The ferry system at Rassada Pier leaving Phuket was confusing navigating around the mobs of people and different destinations. We were glad we had booked our passage through our hotel which included a pick up and drop off at the port plus some stickers that came in handy! They slapped stickers on us with our final destination making it easy for the workers to tell when a farang (thai for foreigner) was out of position. We were herded onto our ferry and sat behind an incredibly impatient woman who almost had a conniption when the boat didn’t leave on time. We left 45 minutes late welcome to South East Asia lady. We didn’t know where exactly the ferry was going to drop us off so it was much to our chagrin when the ferry went to our destination first. The ferry ticket even covered the longtails running us to shore from the ferry, much obliged! Every time we were around the longtails I could not help but check out what type of motor was on the back and how it was mounted and modified. Unlike in Bangkok where it looked like they had just plucked the motors out of the cars and bolted them on the back, here the motors were missing a very important component, a radiator. As I looked closer I could see the hoses that typically ran to the radiator were instead run to the back of the engine and down into the sea water and through a short system of what looked to be aluminum piping to cool the motor.
It was oppressively hot on our ten-minute walk up to the Chill Out Bar and Hostel and we knew there would not be much reprieve without AC in our room so we prayed there might be a fan. There was an oscillating fan mounted on the ceiling, however the electricity here was only on at night and for a few hours during the middle of the day. Eager to explore our new surroundings we braved the heat walking down to the beach and watched some rock climbers in the shade make intensely difficult climbs look effortless. Makes sense as these two beaches are well known around the world for rock climbing and will show up in just about any google search for best rock climbing around the world.
Suzie told us about a rocky path through the woods at the end of the beach that would lead us over to Railay beach so after feeling pathetic watching the masterful climbers we took the ten-minute walk over to Railay. We soon learned that Tonsai and Railay have very contrasting atmospheres. In Tonsai the vibe is very relaxed and all about climbing or chilling out. Railay is where most of the resorts are which means more people and activity. The beach was much more crowded than the almost desolate beach of Tonsai and for good reason with how soft the sand is and for how far you can wade out into the turquoise waters. We had a dip in the water to refresh ourselves and took in the beauty of the surrounding limestone cliffs while drinking a cold beer on the beach. We saw people out on kayaks and decided that would be a great way to spend our morning tomorrow.
Paddling out from Tonsai beach in the morning we set out on an adventure to navigate past Railay West and see what is around the corner of some towering limestone cliffs. Along our way we stopped by many limestone cliffs and caves for an up-close view. The limestone cliffs are sea beds from millions of years ago which were lifted up by tectonic plate movements. Over time acid rain and the ocean have eroded the limestone into fascinating top-heavy Frankenstein structures. Paddling under overhangs and looking up at the massive stalactites I prayed that the formations would not choose today to lose their grip. Rounding the corner Ao Phra Nang beach came into view with a beautiful back drop of cliffs and caves. This is the beach with the Phra Nang Cave Shrine dedicated to fertility and filled with phallic objects. We visited this beach and the cave, but not before we were done with our kayak. There was a distant island off the coast we wanted to paddle to before heading back for a cool picture. About halfway to the island we noticed two interesting facts, we were the furthest kayak out and as hard as we could paddle the incoming waves and wind had us at a stalemate. We turned back short of our goal to save our energy for the paddle back and stopped by other closer islands on the way.
I had been wrestling with if I wanted to rock climb while we were here and the only reservation I had was how hot it gets here. I figured my sweaty hands would just slip right off the rocks. On our way back in the kayak I decided I had to climb while we were in one of the top-rated places in the world. Seventy-year-old me would be disappointed if I didn’t give it a try so I signed up with the climb shop at the Chill Out Bar, totally legit.
In the morning we split up for breakfast because Lauren decided to take a yoga class instead of climbing and over breakfast she overheard a conversation between two girls that would haunt us. She heard one girl talking to the other about how she had just gotten over what we call “The Dengue” aka Dengue fever. Lauren told me the girl was almost in tears telling her friend how awful it was for the seven days she was sick. Dengue has no vaccine and of course is carried by mosquitoes like every other fun disease in the tropics. The girl also told her friend how all of her friends had gotten The Dengue and she was the last victim. As Lauren told me this story I pieced together another in my head that I had just ignored at the time between two guys. One guy that has been living in Tonsai for three months was talking to another who just arrived and the new arrival asked if the veteran had been sick yet. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but later realized they were talking about The Dengue, to which the veteran replied he had gotten sick the first week. I looked down at my leg that had gotten bitten about six times at breakfast the morning before because I stupidly decided bug spray was not needed and I prayed that The Dengue would spare me. Fortunately, we both avoided it and have been fanatical about our bug spray ever since throughout South East Asia. One last important fact we learned through this was there is a specific type of mosquito that can carry The Dengue. It’s the aedes mosquito which is a big black one with white stripes or dots. Don’t risk it deet up!
I was paired up with one other guy for rock climbing with one guide for both of us which worked great taking turns on the walls to give ourselves breaks. He was from Argentina and it was his first time rock climbing so I tried to give him a few pointers on our walk to the cliffs. Since I had the experience I was elected to climb first by our guide and he chose a wall of medium difficulty for me to start on. About halfway up the 50 foot climb I could already feel my forearms getting tired and my body trembled a little bit with the difficulty of parts of the wall. This was no place for a beginner to make his or her first climb. Yes it’s been years since I climbed and the muscles used enjoyed an extended hibernation, but these climbs were some of the hardest outdoor climbs I have done. I find out later our guide picked one of the harder climbs to start us on I think to test us. Next up was the Argentinian who received about a 30 second rundown on climbing from our guide before he ordered him to start climbing. The guide kept belittling this poor guy, barking orders at him and becoming exasperated when he didn’t immediately follow his command. He was obviously out of his element and a little scared and uncomfortable on the cliff. And that’s how it went for the next couple hours I would do a climb and then my partner would attempt in spite of their laughter, jeering, and spurious help. At one point he picked out a climb he wanted to try and our guide told him no because that climb was meant for women and children. I think I would have snapped at that point. I felt so bad for him, but he did take it in good spirit and had the determination to make it to the top of a couple climbs without their “help”.
After that first climb my muscles seemed to be warmed up and more willing to work on the next five climbs with the tallest at 100 feet. I definitely recommend climbing if you come to Tonsai or Railay and even if it is your first time give it a shot, just make sure to find yourself a nice and actually helpful guide!