Sawasdee kap! We are coming to you live from Railay in Krabi Province, Thailand. My first trip out to Thailand since 2006 in Chiangmai. This is Putra’s 2nd trip; having been here 2 months earlier to meet Amir and to check out the climbing. There are 7 of us – 5 of us minus Kalia + Tuti n Arwen.
Day 1 & 2 – 8 & 9 Nov – Rock-Climbing at Phra Nang
We arrived last night around sunset, about 6pm here. The clocks are 1 hour behind KL. Amir picked us up at the airport in a friend’s van and then boat to Railay. Soon as we’ve checked in at the Diamond Cave Resort, we went to the Restaurant/Bar where Amir worked. Dinner was nice – seafood – 2 big siakaps and stuff. Amir entertained the crowd with a top 40 selection from the past 50 years or so – everything from Ain’t No Sunshine to Ed Sheeran. Pretty good, kind of Filipino-style rendition. Then, with his gang he did a bout of Fire Show – pretty impressive stuff.
On the morning of the 2nd day, we had breakfast in one of the many cafes by the beach. Actually on east Railay, everything is by the beach. All the shops line the beach which is mostly mangrove and all very clean. Apparently every Monday noon they have a gotong royong– cleanup where everyone, tourists and locals, clean the beach of litter. Breakfast is mainly western-style breakfast – ‘American Breakfast’, ‘Continental Breakfast’, that sort of thing. And by the way, almost all, perhaps 95% of the tourists here are ferangs. I’ve yet to see any Malays here at Railay. We’re told that in Ao Nang, almost all the tourists are Malaysians. And many of the restaurants there have Malay menus.
After breakfast, we walked to Phra Nang, a beach on West Railay. Lonely Planet described it as possibly the most beautiful beach in the world. That might have been an over-statement but it is beautiful. The main stretch of the beach had hundreds of day trippers (mostly Malaysians, we were told) from Ao Nang. We didn’t even go there, we stayed at the northern tip where it’s quieter and there were rock-climbers doing their thing. We explored the rocks a bit further up north. It was beautiful. Mostly untouched, with nice caves and greenish blue waters and easily climbable rocks.
Amir bought us lunch back at East Railay – it was sumptuous but a little too much. And here’s the thing about Thailand – the food. The food is almost always, always very good. The cooking is similar to Malaysian cooking but it just tastes different. And one more thing – food and stuff you buy here is at Western touristy prices. To give you a feel, the American breakfast that I had was 120 bahts ~ about RM15. Oh and by the way, the 2 rooms that we were staying at was 1500 bahts each. In each room were 2 double beds, air-con, hot water, bath-tub, TV (which didn’t work in our room at least). The wifi which is wonky is really only accessible, when most of the other guests are asleep, and only near the reception.
It rained a little during breakfast and it rained some more just after lunch just as we’re preparing to go rock-climbing (yay!). The rain could hardly be felt when we arrived at the climb site. That’s because the middle of the limestone outcrop was actually wider than the bottom! Putra, Nisha, Tuah, me and even Arwen spent all of the afternoon, climbing (well, learning to climb mostly!). All things considered, we all did pretty well. It was fun and given the chance, I’d give it another go.
Day 3 – 10Nov – Pirate Ship
Woke up in time for suboh and had breakfast by myself because everyone else decided to sleep in. They still weren’t up when I finished brekkie, so I then decided to take the 10-minute walk to West Railay. I later found out that I took the less scenic route; there were actually 2.
Railay West (or sometimes ‘West Railay’) was a different scene altogether. Where the east was mostly a twenty or thirty-something ferang crowd, the west was more of a family affair. Kids with iPads, young Indian couples with their mothers, that sort of thing. And no rock climbing shops. It’s also more upmarket. The resorts and restaurants looked more expensive. It was also more crowded, especially on the beach. The beach was nicer than the east – about 3km of sandy beach, swimmable and hot. But not as nice as Phra Nang.
After my second breakfast with the rest of my entourage, we took a walk along the waterfront further up north, past the Last Bar where Amir works. Had slow coffee and OJ at a quiet bar called Tew Lay Bar (my Chinese-speaking friends would be in on this joke, although I was told that it means something else in Thai).
