Days 78-81 in Southeast Asia (April 12-15, 2016)
I don’t think anyone could ever get sick of this view. It’s no wonder to me why we’ve heard so many stories and already met several people who came to Ton Sai on vacation and never left. The atmosphere here is so relaxed and the people are so friendly… and don’t even get me started on these beaches… peaceful perfection.
As we walked across Ton Sai towards Railay West (the tide was low enough we could walk around the side without hiking over the rocks), we noticed the tiny little holes in the sand all around us, with small beads of sand piled around each of the holes… as we walked along we realized that scurrying around the holes were tiny little crabs popping in and out as we got closer, grey/brown in colour to match the sand, and no bigger than my thumbnail (some even as small as a pin head). They danced along the sand and fought with each other, ducking into their tiny holes as soon as we walked close enough. We stood on small rocks and watched as they poured out of the sand, covering the beach by the thousands. It was fascinating.
Alongside the crabs were a couple of jellyfish… HUGE jellyfish the size of my head (not joking) that had washed up on the shore with the tide. We almost didn’t believe that they were real at first, but after seeing around 10 or so by the time we left Ton Sai I can say with confidence that they were definitely real, and I tried not to think about them every time I went for a swim. We hung out on the beach at Railay West for a couple of hours, reading and relaxing before our busy afternoon of rock climbing that we had booked for 1:30pm through Basecamp.
Rock Climbing With Basecamp
The half day of climbing would take place on Railay East, and was around 4 hours in total, costing us each 800THB ($30CAD). We met our guide Milan at the shop in Ton Sai, got geared up in shoes and harnesses and walked to the beach to catch a longtail boat to Railay West, where we walked across to Railay East. There were 4 people in our group (including Maddie and I), and when we arrived at the spot where we’d be climbing, there were two other groups there as well that we got to watch for a bit and chat with while Milan set up our climbs. The first climb was about 15m I believe, and we learned pretty quickly why everyone on this beach is in incredible shape… they climb, and it is exhausting.
I went first, followed by Maddie and the others, and we actually impressed ourselves quite a bit considering our lack of experience. The climbing walls here are all natural of course, with no foot holes or steps added along the way to help you get up, so several areas of the rock seemed impossible to climb, and required quite a bit of balance and strength to maneuver around. Of course, we had Milan at the bottom holding onto our ropes, so even if (and when) we did fall off of the wall or lose our balance, we’d be fine.
The second climb was the hardest, 30m to the top and with what looked like a completely flat vertical wall for the final stretch. Though we didn’t realize it until after we had come down, apparently half of the people in the other groups beside us had already tried and given up halfway through, because it was just plain crazy. In several spots, your only hope was to push all of your weight up on one of your tiptoes, and pray that when you let go and reached up, your hand would land somewhere with a place to hang on to. I went first again, and when I finally reached the top, drenched in sweat and muscles shaking, I could hear (barely) the sound of the other climbers and Milan cheering me on. I looked behind me at the beautiful view of the beach and water, realizing only then exactly how high up I was, and I felt pretty accomplished.
Our final climb was about 10m, and though it was small, it was awkward, and after the second climb we were all struggling quite a bit to get to the top, our muscles shaking, hands sore (we had chalk on them but no gloves), and legs barely able to push us up anymore. Once again, I reached the top, as did the others in the group, which meant that both Maddie and I had completed all 3 climbs, and had proven Tommy and the other bartender from the night before wrong.. mission accomplished.
We walked back across Railay East over to Railay West, where Milan told us that the water was too rough (and it definitely was) for the longtail boat to pick us back up, so we had to hike back across to Ton Sai. We didn’t mind too much, but we were pretty exhausted, and it wasn’t exactly ideal. After returning our equipment to Basecamp with Milan, we thanked him and headed back to our room. We ate a nice dinner and hung out in the restaurant area for a bit before heading to bed early, completely beat, but feeling pretty proud of ourselves. It was a good day.
Hiking At Railay West & Phra Nang Beach
The following morning we were up early and ready to hike to some viewpoints nearby, despite the fact that our bodies were already completely sore from climbing the day before. We peeled ourselves up and walked through the decorated retaining walls once again, appreciating the artwork as always (I also have now found out that the walls are NOT there because of the tsunami as I said in my last post, and were actually built by a company who bought most of the beach and built the wall, soon planning on building a resort covering the entire main beach… I had assumed they were for tsunamis because of the tsunami evacuation route signs leading up to, and following the wall).
