Big rocks and little squirts at Railay
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
Show trip route
Over choppy seas we finally reached the Railay peninsula, and the first thing that was obvious here, excepting the 150 metre high cliffs all around, was the level of growth and development in the area. I almost didn't recognise the place - and it was only three or four years ago since I'd visited with my sister Ains. Air-conditioned bungalows, swimming pools in beach-fronted resorts, 1,500 baht per night rooms. What's going on?
I suppose it's a combination of planned development and some improvised stuff as a result of the tsunami. Compared to other west coast centres there wasn't a great deal of damage in Railay so it seems business and government have been moving forward, opening a spectacular place up to more tourism. Your call whether that's good or bad.
We were looking for cheap so we headed for Hat Ton Sai, as pictured below. The easily accessible cliffs, direct from the beach or from short walks through the scrub, make this Rock Climbing heaven in South East Asia, so we managed to find some nice new bungalows on the beach with a good restaurant for 150 baht per night. Much better.
The only issue with this is that Ton Sai is cut off from other beaches in Railay by the tides, so you have to be an early bird or wait till late in the afternoon to cross over the rocks. Otherwise it's an expensive longtail ride across the bay or a rugged trek over the point - not for the faint hearted, or those travelling with heavy loads or at night (which I'm inclined to do).
Still, the seclusion makes for a close knit community feel, enclosed by towering limestone crags and dense jungle on all sides. Unusual pinnacle islands in most directions out to sea complete a spectacular and truly unique landscape, at least in this part of the world. There's similar but it's not as big, bad and unassailable as this!
After checking in we had half a day to kill and the tide was right, so the girls and I (we'd met up with Lindsay's Dutch friend Vanessa in Krabi) decided to head back to the main village, then check out nearby Diamond cave. The entrance was a riot of foliage, flowers and stalactites and I at least was suitably impressed. We should really have paid the 20 baht to have the lights turned on inside, but we sallied forth anyway, my camera targeteing light and flash surprisingly effective in illuminating the path and highlighting the many interesting and extensive formations inside the 50 metre long cavern. This place must have been percolating for some time.
Once we were done adverturing it was time for beer on the main beach, whilst enjoying the sunset. I'm glad we had enough time to spare so I could get this meditation shot before scrambling back over the rocks in the gloaming dark. Despite the new resorts, shopping strips and increased crowds, it's still a pretty mellow place. And this particular rock is the centre of most attention.
The next day saw real climbing action. We'd negotiated a good rate with Joey at Wee's climbing school on Ton Sai, so became their first customers for the new season. And what an outstanding adventure he took us on.
It involved a boat and a walk around to East Railay, through narrow passageways to the other side of the prominent headland on West Railay beach. This is actually a beach called Phra Nang, home of a number of classy looking resorts. Not long after we found ourselves in darkness, entering a cave system in the headland megalith itself. We didn't have much in the way of lighting but we scrambled through, taking time to take in the views when portholes in the rock opened themselves to us (love that shot above right). Eventually we made it to the uppermost porthole, probably about 70 or 80 metres above sea level, and the views granted were supreme.
Even the sun came out for us, right on time, so we were pretty happy indeed. Still, once we were done gawping we had to get down, so each of us abseiled down 20 metres of cliff to get to the base of the climbs on this section of the wall. The girls were a little concerned, but once they met us at the bottom their fear of abseiling had gone, as with the newer equipment we were using it was very difficult to move at all, let alone get up enough speed to fall to a bloody death. Mission almost complete.
Then came the climbing. The first was pretty easy, a 5+ or a 5a just to gauge our technique. We all made it up, with varying degrees of effort, so it was decided to put us on a 30 metre 6a slope and see how we went.
I volunteered to go first and was pleased with the result as 6 rated climbs are starting to get difficult. I got up unusually quickly despite the small overhanging sections, and some pretty tiny hand and foot holds also encountered in some stages. Just look at the style and technique in that sequence above. And the form at the top, gazing out into the distance, like some intrepid explorer. Bloody marvellous! Just thank your good fortune I didn't zoom in on that last one, it's quite a revealing shot of my harness enclosed crotch!
We were into our last climbs when the weather closed in and we had to hightail it down a steep jungle path to get back to West Railay. More a mud slide than a path but anyway... Fortunately no serious injuries resulted from the descent, so we headed back home for a contented power nap before some celebratory drinks in the evening at Wee's Reggae Bar.
In spite of the mosquitos, we officially introduced Lindsay and Vanessa to the Sangtip bucket - an ice bucket full of Thai whiskey, Red Bull and Coca Cola on the rocks. Wisely having one only (however probably not in the spirit of things) we were able to watch some of the mayhem going on around us. Highlights were physical challenge riddles (very funny to watch) and obviously the fire shows - stolen convincingly by a pair of Swedish dudes with some complicated but very stylish moves that came up nicely on disk. Great entertainment that was highly apreciated by everyone there. Thanks guys - whoever you are...
With a new dawn things started to go down hill. Hard rain stayed all day and in the evening, I was attacked by the dreaded Ton Sai Squirts - a serious illness that I will detail further in an upcoming 'travel affliction' segment. On my 100th day out I was smoten, so I lay my head down to rest...
Days later, and on my final full day in town, I bumped into a local named Coby, who I'd seen and said 'hi' to previously . He invited me to come fishing and snorkelling on a private longtail with some mates and other travellers, and feeling adventurous in spite of myself I climbed aboard.
The weather was a bit sad but we visited some nice remote beaches, saw Chicken Island, and then got a snorkel in despite some average visibility. The swarm of very cool dragonflies on the last island was also a major highlight, but the real bonus was Coby's success with the fishing line. No one else caught a thing but he landed more than ten, including a foot long Cod that barbequed up very nicely that evening. He even managed to catch two fish at a time with one hook. The man is a god so well deserves his Freak of the Week honour at the end of this entry.
It was a nice night to end on, chilling out at Coby's Viking Bar, eating fish, playing Pool and watching a box of pre-arranged fireworks (designed by a lazy fire bug) going off to mark the bar's opening. It wasn't a late night but it gave my Railay visit, with all it's ups and downs, some happy closure.
Next entry -> reconstruction at Phi Phi
Freak of the Week
Coby is 25 and possibly the happiest guy I've met all year. He's married with one child and owns 50 metres of beach front property on Ton Sai, probably 200 metres deep, so he operates a cool bar, a restaurant, a small store, a bunch of bungalows and a kick-ass sound system on the property.
He invites people to come fishing and snorkelling on a local boat, then cooks the proceeds for general consumption at dinner. He has lots of friends and mellow travellers stopping by and life in general must be pretty good, because he likes to smile a lot. Nice work mate.
(If you want to visit he owns the Viking Bar/Bungalows near the longtail channel on Tonsai beach.)