Friday 10 February 2012

Romping Around Railay

Next on our not-so-well-planned island hopping itinerary was a stint in Railay. We managed to endure five transfers travelling from Koh Mook to Railay.

First there was the motorbike taxi ride to the other side of the island, where the pair of us and our backpacks happily bumped along the rutted out dirt road on what could best be termed as a square skeletal version of a sidecar - a rusty steel tray with a bench seat, mounted on the third wheel, welded to the left side of a 125cc motorbike. We then caught a long tail off the beach, and sat bobbing about in the middle of the bay for some time, staring intently at the horizon, both for the arrival of the ferry (running on Thai time of course) and for keep the morning's breakfast down. A dot on the horizon appeared, and our boatman confirmed our hopes exclaiming "Ah, ferry!" soon after and springing into action. He manually cranked up his exposed four-cylinder car engine (with turbo!) that drove the little propellor at the end of a long shaft. This both drives and steers the boat, and he expertly manoeuvred the whole contraption around to bring our long tail broadside along the ferry as it paused its northward journey for us to board.

It was a long six hours on the crowded ferry to the seaside town of Krabi, with a stop at Koh Lanta to offload the vast majority of travellers heading to Koh Phi Phi onto another boat (a sign of things to come). With a total of six other passengers left, we chilled out on the open top deck out with our Kindles. Weariness advanced as we etched closer to our destination, however it was strangely counterbalanced by the growing amazement we felt upon sighting the increasing number and impressive size of beautiful limestone karst formations continually appearing out of the ocean. Kindles were put aside in the dimming light to view this stunning approach.

Docking at Krabi, we were ushered onto a minibus bound for Ao Nang. From there we shared a long tail to Railay beach with two American guys who were struggling to get a fair deal with the boat man. Unfortunately our obviously tired demeanours and lack of haggling experience did little to reduce the price in the darkness after dusk, but at that stage we had stopped caring.

Sunset from a longtail boat

We barely made it up the three flights of steep 70 degree stair ladders to our pre-booked room (for those accustomed to designing access ways, arguably the worst rise-to-run ratio of all stairs), made all the more awkward with backpacks. As to our room, well, it didn't quite line up with the rest of the floor (short as I am, even I had to duck to enter the door), and the seemingly random availability of shower water took some getting used to. Initially I just stared in confusion at the empty shower head, opening taps fully, checking for kinks in the hose, wondering what I was doing wrong only for it to suddenly sputter back to life again in my face. And then there were the gunshots. Ok not really gunshots, but we woke up frequently to loud bangs in the middle of the night. In his broken slumber, Ben's brain managed to convert the sounds it into a dream that someone was shooting coconuts down with an air rifle in order to sell them next day … not far off, as we realised it was actually some hard fruit falling from a tall tree and landing on the corrugated roof with gusto.

The Railay Peninsula itself is a stunning place. Although it is part of the mainland, it is isolated by sheer karst cliffs, accessible only by boat. We rented a double kayak, which was a rewarding way to explore the coast. Relishing the use of our own energy to get about, we marvelled at the stalactite formations that dangled above us as we paddled under overhanging limestone cliffs, negotiated canals through rocks and even found a nice little through-cave to duck under. Parking our kayak in a secluded nook, we cooled down in crystal clear water teeming with schools of little fish, away from the crowds baking on the beach.

Kayaking around Railay - Thailand

We decided to join a promising looking sunset tour to a few of the numerous islands south of Railay, such as Koh Hua Khwan (Chicken Island), Koh Si, and Koh Poda. The tour started late to avoid the crowds, with plenty of snorkelling opportunities and a friendly bunch of participants, including two English couples, a Scandinavian couple, and a gorgeous young Australian couple, Rowanna and Jamie, who had just been through Laos and Cambodia (hey, that's where we're going! …).

Koh Poda

There was abundant coral and despite the low visibility (the full moon tides stirred up a lot of debris), we managed to spot a banded sea snake, lots of bubble anemone and their clownfish caretakers, varicose wart slugs, a seahorse and a spiny lobster, among loads of others. We were left to watch the sun set between two rocks on Koh Poda beach, apparently the thing to do, followed by a mediocre dinner. Although it was getting cold, we were rewarded for jumping back into the water after dark, as our bodies were suddenly and surprisingly lit up by hundreds of tiny glowing spots of fluorescent plankton that only glowed with our movement in the water.

Karst viewed from Koh Poda, near Railay

Sunset from Koh Poda

These highlights were unfortunately tainted with several organisational hiccups such as our English speaking guide being on 'sick leave', our dinner being a far cry from the sea-gypsy seafood barbecue that we were promised, and some of our fellow tour participants suffered violation of property. But perhaps it was being left stranded on the beach in the dark for a bit too long (2 hours) as the boatman decided to abandon us to help a friend out with something, that probably drew the most resentment from our group. (Ben also lamented losing his beloved Revo sunnies to the sea, but that was his own fault). Returning to Railay, we Australians pondered providing some feedback to management, only to find our English companions had beat us to it and were already offloading their complaints onto the poor woman who decided to stay back late for work. One thing about whinging Poms though - they're very effective at it. We all were compensated half the cost of the trip, which calmed the riotous mob in a jiffy.

No comments:

Post a Comment