Safety in Numbers

Trip Start Nov 16, 2007
Trip End Aug 2008

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Sunday, March 30, 2008

Onto a bus and north through the tree lined valleys of central Malaysia. My traveling companions are a group of Islamic clerics, a friendly bunch. We power on up the main highway and over the 13 km long Penang Bridge. A man offering taxis with an extremely loud megaphone allows me to wing my way into the centre of town. Checked into the SD guest house on Love Lane, I wander into town to explore.
Georgetown was the first settlement of the British Empire in the Malacca Straits, and was an important stronghold for many years. On the waterfront to the north east lies the rundown hulk of Fort Cornwallis, built to garrison soldiers and supplies, and also acting as an administrative centre. Along the shoreline lie a mix of hotels and government buildings, all bearing some of the colonial heritage. Inland the mix becomes more modern, with guest houses and restaurants spread among the local shops and buildings. If there is a centre, the confluence of Jalan Penang and Jalan Magazine is close to it, with its large shopping area and market.
Down the road from my guest house is Lebuh Chulia which holds two important local temples, the hindu Sri Mariamman and the buddhist Persatuan Teo Chew. Both are intricately decorated with the hindu temple having brightly coloured towers and the buddhist temple being covered in opulent reds and gold leaf.
The next day brings more exploring and some chores. I have several meals in Little India just to the east of Love Lane. Great and cheap fresh food with some local flavours. Dodging the lady boys built like second row forwards on the way back is the only drawback. Morning brings a minibus to Thailand. First picked up in a beaten up old Merc, we head off to the meeting point and transfer into a converted van for the ride to the Thai border. It is a public holiday so everyone in Malaysia appears to be trying to cross, but slowly our party makes it to the front and gets through the border formalities. Again passing north to the transport hub of Hat Yai and onto another bus to take me to another converted van and off towards Krabi.
Krabi sits on the Andaman Coast and acts as a major departure point for the various resorts nearby. A long quayside sees boats and longtails docking throughout the day. I check into the Cha guest house and settle in after the long day traveling. Next day sees a few more chores and some wandering around the mix of shops and parks that make Krabi and appealing place to base yourself.
A sunny morning and out I go to the pier for the arrival of my friend Louise. After a little while , she bounds up having caught the morning flight from Bangkok. Some confusion on the dockside about longtail assignment, but soon we are bouncing our way to the peninsular of Laem Phra Nang or Railay as it is better known. Separated from the mainland by towering cliffs, this is Thailand's premier climbing destination. All around the 4 beaches sit impressive limestone crags topped with lush woods. We get settled into a bungalow above the beaches, and go for a swim on the west beach known as Sunset Beach.
Up early the next day, we hire a rope and walk round to Muay Thai crag on the southern end of the east (Sunrise) beach. A very popular crag, we climb a couple of 5's called Shadow Show and Take It Easy. Great rock and surprisingly intact given the amount of use. Just a half day to warm up and get our feet. With the tide lapping in, we take the rope back and go to the west for lunch and a swim.
Another day brings more crags to play on, this time through to Pranang Beach, passed the fishermans' shrine in Princess Cave and up to Escher Wall. Unfortunately, a large teaching group is already here, so we climb up into the massive Pranang Cave and work out way through a series of pitch black caves using the light from my camera screen. We emerge at the top of a route on Thaiwand Wall, high above Sunset Beach, and abseil down to the bottom of the crag. A couple more 5's and 5+'s (Organ Grinder and 2000 Tonnes of Steel) and another abseil. Then back down to the west beach and a well deserved drink before taking the rope back. Another swim at sunset. In the evening we go to a local massage parlour and our weary limbs are pummeled back into shape.
Behind Muay Thai crag lies a lagoon surrounded by cliffs, and it is here that we head the next day. Up through a jungle lined valley using ropes and whatever else comes to hand. Then down the other side through a steep ravine. A series of pitches that you lower yourself off holding onto ropes with knots in for grip. Once down, the trek is worth it. A glorious space in the middle of the cliffs, with a tidal pool in the centre. Small statues have been place in the walls as offerings. Louise makes a model of Big Ben before we work our way round to the far side of the lagoon and explore a cave. With the tide rising, we head back up and get cleaned up before booking transport on the next day. Another sunset and dinner before getting ready for the boat to Ko Phi Phi in the morning.
Picking our way past the sleeping bar staff and over to Sunset Beach, we wait for the longtail out to the ferry to Ko Phi Phi. We are transitted over to the big boat, with a slight misjudgement by the boatman putting the tiller through the engine room window. We are soon jetting the 42 km across the sea to Ko Phi Phi Don, the larger of the two islands. After checking into our room, we hire a rope and head to the nearby Ton Sai Wall which towers over the southern beach. The limestone is great and we climb a series of 5's and 5+'s in quick succession (So, So, So...People Come and People Go, Ban Dai (Ladder), Latitude 8). Tired we head back to town and go out for dinner at a local restaurant.
Next morning, we are up early to ascend the viewpoint behind the hotel. A great view to be had of the two islands. Down to the waterfront and onto a longtail for a day exploring the islands and snorkelling. We head north to Bamboo Island and then back round Ko Phi Phi Don to Monkey Beach, where grey monkeys defend their territory aggressively. Next over to Ko Phi Phi Leh and the famous Maya Bay, used as the setting of 'the Beach' in the film of the same name. Finally back round to Viking Cave and over to the larger island again. Off to bed after a lovely at a local restaurant. Early start to Khao Sok tomorrow.
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