interested in history:

  • Andaman Museum: Maharat Road in Krabi Town
  • History Wall: Behind Provinical Hall on Chao Fah Road
  • Khlong Tom Temple Museum: Main highway Khlong Tom District Town
  • Museum of Muang Lignite: Electric Generating Authority, Nua Khlong District
  • Provincial Museum: At main Khlong Jilat Pier [to open in 2015]
  • Fossil Beach: At Ao Naam Mao near Ao Nang

The geological base of the Malay Peninsula is the oldest limestone land bridge in the world. A large coral reef bordering a central granite ridge was exposed during the last Ice Age when the sea level dropped dramatically. The resulting Sundaland linked mainland Asia with the Malaysian and Indonesian islands in one landmass, which as the sea rose again, created the island archipelagos and elongated peninsula.

At one point in the development of the Malay Peninsula, much of Krabi was under the surrounding sea. A new site of fossilized sea life has recently been found high on the western slopes of Phanom Bencha Mountain. These fossils have been tentatively dated at 300 million years—going way back into the Permian Epoch of the Paleozoic Era.

The Shell Cemetery, between Krabi Town and Ao Nang district, boasts that its gastropods are 35 million years old, and is the world's only coastal site of such shells. 

The world’s earliest anthropoid fossils (Siamopithecus eocaenus—dated at 35 million years) were found in Krabi. Although this species was not an ancestor to humans, the discovery indicates that Krabi was home to higher-level primates and challenges (together with other discoveries in the region) the accepted theory that primates originated in Africa—a hotly debated subject.

Other data supports the theory that southern Thailand was directly on the route of the migration of the earliest Homo sapiens from Africa into Southeast Asia and on to Australasia, predating their appearance in eastern Asia—another major controversy.

Krabi also has the longest documented history of human habitation in Thailand. Archeological excavations in the Lang Rongrien (Behind the School) rockshelter site at Baan Thap Prik (on the way to Huay To waterfall at Khao Phanom Bencha National Park) have uncovered evidence of a long-term Homo sapiens presence beginning 40,000+ years ago, with continuous habitation into historic times. In another cave site, Moh Kiew, fewer than 4 kilometers away across the foothills of Phanom Mountain to the east, the lower jaw of a Homo sapiens female was discovered, dated at around 30,000 years.

Krabi’s existence during recorded history comes mostly from sources outside of Thailand for the early centuries. In the earliest period from 3rd until the 13th century, Krabi was part of the Srivijaya Empire with Chaiya (in present-day Surat Thani, 155 kilometers north of Krabi) as a regional capital for the north. A minority view, which is gaining in credibility, postulates that Chaiya, rather than Palembang in Sumatra, was the original capital of Srivijaya and remained one center of a federation of Srivijaya city-states.

The Srivijaya Empire’s strength and power came from its control of the sea trade between China and India, Ceylon, and the Middle East. Srivijaya was in the middle of the southern maritime Silk Road (See map at bottom of page). Over the centuries, Srivijaya’s influence expanded to include the waters and coastal towns of most of Southeast Asia, which were key to this trade. Both the east and west coasts of the Malay Peninsula were important as transit areas.

In the early Srivijaya centuries, Hinduism was predominant. Then Vajrayana Buddhism (or Tantric Buddhism) spread throughout this region, well before it was introduced into Tibet. Mahayana Buddhism followed, which was supplanted by Theravada Buddhism, which is the form still practiced. Significant religious items have been discovered in sites ranging from Chaiya down to the Malaysian border and across the peninsula to Takuapa, Krabi, and Trang.

Srivijaya’s influence extended to Java where Borobudur was built by a Srivijayan king, and into Cambodia where Srivijaya connections and influence were strong in the early part of the development around Angkor Wat. Srivijaya influence can also be seen in northern Thailand.

The 8° latitude, which runs through Krabi and Phuket, marks the best point to catch the optimal winds to sail westward to the Nicobar Islands and on to India during the North-East monsoon and the return in the South-West monsoon. As such, the Krabi/Phuket/Phang-Nga area was an ideal place to sit out the doldrums when sailing was not possible.

As ships got bigger, more seaworthy and able to travel further, this area was a jumping-off point for swinging up to enter the 10° Channel between the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, a major shipping route between China, the Malay Peninsula, India, and beyond. This made the protected Phang-Nga Bay area around Krabi an excellent location for provisioning and loading goods before crossing the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, or for moving south on the return trip.

Krabi was also the starting point for 3 of the 4 major, ancient, trans-peninsular land routes connecting the west with the east coast Near Chaiya (ancient Pan Pan) on the Bay of Bandon in Surat Thani. The products would have included aromatics, medicines, dyes, and spices; food-stuffs, wood, and textiles; gems and ornaments; metals; and plant and animal products. (The other route, taking a higher route through mountains, connected Takuapa in northwestern Phang Nga with Chaiya). 

