The ferry pier in Phuket was crowded when we got there – lots of twenty-somethings, waiting for the boat to Phi-Phi and two weeks of alcohol and sunburn punctuated hangovers. Our taxi driver, who had been worryingly following us through the crowds after having dropped us at the pier, now turned out to be a freelance tour operator and we managed to barter two tickets direct to Railay Bay for 300 baht under the going rate. He left and we immediately hot-footed it to the nearest ticket desk to check the authenticity of the tickets we’d just bought. They were fine and we grabbed a couple of chairs and laxed out for a couple of hours until our boat was ready.
Placid and sunny for our trip over – it took a couple of hours or so to make it to Krabi and we sat with our feet over the side of the boat, watching the occasional long-tail or island go slowly past and just loving the feel of the sun on us and the sense of space around us.
We transferred to a speed boat at Krabi as Railay was only just around the headland – a short trip, but when we got there, it was gorgeous. It was a great, sunny day, so everything looked even better, but as we hopped out into the shallows, there were shoals of tiny fish here and there in the crystal blue water. Groups of long-tail boats were lined up along the beach, coloured cloths and Thai writing on their bows and beyond them, the comparatively pale Europeans bobbing around in the water. The beach at Patong had been pretty nice – smooth sand and clear, warm water – a very welcoming first Thai beach experience for the trip, but in Patong, the beach was crowded to capacity – sun loungers and jet-ski touts, there was even a cordoned off area containing inflatables that you could muck about on for 200 baht. This, however was not oversaturated – there was a fair amount of people, but none of the claustrophobic, package holiday feel. This was a place to relax.
This wasn’t where our hotel was, though.. We transferred yet again to a long-tail, clambering in out of the water, flip-flops and backpacks in hand and headed back out across the bay to the other side.
Not quite a nice landing this time.. the majority of the beach was rocky and muddy, leaving us picking our way to dry land very carefully through sharp rocks and squelchy mud and feeling like when you board a plane and have to walk past all the premium seats before passing that curtain into cattle class and your own, constricting chair. Tired and (personally) with still a little left to recover from the craziness of Phuket, we just clambered into the nearest restaurant and grabbed some food and cold drinks.. The beach there was pure shipwreck style. There was only a handful of businesses along the beach – most featuring a dreadlocked white guy or girl, practising with poi. I took a wander up to find where we were staying and, having checked in ok, ended up on a benched sidecar contraption that was attached to a moped, being driven back towards Emma and our bags. The road back barely qualified as one – pot-holes and rain-worn trenches everywhere. It wove back away from the beach into thick jungle, passing hippie encampments on either side – the sounds of hair braiding, tie-dying and juggling filtering through the palms and ferns, causing shivers to run up and down my spine. Occasionally you could see a dream-catcher strung up through the trees and I could imagine the soap-dodging bastards, prancing like dicks round midnight fires, celebrating their sustained unemployment to a chorus of indian hand drums.
We dumped the bags on the moped-thingy and walked back up the beach.. I simply couldn’t face the return journey through the land that soap forgot, although we did get to ride the contraption again as we got ferried up to our villa on it.. I wouldn’t say the place was terrible, but I didn’t exactly get that reassured, luxury feeling as the guy unlocked the padlock on the sliding doors and led us in to show us the room whilst a large cockroach sat on the floor next to the bathroom door. After he’d gone, we ‘dealt’ with the cockroach, discovered and blocked the gaping hole in the shower room floor where the bugger’d crawled up from and found one of our towels had a huge rip in it. We were paying a fair whack for the room as when you get to the islands there’s limited space and the hotels tend to charge whatever they like, but this was pretty awful. Poor Emma, found a pretty chunky spider on an early morning toilet trip that I had to get up and eliminate – to be honest, I took a peek at the dirty hairy bugger the next day and it would’ve had me hopping around a bit had I come across it sleepily at 3am!
Still, we decided to just get on with it and that first night, we wandered down to the beach, grabbed a meal and then headed over to drink a couple of beers up on a platform in front of the sea. The whole place was lit up, with small paraffin burners on low tables and made for a nice, chilled end to a hectic day.
Tonsai coming up very short compared with Railay, we headed out to catch a long-tail over the other side of the bay – the nice side. Unfortunately, though, the long-tail pilots only wanted to go with a minimum number of passengers, so we had to wait until more people turned up, wanting to get to Railay. Seemingly, not a place many people wanted to get to, so after waiting for a while, we asked some people about the possibility of a path round the headland to Railay and set off down the beach toward it.
Turns out there was a bit of a climb involved and although our flip-flops weren’t exactly idea footwear, we clambered up and over the thing, sweating away and taking it step by step in parts, but finally making it and emerging onto the ‘nice’ beach feeling as though we’d snuck into a restricted area and were going to be found out at any minute.
