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Published: January 30th 2009
It's amazing how quickly the political situation in a country can change. With a whole army of rioters keeping the Bangkok airport closed and the prime minister trying to fight against the calls for his resignation we had been keeping an eye on the situation in Thailand over the past couple of days. Our plan was to travel up the Andaman coast to Bangkok, but with stories of grenades going off in the airport being passed around the backpackers' cafes we were waiting to see how serious the situation was becoming.
After checking the web and chatting to a few other travellers, we decided that the south was a pretty low risk, and hopped on a minivan across the Thai border to Krabi. One surprising spinoff of the political situation in the capital that did manage to reach the southern boarder was a change to the visas issued. It was not until we were in Thailand that another passenger noticed that we had not been stamped with 30 day permits as usual, but rather given only 14 days.
This would have been a pain for us, but during our battle with the poisonous prawns of Lombok we recieved a
letter from one of Cath's friends saying how nice it would be if we were home for Christmas. After having been in Asia for 2 years, we decided that it would be better to cut our trip short by a few days and move our flight forward to be home in time to surprise everyone for Christmas. Consequently, we had decided to cut the time from our Thailand since we had been there before.
Most of the travellers in the minivan had not decided where on the West coast we were headed. One girl who was working in Ko Lanta persuaded everyone to head in that direction. We decided to first go off towards Railey, a peninsula that is only accesible by boat. And boy were we glad that we did.
As our friendly captain steered the little wooden boat towards Railey we were met by a spectacular sight. While there are plenty of beautiful beaches in this part of the world, Railey has something really special. The approaching palm-lined crescent of white sand was bound on both sides by huge limestone cliffs, dripping with stalagmites several stories tall and stained black, orange and white by minerals. These
cliffs are known for having some of the best bolted climbing routes in the world.
We found a beautiful bungalow near a wall called Diamond Cave to drop our pack in, and headed over to the Western side of the peninsula for a swim and to watch the sunset with a couple of fresh-braaied mielies. As it was getting dark, we followed some climbers along a narrow path which scrambled over a rocky hill to a beach called Tonsai. The atmosphere at this beach seemed more budget-market and relaxed. At one of the beach-front restaurants we were served two of the most delicious Thai curries. Mmmmmm. After gawking at the huge cliffs illuminated by spotlights we scrambled back across the hillside, using a lighter to help us see the more tricky parts.
The next morning we rose early, and inspired by a breakfast view of the huge cliffs, rented a set of climbing gear. The wall close to our bungallow was apparently one of the easiest, and so seemed like a good place to start. After giving Cath a quick refresher on the basics of belaying, I clipped a bunch of quickdraws onto my harness and headed up
Taking a rest from the climbing
The rock climbing in Railay is some of the best in the world
the first wall.
The rock face was made up of 2 slightly overhanging sections with a small ledge in between. Our route followed a crack which rose vertically up the black & while marbled rock and then veered left as it passed the ledge. As I pulled myself up over the ledge I broke our of the shade and into the bright sun. Although it was still early in the day, my arms were already shining with sweat from the stress and the humidity.
I focussed all my energy on reaching the final anchor point and only once I was securely clipped in did I take the time to gaze breathlessly at the view below me. In front of me a canopy of trees stretched away for about a kilometre until it met another sheer cliff. On my right the blue ocean spread out towards the horizon. It was one of those views that so draws you in that you momentarily forget where you are standing. Or hanging.
Slowly, triple-checking everything, I fed the rope through the top anchor and then Cath belayed me back down. With the top rope set up, Cath clipped onto the rope,
flew up the wall, and then confidently abseiled back down. I tell myself it's because she saw how I did it.
We climbed a few more of the routes on that face, but since neither of us had climbed in ages, we found ourselves exhausted after a few hours and decided to call it a day.
In the afternoon we took the jungle path across the northern part of the peninsula, through lush forest and popped out at the cafes on the other side just in time to escape the typical equatorial half-hour thundershower. After some more moseying along the beach front we stopped at a bar to have a beer, and play a game of chess. As the rain returned we retreated off the sand and under thatch roof. We saw no reason to move from our spot, and so spent the rest of the evening playing chess by lamplight, listening to the rain on the sea and watching the drops make tiny craters all over the beach.
On the way back to our room we stopped to watch fire dancers perform on the beach, while we ate Thai-style pancakes.
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