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The Southern town of Krabi is offering much more than sun, sand and sea as it becoming a Contemporary Art City


My first few hours in the Southern Thai province of Krabi leave me soaked and surprised. Soaked thanks to an unexpected downpour after an unusually dry spell, surprised because this resort on the South Andaman sea, a favourite with foreign tourists for its pristine beaches, is also a destination rich in art and culture.

Earlier this month, Krabi celebrated the 144th anniversary of its founding with a cultural festival that highlighted not just its own traditions and identity but also featured cultural performances from the 14 provinces of the Southern region as well as elsewhere in the world, with delegations from Indonesia, Korea, and Croatia also taking part. 


Krabi town is also home to a wealth of fascinating sculptures, many of them decorating the stop signs at major intersections. Among them are stone depictions of ancient folk people perched on top of the traffic lights and an eagle, lion, tiger and elephant looking on benevolently as cars and pedestrians cross the street. The best known is probably the mud crabs sculpture near the Tara public park, which is also a scenic viewpoint. From here visitors can enjoy the backdrop of river life in the Krabi estuary while taking in Khao Kanab Nam, the two mountains roughly 100 metres tall that sit on both banks of the river at the entrance to the city. 



Going further into town, I spot a large dinosaur guarding the Andaman Cultural Centre and Andaman Beads Museum.

"They have very interesting exhibitions here, you should definitely check them out," says my friend, a proud resident of Krabi, and my chauffeur for this trip to the South. 

A member of the museum's staff tells me that the dinosaur is a gimmick to draw visitors. It works too, bringing in both residents and visitors to admire the interactive exhibition that elaborates on the intriguing history of Krabi which, along with Ranong, Phang Nga, Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat was once an important production centre for fashionable beads exported to the global market. 


The unearthing of several rare beads in the area has given rise to the belief that Krabi was the main and most important production centre in the region. Among the finds are the rare yet precious Suriya Dev Mu, red Indian face beads dating back some 2,000 to 3,000 years that were excavated in Klong Thom district. Other beads produced in the area include bird and sunburst glass beads, banded beads, black-and-yellow tubular glass beads and Sankalok beads in varying shapes and sizes among them spherical, square cylinder, carambol, melon glass, quill hexagonal and collared. 


The Andaman Cultural Centre is more contemporary in nature and exhibits a range of artworks by well-known Thai, Asian and international artists, among them Tawan Dutchanee and Kamol Tassananchalee. There is also an intriguing exhibition of Muslim art that reflects on the ongoing long conflict in the three southernmost provinces. 

Big name artists are occasionally invited to exhibit their works here as a way of keeping art alive in Krabi and fulfilling the municipality's mission of turning the town into the regional centre for art and culture. 



Behind the City Hall is the Krabi Historical Wall built to celebrate the region's immense historical importance. The wall features 28 panels illustrating important historical records, legends and identity. An art and cultural market is held in this pedestrian zone every Thursday from 3 to 9pm. 

The wall was built in 2013 following Krabi's selection by the Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC) as a model for the government's Contemporary Art City Development project, which aims to create a new category of tourist destinations. 

And as I discovered, that artistic development doesn't just tell stories of the past but also lifts the veil on the city's future as the cultural capital of the south. 




IF YOU GO

+ The Andaman Cultural Centre is on Maharaj Road (Sculpture Road), Mueang district, Krabi and is open daily from 10 to 4.30. Admission is currently free. A fee will probably levied following the official opening, though no date has yet been set.

Published in The Nation on 25 May 2016
http://www.nationmultimedia.com/travel/Destination-Culture-30286649.html