A Beautiful Adventure

On the Road Again...

Month: May 2010

Thailand: Rock Climbers Heaven

Thursday morning we headed out to the dock to take a longtail boat to Railay Beach for the day.  On the way we adopted a solo-British girl about our age. 

Once we arrived on Railay Beach we immediately noticed a small crowd hiking up a hill.  We discovered that it was about a 15 minute scramble to another beach, called Tonsai Beach.  Tonsai Beach is THE place to go if you are at all interested in rock climbing.   While I ran off for the day with Travel Buddy 1, Travel Buddy 2 stayed at the beach with our new friend and chilled out all day…Travel Buddy 1 and I did some exploring and rock climbing.  First we rented some shoes and a harness and then began chatting up a Canadian couple who were willing to take us around to some climbing spots.  A guy from Oregon attached himself to our group and he became our sponsor and tour guide for the day.  He rented the rope and led the routs for us that day.  We climbed “1-2-3 Wall”, a famous route in that area and got a spectacular view of East Railay bay, from the top.  We also hiked over to Phra Nang Cave Beach and did another route next to the cave.  This also provided a beautiful view from the top. We did a bit of exploring in the cave but didn’t have time to fully investigate.  However, it got us curious enough to want to return for further exploration…we had also heard of a lagoon and another view point between Phra Nang Beach and East Railay.

So after a day of rock climbing we were convinced that we needed more of the Railay Beach area.  We went back to Au-Nang for the night, said farewell to our adopted friend, woke up in the morning and moved to Tonsai Beach.  I was glad to leave Au-Nang, as nice and cool as our room had been, cockroaches seemed to find their way onto toothbrushes and hair brushes…time to go!

Once at Tonsai we found a bungalow for three, 300 baht total.  Tonsai is the cheapest place to lodge in the Railey Beach area; but Tonsaid looses power all together from 6am to 6pm.  No power means that at 6am every morning the fan turns off, and the town wakes up.  It’s very hard to sleep in the heat without a fan at all. The toilets also didn’t flush.  I slept one night with a lizard on the wall near me, and at one point showered with a toad! Truthfully, it’s just part of the experience.

In Tonsai, we spent a day exploring the caves and lagoons. It was all very Indiana Jones-ish.  What is so fun about the Railey Beach area is that all of these adventures were done on our own, not through any sort of tour guide or travel agency.  This also means they were free. We did cop up the money to do a sunset Deep Water Solo tour one day though.  About ten people were taken in our group on a long tail boat to several different locations around Krabi.  We essentially bouldered up cliff sides, and when we got as high as we wanted to be, jumped into the water! This was one of the most aggressive adrenaline rushes I ever experienced. After activity filled days there were several bars to hang at during the night.  Many of them are decked out with slack lines and fire dancers, some even have fire dancers on the slack line.  Mr. Pancake also holds up shop in Tonsai.  Mr. Pancake is famous, at least in my world.  He makes the best pancakes ever, and anyone on Tonsai would agree.  He liked me so much, he even let me get behind the grill with him one night and help make the pancakes! I can flip a pancake like a pro now!  If you visit Mr. Pancake, give him my love, and remember these three rules:
1) Respect Mr. Pancake 
2) How many eggs in your pancake? Up to you. 
3) Respect Mr. Pancake.

Tonsai is the kind of place rock climbers move to, for weeks and sometimes for months.  After four days I was ready to move on, but Travel Buddies had caught “Tonsainitus”- a term used for the desire to stay forever.

Thailand: Krabi

The night ferry left Koh Tao at 9pm Tuesday night.  We met up with a group of British guys and hung with them at a near by bar before the boat left.  We were having too much fun because we almost missed the ferry, but we hopped on just in time.  Night traveling is the way to go; there are mats lined up with plastic pillows, open windows and fans.  I had a travel sheet and a travel pillow, so I slept very comfortably actually, on the boat.  Another plus is the price; I only paid for travel, so I didn’t have to spend money on a hotel that night…I didn’t miss out on the daylight, and it is cooler at night.  All around, night travel is the way to go. 

The ferry arrived in Suratthani at 5am Wednesday morning.  From the port, we were shuttled to the bus station, where we purchased our tickets to Au-Nang, Krabi.  This was 250 baht each.  The bus picked us up at 6am and we arrived in Krabi around 9am.  At the bus station in Krabi we were shuttled to another travel agency, where they put us on another taxi that drove us to Au-Nang.  We arrived in Au-Nang around 11am.  At least all of the shuttleing back and forth was included in the 250 baht.

While at the travel agency we met a young British couple who were headed to Railay Beach…we were told by several people that there was not much accommodation at Railay Beach and it was more of a place to just take a day trip to, but worth the visit.  Our plan was to stay a night or two in Au-Nang and visit Railay Beach for a day before heading to the Phi Phi Islands.

On the taxi to Au-Nang we chatted up a Norwegian who was studying abroad in Singapore and using his time there to travel around Asia.  The three of us adopted him into our pack and actually ended up staying with him until the next day.  Once in Au-Nang we found a place to sleep pretty quickly, 300 baht each for an air-conditioned room with TV.  It was called the Sea Shell Hotel or something.

