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Cliffhanging

Following three nights of beach partying in Koh Phi Phi my body needed a break, and where better to go then Railay beach. Railay isn’t quite an island, its a peninsula off the mainland of Thailand a little north of the port town of Krabi, but it’s only accessible by boat so it might as well be. There are three beaches on the peninsula, East and West Railay beach, and Phra Nang beach, and their are all overlooked by magnificent limestone cliffs. With all the impressive cliffs Railay is world famous for rock climbing, and several people I travelled with said it as their favourite beach and island-of-sorts in Thailand.

The Longtail boats which ferry would be climbers to and from Railay beach.

Matt and myself left Koh Phi Phi in the afternoon and after a boring ferry, minibus, Longtail boat combo we arrived to East Railay Beach. The east beach isn’t really much of a beach, its more of a mangrove. Since the tide was out the Longtail boat we rode in on stopped quite far out and we had to wade in through knee deep water holding our packs over our heads. After getting to shore we headed to Rapala Cabins, the cheapest accommodation on the island, and on the way bumped into James who was chilling in a restaurant reading a book. Railay east starts off as a couple of really fancy resorts, and the further away from the tip of the peninsula you head, the cheaper the accommodation gets. Once you get right into the corner, past the resorts and restaurants, there was our quaint accommodation and a bunch of cheap restaurants, bars and tattoo shops which all had a heavy rasta influence. When checking in I met an English guy Owen and his girlfriend Meagan. We made plans to meet up for dinner later and then Matt, James and trekked across the peninsula to check out Railay west beach for the sunset. Railay west is a much nicer beach than east, in that it is actually a beach, and it sports magnificent views of the sunset. It’s also the more expensive side of the peninsula with more expensive restaurants and upmarket accommodation than the east side. Backpackers only stop here for the beach. While we sat there I spotted Michelle and Olivia, the Manchester girls I had met on Phi Phi and found out they were staying at Ao Nang and had come up on boat for a day trip.

The sunset at West Railay beach.

With another Asian orange sunset observed we headed to The Last Bar which, funnily enough, was the last bar tucked into the corner of East beach and had dinner and a couple of drinks and my first generally chilled night in a long time. The most interesting part of that night were two girls who Owen had met on the boat over that joined us a little later. I can’t remember their names, but one was English and the other Australian and they were both Vets. They both had a considerable appetite for drugs which they talked about in great detail, in particular the ones they could “acquire” from their veterinary practices; namely Ketamine and Cocaine. At one point the Aussie girl dangled herself over the railing of the bar to fish something out of the mangroves and came over with a rather large bag of white powder. She excitedly ripped it open as her and her friend discussed the possibility that she had found a mammoth stash of Coke (this bag would have been a couple hundred grams). They rubbed some of the powder on their gums saying “It tastes like it, I think. What do you think?”, “I’m not sure, maybe, my mouth is a bit numb.” While the rest of us watched curiously and casually pointed out they were sticking some random white powder they found floating in some mangroves into their mouths with no idea what it was, and that that was a little bit fucked up. In the end I don’t know what they did with the bag, but they gave up on it and after a few more drinks and smokes they went to bed unimpressed by our lack of party spirit. It didn’t click till the day after when I remembered this was the rock climbing capitol of Asia. Their bag of magical white powder was clearly rock climbing chalk.

Matt recovering after his first rock climb at Railay beach.

With my detox night over I woke up bright and early to go and learn how to rock climb. Matt and myself were joined by a Thai guy called Tom who was our instructor for the day. Tom seemed to think he was a little too cool for school, but other than that he was pretty nice. Rock climbing was hard, really hard, but so much fun. I kept using my arms too much at first, but once I got my legs into the picture it got a little easier. My second climb was 30m high, and the view from the top when you stopped to look around was amazing. There were a few points on the way up though where I stopped covered in sweat, clinging tightly to the cliff by a finger tip and thinking “Shit, where now?” and for the life of me not seeing anything to grab onto to move higher. Of course there was always a way up, but it wasn’t always easy.

Rock climbing on the cliffs near East Railay beach.

After a four or five climbs I was exhausted. Matt was even more exhausted and had managed to tear the toe nail off one of his toes to boot. We finished up on Phra Nang beach, the 3rd and final beach on Railay peninsula located at the tip between the East and West beach, and called it a day. This beach is the nicest on the island, and is half owned by a mega-resort which costs of the order of $1000 USD a night. Tom told us that a few weeks earlier Gerard Butler had been staying there, and he had taking him climbing. Whether this was truth or boasting I know not, but Tom climbed Butler had been a terrible climber, and when he exclaimed that Butler had rock climbed in his last movie, Butler had replied “computer graphics”. In a cave at the end of this beach was also another curious oddity. It was a shrine full of wooden penises of various sizes ranging from large to gargantuan. Tom told a story about this cave, which I have mostly forgotten, but it went something along the lines of this: There was a couple who were deeply in love, and the guy had to leave for some arbitrary reason and promised he would return. His wife waited on the beach for the love of her life to return, but he never did. I guess that is why she needed to make wooden dildos. Anyway, Thai people who want to meet their true love carve wooden phalluses and offer them to the ghost of the abandoned women and pray for love. The bigger the cock, the better the wife/husband. If you want two partners, better make a bifurcated one (of which there was at least one I saw there). This was definitely the most unusual shrine I saw in Asia.

