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Day 11 – Where Nobody Knows Your Name (Railay Arrival)

March 14, 2010

Dateline: Railay, Thailand, Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lars doesn’t know my name. That doesn’t stop him from signing for a room that he and I will share.

I first saw Lars at the Krabi bus station this morning, though I didn’t speak to him then. He was sitting next to me, waiting for his ride. The VIP bus had arrived an hour and a half before I’d expected. So, at 6 a.m. on a station bench, I flipped through the Lonely Planet pages I’d ripped out the guidebook the day before and contemplated my choices. Ko Phi Phi? Seemed like a risk since it was still high season and I couldn’t raise anyone on the phone to make reservations. Ko Lanta? The place sounded cool, but it seemed like a long way away. And I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get PADI certified there. Krabitown for the night? That sounded okay, but I kinda wanted to get out to the sights on my first day.

On a whim, I settled on Railay. Railay is not an island. It’s a peninsula near Krabitown that’s surrounded by high cliffs on all sides so it can only be reached by boat. It’s a rock climber’s Mecca and has a reputation for being a bit rasta. That, and the eastern beach is supposed to be cheap. Cheap it was.

I paid a ticket lady 100 baht for a 7:30 a.m. “Joy Bus” ticket to a local pier where I could take a boat to Railay’s western beach. From there, I’d walk to the eastern side and look for a place to crash.

At around 7 a.m. the ticket lady ushered me and a French family of four into what looked more like a taxi than a bus. As we drove in relative silence (the little kids kept saying stuff in French), I realized that the lady probably was making a couple extra bucks off us. I knew the taxi to the pier cost around 350 baht. With the 3 adults and 2 kids, the lady probably paid the taxi driver the 350 and pocketed the difference. The cab got a fare he wouldn’t have otherwise. The lady got an extra 50 baht. We got to leave at 7 a.m. instead of waiting until 7:30.

I sorta felt cheated, but could I really complain? Yes, a little. My foot fell asleep because I had to sit crammed into the front seat with my backpack.

I ended up waiting at the pier with the French family. That’s where I talked to Lars.

We recognized each other from the bus station. I have no idea how he got there. I learned that Lars is Dutch. He’s been traveling since September and has been to Moscow, Beijing, Tibet, Nepal, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and is finishing up in Thailand. He’s got 6 more days left on a 6 month trip. He says he should have been in Krabi earlier, except last year he mistakenly booked his ticket from Bangkok to Krabi for January 13th instead of March. He did not realize this until the ticket lady at the airport told him yesterday. That’s why he had to take the bus and is here a day late.

He’s a friendly enough guy. I can tell he’s been traveling a lot, though. He’s got a ruddy, white-guy tan and his feet look torn to hell. He’s headed to Railay because he heard it’s cheap. I can appreciate that.

We board the speed boat with the French family, a German couple, and a quiet blond dude. The French family disembarks at Tonsai, which is supposed to be even cheaper than Railay, but is pretty isolated. The German couple and the quiet dude get off at Railay with Lars and me. They’re only doing a day trip from Ao Nong.

Lars and I wander the eastern shore looking for a place to stay. We hike up the backside of the eastern shore looking for a place called Rapana Cabana where rooms are supposed to be 200 baht a night. No luck. We do find Railay Cabana (same place, different name?), which has bungalows starting at 450 for two beds (one person), 550 for two beds (two persons), and 500 baht for renovated rooms (one bed, one person). Lars looks pained as we inspect the rooms. He wants cheap.

I don’t really care. My budget is for around 500 baht a night, so I’m all good. I tell him I’m willing to share though, if he is.

He agrees and we go with the receptionist to sign for a room. Lars may or may not give a damn about my name, but he does give a damn about paying more than 350 baht a night. I can appreciate that.

That’s also where I learn his name. I peek over his shoulder as he fills out the paperwork. It comes to 270 baht (~$8.50) a piece. That’s less than half of what I was paying in Bangkok.

We unload our stuff in the room. When I take a shower, I realize a few things. First, the toilet does not flush. You have to dump water down it with a bucket. Second, there is no sink. I’ve heard of economy, but no sink? If I were a girl, I probably would have noticed this when we looked at the rooms. Half the price of Bangkok, but about one eighth the room (there’s no A/C and only one plug, which will be occupied by the fan).

Lars heads out to explore and I sit down to do some writing.

When I finally head out, it’s as hot as car roof in Saudi Arabia. I investigate my PADI certification options. The second place I visit seems to have a good program. The owner talks to me on the phone and tells me about his staff, his boat, and his curriculum. It sounds pretty good. It’s a bit more expensive than I’d hoped, but this is a course that will make or break my diving career. I’d rather overpay a bit for someone that I’m comfortable will teach me how not to die in the ocean.

The course also goes to two good dive spots near Ko Phi Phi, so I get to dive in some pretty cool spots while I learn. That also frees me up to go to Kha Lak afterwards to do some serious diving at the Similian and Surin islands. I’m thinking I’ll spring for a 3-day live aboard, depending on how certification goes.

I decide to sleep on it and contact them in the morning. The owner wants to wait a day anyway so that another student can join because, he says, “Frankly, if we have only one student, we don’t make any money. You might also have more fun if there’s someone else.”

I agree. I like learning in groups, too, especially for lifesaving stuff. Gives me a chance to see another way how not to do things. Handy, when the wrong thing might lead to 3 days of isolation in a hyperbaric chamber.

