Railay Beach is only reached by boat and reaching it is, what some may call, a little convoluted. A long ferry ride of two and a half hours takes us to Ao Nang, where we transfer to a couple of tuk tuks, and then a long tail boat to our destination. A long tail is a wooden boat that holds between ten and twenty people. It has a wooden proboscis at the front that reaches skyward. The motor on the back has a long beam that extends way out into the water with the propeller on it, hence the name “long tail.”
Our fellow travellers are a collection of tourists and locals; a couple of lone backpackers with no accommodation to go to, footloose and fancy free, and a local Thai person we were to see every day of our week long stay. This lady travels each day to Railay Beach to persistently canvas the tourists on the beach for a massage or foot scrub. I think she must get a little bored on the daily commute as she sat behind Mark picking off the grey hairs that had fallen on his black polo shirt. Now call me old fashioned, archaic even, but being preened by a complete stranger was a little creepy, albeit a smiling, nodding one.
After alighting from the boat in water up to our thighs – in the highest tide of the year – we ferry our luggage, one piece at a time to dry ground. The boatman – ‘captain’ is a bit of a stretch – holds the unsteady timber conveyance while we make the very ungainly move to the front and jump off – yes, I did – so he is no help with the luggage. Any other assistance may have come from a couple of Thai guys sitting in a tree grinning from ear to ear, but nooo, they wanted money, and we refused to pay them to help us on principle! Pride is a terrible thing!
Our villas are two stunning, high, timber structures joined together by a walkway. There are lots of heavy teak chairs and day beds, and being high we feel like we’re in the tree canopy with the macaque monkeys. There is no air conditioning; it’s not necessary. This peninsula, surrounded by water, is more temperate. So having the large, ornate, teak doors open at night and three fans going, provided enough cool air to enable a blissful nights sleep in the luxurious king size bed under the mosquito net.
And oh, the water; calm, crystal clear, turquoise, warm (a little too warm some might say, but not me), and gently washing on shore above a perfectly sandy bottom. I spent hours every day just floating around and, let me tell you, chiropractors would be an extinct species if only it were possible for us all to do that daily!
The next beach, around the headland from us, won the coveted title of best beach in the world last year. It is called Pranang, and is stunning. The water, of course, is the same clear, warm variety we have fifty metres from our villa, and the only difference we can see between the two beaches is the fact that there are large stalactites hanging over the sea from the huge sandstone cliffs, which, you can swim under,at Pranang – rather cool I must say. Getting to Pranang for us, means walking a zig zag across the peninsular and back again at an angle. This walk involves strolling along a path under cavernous, overhanging rocks, the habitat of a tribe of macaque monkeys. These monkeys look so cute (even to a non-monkey lover such as myself, an aversion inherited from my mother), innocent even, but only to the unwary. One must not be fooled! Behind those big round eyes, lies raw instinct coupled with the genetic tendency towards confidence trickery, bred from generations of tourist attackers. A tall, comical Aussie regaled at length how he was duped by their charm and bears scars on his leg made by sharp teeth to prove it! It seems he was trying to feed them, a definite no, no! We were told at the little national park office not to even have food open in your bag, and definitely not to be eating anything, let alone try to feed them. Mary quickly wraps up and hides the tamarind confection she has just bought. My monkey phobia is not completely without some sound basis it seems.
Around the peninsula in the other direction is another cove known for its food and rock climbing. We have been contemplating how to get there because at the end of our beach is a huge rock face and although people say you can get through it some how, the only way we can see is via a rope climb of about fifteen feet; okay for the nimble!
So together we hatch a plan. At low tide we will walk around the cliff. We have never seen anyone else do this but the science seems solid. So off we set, meeting the odd sharp rock. How odd in this sandy bottomed ocean. Writers, scientists, explorers, anyone who has ever documented anything knows about this point; the point of no return. Well we reached it when we found ourselves all at about 300 metres from each other,(unable to tell each other we were turning around even had we wanted to) trying to pick our individual courses over the reef that was invisible in the two feet deep water! Mary had stuck to the shore and was making good progress. Justin had opted for the shortest route across, which I was following. I found I could actually propel myself across half swimming and using my hands to slowly inch my way forward.
Mark, however, was in trouble. He had brought his camera and this was situated in a bag on his shoulder. This left him seriously disadvantaged as he couldn’t float across and his balance, when he put a foot wrong on the razor sharp rocks, was extremely impaired. By now Jus had made it to shore and was watching his father going out wide and into deeper water hoping to find the edge of the reef and the sandy bottom which, given the underwater topography of Railay we assume must exist. This strategy however, is not working. I see Jus making his way back out to his father and so I signal to Mark to wait and rest till Jus gets there as he is obviously getting tired. Jus was wearing great thick soled thongs which were a distinct advantage so he could make the walk back out so much more easily. He relieved Mark of the bag and camera and after that Mark could slowly make progress to the shore. His feet and legs though, are running with blood from the awful cuts, so much more numerous than the one or two that the rest of us suffered.
Tired and more than a little traumatised we reclined on the wooden verandah of a bar and watched climbers work their way up the sandstone cliffs. Call themselves adventurers, child’s play. I bet these fit young climbers wouldn’t engage in the extreme sport of reef walking! Ha!