Further up was the Great View Resort, which lived up to its moniker – it had 2 opposing views of the promontory on where it sits. After lunch, it was time for our Pirate Bay Adventure!
We took the nearer turn-off to West Railay to get to the Pirate Boat. This route was better than the earlier one I took in the morning – more things to see – climbing shops, cafes, bars, a dive shop, shop selling trinkets. We met with the boat co-owner, Mike Lakos, an Australian guy who’s been in Ao Nang for 5 years. He bought the boat for, I was told, about RM40,000. He spent another RM100,000 refurbishing the boat and made it look like a Chinese junk, sort of.
There were about 20 of us tourists on the boat. And 4 crew members – Mike, Ricardo (whom I met in Bak’s house last year) and 2 Thai boat hands. The itinerary was cliff jumping and off-the-roof-of-the-boat jumping, snorkeling and ‘plankton-watching’. There was also an early dinner around sunset time. This was all pretty good but coulda been better if I could tread water better. It was about 9pm by the time we got back to the room. Dinner was at The Last Bar plus Amir’s singing and the Fire Show.
Day 4 – Wed 11Nov – Railay and Boat to Ao Nang
Everyone except me was up late this morning. They weren’t feeling too good. I later found out that there’s the Novovirus running around in Railay since early 2015. The symptoms are diarrhoea and vomiting. You could take meds to alleviate the symptoms; it goes away after 2 days. I took a leisurely walk to West Railay and had a long coffee on the lane. This was all after my solitary breakfast.
After lunch we checked-out from Diamond Cave and headed to Ao Nang by boat. The distance from Railay to Ao Nang is not far; maybe 5km, but you have to boat it because of the massive limestone outcrops separating them (see map above). We landed at Ao Na Mao pier and checked-in at La Venice Baywatch Hotel at Ao Nang. It’s smack in the middle of Ao Nang, so everything is nearby. But it gets noisy at night from the bad music by the band at Boogie Bar downstairs.
Just before dinner we walked along the shop by the beach and took some pictures with the huge marlin statue. I’m still not quite sure what it is they have with marlins around Krabi – you see their statues in a number of places. It could just be that sometimes they catch marlins in the seas, and that’s all there is to it. Anyway, our little excursion had to be cut short because Tuti and Arwen threw up under some bushes. Thanks again to the Norovirus.
Only Putra, Tuah and me had dinner that night, the rest were down with the virus. Dinner was at a small halal cafe. We all went to bed with the throbbing, shouting noises from the Boogie Bar.
Day 5 – Thu 12Nov – Emerald Pool & Hot Stream
Our driver, Yunus, picked us up at 11 instead of the earlier-planned 9am because everyone wanted to sleep a bit more because they’re not feeling too good. The Emerald Pool, also called the Crystal Pool, was about 70km away from our hotel; about an hour’s drive. Entrance was 200B for adults and 100 for kids. It didn’t disappoint – it was emerald as promised. What I wasn’t expecting was the Blue Pool, which was another 15-minute walk from Emerald. It was like a glowing blue, not dark, not light, just blue and a magical one at that. Visitors weren’t allowed to swim in it though because it’s deep and the bottom was supposedly mushy.
It rained cats and dogs as were walking out after swimming in the Emerald pool. That costed us time apart from the 2 hours that we had already lost in the morning. Then, off we were to the Hot Stream (they could have come up with a funkier name than that!). This didn’t disappoint too. The pools felt like they were steaming hot, 40C according to the signs.
When we arrived at our final destination, the Tiger Cave Temple, it was almost sunset and it was raining heavily again. We didn’t go inside the temple but it didn’t look like much anyway. What I had wanted to do was climb up the 1,237 steps but had to forget about that because of the darkness and the rain.
Dinner was at a nice halal restaurant in town.
Day 6 – Fri 13Nov – Jumaat and 2 walks up n down to Centara resort and Krabi Night Market
Putra, Tuti n Arwen left for KL on the 0825 AirAsia, as planned 😦
After they left, while the rest of us went back to sleep, I ran on the main Ao Nang beach, exercised and walked up and down the promontory down to the Centara Resort and back. I stopped by for a nice, expensive coffee at one of the resort restaurants facing the beach. Nice!