We ate a quick breakfast and walked back across Tonsai Beach, across Railay West, over to Railay East, and finally to Phra Nang beach (between Railay East and West). We crossed to the far side of the beach (closest to Railay West), and walked into the bushes and up a bit of a hill, to get to the tallest rock at the end that has a giant cave entrance visible from Phra Nang beach.
We walked up into the cave and put on our headlamps as we climbed up several long steep bamboo ladders spread out along the path, and used ropes to pull ourselves up along the paths between the ladders. We were feeling a bit uneasy about the path and climbing in the dark, but there was a guide with a couple of other tourists who was heading the same way, so we stayed relatively close to them to make sure we didn’t get lost. The path actually wasn’t too long or crazy, and after about 15 minutes in the cave we could see the light from the opening on the other side. It was a fairly small opening but with a stunning view of both Railay West and Ton Sai from quite high up (probably just over halfway up the mountain).
The tourists with the guide met us at the top, where we watched as they set up and repelled down to the bottom, which was pretty cool and something I definitely would’ve loved to try. After conquering our first viewpoint, already sweaty and tired, we went back down and out of the cave, and crossed Phra Nang beach to the other side, where we walked down the concrete path (on the way to Railay East) to the beginning of the path to get us to the lagoon and second viewpoint.
This path was the one we were dreading… Nils had told us about these viewpoints, and said that the lagoon was a pretty crazy hike up the side of the mountain (the viewpoint was at the top) followed by an even crazier descent into the lagoon using ropes and tree roots to hold onto while you basically rock climb down without harnesses (the lagoon is deep inside the mountain, completely enclosed around the sides and only open from the top). It took us close to an hour to get to the lagoon, including time spent waiting for other people going down/climbing up the vertical parts of the path that only have one rope and enough space for one person to move through.
Our arrival at the Lagoon itself was anticlimactic to say the least. The water was shallow and murky, surrounded by slippery mud that we walked through to get a few good photos of the perfectly round opening to the sky (which was pretty cool, and worth seeing). Maddie and I both agreed that our sense of accomplishment after climbing back to the top was more rewarding than the view at the Lagoon, and by the time we reached the second viewpoint up top we were feeling very proud of ourselves for spending the day hiking and not just laying on the beach (which is always nice, but not the only reason we wanted to come to Southern Thailand).
We got back to Ton Sai at about 3:30pm, and headed straight to Papa’s Chicken, a restaraunt that we passed by the day before and were dying to check out. We got huge crispy chicken burgers, french fries and cold diet cokes, and enjoyed every last bite after our crazy day of hiking and eating only the small snacks in our bags along the way.
After lunch/dinner, we cleaned up back at our room, and got ourselves ready for Songkran, Thai New Year. It actually started this morning (on April 13), and is celebrated all day (and sometimes for several days following) with water fighting on the streets pretty much everywhere you go. We already got a taste of it after our hike, when some kids ran by and sprayed us with water guns by Railay West.
We grabbed our stuff (only what we knew could get wet and not damaged) and went over to Chill Out Bar, where we sat and drank, chatting with the bartender who proceeded to spray us with her water gun and put the white paste used at Songkran (talcum powder and water) on our face. The whole bar was full of water balloons that hung from the ceiling, and one of the bartenders had a long stick with a nail on the end that he’d use to spear the balloons and make them drop on people’s heads when they were least expecting it… people like me.
It was a lot of fun, and Maddie and I were completely soaked by the time we went to Viking bar. We hung out with some new friends until pretty late and eventually made our way back to the room for some rest after setting our alarms for 7am, when we’d have to be up to sort out our tickets to get to Koh Phi Phi.
Ton Sai to Koh Phi Phi
At 7am, hungover and exhausted, I walked to the nearest tour office and booked Maddie and myself a ticket on the first (and only) boat from Ton Sai to Koh Phi Phi at 9:30am for 400THB ($15). We packed our things, grabbed some breakfast, and headed to the pier where we waited until about 10 (the boat was late) for a longtail to take us to a speedboat. We sat up top and enjoyed the breeze for the next hour and a half, making a new friend along the way with Milos, who was from England and travelling the islands for about a week vacation after being sent to Phuket for a work conference. He asked us to meet him for a drink later, and we exchanged contact info.
