Krabi’s ‘gastropod fossil’, also known as ‘shell fossil’, ‘fossil shell’ and ‘shell cemetery’ (in Thai: สุสานหอย), is signposted seemingly at all corners of the province. But what is it exactly and why can’t it be found on any tour itinerary?
The fact is that the shell fossil beach at Laem Pho, near Ao Nam Mao is a rather unremarkable-looking sight – “slabs of concrete” is a typical first impression. The slabs sit out at the end of a cape, on an unimpressive (for Krabi) stretch of coast. But give this place a chance: for (as the number of signs can testify) it is also a geological miracle, one of only three such sites in the entire world and the only one of those three to be found on the coast.
Look closely at the ‘concrete slabs’ and you will see thousands of tiny, fossilised snail shells, dwellers of the freshwater swamp that covered this area some 40 million years ago. The layers of shell have been compressed over time and are 40cm thick in places.
A rise in the sea level killed off the snails and other aquatic life; the subsequent fall revealed these remarkable shelly limestone layers in which scientists can now read the history of the region.
There is a small visitor centre at the site, giving further information, as well as a row of identical shops selling kitschy shell nick-nacks and pearl jewellery. Most of these items actually come from Phuket: keen shoppers should note that the pearls in particular are a fantastically good buy here (indeed they alone are worth the trip here if you are a fan of pearl jewellry): similar necklaces cost up to ten times this price in the tourist shops around Krabi. The pearls are all genuine: though the clasps are often bad quality, they are so cheap that they can easily be restrung at home.
During the day, there is an entry fee of 200 baht / adult and 100 baht / child to get up close to the fossils (they can be viewed at a distance for free). If you feel this is not worth it, after 4.30pm the ticket booths close and you can visit at no cost; an added bonus is that the sunsets from here are often spectacular.
Getting here: the shell cemetery is located at the end of the main Ao Nam Mao Road, GPS 8.022979, 98.883298