In search of uninterrupted beach R&R for a few days, I made my way back to Railay beach, a sanctuary of sand and jungle that clings to a peninsula near Krabi, accessible only by boat. It is also an international Mecca for climbing, as I learned on arrival. What luck!
Was pointed by some friendly, returner Canadians towards the cheap seats (‘bungalow’, replete with noisy termites) at Rapala Guest House in East Beach, with simple backpacker accommodation and a very social vibe. It’s got a lovely rustic village-feel to the bungalow set-up far that is far removed from this cutting review. Ha! I would guess the writer is less a backpacker than a flashpacker. Sure the bathrooms could do with a scrub but I had few other complaints. Hell, it even has a swimming pool.
Once I’d recovered from my misanthrope episode, day times were spent scaling some of the hundreds of bolted sport routes found here, kayaking around the islands, sunning on the beach, clambering up to the lagoon, exploring the caves, perving on ‘climbing techniques’, and chasing the monkeys. I intended to stay three or four days. I intended to drop into Koh Lipe or Langkawi and Penang on the way down to Kuala Lumpur. I ended up skipping the lot and spending ten days holed up in my friendly little paradise.
I confess that I had harboured some prejudicial Thailand snobbery. This was my fourth trip and I fancied it too much on the well-trodden trail, too full of package tours, cheapened by Russians (cruel – administered lashes for that one), too full of gappers out on a mission to get black-out. I’m sorry Thailand; I take it all back. Here I encountered a marvellous cross-section of people from all ages, nationalities, professions and backgrounds.
Of course, some stereotypes still ring true. This is the land of the crap-tat. Spying on bad tattoos became something of a sport. My personal favourite was the outline of half a T-shirt on a bloke’s back, a girl with paw-prints all up her belly and chest and Arizona Sam’s. I met him on an overcrowded, cramped minivan trip where he kindly let me watch a movie with him on his laptop to distract me from the muscle-wasting discomfort. He too has very long femurs and one thigh, I noticed, was adorned with a tat. Asking what it was, he showed me a full colour version of his van back at home and his favourite rock tower back at home. Only it looks like an angry, raw penis. And it’s with him for life.
I’ve done via ferratas (cheat’s climbing) in the Dolomites and a wee bit of outdoor in a quarry when I was about 11 but really, I’m a novice climber and far from elegant. Whatever, I still love it. It’s fun, social and continually challenging, with the added bonus of gun-shows galore. I’m by no means a natural and would blame my awkwardly long limbs were it not for seeing plenty of good gangly climbers and benefitting myself from Go Go Gadget arms.
I spent three half days climbing with new friend Helen, guided by a lovely Thai instructor, Nan, who is endowed with natural, simian climbing agility and liked to call me Bora. Dreadlocks seem to be in the job description. He cajoled and dragged me up routes that I was convinced were beyond my ability. Anything beyond a 6A certainly is at the moment but I managed a fair few of them, by hook or by crook. “Left foot higher!”; “I not let you down til you touch the top”; “You have the power in your bag – put it in your nose!” All the instructors stand at the bottom shrieking instructions at their customers. I tried to record them for posterity but was laughing too hard.
A couple of other days, we tagged along with experienced climber friends for more casual days out. With a guidebook, some savvy, rope, harness and other accoutrements you’re hot to trot. Tonsai, a little village in the next bay, is a jungle walk or a long-tail boat ride away. It’s the preferred spot of hippies and hardcore climbers because of the challenging climbs (saw one mental bloke doing an 8c+) and cheaper digs. I loved the look of Paasook Resort bungalows but most people seem to stay in Jungle Hut. Even so, some skanky Spanish gitanos have set up tents on the beach and go poo in the woods. The toilet costs 10p to use. Dirty, dirty…
By night we feasted on good curries with lashings of beer, listening to lots of reggae and watched the incredible fire shows at Last Bar. So incredible that I was almost sure that one of them was going to burn the wooden stage down, especially since a certain Mr Tan rocked up every night pissed as a newt.
Time wore on and the deadline for getting to Kuala Lumpur for my connecting flight drew ever nearer. Loath to commit to 18 hours on a bus, I opted instead for a night train through the jungle. Yeeeah. First though, to get to the train station. The nearest one was at Hat Yai. “Have you been to Hat Yai before?” I asked Nan, hoping that he’d be able to tell me what sort of town it is and share some insider info.
“What’s it famous for?”