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Day 12 – Death of a Wife Beater (Music, Mountains, and. . .Crocodile?)

March 15, 2010

Dateline: Railay, Thailand, Monday, March 15, 2010

They’re playing Richard Marx. I try to comprehend the situation. It’s the end of the day and Lars and I are chilling with a couple of English girls he met on a tour package he did of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. They’re all good friends. I’m a pseudo interloper. We’re all lounging with our shoes off at Last Bar on mats and pillows. The band is playing next to a deck that’s build out over the water.

“Riiiight here waiting for you” the singer wails in barely understandable English. Railay is a notoriously Rasta place, so I expected reggae, but Richard fucking Marx?

When I think about it, though, I shouldn’t be surprised. Asian musical taste has always skewed a little pop and a little sap. There’s no Asian music equivalent to Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Poison, or heavy metal. I once heard a Korean rap group start a song with an angry voice over on top of sounds of machine guns and explosions; it immediately transitioned into rhyming over bubblegum pop. Gangsta rap doesn’t exist. Neither does ska or punk. All that stuff goes more unseen than Eddie Murphy’s dignity after he did Nutty Professor.

What Asian music does have is an affinity for the syrupy ballad and the weepy love song. There’s a reason why when some people picture karaoke, they envision an Asian man weeping into a mic at a dive bar singing Elvis’s “Only the Lonely.” That’s why, when I think about it, it’s not surprising that it’s Richard Marx and that, later, the all-Thai band with the dreadlocked lead singer dives into Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.”

“Open up yours eyes and seeeeee, we’re just one big familyyyyyyy, and it’s our god forgivin’ right to be loved loved loved loved loooooooved!”

That’s how it goes when you travel. Things aren’t ever what you expect. When you think about it, though, they can kinda seem to make sense.

Take this afternoon, for example. I was up climbing around a mountain here on Railay looking for a lagoon that’s supposed to be in the middle of high cliffs. The only way down is to climb up the face of this mountain, then down its center. Supposedly, no gear is required.

I make the initial climb, which is a fun rock scramble and I find a lookout over the Railay peninsula. For the first time I can see both the east and west beaches. It’s so insanely picturesque that when I snap a photo, it looks Photoshopped. The crazy thing is that it looks even better in person.

I eventually find the “trail” down to the lagoon. I put that in quotes because there’ really just a rope that goes down a slope towards the middle of this part of the peninsula. I end up scrambling down a series of three shelves, finding hand holds where I can. On the way down, I run into three German guys and a girl. The guys tell me that they couldn’t make it to the lagoon because the last drop was too steep. That doesn’t stop me from trying.

When I get to the shelf they’re talking about, it looks like a giant practical joke. There are a couple of ropes down the side, but I can’t figure out how to use them in a way where I can both make it down safely (probably doable) and make it back up without breaking some of the favorite parts of my body (not possible). Obviously, someone made it down via these anchored ropes, but that person probably had a team of Sherpas and a helicopter or was a better climber than I am. I decide they put the rope there to kill tourists.

I climbed back out, explored the area some more. It feels like Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer’s Island except built for adults and set up so that you might actually die and have no one to sue. At one point, I remember I’m wandering through jungle in shorts and slippers (Chacos successfully abandoned) and I that could be bitten by death-carrying mosquitoes or venomous plants. I spend the next few minutes turning off my brain. It works.

When I’m through, I start to pick my way down the face of the mountain to exit the lagoon area. The going is slow. I’m grabbing rocks, lowering myself down, feeling for spots with my feet.

“Look at the danger,” I think. “Don’t get to do this everyday at home. This is quite masculine.”

I’m congratulating myself for the 50th time when I run headlong into a 6 year-old headed up. He appears to be alone, but I realize that he’s leading people. He’s jabbering to them in French. The guy following him is carrying a large backpack which, upon further inspection, contains an 8-month-old baby. I can see its head lolling to the side and its fat, white leg peeking through a seam.

Masculinity: punctured.

I smile and let them pass. That’s when I realize that below me is the rest of the French family that rode in with me on the way into Railay. The boat dropped them off at Tonsai. The mom, dad, and 4-year-old girl are there, too. They’ve apparently joined up with another badass French family and are now going up explore the lagoon area.

That’s when I stop to think, and it all makes sense. Of course this French family is letting their kid lead a climb up a “dangerous” mountain. They’re staying on Tonsai, a place that’s supposed to have the cheapest (read: most primitive) accommodations in the area. If they think they’re kids are tough enough to handle that, of course they’d be up for climbing some silly mountain.

That, or French parents are the most badass parents in the whole world. I decide to go with the latter. French people are officially awesome, now that I think about it.

The Thai band is back. After a short break for some fire jugglers, they’re warming up for another set. I lean back and contemplate the day. I’ve watched another ridiculous sunset with Lars and the girls. Some pictures are even better than those from the day before. For dinner I had crocodile for the first time. It ends up being a magical mix of chicken and pork. Tastes like chicken, feels like pork. Has a bit of a tang to it. Delicious, actually.

The band opens with Guns N’ Roses’s version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” I know it’s not Bob Dylan’s because a long-haired Thai dude wails his way through the Slash solo. Of course they’d do “No Woman, No Cry” and “Buffalo Soldier.” Come to think of it, they even do “Wonderwall.”


Stupid Travel Tip of the Day: In order to get the most out of your family vacation, make sure you have French parents.

Not So Stupid Tip: If you’re going to try to get to the lagoon, wear either a shirt you don’t might tossing or wear something dark. The dirt and dust up there is red and stains anything that’s wet. And you will get wet. At one point going down to the lagoon, I stopped to rest and started to pour sweat. Literally pour it, like it was coming off my arms and nose in sheets and get into my eyes and blurring my vision. That’s partially because it’s effortful, part because there’s no breeze in the natural bowl that houses the lagoon, and part because it’s March in Southeast Asia. I wore a white tank top and had to chuck it in the trash afterwards when I realized I was never going to wear it again.

That said, I highly recommend the trip. Even if you don’t venture into the lagoon area, there’s a path that leads to the most spectacular view of the island to date. Looking out over the place, I had one of those moments where I consciously thought, “I’m in paradise.” That, and the rock scrambling is loads of fun.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Shining permalink
    March 18, 2010 11:16 am

    Me: Insanely jealous of Mervyn right now.

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