Sorry Roberta, I broke my promise. I haven’t been keeping up with blogging.
My dear friend Roberta encouraged me to write daily. She knows I want to make writing a regular practice. But…life happens. The last three days have been filled with beautiful beaches, yes, but also with lots of last-minute logistics, unexpected difficulties, and some hard and necessary relationship work for Jonathan and me. I have been taking notes and photos but decided not to spend time on a laptop. The few truly free and restful hours needed to be dedicated to exploring, relaxing, and connecting. Turns out paradise is a mind-set, not just a location. (Takes a bow to Buddha.)
Now I’m plonked in a snazzy farang cafe in Krabi Town with espresso drink and fruit shakes more than twice the price of a whole street food meal. But it’s cool and it’s relaxing and, most importantly, I have access to WiFi for the next five hours. Time to catch up on reading, writing, communicating with friends and family, before we catch our flight to Chiang Mai in the early evening.
So, beach life in Southern Thailand! I couldn’t visit Thailand without hitting up a beach. Jonathan consented – “I want you to have your beach time.” – then got sucked into the chillax zone himself. Seeing this high-energy constant explorer actually lie down in the sand after a dip in the sea was truly unexpected. We chose our beach destinations at the very last minute, based on friends’ recommendations on Facebook (thanks Brian for skyping with us and actually drawing us a map of Tonsai in real-time!). Also, irresistibly cheap and frequent flights that got us justifying an increased carbon footprint in no time. In just an hour’s time and for less than USD 50 we were transplanted from the big city (where we thankfully got to leave all of our cold-weather clothes in storage at the hostel) to Krabi Town, the capital of a province on the Andaman Sea that also includes the famous party island of Phuket. We skirted tourist central for more restful destinations: via bus and then a small wooden speedboat we were transported to Tonsai Beach. Wading to shore through the shallow waters, I caught sight of the first climbers. The peninsula that Tonsai is located on is marked by dramatic limestone cliffs rising along the coastline. Tonsai therefore attracts many international climbers. Apart from them, the scene is “dirtbag central”, as our friend Brian put it politely. Tiny one-street Tonsai could not be more different from it’s resort tourism neighbor Railey Beach. Accommodation in Tonsai mostly takes the form of cheap bungalows set in the jungle. A plethora of virtually identical open-air eateries serve cheap and delicious Thai food and fruit shakes, and late-night bars constructed from wood and bamboo in seemingly haphazard architectural experiments offer cheap beer, fire spinning shows and, in season, supposedly even magic mushroom drinks. As you may have deduced by now, the crowd in Tonsai is mainly made up of dread-locked, tatooed budget travelers. We pass a yoga and meditation space, two mini marts, two day-trip operators and an open-air massage parlor in our search for a place to stay. It is rapidly getting dark and we can’t find the guest house Brian recommended to us. No one seems to have heard of it. In the location Brian described, however, is a different bungalow resort that presents us with the best value we can find: for USD 20 per night we get a spacious wooden bungalow in the tree tops, with a small veranda and a bathroom that is tiled and clean. We patch the semi fictional mosquito with my bobby pins and safety pins from our first aid kit. Our spot turns out to be just across the way from the best eatery in town: Mama’s Chicken serves us generous portions of fresh salad (a rarity!), green curry and tofu stir fry (tofu, too, has been very hard to find in meat-heavy Thai cuisine – we have certainly been diverging strongly from our usual vegetarian preferences). Two fellow travelers whom we’d met on the ferry earlier join us for dinner: Christian is a diving inductor from Iceland, Tony a DJ from Brooklyn on leave from his day job as a music teacher. He’s been feeling lonely since all his friends cancelled their plans to come travel with him. The Corona virus is definitely making people paranoid. After my Mom tells me on a Skype call about how the virus is spreading in Europe and in Seattle, I feel more convinced than ever that Thailand is a relatively safe place to be now.
The next morning we walk through the jungle to Railey to check out the beaches and town there. We see caves and impressive stalagtite formations in the limestone cliffs and spot were climbers have marked routes. Entering Railey, we’re met by a gang of skinny monkeys munching on leaves in a tree. Some of them are carrying tiny babies too. The next wildlife encounter awaits just down the road: a water monitor is walking on the beach, followed by a camera-wielding throng of Eastern European tourists, allmof them dressed in identical white shirts we saw being sold in the souvenir shops here.
Being just a few degrees removed from the equator, mid-day burn is real here. My body is still adjusting to the heat and after a few hours of walking with my day pack my legs feel tired and my energy wanes. I’m dying to finally get into the turquoise water! Finally we reach East Beach. There are a lot of tourists bathing here but I don’t hesitate to join the crowd. Plunging into the water feels so good. It cools me off for just a moment, then it’s like swimming in a bathtub. I see different types of small fish swimming very close to me. Jonathan takes a quick dip too but then urges us to move on quickly. A gang of beach goers is feeding macacee apes food scraps. The animals are clearly very used to humans and they try to snatch other items from people’s bags too. I can just see this ignorant behavior leading to a dangerous encounter in the future and no doubt the animals will be blamed.
Luckily there are fewer tourists further down the beach and we enjoy lunch from a “fast food boat” moored there. We get to Railey West Beach in time for sunset. This half moon shaped strip of powdery sand with the backdrop of steep cliffs is advertised as the most beautiful beach in Thailand. Minus the noise of boat motors, I can’t argue with that.