Arriving in Koh Phi Phi & Finding a Place to Stay
At the pier, we paid the 20THB entry fee, grabbed our bags, and stopped at a tour agency to try to find a place to stay. The agency had several posters of places and prices, and we settled on Scenery Guesthouse, for 1200THB/night for a 3 bed private room with air conditioning (400THB/$15 each per night). The third bed, since I’m sure you’re wondering, was for our Israeli friend Segev who we had met in Chiang Mai and travelled with for a week after (with Andrew, Nils and the others), before he left us for New Zealand, where he spent the past 2 months hiking in the mountains.
We found out about a month or so ago that he decided to come back to Thailand after New Zealand to meet up with us, partly because he loved the islands so much he wanted to come back, but mostly because he missed us of course. Unfortunately, after waiting for his arrival in our room for a couple hours, we received a message from a very angry Segev, who was cursing Cathay Pacific for losing his luggage… The airline apologized and sent Segev to Phuket from Bangkok on another flight, where he had to stay the night and then head back to the airport the next morning to pick up his luggage that they would hopefully have ready for him. Apparently, his luggage never made it on the last leg of his flight, and it spent the night in Hong Kong.
Maddie and I stared at his empty bed and laughed as he cursed and yelled on the phone with us (if you knew him, you’d know that listening to Segev pissed off is possibly the best form of entertainment that money can’t buy). After wishing Segev luck, we went to the beach to watch the sunset.
We met Milos for a beer, and told him to join us the following night to party with Segev. That night, I went shopping a bit, watched some people get Thai bamboo tattoos (which is really cool to watch), and picked up a couple of beautiful sarongs (I couldn’t choose just one colour), which was apparently a wise decision, since someone either stole or accidentally took my towel from the drying rack outside of the guesthouse that night.
The next morning at 11am we decided to walk towards the pier to meet Segev with a nice cold Chang beer, and along the way we spotted him walking towards us and ran up to him yelling, welcoming him to the island after his lost bag fiasco and delay. We barely recognized him after 2 months of hiking; a skinnier, hairier version of himself now than back in Chiang Mai. We showed him to our room, and went right back out for some food, and to book a boat tour for that day. The morning tours (for the full day) had already left, but we still had time to catch a half day tour of Phi Phi Leh (the smaller island next to Koh Phi Phi Don (the island we were staying on). We booked a 4 hour tour from 2-6pm for 350THB, plus 200THB entry fee at Maya beach (the beach from Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie called “The Beach”) for a total of 550THB/$21CAD, including a small snack and our equipment for snorkelling.
Half Day Tour of Phi Phi Don & Phi Phi Leh
Our first stop was Monkey Beach, on Phi Phi Don, where our boat pulled up to the narrow crowded beach covered in both monkeys and tourists. It was really cool to get up close to the monkeys, but a lot of people were trying to touch them and fed them/gave them drinks, which you’re not supposed to do, and it made a lot of the monkeys aggressive towards each other, and sometimes towards the people. One guy from another tour was literally picking a fight with a monkey when we walked by, and when we were leaving we saw him getting bandaged up because he had been bitten, and would likely be getting a rabies shot as well. The people not respecting the animals’ space and feeding them honestly soured the experience for me, and though I did enjoy taking pictures from a safe distance, I think I would have rather skipped the stop had I known what the tourists were like there (and how garbage-covered it was).
Our second stop was Maya beach, equally packed with tourists, but incredibly beautiful nonetheless, and now we can say we were on The Beach from the movie, which is pretty cool. We walked to the back of the island facing Ah Loh Samah (a small bay) where people were swimming and climbing up a net to the viewpoint ledge, but the water was insanely rough and we were actually concerned for a moment that some of the tourists swimming looked like they were in danger… we refrained from swimming there.
After an hour at the beach we went back to the boat, where we rode around the island to the same bay we had just been looking out on, but in the middle (not the side where the water was so rough) for some snorkelling. The water was crystal clear and the lightest blue I’ve ever seen, and we were amazed by the hundreds of brightly coloured fish within our reach. It was my first snorkelling experience here, and it did not disappoint.
After that bay, we rode farther around the island to Ao Pileh for a beautiful (and more quiet) swim. These islands are truly paradise. After a quick ride by Viking Cave on our way back, the tour ended and we rode back to the pier. It wasn’t the MOST incredible tour I’ve ever been on in my life, but for about 20 bucks we got to see some amazing views, and spent the day together having an absolute blast because we were just so happy to all be reunited.
That evening, we went out for a late dinner and met up with Milos again for drinks. We spent hours just talking, drinking and dancing on the beach, and made it back to our room at around 3am… it was a great night, and I’m sure there will only be more like it now that we’re on the islands and reunited with our favourite crazy Israeli, Segev.