In a small hut on the beach, I am lying on my back with my feet facing the sea. To my left I can hear reggae music; to my right I can hear monks chanting their evening prayers. The sun is setting and the waves are gently lapping in. A Thai woman of 52 who looks to be 70 when she smiles is massaging away all of my aches and pains from the previous day’s Muay Thai training.
Debby paid for this amazing moment in my life. She also bought the plane tickets to get us here, the transfers, the beach bungalows, the dinners, not to mention the beers to wash it all down! Refusing to let us chip in, not even for tuk-tuk rides, she single-handedly paid for our entire 10-day trip together, pampering and spoiling us in any way we, or she, desired. Erin and I blazed the trail and she brought the cash, an amazing feat of generosity and one which I will be forever grateful. Thank you Debby for an amazing adventure! Oh, and by the way if you ever need to experience something amazing, ask Debby for a hug…they are world-class!
We flew into Trang and then a minivan, boat ride, minivan, boat ride, and tuk-tuk ride later we arrived at our bungalow, Lanta New Beach Resort. Unsure of whether we were being ripped-off by the advice of the driver (it’s amazing how much every buck counts here and you feel ripped off for $1,) I left the girls on the beach and rented a motorbike to cruise the island in search of our perfect getaway. After a 90-minute search confirmed we were actually at the best place for both value and location, I picked up some beers and returned to the ladies who were already getting massages, booked our room and proceeded to, in the words of a famous kiwi whitewater raft-guide, chill-ax. By sunset, I was receiving my own massage and had downed a few Chang’s to loosen up. That evening we had dinner by candlelight on a low beach-side table and watched locals twirl flaming poi’s to entertain us while music played and the waves gently crashed in the background. The only thing that make this any better was someone else picking up the tab. Well, consider it done.
The next morning we woke and had a nice breakfast and then hopped (literally) to the beach for some fun in the sun. I quickly made a friend, an 8-year old boy named Bon and we spent the day rafting in the water, taking pictures, and exchanging Muay Thai punches. Of course, he won. The day slowly drifted past and before long I was involved in a beach volleyball game while the girls were checking out a market nearby. My team won all three games played which made my celebratory beer and massage that much better. We had dinner in the same spot and enjoyed the fire show again, realizing that somehow, watching people twirl fire never gets old.
We rose early the next morning to catch a taxi, long boat, taxi and two more long boats before arriving 3 hours later at our next destination…
Railay Beach and Ton Sai
Only accessible by boat from nearby Krabi, Railay (pronounce Rye-lay) Beach is broken into East and West beaches and to the north is the small backpacker village of Ton Sai. The peninsula is surrounded by enormous limestone cliffs making this area home to some of the best rock climbing in the world. We elected to stay in Ton Sai and met two other American backpackers on the short longboat ride on the way. Zach and Shelby, both from Colorado, are in month 3 of their 6-month around the world tour and started in January as well. Needless to say, we had many things to talk about and enjoyed their company for our 2 day, 2 night stint at the beach.
We checked into our tiny bungalows near the beach (which consisted of nothing more than a bed with a mosquito net and an adjoining bathroom and shower) then had some lunch and relaxed on the beach for awhile before checking out some of the climbers. Darkness came quick as the sun set behind the large cliffs and we had dinner with Zach and Shelby before heading to bed.
Early the next morning Erin and I walked down to On the Rocks, one of many guided rock climbing boutiques in the vicinity and thirty minutes later we were strapped in for our first climb. I would belay for Joe, our guide, while he would take our rope up to its final destination before rappeling down and Erin and I belayed for each other respectively. On our highest climb of roughly 30 meters, the view was absolutely astounding but unfortunately I left the camera at the bottom. I did six climbs total in three hours and by that time I was completely pooped and ready for a beer. On our way back to Ton Sai we ran into Thierry and Leanne who were also in Railay and they hiked back with us over the rocks. Only during low tide is this possible, but this day, we wished we had taken a boat because the rocks were really slippery and Debby ended up tweaking her calf muscle while slipping which had her limping for the rest of the trip. We teamed up to hobble her back to the room, got her some ice and then had some dinner.
We spent the rest of our time relaxing on the Thai chairs and lounge areas. I met an Aussie named Anthony and we spent the better part of the evening walking the tight rope that had been set up near the lounge area. It took me all night but I finally made my way across, and our friends graciously applauded my feat.
Our health clinic at home as well as other travellers had warned us it was only a matter of time before one of us got sick. We even brought special pills just in case. Erin was the first one to go down and at 3 a.m. bolted from bed for what would become one long night. I felt really sorry for her but was glad my job was only to rub her back and hold her hair instead of vice versa. Debby was sick the next day. Zach, same same, as they say in Thailand. Thierry had already had it and we ran into two others from our days in Chiang Mai who were sick as well. The bug was going around and I kept saying my pretty pleases that it would somehow miss me.
The next morning with only my stomach hurting and Debby and Erin feeling remarkably better but still kind of sick, we bid farewell to Zach and Shelby whom we hope to see again in India. If not, we will catch up with them on our drive back to San Francisco! We are on our way to Kura Buri to meet up with Derrick. Long boat, long boat, minibus and three to four big buses; my stomach is starting to hurt.