A very leisurely lunch at a westside restaurant hits the spot, especially the mango shake. I end up reading at my table for an hour or so. I find myself dozing off, which isn’t good when you’re in the middle of a busy restaurant. I realize that it’s because I’ve been up since 6 a.m. and spent last night sleeping on a frickin’ bus.

I end up walking around and finding Hat Tham Phra Nang, a beach on the southern end of the peninsula. It’s a relatively isolated beach. The rooms at the only resort there start at $1,000. They’d better come with their own escort.

It’s hard to do this place justice. I get vertigo by looking up. That’s because the cliffs overhang the beach. Giant stalactites, probably 100 feet long, hang over the beach. It’s breathtaking and almost impossible to capture on film. You get dizzy looking at it because your eyes are constantly trying to decide which part of the wall is close and which is far.

I spend an hour taking pictures of the sunset. It’s pretty spectacular, especially with the rock formations in the water and the boats going in and out of the natural harbor.

For dinner I inadvertently order way too much, to the wonder of my waiter. I force myself to eat it all, out of pride. I get through all the fried rice, all the vegetables in the noodle soup, but not the noodles or the soup. I do definitely finish the coconut shake.

I almost run into Lars on the beach. I don’t recognize him because he is with three girls. I almost turn around to say hi, but I think better of it. I don’t want to ruin his game and, more than that, if I say hi to him I’ll have to talk to the girls and I’m feeling really lazy.

When I finally finish the hike up to the room and crash, Lars hasn’t come in, yet. If he has it his way, he won’t. Now that I think about it, the pained look on his face might not just have been about the extra money for a single room. I can appreciate that.


Stupid Travel Tip of the Day: Don’t go to the run down internet cafe where you’re the only customer when there’s another, nicer internet café down the road filled with White people. There’s probably a reason they’re there.

Not So Stupid Travel Tip: Don’t buy Chacos sandals. They’re too clever by half. I bought some for my last trip, wasn’t that happy with them, but figured it was because I got the kind that wrap around my toe. They’ve got a stellar reputation, though, so I bought another pair that I thought fit more comfortably. I was wrong. The straps are set up in such a way that they constantly rub the area near the base of my big toe. They tore my feet up today. No matter how I pulled and tugged and loosened and tightened their “one strap” system, it blistered the same area. The “one strap” system means that when you walk, the strap will tighten where you don’t want it to. If I could adjust just the strap over my toes, these things would be great. Unfortunately, if I loosen that strap, as I walk, the stupid thing tightens over time. Again, too clever by half.

I will never by Chacos again. I know that it might be my fault and I’m not getting them fit correctly, but I don’t think so. I fit them with a lady at REI. There’s just something about them that mess with my feet. The one thing I regret not bringing are the $5 Locals that I’ve used as slippers since 2001. Those cheapies totally kick these Chacos ass.

Tomorrow, I will go to a local shop and get me some slippers. Some proper, built for island feet slippers with the thong thing that goes between my toes. If my people can play basketball in them, I can certainly trek around the island s in a pair.

Photo Galleries: Windows Live and Flickr

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Becca permalink
    March 16, 2010 4:19 am

    I feel duty bound to point out that what the taxi agent likely mispronounced as “joy taxi” was probably “joint taxi”. You’ll get used to the accent after a while.

    Travel tip: most taxis/song taew (sorta jeepneys)/buses (and even some boats) in beach towns work the same way: if you pay an individual fare you’ll have to wait until the vehicle is full before it departs or the driver will keep picking up people along the way. If you “mao” or hire the vehicle will leave right away (and honest ones won’t pick up more peeps). Of course the latter is always more expensive since what you’re buying is time and exclusivity.

    • March 18, 2010 5:56 am

      Good call Becca. Thanks for the travel tip. The lady even wrote “Joy Bus” on my receipt.

  2. Susan permalink
    March 16, 2010 8:42 pm

    I really like the picture of the sunset where the clouds are separating and the rock is in relief with the sun setting behind it. It is both mysterious and illuminating, with the clouds starting to reflect the curvature of the sky and the rock revealing nothing. And you’re right, it’s nearly impossible to capture those sublime moments with film. I think that’s why I’m a big fan of the mental picture, though I guess that’s harder to post. 🙂

    • March 18, 2010 5:55 am

      You just have to overlook the fact the two people on the right side are kinda shady. That’s an old white dude taking pics of Thai girl in a bikini. I thought she might be a model and him a photographer. Later, I saw them embracing front to back in the water. There’s might be a love that’s true, but this country has started to mess with my head.

  3. Fran permalink
    March 16, 2010 9:55 pm

    It just shows you werent meant to wear sandals. Live like the people do. Barefoot.

  4. laura permalink
    April 7, 2010 3:01 pm

    After you’ve worn Chacos for a while the straps don’t slip and asphyxiate your feet like that.

    However, I have an entirely different issue with mine – the diamond-shaped pattern on the footbed. It totally shreds my big toes. Like, to the 3rd degree.

    I want to like my Chacos; they have such great arch support for sandals. But I never wear them anymore. 😦

    • April 9, 2010 7:33 am

      I was unwilling to suffer through the break in period, if there even was one. It’s so not worth it.

      I’m returning mine to REI. The soles are great, but the strap system doesn’t work for my feet.

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