Wednesday, December 31, 2014

12/21/14 Day 339 Searching for the Nature at Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

Stepping off of the ferry onto the hectic dock was overwhelming to say the least, with a horde of backpackers piling off of three different ferries at once, being hounded by touts persistently attempting to book their guest houses, and on top of all this chaos a 20 baht mandatory "keep Ko Phi Phi clean" fee for admittance from the dock. We searched high and low for a cheap place to sleep for two nights as the holiday season approaches on the most touristy island in Thailand, the best we can do is a cheap guesthouse near city center for 1,050 baht for two nights. For 16$ a night we could do a lot worse. Everything on this island has exorbitant costs, diving is more than double the price at Ko Tao, day trips to nearby Maya Bay where the movie The Beach was filmed have additional landing fees and food is marked way up on the whole island. Street food options were not as bountiful as we were hoping, since they bulldozed the once thriving street market to make room for another hotel. Papaya is known for having really cheap and delicious food and definitely lived up to its reputation, but the winner for us was this hole in the wall restaurant nested between a pizza place and "fast food" just steps from Loh Dalum Bay. The walls are covered in glowing testimonies from previous devotees inscribed in sharpie and only seats about a dozen patrons at a time. The rice soup is unparalleled, with robust seasoning, dropped egg and delectable mushrooms; a filling meal for two for the small price of 70 baht! Everything on the island is horribly built up, after being flattened less than 10 years ago by a tsunami, it is like it never happened though, a bigger, better human constructed secondary succession with new high rise hotels budding up all over the place. We spent the whole next day hiking up to the viewpoint (20 baht) and up and over to the North side of the island. It took us around 2.5 hours to arrive on the northeastern shore, and as soon as we were comfortably situated on our beach towels the clouds started to roll in. Really dark, heavy clouds, creeping closer we began to wonder if we should take action, group decision a yes. Just as we packed our last things into the waterproof backpack the torrential downpour dumped along the expanse of the bay. We booked it to the nearby resort where we took cover for the next 30 drenching minutes. When the flow finally began to drizzle we started our way back to town through the saturated jungle. Our favorite beach on the whole island turned out to be Long Beach, just a twenty minute hike South of the main dock with an uninterrupted stretch of white sand and minimal people. We prepared for an all night epic rager for which Ko Phi Phi is famed for. The expected overpriced buckets, predictable fire spinning and terrible pop music were all present, but what did shock us was the LED limbo. No reckless and dangerous fire limbo and jump rope?! Apparently safety is at least vaguely acknowledged on this island. We left the next morning, back onto the dock crawling with people where we handed off our three "keep Ko Phi Phi clean" tickets, along with our paid admission slips to the viewpoint to save some lucky travelers 120 baht, two whole large Changs.

Touts at the dock begging for a guest
On an island with no real roads and minimal scooters, bicycles rule the streets

The first viewpoint
Gaining altitude at the second viewpoint

Up the hill
Big beautiful butterflies

Loh Bagao Bay, just before the rain
After the downpour

The mist descended upon us in the jungle after the rain

A whole new kind of poi spinning, it looks like a spinning firework igniting the sky. Steel Wool is used to create a quick combustion of sparks for a few minutes; but it is clearly hot and dangerous because the performers spin really fast, stay stationed in calf deep water (unlike most shows on the sand), the show is relatively short and they will throw the poi into the water and run for it without hesitation. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

12/19/14 Day 337 A Small Climb at Phra Nang Beach: Railay, Thailand

It is hard to believe it wasn't until our third day at Railay that we ventured to Phra Nang beach. The sand is ultra-fine white powder against a craggy drooping limestone stalactite backdrop. Across a coral-littered sandbar constructed causeway lies an islet composed of caves and heaps more limestone. The beach is infinitely more scenic than the three surrounding options: Ton Sai, Railay East and Railay West-although the secret is out and there were enough people to substantiate the beauty of this beach. To get there we had to walk from Ton Sai through the beach trail to West Railay and from there across the length of the beach up and around to Railay East, continuing down the peninsula between the two Railay beaches. On the way we came across the viewpoint trail, a muddy wall of earth-toned clay that beckoned us straight upwards along the secure ropes, well worn hand holds and foot molded root loops. We scrambled up the steep face in a matter of only ten minutes leaving us just another 100 meters to reach the viewpoint and we were rewarded with a view of the entire Railay backdrop. We decided to continue the journey down into the lagoon, a more difficult climb down a sheer wall guided by the aid of the necessary guardian ropes. We were able to lift ourselves down the three sections of rock and into the lagoon. The natural skylight pierced through the darkness onto our mud slathered bare feet while we soaked up the sunshine. Heading back up we pulled ourselves up the last ledge to a group of people who had been nervously debating the decision to descend. They couldn't believe we did it barefoot and in bikinis-it is the only way to do it if you want less dirty laundry. We sauntered back to the beach where we scrubbed the mud off of our bodies and feeling accomplished, enjoyed the dull ache in our arms. Watching the sun push the clouds into the sea for an epic sunset was the icing on the cake, for our last day at Railay the weather has been phenomenal! 