Kura Buri and 500 Rais in Ta Kuun
Close call but no sickness. I have no idea how I escaped unscathed but crazier things have happened. Plus, India is coming up soon and I’m sure my time will come. Derrick met us at the bus station and already had a place lined up for us so we settle in quick. I needed a shower in a bad way before going out for some food. The girls elected to stay in but Derrick took me to his local hangout where I indulged on my first “western” food of the trip, a chicken cheeseburger and some fries. It was decent but at this point, I would’ve taken anything. On another note, I would do just about anything for a real American burger because frankly, there is nothing like it.
We spent the evening talking about his internship and his time in Thailand over some Singha beers. His internship is really interesting. Hired on as the marketing manager for Andaman Discoveries, his job is to help local woman who lost their husband’s in the tsunami of ’04 market their homemade products to tourists and locals. Apparently he also doubles as the IT director in the small office. It all sounded eerily similar to my internship in Belize; a small company trying to do big things on a small or sometimes non-existent budget. The frustrations that mount with this cocktail I easily related to. I met some of his co-workers as well, Emily especially stood out. A proper Englishwoman, she also works for Andaman but on a full-time basis and has a great sense of humor; the kind of person you immediately take to and feel like you can talk to about anything. Derrick is picking up Thai, impressively well actually, and is planning on returning to Thailand after graduation for some intensive language studies. He may also “live the dream” and continue to work in Thailand. Whatever he decides, I’m really happy for him.
The next morning we hopped on a bus and well, you know how it goes by now; four hours later, quite possibly more, we were at our next destination. This one however, will stay in my memory for a much longer time. Located in the heart of a national park, the floating village is untouched and surrounded by lush vegetation, giant limestone cliffs and an array of wildlife that would make zoologist’s scream. A large extended family of twelve run, manage, and live at the resort. Never have I seen a family more closely tied to their environment; they live because of the river they float on. In the essence of the word harmony, they use it for everything and it sustains them. Day in and day out, none of the people seek for more. They are content and happy and enjoy each other’s company every second. It was refreshing to see and I was envious of them. We all were.
For two days we were fortunate enough to live their lives, well, the more pampered style at least. I wasn’t cooking or washing dishes and I didn’t necessarily have to catch my dinner either (although I would have if asked.) All meals were included and we each had our own little floating bungalow to sleep in. We swam and kayaked around the beautiful countryside and one evening even took a long boat out to see what is called the “buffalo spa.” At dusk, water buffalo’s come to the river to drink and bathe but unfortunately we didn’t spot any. We did however, see and hear plenty of Gibbon monkey’s in the trees that adorned the sheer cliffs as well as soaring eagles and a dozen wild boar.
Time drifted by a little too quickly and before long it was time to bid farewell to our little community and return to Kura Buri to catch our bus back to Bangkok.
One More Time in Bangkok (but never the last)
The girls went out on their own, shopping and getting some custom-tailored suits made, and I slept in and relaxed. Due to my own personal sickness I hadn’t been able to eat much and all of the travelling was just taking it’s toll on my body. It complained and I listened; some serious rest was in order. With their new outfits, we went out for one final dinner together and toasted our amazing trip together.
Bangkok wouldn’t let us leave without one more funny story though which would ultimately be my third “run-in” with Thai women (the first was a miscommunication over a food order in Krabi and the second was a lady chewing me out for low-balling her for souvenirs in Bangkok):
We returned from dinner and I began to update my blog and check email online on one of two computers in the lobby. The girl at the counter came up to me after about a half an hour to alert me that someone else was waiting for the computer and would I wrap it up in 5 minutes. I happily obliged but the other computer opened up so I stayed put. Another 30 minutes passed and she came up again saying some others were waiting for the computer, could I wrap it up in 5 minutes? No problem, I said. She left and the couple waiting for the computer said “no hurry, we’re going to be sitting here doing some research so take your time.” Perfect. Another 10 minutes go by and the front desk girl comes over and abruptly unplugs my computer from the outlet, starts screaming that I have disrespected her and informs that I can have my money back and must leave the hotel immediately. Shocked at what has just happened and peeved that she just shut down the computer when I had my bank accounts open, I informed her of her complete “craziness,” and to be perfectly honest, gave her a large piece of mind and plugged the computer back in to close down my accounts. The male of the couple that was waiting couldn’t believe what was unfolding and tried to reason with “crazy front desk lady” that everything was okay. In the meantime she had called the police, called the room to wake up the girls to let them know we had to leave and continued to scream at me.
I went upstairs to alert the girls of what had unfolded and Erin accompanied me downstairs to try and calm the lady down. While I apologized and tried to explain the misunderstaning, the couple, who were now using the computer, ultimately had to step in and tell the woman that they didn’t mind waiting, everything was okay, calm your “craziness” and let him go to bed. She begrudgingly agreed and we returned to bed.
I woke an hour later to get Debby off safely toward the airport. I learned an important lesson: Do not mess with Thai women! They run on the shortest fuses I’ve ever seen.
A few hours later, Erin and I boarded our plane to Hanoi. We were ready for something new and exciting and were hoping that Vietnam would be the answer.