My apologies if some of you got a sneak peak of this post yesterday. It was unfinished and due to some technical difficulties with the WordPress app, a preliminary draft was accidentally posted. Having said that below is the complete and finished post.
It was difficult to do, but I have left Koh Tao and started my journey south to the western coast of Thailand. Our first pit stop was only an hour away, hopping to the island of Koh Phangan for the (in)famous full moon party, which obviously happens only once per month. I wont go into details because this is simply something you must experience for yourself and due to the abundance of water, fire and body paint I did not risk bringing along a camera for any photo or video documentation aside from this little video of me and the guys having fun at a pre-full moon foam bash in our hotel pool.
After a day of recovery and another long journey, my crew and I have made it to Railay beach.
The journey from Ko Phangan took us by barge to Don Sak, then by bus to Krabi, then a taxi to Ao Nang, a beach town on the western coast. Thailand’s western coast is at the southernmost tip of the country, bordering Malaysia. I have already noticed a slightly more Muslim influence in architecture and headscarves abound on the local women. The most stunning difference between this area of Thailand and the gulf island I was in previously is the topography.
Lush jungles and gigantic limestone cliffs jut out everywhere, on land and in the ocean. The bordering ocean is the Andaman sea, with waters that are relatively calm (no waves for surfing), but should be great for kayak exploring and scuba. Amongst the westerners here the majority seems scandinavian and there is quite the noticeable Rastafarian culture, evidenced in the frequency of smokey reggae bars. We spent one night in Ao Nang since we were to exhausted to go through any further travel that day, so we crammed into a tight hotel room to get some rest. The following day we spent exploring a bit of Ao Nang, which we found a bit deserted and lackluster. Pushy salesmen abound, hocking everything from crappy jewelry to custom tailored suits. There was a Starbucks and a McDonalds, so the boys and I did momentarily enjoy some western comforts, but that got old rather quickly. At dusk, we decide it was time to ditch Ao Nang and head to Railay. Railay is not an island, rather a secluded peninsula, but it is still only accessible by boat since it is completely surrounded by the giganic limestone cliffs of a national preserve. We were able to get a long-tail boat to ferry us around the coastline for the 15 min boat ride from Ao Nang.
With our shorts rolled up and our bags securely on our heads we hopped off the long-tail boat into the surf up to our knees. We were walking up the west beach of Railay but we really had no clue where we were since it had fallen to darkness on our jaunt over from Ao Nang. Priority number one. Was finding a place to stay the night. Aside from a few beach bars the place was relatively quiet, by the big dark shawls around us we could tell that we were surrounded by either rock or jungle but there was no way to tell. We started trekking up a narrow walking path that then turned into a lightless dirt trail, time to bring out the headlamps. Guided by lamplight we walked along the path for about a quarter mile, bordered on our left by an giant overhanging limestone cliff and on our right by dense jungle foliage. FINALLY, civilization, a hotel reception area in the middle of a jungle. We walked up, drenched in sweat from our hike carrying 50 pound bags and were promptly served some sort of alcoholic fresh fruit juice in typical Thai hospitality. Promptly I booked us 3 rooms and we hit the showers and the sweet sweet comfort of air-conditioned slumber.
The next morning was a revelation, in the light I could realize my surroundings and it was a childhood fantasy come true, I was in Jurassic Park. Encircled by towering limestone cliffs covered in green. Jungle, rocky peaks jutting every which way and overhangs in with stalactites in abundance. Huge prehistoric looking palm fronds, buzzing colorful insects and for gosh sakes, MONKEYS. I half expected Jeff Goldblum to pop out and start explaining Chaos Theory to me.
I spent the morning wandering around the small area in wonderment, to be honest I had been feeling slightly depressed and homesick before arriving in Railay but it always seems that the wonders of nature bring me out of that funk and allow me to realize how lucky I am. So far this place seems like Disney world for a full-grown boy scout such as myself who loves ecology and wildlife, but to top it all off for all you sun-lovers, not only are there mountains, but there is a beautiful beach here too.
The main attraction of Railay is rock-climbing. What Koh Tao is to divers, Railay is for climbers, I now have to assume that Thailand has a perfect spot for any extreme sport adventurer. I met up with the guys and we took off on a hike around the area. Mangroves bordered the bay closest to our hotel, making it unsuitable for swimming but great for mosquitoes. A wooden and concrete boardwalk edged the waterline and long that path were several local shops for climbing, coffee, food, tattoos, massage and of course more Rasta bars. We went on a hike that ended up lasting us the whole day, exploring the natural wonders Railay has to offer. Caves, water, jungle, you name it. We even hiked/climbed down to a lagoon in the middle of a giant limestone mountain.In the evening the monkeys came out in search of food and play. You could generally get really close to them since they are used to people, but watch out, if you are holding anything resembling a candy or wrapper you will quickly be under siege and robbed.
At night we were exhausted so we headed to the local watering hole for a few Singha and we were treated to some of the best fire dancers I’ve seen yet in Thailand. The mood is very relaxed here in Railay so that chill vibe lead us to our short trek back to our hotel beds.
As an aside, here is a little video from our journey into the hidden lagoon on Railay. It was quite the adventure getting there and I will elaborate on that descent in a later post that tells more about our climbing adventures in Railay.