The beach at Railay is thousands of times better than Tonsai. The people too – we sat for our hotel’s thrown together buffet breakfast on Tonsai and were galled to see two girls – well women really – at the table next to ours, industriously weaving friendship bracelets. This is the behaviour of eighteen-yr-olds, not grown adults! It was like a their own little Glastonbury in the middle of Thailand. Dirty hippie bastards…
We spent the day on Railay just wandering about and looking for better hotels than what we were suffering on Tonsai. The first place we walked into threw a £700 per night rate at us and we kinda just ran away, clutching our wallets. We ended up booking into a reasonably expensive place for a couple of nights, but by that time I think we just deserved a bit of comfort to even things out a little.
In the afternoon, we’d just about managed a quick swim when the heavens opened and the sky took an almighty piss on us, forcing us back to the hotel we’d made the booking in for shelter and honestly one of the best steak sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. We sat and dried out, waiting for the rain to stop before heading back to Tonsai. The tide was low this time, so we could avoid the hairy climbing route and instead picked our way across the sharp rocks, avoiding the scuttling crabs that zipped around between them.
Back in the room I wasn’t feeling right and ended up with a bit of a fever that night – yet another symptom of my hippie allergy most likely.. We checked ourselves out early and got ourselves over to Railey – this time making damned sure we waited for a long-tail as neither of us had the energy or enthusiasm for the previous day’s route. We got to our hotel and were shown to our room. This time we were welcomed with a nice glass of chilled juice and we noticed my name on the ‘welcome new guests’ board – what a difference! The room/villa was nice and cosy but spacious – a huge four poster ben and an outside shower. Thank fuck for that!
It rained once more in the afternoon of the next day – again interrupting our beach and swim time, but it was great to be able to duck back into the villa quickly instead of being marooned, sopping, away from a hot shower and dry clothes. Also, as we were in the nice resort for a bit, we took full advantage of the facilities and got massages and a steam sesson in the hotel’s spa – well worth it as my shoulder had been really playing up and giving me grief. A little pampering never hurt anyone..
Just to undo all the good work of the massage, I popped out in the morning to go investigate the lagoon climb. Emma had tried it a little on her last visit and not made it up the first bit as it was slippery and steep as hell and she’d been wearing flip-flops – not ideal for climbing really. We’d walked past it on our way to the beach and I couldn’t resist having a crack at it 🙂
It was muddy and everything was covered by this red, clay-type mud. There were tree roots and branches all over the place, so no real problems with hand and foot holds and they’d even attached a load of thick, knotted ropes around the place to make things even easier. The roots and ropes were also covered in the clay stuff, so as soon as you got a sweat up things started getting slippery in your hands as well as under your feet. Still – always easier going up than down and I nipped up the first section reasonably easily.
Once at the top, it turned into thick forest, with a couple of paths heading off. I chose one and ended up at the viewpoint. Now usually in Europe, when you get any where public that’s high and even remotely perilous, you’ll get cordoned off areas, barriers and sometimes even attendants. Not in fucking Thailand, believe me! The trail ended through a couple of bushes and plunged straight down the cliff face a good 200ft. No ropes, no barriers – not even a bloody sign to warn you. I’m honestly surprised there’s not a steady stream of lemming-style deaths up there.
After realising that I was pouring sweat in a thick foresty area with no deet on, I got moving again and headed towards the lagoon. There was another trail heading away from the viewpoint that I tried first, but it ended in a vertical climb up sharp rocks to God knows where, so I opted to leave that for the pros. The route to the lagoon wasn’t terribly different, though.. The sharp rocks were replaced with rounded, slippery ones, so it was all much of a muchness I suppose..
The way, a gentle but greased slope to start, degraded into vertical faces and free hanging ropes – all similarly slicked. Between the humidity and sweat there were a couple of times where I nearly lost grip and I got to a point where you had to climb through a hole in the rock and down another free hanging rope. At the bottom of that, there was another sheer drop and nothing but a sweaty, clay pasted rope that I could see to use to stop yourself falling. I could see the lagoon from where I was and, as lovely and cool and refreshing as it looked, I could also see a slip, a short drop and a broken bone in my future so I sacked it off in the name of good sense and headed back.
I’m sure that if I’d had Mike with me we’d have got the job done. A second pair of eyes and a little competitiveness were definitely the missing ingredients.
Weary from changing accommodation every second or third day, we booked a place just round the bay in AoNang that looked nice and wasn’t too expensive and we opted to dig in there for the remainder of our trip. Less than a week to go before we needed to be back in KL for the dreaded flight back to London and I really couldn’t decide whether I wanted to go back or not.. The promise of familiar personal space, the ability to make food or a cuppa whenever you like and the prospect of wearing a different fucking t-shirt was definitely something to look forward to, but we’d have to lose the warmth, the friendly service and the prices..
Australia is definitely on the cards…