At around 11am we had brunch at a cheap-looking but overpriced halal restaurant. Tuah and me then walked to the masjid further up the road. Although we arrived just 5 minutes after Zohor time, the place looked deserted and I was sure that we weren’t going to fulfil the 40-pax requirement, but I was wrong. See, what happened was that they took their time before starting solat. There was a long wait, a long ceramah (presumably, lol), followed by a long announcement on a local program they’re doing. Then, they had the second azan. Oh and btw, the azan was not broadcasted via outside speakers – not here, not anywhere in Krabi, as far as I could tell. The khutbah was in Thai of course. By the time we left the masjid, it was about two and half hours after the start of zohor.
On a side-note, we learnt that 80% of the population of the area are Muslims. But there’s a distinct lack of a Muslim feel about the Krabi province compared to Malaysia, particularly in Ao Nang and even more so in Railay. You’d notice though that quite a number of the girls and ladies are in tudungs. And some people would greet you with assalamualaikum.
We then met Lin and Nish at the McD for coffee, ice-cream and wonky wifi. We didn’t have food because the food wasn’t halal. We were stuck there for a while because it started raining heavily. Here’s the thing about travelling to these areas during this time, i.e. the monsoons, from November to January – be prepared for rain, sometimes heavy, at a moment’s notice. Good thing they don’t normally last too long.
While the missus and N went for massage and facial, T and I did the Centara walk again. This time we were greeted by families of macaques.
At around 6.30pm, we caught a song kheaw (literal translation – 2 rows) to the night market in Krabi Town, about 20km away. It’s 100B per head. Once there, we grabbed a quick dinner at Abdullah Restaurant, run by Malays, probably from Pattani or Yala or Satun. The night-market was interesting, like all markets are. The tourists’ stuff that they peddled here were more varied but not that much cheaper than in Ao Nang. Still, you should go if you can. The little local 7-or-so kids’ ‘orchestra’ in the middle of the market is definitely worth a watch and listen. They’re open Fridays through Sundays, 5 to 10pm.
Amir sang at Hippies’ Bar in Ao Nang that night and we just managed to catch him do one song when we got back to Ao Nang.
Day 7 – Sat 14Nov – Shopping, Boat Ao Nang To Railay, Phra Nang beach
I got up early, but decided NOT to run on the beach since I’d already done quite a bit of running and walking the day before, more than 20,000 steps according to my S-Health app. Thought I’d just walk to a nice shady spot on the beach and exercise.
I’d bought some bananas, sticky rice, in a transparent plastic bag and water at the Muslim shop near the boat ticket counter earlier. I was walking towards my chosen spot when out of nowhere, a macaque jumped and was clinging to me with an aggressive look. Must have been the bananas, I thought. I threw the plastic bag on the sand and the monkey immediately ran off with one banana. Within seconds, some guy from one of the few small resorts, sling-shot the macaque and his colleagues in the trees. I did my exercise right after, mai pe (that means ‘no problem’. Or mai pen rai in Bangkok, apparently).
Lin and me had breakfast (second one for me!) at the same Muslim shop I went to earlier. Then I had a tuna croissant at the little stall next to Movenpick while Lin and the kids had cakes at the Movenpick. We then packed up our stuff and took the 15-minute boat ride back to Railay West.
It felt good to be back at Railay, away from the hustle and bustle of Ao Nang. We had a long lazy lunch at a Muslim restaurant in the middle of the main lane which connects east and west Railay.
After unpacking our things, we walked to the Phra Nang beach, where we rock-climbed on Monday. We explored the beach and walked to the limestone outcrop facing the beach. You could walk there during low-tide you see.
Day 8 – Sun 15Nov – Kayak, Viewpoint, Holy Princess Lagoon
We had breakfast on the East-West Railay lane. It’s a little cheaper than at Friendship but slower and they didn’t get all our orders right. Right after breakfast, N, T and I went kayaking – about 1 hour and 15 mins. Good fun, the kayak (btw, what’s the diff between a kayak and a canoe?) went faster than I thought it would. We headed towards Phra Nang beach and beyond. Coming back on land, we had lunch at Abdul’s kebab and stuff on the same lane.
Right after lunch, I went alone to do the dreaded Viewpoint and Holy Princess Lagoon. If I have to pick a highlight of this whole Krabi trip, the Viewpoint / Lagoon would be it.
