Krabi: Thailand's rock-climbing mecca

Trip Start Jan 06, 2009
Trip End Aug 07, 2009

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hat Ton Sai: 18-24 January

The Krabi region on the west coast of southern Thailand is stunning. Huge limestone karsts jut straight out of the ocean and soar up to the skies, often several hundred feet high, similar to Halong Bay in Vietnam, but more tropical.

We had left Mel and Toby on Koh Pha Ngan, disappointed that we couldn't spend the day exploring the island with them as planned, as the night ferry we were to catch back the mainland was "broken", meaning we had to leave the island just after we arrived if we were to get down to Krabi on schedule. After another bus ride from another planet (this time a minibus), we spent a night in Krabi town, before catching another bus and two more boats to get to Ton Sai the next morning. Yes, the beaches in southern Thailand can be a little complex to get to, but there is no shortage of people offering to take you each leg of the way.

Once on Hat Ton Sai (or Ton Sai Beach), we met Greg's long-time friend from Baraboo, Jeff Giese, along with his friends Cheryl and Seth (who lives in Bangkok, speaks Thai and was amazing help when it came to ordering food or booking anything!). These guys love to climb and it was awesome to watch them scale these massive cliffs. I have always had respect for rock-climbers, but have never really had the urge to take up the sport myself. I think it's the heights and the thought of how little you have to hold on to when you're up there that turn me off! These guys make it look totally easy though. Some of the ascents they did were as hard as they get. I also learned their deinition of "steep". Different to my own, which is anything between 0 and 90 degrees, theirs is over 90 degrees, so when they're eyeing up a rock to climb and they call it "steep", it's more than vertical!

We spent a week exploring this area, which includes Hat Railey East and West and the magnificent Phra Nang Beach, where you can swim almost all day in the shade if you want, as there is a massive karst at one end of the beach which towers over the water. So you can swim and look up at the big stalactites hanging down above you and not get burned by the sun. No, I still haven't developed that resiliant Thailand tan just yet. We did a lot of walking, scrambling over rocks and through jungle, kayaking and caving that week and I gave one of the cliffs a go, even it threw me back after a couple of moves! One of the caves we explored required headlamps and we were rewarded with an incredible view at the top, down onto Railey West and Ton Sai.

Cheryl, Greg and I took a day-trip out to Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh. These islands are spectacular. Phi Phi Don provides accommodation and associated services, while Phi Phi Leh is a protected marine park and is only visited by day tourists. Phi Phi Leh was made more famous from the movie "The Beach" with Leonardo DeCaprio. If you have ever seen the movie or been there yourself, you will know how absolutely beautiful it is, with its turquoise lagoon surrounded by sheer cliffs and its coves (the most famous being Maya Bay) with powdery white sand and underwater cities of incredible coral and fish. You can understand why this is such a popular spot and tourists come in their thousands to visit the island. It is a little unfortunate just how many boats are allowed on the island at once, as the coral has suffered due to poor anchoring by some boats. Besides day tourism, Phi Phi Leh provides another source of revenue, in the form of a bird called the Fork Tail Swift, whose saliva nests make the base ingredient for the Chinese delicacy, Bird's Nest Soup. It was hard to believe this region was ravaged by the tsunami just over five years ago, as the area appears to be well on its feet and bustling with life. I'm sure if we had spent more than a couple of hours on Phi Phi Don however, we would have heard more about the devastation to the environment and how the local population were affected.

Thailand wouldn't be Thailand without a little stomach bug though, would it? Seth was the first victim of (more specifically) "Ton Sai Tummy", closely followed by Pavlina, who we met during the week, then Jeff and then Greg. Poor kids! And we couldn't put it down to a particular meal or place. Lucky it was only a 24-hour thing and Jeff seemed to be through the worst of it before his 30-something hour trip back to the States. Cheryl was crossing her fingers that she didn't get it on the plane with Jeff! Hope you made it Cheryl! Greg's main regret as he came down with Ton Sai Tummy during the night before we flew to Vietnam was that he didn't get to hold down the amazing buffet dinner we had had that evening - a meal we were able to afford thanks to Jeff who had us bunk in his swanky room at the Novotel by the airport in Bangkok for the night for free!
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