IN Krabi, for some reason, there are no Krabi t-shirts. There are, however, plenty of Phuket t-shirts, which makes you wonder if local merchants are suffering an identity crisis or to them, a beach is a beach is a beach, whatever it's called.
But those who go to Krabi know that the two beach spots are as different as chalk and cheese. For one, Krabi is Thailand's oldest district - judging from the archaeological artefacts found in its caves - and has a wonderfully alluring natural charm about it.
Located 814 km south of Bangkok and along the powdery beaches of the Andaman coast, it retains plenty of its ancient, natural beauty, from dramatic cliff formations, rich marine life and clear waters to verdant forests. And - contrary to belief, the Phi Phi islands actually form part of Krabi's 130 islands, and not Phuket's.
For those who love Phuket's beaches but not its blatant commercialism, Krabi is a dream come true. It isn't glitzy nor does it feel touristy, with its residents seemingly more laid-back, while businesses are much smaller than those in other Thai tourist destinations.
The so-called main shopping district in Krabi town, for instance, has only one large store - the intriguingly named Vogue Department Store - which is really a local joint. Tourists will shop at Ao Nang - a quieter, saner and more relaxed version of Phuket's Patong night market.
With no shopping to speak of, one is left to focus on the province's true attractions - its natural heritage.
Our first stop was the Tha Pom River, which flows from the foot of Phanom Bencha mountain and leads to the Andaman sea. It's a peaceful nature trail 700 m long, which normally takes 45 minutes to trek through, except that some parts are now inaccessible due to poor maintenance.
Next up is Tiger Cave Temple (so-named because tigers used to live here) - the biggest in Krabi town and built into a wooded valley surrounded by high cliffs and lots of very cheeky monkeys. The primates seem undeterred by a life-sized, eerily realistic wax replica of its current 65-year-old abbot sitting in the main temple hall.
'Actually, I'm not very comfortable with this,' admits our middle-aged local guide. He was referring to the abbot's newly-built, devotee-funded bungalow on the temple grounds, not his spooky replica. 'I'm a Buddhist, and I don't like it when the temple becomes so commercial.'
But all thoughts of fund-raising - appropriate or otherwise - disappeared when we arrived at the Khlong Thom Hot Springs. Nestled in a foresty area, this is an unpretentious spot where water at between 40 and 42 degrees Celsius cascades over rocky slopes, and locals and tourists regularly soak in its therapeutic pools.
But what really caught our fancy, was a place marked Gastropod Fossil on the maps. Its Thai name - Susan Hoi - sounded just as fascinating.
This is a shell fossil beach - apparently there are only three places in the world where this geological phenomenon occurs and this is the only one by the sea - which is believed to have once been a large freshwater swamp. The theory is that the remains of its resident pond snails fossilized over millions of years, forming what looks like huge concrete-like slates today. It is only upon close inspection that you'll see how the slates are entirely composed of shells closely packed together. Pretty amazing stuff.
But equally interesting - for the foodie at least - is the menu at Kulakasai, a wooden restaurant built over a large pond. According to our guide, it's a favourite haunt for locals, but tourists are getting wind of it too.
On the menu are delicacies such as red ant's egg salad, fried crisp caterpillar, roasted wasp with salt and water bug shrimp paste sauce.
We pass on the exotic food and go with more familiar Thai dishes such as green curry prawn, steamed fish, stir-fried mixed vegetables and the lot. There was no pineapple rice but it was still the best meal we had on Krabi, costing just 600 baht for three persons.
Back at our base - the Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort - where more refined fare was available, there was more of nature to explore. The three-year-old, 246-room hotel is built over an 8-hectare property with a mangrove as part of its natural landscape.
Instead of the killer mosquitos you might think lurk in the mangrove, you'll spot mud crabs, fiddler crabs, mudskippers and estuary snake eels. In addition, the five-star hotel - the only one thus far on Krabi - also has the benefit of a lovely beach, resident baby elephant, Rara, and the excellent Mandara Spa with which to complete the picture perfect getaway.
Of course, there's also watersports - a big activity here, given Krabi's immense coastline and the sight of travellers arriving at the airport lugging sportsgear. The airport is currently woefully equipped to handle the crowds, but the scheduled opening of a new airport this year is a sign of even more to come.
By which time, you can probably expect to find a decent Krabi t-shirt, while at the same time hoping the place doesn't turn into yet tourist trap tainted by crass commercialism.
Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort is at 155 Moo 2, Nong Thale, Muang, Krabi 81000, Thailand. Tel: (66-75) 628-000, www.sheraton.com/krabi.