We ate lunch at fancy beach side resort, and the service and food were pretty horrible, and expensive.  Never eat at the resorts.  The beaches in Au-Nang are nice, long, sandy beaches with deeper water.  The beaches in Koh Tao and Koh Phangan were shallow, not even to the knees.  This beach went up past the shoulders, quickly.  Unfortunately, it was jelly fish season around Krabi though, so we actually didn’t even want to be in the water all that much when we realized this.

Its interesting in Au-Nang on the beaches, how the massage stands operate.  They each have stands located beach side and they entise you to use their chairs and buy their water in hopes that you will leave the lazy beaches to get a massage, or pedicure, or something.  We didn’t.  Instead we collected sea shells and walked a jungle path in hopes of seeing monkeys.  In light of the “Warning, Do Not Feed Monkeys for Your Own Safety” sign, we didn’t see any monkeys at all in Au-Nang.

We did eat Indian food at a nice restaurant that night.  The service was great and the food better, but it was just as expensive, if not more so, as it would have been in the States.  After dinner, the sky began to fill up with lighting and thunder…the rainy season was beginning to creep in.

Thailand: Koh Tao

While in Koh Phangan we did learn how to say “Hello” and “Thank You” in the native tongue.  “Hello” Is “Sa-wa-dee-” and for us females it is “Ka” and for a male it is “Kop”.  I am spelling these the way they actually sound.  So “Sa-wa-dee-Ka” is how we say hello here.  “Thank You” is “Kope-on-Ka” or a male would say “Kope-on-Kop”.  We also learned that the Thai people are covered up when walking through town (as in not just a bikini), take their shoes off before entering most shops and all homes, and bow their heads with hands in prayer position while greeting eachother.  Some of these cultural traditions are very relaxed, like the bowing of heads and hands in prayer position, but it is still polite to do since we are visiting. 

With a little more knowledge of the local culture, we ventured onto a ferry that took us to Koh Tao.  It was about a 50 minute boat ride. We got there around 11am.  Everyone tends to flock from the Full Moon Party to Koh Tao, so it shouldn’t have been surprising when we ran into Dude one night.  Koh Tao was very crowded though and we had to hunt for a room.  We finally got a room at the hub of all the activity, Lotus.  It was kind of a dump, and the electricity would turn off and they would forget to turn it back on, but hey, it was a place to stay.

Looking around the beach in Koh Tao, every other person was bandaged up somehow.  At first I assumed they were motorbike injuries, but thinking about it now, some of them could have been from the fire jump ropeing going on at the Full Moon Party…quite the site to see regardless. 

Most people who go to Koh Tao partake in a four-day diving certification course.  We were almost talked into this, but decided it was not in our budget.  We opted for a full-day snorkel tour around the island, and it provided plenty of excitment for us at a much smaller price.  The tour included lunch, fried rice and chicken, and stopped at Koh Nangyaun, a national park in Thailand where three masses of land are attached via sand bars.  As if this and snorkeling with colorful fish in coral were not enough, a whale shark swam beneath and around our boat! I spoke with divers later who had hoped to see what we saw, but they weren’t as lucky. 

Koh Tao was so hot, that on the days we weren’t snorkeling we had no other option but to lounge in the water until the sun went down. It was too hot to be anywhere else! Once the sun sets though, there was plenty to do in Koh Tao.  The beaches were lined with fire dancers everynight, and the Lotus bar offered 1/2 off buckets while they sent a glow lamp into the air.  We enjoyed sitting on the mats, leaning back on cushions and watching the fire dancers beach side at night.  If we had the energy, there were plenty of dance clubs and bars to visit along the walkway.  Koh Tao has a “Blue Moon” party in the jungle, and a “Castle” party, located at a castle! I didnt’ make it to either, because the beach bars were so much fun. 

Some nights I just wanted to relax though, and Koh Tao has plenty to offer in that department as well.  There are massage studios, with beds lined up, that offer Thai massages for 300 baht.  One night I found a little place around the corner (I felt kind of weird having people walk past and watching me in the window) where the foot traffic was slower, and enjoyed a one hour Thai massage and a pedicure. 

Koh Tao was a nice combination of beauty and party.  7-11’s were everywhere, so it was convenient to load money onto my sim card, or run into one of the dozens of internet cafes and shoot off a quick e-mail.  After three nights there, we checked out and began our journey out of the Gulf of Thailand.

Thailand: Koh Phangan

The next few days after the Full Moon Party were spent napping and relaxing at the beach and pool.  The sandbar in front of the Milky Bay Resort was a great lounging spot.  Come Friday though, we eager to experience something on the Island outside of the resort.  First we needed to return our motorbike, which should have been easy enough…except there was a two inch scratch on the front bender and the owner wanted to charge us 2000 baht to replace, in addition to our three days of rental at 200 baht per day! Somehow we got him down to 1500 baht for the front fender and just two days of rental, totaling 1900 baht.  Still, that set us back a bit, and possibly ended our motorbike driving in Thailand.