Now getting to this place is one thing. I can now hear you say, hanging on with bated breath, “how will they get back?” The only option we saw was to take a track through jungle, over the huge mountain in the centre of the peninsula to the other side of Railay and traverse back again on level ground to the rear of our resort. Amazingly, and so incongruously, at the start of this track is a little shop selling…. Bet you will never guess, alright I will tell you, banana bread. Now this was not an Asian variation, this was your Double Bay cafe style, coming to us from under a tin roof supported by rough timbers, and was delicious toasted for dessert that night and breakfast the next morning.
I digress. When I say, “track” over the mountain, I really mean narrow cleared path, gouged out by water. And it’s hot; very hot. There is no one else on this path, now there’s a surprise! Once we have reached the top of the mountain it’s time to come down. Well, that should be easier do I hear you say? Let’s not relax just yet. I would hardly have thought it possible, but it is even steeper going down than it was going up. Very steep. So much so that the only way down at times is to hang on to trees alongside the path, or let yourself down on the rope sometimes provided, and remember not to use the electricity cable lying alongside the path for the purpose of steadying yourself!
When the four of us emerged from the jungle we must have looked a sight. We were all in swimmers and I had a new sarong, which, with water and perspiration had turned me blue as the Thai dye leached out; Avitar revisited. There is a little local food restaurant on the path at the rear of our villas so we stop there for a very late lunch (thankfully they don’t enforce a dress code). We have eaten here before and the lady knows us. She was curious as to where we had come from, and her look of horror at finding out said she thought we were mad. In her broken English she said something about a long tail boat. Ohhhhhh, I wish we’d thought of that!
It’s our last night in Railay, in fact, tomorrow night we leave Thailand. We must go out for dinner to remember our final evening. There are lovely resort restaurants on the other side of the peninsula but they simply don’t have the view our side has. So we opt for a place we have eaten at before. The food is good, the tables are practically on the sand, the azure sea laps the beach and when the sun goes down over the rocky outcrops in the ocean it takes your breath away. So we sit at a table we have sat at before. Actually we could have our choice of tables as, strangely, the place is empty of diners tonight. I say empty but this is with the exception of a large group up behind us on the terrace singing karaoke. Ha ha, funny guys.
The waitress comes with the menus and having eaten here before, it doesn’t take us long to decide on food and drinks. When the girl returns with our drinks I say, “how long is happy hour?” She looks a little confused and says, “no happy hour tonight.” “But the karaoke, it’s only for happy hour surely.” “Ah, no ma’am, this is Bangkok business man. He bring his workers.”
I then embark on one of those questions – you know the ones – they have to be asked but one needs to firmly brace oneself for the answer while a distinct sense of panic rises in the throat. Well, here goes. I ask, “Yes, but how long will this go on for?” “Um, all night ma’am. He pay for all night.” Well, all I can say is, whatever he is paying his employees it doesn’t even come close to being enough. This boss occasionally allows someone else a turn on the mic, which doesn’t offer any respite to the ears by the way, but for the most part appears to want to wail off key to his very long suffering scivies. “I did it my way.” Well of course you did, there’s not another person on the planet that could sing that woefully.
Anyway it’s time for us to settle, watch this beautiful sunset and just try and block out the racket from the terrace. No, no good, not working. Where is dinner? At least now we are not the only sufferers in the restaurant. At the next table is a young couple looking forlourn and not a little perplexed. I look at them and smile, and with a laugh say, “do you want to slit your throats too?” “Yup, pretty bad isn’t it?” they reply. We have a brief chat about where they’re from – one of the farming states of the U.S.- but I decide to leave them to their quiet, romantic, very scenic dinner. Come to think of it, quiet it was not. Romantic it definitely wasn’t after the murder of that last song. But it was scenic. I guess one out of three ain’t bad. Actually it’s terrible but I’m still trying to be positive.
Our dinners arrive minus Justin’s pizza, but after waiting a while we eat since we don’t want ours to go cold. Jus waits, and waits, and waits. We finish our meals and still no pizza. “Love me tender, love me true.” I don’t think so, buddy. Right now there’s a whole peninsula of people ready to string you up!
I glance behind to where the young couple are sitting and they’re not there. “They got takeaway,” Mary says. What! We were allies with these Americans in the war against terrace! How dare they and why didn’t we think of that? Cunning Americans knowing when to make a retreat.
The girl comes over, smiling, to take our plates away. “Ah, just one thing, Justin hasn’t got his pizza yet.” She says, “I will check.” When she comes back she is most apologetic. It has been forgotten and the chef is preparing it now! Our endurance has already been tested to the limit and now we have to wait for the cook to make a pizza! There is no doubt about it, waiting for this pizza might as well be undertaken hanging by the toenails, such is the agony. Part of me actually feels sorry for the wait staff and chef though. Their brain waves are obviously being interfered with, and it’s inhumane to have to work in these conditions. “Start spreading the news. I’m leaving today.” “Ohhhh if only,” I wail.
Well, we wanted a memorable last night in Railay and without doubt it was. We still bear the scars.