06/16/2014 - 07/08/2014
Ocean breezes, soft sand, limestone cliffs looming in every direction - there are dozens of little paradise islands in southern Thailand. The one we've found and fallen in love with is actually a peninsula, but the limestone karsts make land access impossible, meaning things come and go by boat only, and the place has the distinct carefree laziness that you associate with island communities. Railay is our new favorite spot, our tropical paradise, a place we definitely plan on coming back to in the future.
And who can blame us? Gorgeous scenery, a variety of beaches and vibes, lively monkeys, plenty of caves, and enough nightlife to keep you occupied and social, even in the more chilled out low season. By day, the rain dictates the activity, whether we sit on our porch with hot tea and books while watching the rain come down in sheets, or spend the day by the pool, on the beach, or exploring the jungle. By night, the stars shine brightly, Bob Marley floats in the air from a nearby reggae bar "sayin' don't worry 'bout a thing," while the main bar in town hosts a Muay Thai boxing match, live music, didgeridoo performance, dj, and a whole slew of talented fire spinners, almost nightly.
You can plan activities and day trips, but the main attraction, and the thing that's kept us here so long, is the climbing. Railay is a rock climbing mecca, and people come from all over the world to climb the 700+ routes, spread out across the peninsula, and accessible via adventurous jungle trails. Seeing as we've been hungry for some short-term goals, we dove into our new hobby with a three day climbing course to teach us everything we need to know in order to go out and climb on our own. Tu, our guide, was an affable, enthusiastic character, and taught us a lot in a short amount of time. Since then, we have been renting the equipment from him and going out either on our own or with other climbers we meet in town or at walls. It's addicting - the adrenaline, the sore muscles, the achievement of climbing up something so beautifully powerful, trusting our fingers, toes, and nerves to carry us to the top. We stick to the easier routes, though there are plenty that only a couple of people are able to do, at difficulty levels you can't even imagine without seeing someone do it. And then you really can't believe it.
We had been feeling anxious, aimless, searching for something - a goal, a purpose. Railay has been medicinal in this regard. We found a spot we feel comfortable in, and we've attained that 'sigh' we were looking for. Far removed from "real life," Railay's schedule isn't set around business meetings or rush hour (in fact there are no cars or motorbikes here at all), but rather the predictable tide and the time of day when the huge carnivorous mosquitoes come out to feast. And when the wind picks up and the sky grays, you know you've got 5-10 minutes before it pours. Here, the days flow together, the weekend doesn't mean anything different than the week, and the pace of life is sluggish and loungy. Amiable stray cats, parading monkeys, hair-raising spiders, aggressive hornets, and knuckle-sized mosquitoes are a part of every day life. Reggae bars, fire shows, and happy hours provide enough variety to keep from being bored, and oh yeah, did I mention there's extremely accessible, world class rock climbing here?
We came here expecting to stay a while, but we never expected to stay three weeks. If the local food scene was better, we may have stayed longer. We have absolutely no regrets, though. Our time here has healed any wounds we might have had, calmed the nerves, focused our senses, worked our bodies, tanned our skin, and reminded us that this truly is what it's all about. Total freedom. This is the kind of place that makes you contemplate life's deep questions, the timeless rhythm of the ocean's waves, your life's ambitions, the wonders of Mother Nature, and just how exactly ants do all the things they do.
Walking with Tu, our guide, to climb those cliffs in the background
Can you find Mike?
Not a bad place to hang out for a few weeks, huh?? Our resort, with this pool, A/C, fridge, and laughable TV with 2 channels was about $22/night
That wall behind the pool, a little more to the right, was one of our favorite shady spots for climbing.
Mike's face is much closer to the spider than the camera, this is only very slightly a camera illusion
Abby saw her 29th birthday while we were here, and to celebrate, we went out on a Deep Water Solo trip. A group of us set out on a sailboat for a beautiful cruise around some islands, arriving at a place with extremely questionable ladders and impossible looking walls for some climbing. Except this time, there are no ropes or harnesses. If you fall, or climb too high and get scared, you just plunge into deep seawater. Look out for giant jellyfish bigger than your head, though, a couple people got stung. It was a great trip, with great people we ended up going climbing with later, and a beautiful cruise back to Railay, sails up, and a charismatic captain to boot.
Abby loved this outing, and was getting really adventurous on the rock. In this photo, Mike is climbing a ladder (one of the most difficult parts of the whole day) up to a small cave opening, while Abby leads the pack on the right, climbing mainly horizontally, as once you got high enough, each step up meant a longer jump down!
Can you find Abby in the next two photos?
A couple days later, we met up with Ethan, Tracy, and Tun, who we met on the boat, for a great day of climbing. To get from our morning spot to our lunch spot, we climbed through a really cool cave with flashlights, through to an opening on the other side where we clipped ourselves in and rappelled down the other side. A short, adventurous jungle walk, a stroll down the beach wearing way too much clothing and gear, and we found ourselves at our favorite restaurant called Mangrove. The cave was so cool, we did it twice.
Here you see Mike belaying Tun, with the cave opening in the background
This is the view from the top of the climbing routes at our morning spot, Escher Wall.
We finished off our time here with a hike to the viewpoint and the lagoon, which we heard from many people is extremely treacherous and muddy. They were right. This is exactly the type of thing that would be completely barricaded off in America, but here, they just stick some old fraying ropes along the way to help you hoist yourselves up on the almost vertical, muddy rock. Luckily for us, we knew to wear hiking shoes and the previous few days had been dry, I can't even imagine the numbers of people who do this hike in bare feet (their flip flops failing them immediately) in the slick orange mud. It was so beautiful, though, and we had the whole place to ourselves. The lagoon was a tidal pool, so we needed to go at high tide, and was gorgeous - a tube cut out of the mountain, sending echoes around like we've never heard. It was a magical place. Then we climbed back up (WAY easier than going down!) to the viewpoint, where we had a great view of the place we've called home for the past three weeks. To send us off even happier, a group of adorable monkeys, of a kind we had never seen before, came and hung out right in front of us for a while. It was the type of trip that leaves your heart light and your cheeks sore.