The hike up to Viewpoint was not so difficult – about as difficult as Gunung Lambak in Kluang, which I’ve done many times. It took all of 15 minutes but the view was magnificent. Just look at this…
They really should cook up a better name for the Viewpoint. It just sounds too generic and doesn’t do the panorama justice.
To get to the Lagoon was quite a different story. You would descend a little from Viewpoint and then make a left. The first part of the trek was not that difficult – similar to the ascent to Viewpoint, except that you’re going downhill.
The second part was steeper, rockier and more damp and for that you’re rewarded with a 360 view that’s mesmerising. It’s straight out of Jurassic Park. Huge trees with super-sized leaves and ……. it’s dead quiet. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a Velociraptor had suddenly leapt out from behind a tree.
The final stretch to the Lagoon looked like something from the Lord of The Rings. Remember that scene when Frodo Baggins approached the pond where he met Gollum for the first-time? That one. No trees here, just hard rock walls. The walls were 90 degrees, and sometimes more! They’re rocky, muddy, wet and uneven. At times you would go down without knowing what the next level even looks like, but you go anyway. I said to myself that many other people have done this and survived, so what the heck! Besides, I had gone that far. There was no turning back. After what seemed like a long, long time, the Lagoon peeks at you from behind the palm fronds – it’s a beautiful green and it was bathed in sunlight, unlike Gollum’s pond!
The Holy Princess Lagoon was beautiful – picture-postcard-beautiful and an apt reward for that mad trek down. I made it to the Lagoon with 3 fellow adventurers – a guy and 2 ladies who obviously weren’t planning for this trek – they were in dresses and flip-flops – the ladies, not the guy, lol. But guts they had plenty. And I just had my sandals that I took off half-way down – my bare feet gave me better traction. Come to think of it, the only shoes suitable woulda been climbing shoes. Running shoes or even trekking shoes would not have been much use.
We went in the pond, although we’re not supposed to but didn’t stay long – the ground was mushy and yecchy, despite its visual beauty. And the water was, believe it or not, was salty. Maybe it’s because the water doesn’t flow out – it evaporates but doesn’t flow out. Maybe. Or it could be that the water in the lagoon is connected underwater/ground to the sea.
If the trip down was frightening, we had more of the same on the way up. But did we have a choice? No. There’s only one way in and one way out. And out we went. It was a fitting coup de grace for my Railay / Krabi trip and there was no entrance ticket!
The journey from Viewpoint down to the Lagoon was about 45 minutes and it’s about the same length of time back up. If you plan to do the Lagoon, go to the Viewpoint first. If you can do that, you might have a chance of making it to the Lagoon, although most people turned around after looking at the sheer vertical rock and headed straight to the beach!
It started drizzling as I headed towards the Friendship cafe and then it began pouring which was convenient as I got to launder my gear off all the mud right outside Friendship, after some food and coffee.
Day 9 – Mon 16Nov – Flight back to KL
And that was it. No one liked that flight home but home we had to go. It was a very good holiday. I’ll cherish how the Thais are always courteous, never raising their voices, no matter what. I love how sawasdee kap/ka is always on their lips (lesson for Muslims here with our salam). Their courtesy to foreigners and to their own kind was refreshing (lesson here for us Malaysians).
It amuses me how they have serious problems with spelling with the western alphabet and their difficulty in pronouncing in English. And the food – oh, the food is almost always excellent.
I’ve also learnt that the people here in southern Thailand often fancy themselves as Malays rather than Thais. Often they’d proudly say they are from Yala or Santun or Patani and insists on speaking to you in Malay. From what I gathered, the scuba-diving wasn’t great, just as my previous Thai experiences had been which was why I decided not to dive this time.
During this trip I’ve lost some small things, damaged some of my stuff, and had some minor mishaps, but don’t we all? I will miss the fun stuff that we did – the rock-climbing, the trekking, the diving off the boat, the Lagoon. And I will most certainly miss the unbelievable sceneries and sunsets.
If you’re planning on a trip out here, don’t just go to Ao Nang and go home. That will be a bit like going to Kuta and back and then telling everyone that you’ve been to Bali 🙂
Till next time, sawasdee kap!
1.Railay on $29 a day http://lucidpractice.com/railay-beach/
2.Norovirus in Railay http://www.webmd.com/children/norovirus-symptoms-and-treatment