I was reading, the word “travel” comes from an Old English word “travail” which means “hardship”.
When I make big moves, like ones that take 2 days and cross from the east side to the west side of Thailand, I can understand exactly what that means. I took the night boat from Ko Tao which leaves at 21:00 and arrives at Surat Thani the next morning – what a ride it turned out to be! There are large mats on the ground and numbers on the wall. For 500 baht you basically get to lie under a number inside the belly of the old wooden boat. I can’t help but think that maybe this was what it would be like to be inside of an old slave ship or a ship crossing the Atlantic bound for America 100 year ago.
Like everything else, it was designed for Thai people, so my shoulders were as wide as my spot. There is no place to stow your rucksack, so it has to fit into your assigned space with you. And I do mean assigned…the somewhat angry Thai woman that ran the boat came by with her clipboard and assured that people were in the right place on the mats…some friends had shuffled and re-arranged with neighbors and she insisted that they move back to the pre-determined slot! There are no bunks, boundaries, etc closing in your personal space…so I had my backpack under my feet, a Japanese girl on the left of me and a Hungarian girl on the right of me. Isnt it a good thing to sleep with 2 foreign girls at the same time when youre on holiday? Not in this case. Although they both seemed friendly, there wasn’t much conversation as we lay there in the dark sweatting.
The Gulf was crazy, the old wooden ship was bouncing up and down on the water like a piece of cork. I tried my hardest not to snuggle with the strangers on each side of me, I dont think any of us got any sleep at all. Many people, mostly older Thais, went and got a lifejacket off the wall and put it under their pillows! A bit disheartening. I took a Dramamine pill and never got sick, but a couple others werent so lucky, they were barfing out the windows. Still, everyone made the best of it, laughing and yelling “woooo” on each side of the berth as we would go up or down. Thats the good thing about backpacking…the people! Tourists would have asked for their money back, we were determined to get our money’s worth and enjoy it.
We arrived at 05:00am in Surat Thani. I was immediately approached by an armed police officer and told to get on a minivan. I didnt argue…even though I much rather have had a full sized bus to Krabi like I paid for. Road transportation in Thailand is best effort, you may book and pay for a “VIP bus”, but find yourself squeezed between 4 people on the back seat of a minivan, or better yet, in the back of an open pickup truck!
The minivan ride took about 3 hours, I was so tired from the boat that I didnt mind. We arrived in Krabi and I made friends with 2 English girls. At 10:00 we took a longtail speedboat, which was an awesome ride, for about 30 minutes to Hat Railay…a beach that cannot be reached by road because of the steep mountains surrounding it. The scenery is unbelievable, with giant limestone cliffs sticking straight up out of the water. Literally climbers and cavers paradise – I was salivating on myself thinking of the adventure possibilities that await for me here. There are numerous sea caves and wild monkeys that run raids up and down the rocks as well. I’ve not been attacked yet, but I was told by another traveler to drop your food if they come, because they bite. His bandaged hand was all the proof I needed.
I already spoke to a Thai woman in the tourist info center here that lost her sister in the Tsunami. There is no damage that I can see where I am, but I am in an area that was hit hard, so I am sure that it is still fresh in the locals’ minds.
The water is a deep blue here and you can climb and boulder right on the beach! Unfortunately most of the climbing is mutli-pitch sport climbing, way out of my league for soloing unless I develop a death wish. Also, they use a French rating system rather than the American 5.1 scale so I have no idea on the difficulties. I will find some proper solo free climbing though before I leave. Unfortunately, the astounding setting brings a lot of rich European tourists so prices here are outrageous. 3 Baht a minute for internet and water is double. I think its because there is not a real pier, supplies have to be brought in by small longtail boats and then unloaded like we did in shin deep water.
The water level differences at tide changes are absolutely insane here! I went inside of the internet cafe with the water splashing the small retaining wall right outside, when I emerged 30 minutes later, I could barely see the water! My brain flashed back to a special that I had watched about the Tsunami that mentioned how the water receded just before it happened, but a glance around confirmed that no one was in panic mode and quenched my adrenaline burst. The sea will go out 300 meters or more at low tide and leave a green, muddy mess all the way from the walkway to the water’s edge. I felt sorry for the new backpackers and people that had to carry supplies across the half mile of sticky mud from the boat.
I will stay around and explore a few days, then move north to Tan Sai…where the climbing is reportedly more crazy and the prices cheaper. I’ll upload pics when I can, got lots of postcard quality ones already, but with the internet prices I cant afford to here!