Looking out to the islet off of Phra Nang beach
Magnificent limestone forms

An ancient legend of the Cave of the Maiden Princess recommends locals leave phallic offerings to ensure safe passage on the sea

The viewpoint and lagoon trail
It is more vertical than it looks
Gorgeous viewpoint of Railay Bay

Now for the muddy part, the hike down to the lagoon
Totally worth the workout
Myself and Julie, striking a pose in the natural limelight

Julie and I climbing up
We made it there and back no scrapes just muddy

Looking back from the islet to Phra Nang beach

Another longtail ride to catch our ferry to Phi Phi island

The Ao Nang Princess

12/18/14 Day 336 Ao Ton Sai and Ao Railay

Our adventure starts with a songtheaw from Krabi to Ao Nang beach for 50 baht and after a quick street food lunch we are over the built up touristy souvenir shops and take one of the dozens of long boats waiting on both sides of the beach. It is a conformed process where you actually buy a ticket from a booth for 100 Baht and show it to the driver, once there is a group of 8 or more you wade out to the boat and load up, arriving in either Tonsai or Railay just fifteen minutes later. Sloshing through the low tide we wander up the shore towards a dirt road perhaps leading to something? There are only a few dozen places on the Ton Sai side, but we have been told that it is the more chilled out and cheap side of this climbers paradise. After inquiring at a few bungalows it is suggested that we head up the mountain to find the prices we are looking for.  All the way at the end of the line Kevin and I manage to scrounge up a bungalow for 300 baht a night and Julie settles for the dorm next door for 150 since there are no cheaper options for three people. Not bad but we soon realized how expensive the cost of living is, the beer and the food are more expensive than on Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao and we are not even on an island. Granted we are on cliff blocked, secluded bays that must be reached by long tail boats due to their shallow beaches, making product accessibility difficult. Ao Ton Sai, Railay West and Railay East are three sequential bays that are interrupted by karst limestone cliffs creating a challenging path between one another and impossible passage to the very nearby Krabi mainland. Each of these three beaches is a world of its own as well. Ton Sai is a hippie haven with cheap accommodation and no rush for anything except climbing which is what most people come here for. Within a half hour via the jungle track or along a moderately steep and jagged beach climb you reach Railay East, which is essentially one nice long beach, with minimal options for accommodation or food. At the west end of the beach you can go through "walking street" and just a short few minutes later you will find yourself on Railay beach West with a depressing view of the muddy mangrove pit that precedes the majority of food/accommodation options for the three bays. Also a must if you are on the Ton Sai side is a visit to Mama's Chicken for the amazing 70 baht chicken sandwich, it is not often we opt out of Noodles or rice in Thailand...but for this sandwich, definitely. Unfortunately for the beach and nature enthusiasts everywhere a huge corporation from Bangkok has purchased a huge chunk of the beachfront property and is clearing the beautiful jungle to construct a huge resort, so another triumph in the name of...progress?! Hopefully Ton Sai is able to maintain some of its previous enchanting charm in the future.  

An actual posted price for a taxi 50 baht clearly marked
Traditional longtail boats all waiting in queue 
Our first longtail ride

Bungalows on the Ton Sai side
Just a chilled out hippy haven

We seem to be in the jungle, this 3-4' critter was slithering outside our bungalow
We may not be rock climbing, but at least we are getting some heights in
Ton Sai bay
Climbers climbing
Here is where you can follow the rope guided path between Ton Sai and Railay West
Looking out over Railay West

Little mangrove trees
Tiny crabs, creating tiny balls of sand
Nature is awesome
Then there are the Macaques
There must have been a barrel of at least two dozen mischievous monkeys 

This is Railay East, not so glamorous as a sandy beach
Hiking the forest trail back to our bungalows