After we cooled off in the water we decided to visit the Wat Pho Temple, right in Baan Tai, the same beach where our resort was located.  It was a very short taxi ride, but we did have to arrange for a pick up time since taxis don’t drive pass that area regularly.  Hearing that we needed straps for our shoes and that our knees and shoulders should be covered, we dressed appropriately.  Once we got there we saw everyone in shorts and tank tops, and when I say everyone, I mean the locals! Also, flip flops would have been fine since one must kick off her shoes before entering any of the shrines.  Very warm, we walked around the old, rundown grounds.  Some of the sights were beautiful, but much of the property was under construction.  It was interesting to see, but compared to the temple in Narita, Japan…well it didn’t compare at all. Across from the temple though is an herbal sauna, accessible for 50 baht. We enjoyed this very much.  It was actually a steam room, not a sauna, but the you could smell and feel the lemon grass.  Although it was so hot and humid, the steam room felt surprisingly wonderful. 

There were several other temples to visit in Koh Phangan, hikes we could have gone on, many other beaches, and not mention the never ending partying that goes on in Haad Rin.  We were content with what we had seen though and decided that after 4 nights it was time to move on to the next Island.

Thailand: Full Moon Party!!!

We woke up at 5:30 am that morning, still not adjusted to the local time I guess.  Drinking our coffee, we watched an employee sweep the beach while two local dogs played around him.  We spent the rest of the morning relaxing and walking around the town a bit.  We did some shopping, which included false eyelashes to wear to the party…we had black and gold, blue and gold, and rainbow eyelashes. By chatting with people at the pool, we also got some advice about what to expect at the party…apparently there is body paint and swimming, so we didn’t want to wear anything we cared about.  Good thing there was a shop next door, for 100 baht we picked up a few dresses we weren’t afraid to part with. After a nap, we began getting ready.
I used waterproof mascara, eyeliner, and a liquid that makes my eye shadows waterproof as well.  I applied my rainbow eyelashes and also helped the ladies with theirs.  Once we were all dolled up we took a taxi to Haad Rin.  In Haad Rin we met Dude for dinner.  Dude had found a beach bungalow right at the heart of the party at Haad Rin Resort.  We used his room as a base camp for the night. After a dinner of Pad Thai Chicken we walked to the main street walk in Haad Rin and bought body paint for 20 baht per bottle.  There are artists on the beach that will charge about 400 baht for nice art work, but if you end up swimming it will have been a waste.  But, body paint is a necessary party tool for the Full Moon Party, so we painted away.  No need to buy paint brushes, fingers work wonders. Think of a two year old finger painting…and this is was just the pre-party.

Painted and ready, we headed to the beach.  The cove is lined with fire dancers, fire jump ropers, and a large fire sign.  The sign read, in flaming letters “Welcome to Thailand, Koh Phangan 2010”.  Later I looked at the flaming sign, that can be seen from anywhere on the beach, and read “Full Moon Party…”.  Along with fire, the beach is lined with “Bucket” stands.  The “Bucket” is literally a bucket, one that a two year old would use in the sand box, filled with a 5th of your choice-liquor bottle, a 12-oz can of soda, and a bottle of Red Bull syrup.  Red Bull originated in Thailand, and the original syrup is strong.  I have heard that the original version, served in buckets, is not even legal in the US.  The cheapest bucket would be one made with a 5th of Sang Som, Thai whiskey.  Sang Som is the cheapest liquor in Thailand.  These buckets are a staple for the Full Moon Party as well…it is expected that those attending the Full Moon Party will party until the sun comes up. These Buckets, made with Red Bull, assist the party-process.

Another famous party tool there are the “Happy Shakes”.  These are shakes made with ice, strawberries, and yes- mushrooms.  These can be found at the Mellow Mountain, which is located at the south end of the beach, up the rocks, for 500 baht each.  Be careful when around the rocks there though, I heard stories of people falling head first, probably after too many shakes? There are also bungalows to be rented behind the Mellow Bar.  I do not think these can be reserved in advanced, but they are a killer-deal if you are willing to show up and hunt for a room.  They are right on the cliff, ocean side and party side.  We met two guys, from Tahoe, (small universe still), who were staying there for 300 baht total, per night, for the room.

So under the full moon, on the beach, we danced all night to hip-hop, dance and tehcno music.  Several stages and DJ’s line the beach, so when we got tired of the music, we just walked a minute down the beach and began dancing again.  Thirsty for something other than a bucket? Water is really the only other option, going for 20 baht per bottle. When we took a break from dancing we could see glow-lamps, which are about four feet tall, being sent up into the sky.  Or, if you walk past the “Sleep Area”, which is a tarp, fenced in on the sand; you might catch a few sleepers who couldn’t make it to sun rise. Bathroom break? Just go for a swim…and look forward to your next shower.

Sunrise happened a little after 5:30am, at which point I anxiously crabbed a taxi back the resort, leaving behind hundreds of people still dancing and swimming. Exhausted from the party, which is basically a gigantic rave on a beach, with literally about 8,000 people, I enjoyed my long awaited shower and sleep.