Archeological digs in Ao Luek, Nua Khlong, and Khlong Thom District have uncovered a variety of items of Silk Route trade items. Each of these Krabi districts would have been at the start/end of a different low-level route.

The Chinese book Chu-fan-chi ("Description of the Barbarous Peoples") written around 1225 (and supported by other Sung documents) mentions 2 Srivijaya dependencies on the northern Malay Peninsula: Tan-ma-ling and Kia-lo-hi. The first is Tambralinga (Nakorn Sri Thammarat), and other evidence suggests that the second is Krabi. A later Chinese Map (1433) states that Krabi was referred to as Kien-pi, which may refer to Grahi of Chaiya in the 12th century.

An inscription on a Buddha Image created in 1183 in Chaiya (now in the National Museum in Bangkok) states that the Maharaja ordered the governor of the “country of Grahi” to make the image.

It is interesting that this place name associated with the area around Chaiya is so close to the modern Krabi and raises the possibility that it is the true source of the name. The conventional wisdom states that there are 3 other possible origins for the word relating to monkeys, swords, and the mispronunciation of a local tree. (See these explanations.)

It is clear that the cultural base of Krabi, integral to the Srivijaya Empire, makes it part of the oldest major culture of Thailand.

The location of place names for the Southern Region is confusing, and various people have jumped to conclusions and drawn unsupported conclusions (including government bodies like the Krabi Municipality, which seems to delight in creating its own inaccurate story.)

Names like Bantai Samoe (Baan Thai Samor) and Takola are thrown around as referring to places Krabi. There are old maps which support the view that Takola was on the coast of present-day Krabi, but the evidence is far from conclusive. Nobody can say where Bantai was, or explain why the location name no longer exists.

Probably due to the presence of abundant farming land, the main population centers were on the east side of the Peninsula in Chaiya and Nakorn Sri Thammarat (and later Songkhla). Each supported a major religious center.

Later, as part of the Kingdom of Ligor based in today’s Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Nakorn was one of the 8 major cities of the Kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, which ruled over a large part of the Malay Peninsula.

During this period, Krabi developed a reputation as a good source for elephants. A major kraal was built. Elephants were always important to leaders, as they were a major element for success in their various battles to control territory. A vizier from Nakorn Sri Thammarat was sent to oversee the territory.

Charcoal production also became an important cottage industry with kilns dotted across the coastal areas. Until the introduction of cooking gas, charcoal was the primary source of cooking fuel for most of Thailand, and Krabi was a major source.

Charcoal from mangrove trees is the best there is. Its size is perfect, not requiring much trimming. Mangrove tree charcoal burns longer and hotter (because of salt content) than other woods. (All kilns were closed by the government 20 years ago when they prohibited the harvesting of mangrove trees for any purpose.)

Krabi comprised three areas: Pakasai (in present-day Nua Khlong), Khlong Pon (in Khlong Thom District), and Pak Lao (Ao Luek District). With the Pakasai sub-district as the center, the area was administered from Nakorn until 1875 when it became an independent province by decree of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, with its provincial seat at Baan Talad Kao (5 kilometers north of the present center). The provincial offices moved to the current location on the Krabi River in 1900. 

Fishing continued to be important source of income. When rubber was introduced to Thailand from Malaya, it became the most important product in the local economy. In the 1960s, oil palm plantations were planted so now Krabi has the largest acreage in the country. Tourism as a significant industry only developed in the late 1980s.

It is amazing, given this history that there is not more to show—Krabi’s heritage is hidden. She now relies on her gracefully aging Mother Nature to entice visitors.

Computerized Reconstruction of Jaw
of Siam Ape Found in Lignite Beds in
Krabi's Pakasai Area
Dated at 35,000,000 Years Old

From Museum of Muang Lignite (Electric Generating Authority)
Interpretive Drawing of Siam Ape,
Siamopithecus eocaenus

                                                        Drawing by Sumit Sutibut
Roman Coin (Reign of Antonius Pius 138-161)
 Found in Khlong Thom, Krabi

                                                         Photo from Siam Museum
Beads Found in Khlong Thom Representing
the Hindu Sun God, Surya Dev

                                        Photo Courtesy of Tourist Organization
Grahi (Grabi) Buddha Image from Chaiya
(12th Century)

                                                   Photo from National Museum
Grahi (Grabi) Buddha Image Detail

                                                 Photo from National Museum
Wat Kaew in Chaiya, a Srivijaya Era Temple
Constructed in the Early Years of the
Introduction of Buddhism into the Region

Wikipedia Commons