The Penis shrine on Pranang beach.

Exhausted after the morning of rock climbing Matt and I retreated for lunch. Matt was done for the day and retired to the hammock outside our bungalow with a book. I felt optimistic I could continue and rubbed my sore muscles with tiger balm and headed back for more rock climbing with Tom. For the afternoon session Tom brought along his friend Tu, also a climbing instructor and we headed around to the far end of Phra Nang beach where there were some nice climbs, and in particular a cave you can climb through to abseil down to West Railay Beach. My optimism didn’t last long, and minutes into my first climb I realised how fatigued my muscles were. I was a wreck and was only climbing with a fraction of the skill level I had in the morning, and that skill level hadn’t been particularly high to start with. I persisted however, through pain, sweat and exhaustion, and eventually made it to the top. The view from the cave of the West beach was fantastic, and the abseil a nice break from climbing.

West Railay beach as viewed form the climbs separating it and Pranang beach

That night I left Railay to head back to the mainland for dinner with Tom, Tu and a couple of other climbing instructors. We went to an all you can eat BBQ place and ate solely meat, and a hell of a lot of it. There was beef, chicken, squid, prawns, fish and pork, and it was delicious. On the way back, Tom told me how he ended up at Railay, and a few other stories that I probably shouldn’t mention here. He was originally from Bangkok and came for a holiday once when he was 19. Essentially he loved the hippy stoner lifestyle there and got depressed when he arrived back in Bangkok. He stayed home only for a few months then packed his bags and moved back to Railay, and learned how to climb, eventually became an instructor, and was there till this day. Pretty much everyone who worked there, Thai or foreigner, had a similar story.

Tu pulling his shoes on for some rock climbing.

Once we arrived back from the mainland I met back up with Matt, James, Owen and Meagan at The Last Bar, again. I also got a call from Welsh Owen who was in Krabi and would head over to meet us the next day. He was now travelling on his own as Chantel had headed back home to Wales. With better weather that night we sat out on the deck at the last bar, and I sneakily drank some whisky I had bought at the 7-Eleven on the mainland. The Vets from the previous night were nowhere to be found, perhaps they had had too much chalk dust, but we had a new addition; an Israeli girl Iris. Owen and Meagan turned in early as they were climbing the next day, but the rest of us stayed out for a longer one. Iris bought some  shi sha and we smoked that for awhile seeing who could blow the most smoke. I failed epically and came last, not surprising for someone who was an asthmatic child. Iris won by a long margin by doing an amazing trick where she covered her face with her hands and puffed out the smoke, looking like her head had exploded.

Iris and her exploding head trick.

The day after Welsh Owen arrived and it was good to catch up again. While Matt sat around reading Owen and I decided to wander around Phra Nang beach and take some photos. Owen had grown increasingly cynical in the time since I saw him last, and after witnessing Phi Phi I could sympathise with his bemoaning how commercial everything in Thailand was. In line with this I also started reading The Beach, which as I have previously mentioned was Owen’s favourite book and is essentially about how tourism destroys paradise. As if to spite us Phra Nang beach was full of the worst sort of tourists; the wealthy holiday makers. To top it off they were also filming something on another part of the beach. This section was full of camera crews and beautiful young girls sun baking and hitting volleyballs. I stopped to chat to one of the young sun baking beauties and asked what was going on on. In a pleasant practiced manner she told us they were filming a commercial for some product or another and then apologetically informed us that we were in the frame and would have to move. I replied dryly “Oh don’t worry, we’re going to get as far away from here as possible”, but she missed the cynicism in my voice.

Long tail boats docked at Phra Nang beach.

That night we had one last dinner with English Owen and Meagan who had spent the day climbing up rocks out in the ocean. Their rock climbing tour sounded really cool. They were boated out an impressive rocks which just stuck out of the water in the middle of nowhere, and without any equipment they climbed. If you fell you fell into the water. If you didn’t fall, well you had to jump into the water once you got to the top anyway. It sounded really cool, but I was too broke and sore to do anymore rock climbing. With Owen back Matt and I were ready to move onto the next destination the following day. I suggested we visit Koh Lanta further south while the weather was decent, but Owen wanted to head to Koh Phangang even though there was still news of terrible weather over there.

The docks at Ao Nam Mao where the Long tail boats to Railay leave from.