Today a long journey lies ahead of us. We’ll spend about three hours crossing the Andaman Sea to get from Malaysia to Hat Yao, Thailand, then another few hours overland. First up, a limo pries us away from our fantastic beach paradise and takes us to the other side of the island, where we wait for our ferry. A little motorboat takes us from the pier to the waiting vessel. The weather is a bit temperamental, the waves high and the ride rough. The boat is packed. Everyone has a seat, but there are no seats to spare. Someone behind us gets seasick. Our passports are stamped at Koh Lipe while we wait in the boat. At Hat Yao, we wait long enough to make us nervous, then board a van which takes us to the Krabi airport, arriving about two hours later. There we meet a driver from our hotel who asks if we would mind waiting for another couple to arrive. About an hour and a half later we board another van, drive 45 minutes to a pier which is too narrow and muddy for the van so we transfer to a rickshaw, then board a long-tail boat at the pier to take us to Railay East, about 15 minutes away. But we’re not done yet! We’ve arrived at low tide, so the boat moors a bit far out, and a tractor-trailer finishes bringing in the passengers. The tractor drops us in front of our hotel. We check in, thankfully, in the normal Asian fashion (cool scented towel, fruity drink, comfortably seated). We find our room. We rest.
The day of travel was long and confusing. Few people spoke English. We questioned everything, but mostly to each other. Is this our boat? Are we supposed to get off here? Are we going the right direction? But the folks in charge of our transport knew what they were doing. They didn’t say much, but we chilled out and followed their lead, and everything turned out just fine.
Our hotel is cool, and reasonably priced. Great views, very clean. Another part of the Asian hospitality I haven’t mentioned yet is that every bathroom is fully stocked with toiletries and gadgets. This one comes with funny little sayings on each one. “Comb – for Charming.” “Shower Cap – for Convenient.” The hotel directory told us one activity in the area was to “enjoy with monkeys.” We even got a kick out of the hotel’s tagline: “Bhu Nga Thani – A Miracle for You.”
Our first evening we wanted only two things: food, and sleep. We wandered around Railay East which we found small yet kind of confusing, picked a restaurant, and while being serenaded by old Rod Stewart music, proceeded to sample Thailand’s home brews and eat the most fantastic Phad Thai ever.
The next day we headed out to try to figure out this place. Railay East doesn’t really have a beach – only a narrow sidewalk over mud flats at low tide or lapping waves at high tide, and many mangrove trees. I found the boats picturesque. The East side also has a couple of tiny little local restaurants, easy for tourists to miss, where we had delicious food for very little baht several times.
Two beaches are within short walking distance: Phra Nang Cave Beach with its stalactites, stalagmites, and shrine to a Hindu fertility goddess; and Railay West with its resorts and rock climbers. We spent most of our beach time at the former, though we had to pass through a narrow cave area to get there, where grabby crab-eating macaques stole one of my bags of chips.
These are the picturesque beaches that Lonely Planet raves about.
Finally we get to test Seb’s new waterproof camera (the beach in Langkawi was too cold). The water is so salty, you can float with hardly any effort.
We got to the beach early, when it was still rather quiet. Soon the place was packed. We noticed many of the tourists around us were European or Russian, no surprise there. Certain customs stood out to us as “different” than what we’re used to, such as ladies changing their bathing suits using nothing but a towel to keep them mostly concealed. Oh, and there was this lady, obviously very comfortable with her primo spot.
(Maybe you had to be there, but that kept us laughing for quite a while. She reminded us of a great-but-very-inappropriate-for-children-or-my-dad Jon Lajoie video, “Try Not Giving a <Bleep>”. Seriously, Dad and grandparents, do NOT click on that link.)
The West side had a cute “walking street” of shops & restaurants, where we enjoyed cocktails, the sunset, and fresh-caught fish grilled right in front of us.
Railay is an isthmus, accessible only by boat. Apparently the land is cutoff from the mainland by impassable mountains or forests or something. I wonder how long it takes them to build anything? One morning we saw these guys hauling load after load of supplies like food and laundry for one of the resorts. Looks like hard work.
By the end of our three days here, though we enjoyed the beach and atmosphere on the West side, we felt more partial to the East side. It was more laid-back, cheaper, more real. On Christmas Eve we hung out at a coffee bar on stilts, had one of the little local restaurants deliver food to us, and watched the tide come in right underneath us. Then we ended up at a nearby party complete with fire dancers, musicians, and one of Thailand’s many transvestites.
On our last morning, Christmas morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast of Thai pancake, and waited on the beach for our next long-tail boat + ferry to take us across the bay to Phuket. The ride was beautiful! It was like a recreational yacht – we got to sit outside, soak up the sun, and watch schools of jellyfish and gorgeous scenery pass us by.