[Krabi Province, Thailand. 4'th - 9'th Mar 2006]
Railay was going to be my first taste of beach life in Thailand. I was never a beach person, guess you can say that i'll feel like a fish out of water on the beaches :). With all its rock climbing options, Railay was an obvious choice for me. I'll go sign up for one of the climbing classes and slowly get acclimatised to the beach. This time, for once, surprisingly everything worked out exactly as i had hoped for.
The place : The bus ride was an comfortable 11 hours from Bangkok's SaiTaiMai station. Reached Krabi town at around 8am in the morning. From there, i took a shared TukTuk to AoNang beach to catch a ferry to Railay. AoNang was a beautiful little town, less Thai and more European style for me. I had a couple of hours to kill there and had a good time roaming its streets and doing a little shopping, exchanging dollars etc. My drop off was at Hat Railay West, a.k.a the sunset beach, it was a beautiful little bay with powdery white beaches enclosed by tall cliffs on both sides. The rock climbing place i was looking for, "Cliffsman", was on the other beach Hat Railay East, (yep. u got it.. the sunrise beach), it was just a 5 minute walk across the island to the other side.
The sunrise beach was a stark contrast from the sunset beach, no powdery white sandy beaches here, in fact there was no beach, it was like a mini mangrove with trees sprouting up at places. First thing, i signed up for a 3 day climbing course for a knocked down price of 4700Bhat. With that out of the way, my next priority was to find a place to stay.Most of the cheaper restaurants and bungalows were on this side of the beach, and on recommendations of the Cliff's staff, i went and took a room at Railay Cabana. For 300Bhat per night it was a great deal. The Cabana was located a little higher up from the beach, in a jungle setting nestled among the cliffs and a constant breeze flowing from the sea. I didn't click any pictures of the huts myself, but one can be found here. The rooms were pretty basic, fan, double bed, cold showers, mosquito netting, the usual deal. The staff was very friendly, run by a pretty muslim girl (cant seem to remember her name now) and another big fellow, both of whom always up for a chat or a drink.
My routine for the next four days was pretty much the same. Get up at around 8, go to the YaYa resort for my breakfast of muesli and fruit and then head to the cliffs for my climbing lessons. In the evenings, i'll come back to the Canbana take a quick shower and the head off to the sunset beach to grab a beer, sit and watch the sun go down with my feet buried in the soft sand. The sunsets were pretty amazing and at the same time, the tide will go down and you can walk some 100/200m into the beach looking at crabs, corals and other creatures we normally don't get to see. After that i'll go back to the other beach, have dinner and a drink or two. Finally.. finish off the day by going back to my hut and lie on the hammock enjoying the cool breeze and a good book.
The Climb : Climbing was easily the highlight of the trip. It started with the initial fear and apprehension as i took my first steps over the limestone cliff, the anxiety heightened as i reached the top anchor and 'A' telling me to now lean back and let go. "Is he crazy ?? will the rope hold ?".. all these thoughts cross through my mind as i finally let go and slowly descend breathing a sigh of relief. Once the first climb was over, i began to feel more confident about the entire thing knowing that the equipment is safe and wouldn't let me tumble down to my death. After that i started enjoying myself, climbing more confidently and feeling that rush of adrenaline that sweeps over you at the end of each climb and enjoying the awesome scenery at the top of each climb. After my 3'rd successful climb, my arms started shaking a bit and i didn't give it much though. It hit me the during the 4'th climb of the first morning, both my arms and legs started shaking controllably and i had no strength left to reach up for the next hand hold. The pamphlets made it sound so easy.. "you don't need to be strong to climb. anybody can do it.. its easy", yeah right.. tell that to my shaking arms and legs which make me feel like jelly inside. How i wished i had a bit more upper body strength and stamina to enjoy the experience even more.
Over the course of three days i learnt different aspects of climbing.. starting with the basic top rope climbing, rappelling (the most fun part), lead climbing (scary) and multi pitch climbing. My first couple of climbs would go well and then i'll run out of steam and struggle the rest of the time. The hardest and most exciting part was the lead climbing, where you have to climb without any rope in front of you, clipping the quick draws on steel bolts along the cliff and running the rope though the quick draws, if you fall.. you fall a metre or two until the rope catches you from below. In my first attempt, i slipped and fell.. but didn't hurt myself except a couple of scratches and my bruised pride. Multi pitch was also interesting, where i have to climb, secure myself at the top and haul my partner up. And from there treating it as the base, we climb once again, thus scaling really high cliffs.
The people : I cannot end this post without talking about the people i got to meet during my stay there. There was Patrick, a French Canadian from Quebec whom i met during the climbing course. He was also travelling alone and we hit it off immediately, encouraging each other and giving hi-5's whenever any of us finished a climb. I stayed in touch with him every since, meeting up again in Koh Phangan for the full moon party and mailing each other even now. More Patrick in my Koh Phangan journal. Then there was Annie, from Australia. I saw her during the last day of my stay there, she was taking a one day course. What was special about her was that she had only one arm, but never let it deter her. In just her first day she was doing much higher and tougher climbs that i did during my 3 days. I remember her at one particularly tough spot, she was stuck there for some 15 mins unable to get a decent drip. But she refused to give up and finally managed to finish the climb. We didn't talk much, apart from the occasional smile and small chit chats about each others climbs. I wanted to ask her out for dinner that evening, but somehow couldn't make myself do it. I know nothing could've happened, but it would've been nice to get to know someone like that. Maybe next time i wont be so chicken.
Next up, Sarah the pretty blue eyed swedish girl, who stayed opposite my hut at the cabana. She's been living in Railay for the last 3 years working at a local dive shop. Its amazing how these people live, without any worries. Living there for 6 months to an year, taking up part time jobs to fund their stays. Once the funds run out they go back home, work for 3 months or so, make enough money and come back to stay another 6 months. Her whole life is like one big vacation. There was also this couple of canadian students, who also lived at the cabana. Those two guys were travelling on a pretty tight budget, 1000bhat per day for the both of them. They watch what they eat, what they drink etc. I've been asking them to try out a half day climbing course, but they didn't want to do it saying that it would eat into their budget. I've seen many such travellers like that, trying to stretch out their money and the trip to the maximum. But wonder if they lose out on somethings on the way.. hmmm.. guess not.
So there it is.. my first taste of beach life in Thailand. Left me just wanting for more..