The next chapter in Kyle and Matt’s visit had us checking out of the big city and into Thailand’s world renowned islands. We took a flight from Bangkok to Krabi, and from there, a ferry to Koh Phi Phi. Phi Phi was one of our earlier stops on our first lap of Thailand so we had a bit of experience here and knew what to expect. We wanted to find a bungalow on the beach that was a bit further from the nightclubs so we weren’t kept up late if we decided that we didn’t want to party until 2am. Fortunately, that situation really never arose…
We ended up staying in a bungalow probably about 250 feet further from the noisy beach clubs than last time. It wasn’t much, but it was something, even if only in our heads. What this bungalow did have though, was a balcony overlooking the Phi Phi bay. When the tide was up, it was the best view that money could buy – for $27! Relaxing on a Thai beach or bay takes bliss to a whole new level. If all of your problems feel as if they are half a world away- it’s because they actually are.
Our first night was a more low key Phi Phi orientation. After the flight and ferry and searching for accommodation, we decided we’d go out, but we agreed to keep it chill. We walked up and down the beach, drank and had fun while checking out the scene. There were teams of local thai firedancers/flamethrowers twirling, tossing and flat out chucking flaming batons and numchucks all over the place, always an exciting spectacle. Athena put me on edge for a good 10 minutes when she was a volunteer for one of the shows. She stood in the middle of the flamers as they proceeded so throw enough flaming objects about her to start a new circle of Hell. The act seemed, hmm, semi-coordinated/pre-practiced, which added to my terror as she happily smiled amidst the fuego. Then there were plenty of crazy partiers, entirely out of control, who we people watched, and just shook our heads. Oh, to be 21 again…
The next day we were up early, the four of us had booked a private longtail boat to shuttle us around Phi Phi and it’s surrounding islands. Getting the private longtail wasn’t the reason we needed to rise just after sunset, but getting to the immensely popular Maya Bay before it was swarmed with other tourist boats isn’t likely to happen otherwise. For those of you who have seen the 2000’s movie The Beach (LINK) staring Leo, you might remember this landscape as the Shangrai La hidden gem he stumbles across while trying to immerse himself in true authentic travel. No longer is it in any way off the beaten path, but its gorgeous water and sand, and nearly 360 towering rock cliff surround makes it easy to look past the other people sharing in it’s beauty alongside you. We spent at least an hour doing our best to capture the incredible essence of the landscape (note: we failed, it’s way more fantastic than our photos). We also got some hilarious photos of all the guys trying to hang from a particular stalactite for the “most epic photo ever.” Mostly we just tumbled over each other down into the sand and incoming tide, but it was quite fun. We headed from Maya bay to other coves surrounded by more towering cliffs and out of this world wallpaper for your computer type water. We had a few snorkel stops and then headed to the infamous Monkey Beach. This beach is equal parts exciting and terrifying. The first thing you need to understand is the monkeys rule the beach – and if you don’t realize that, you’ll probably get some form of rabies as punishment. The monkeys allow tourists to visit and photograph in exchange for handouts of food like bread and HOLY SHIT A BANANA, OHMYGOD EVERYONE FEND FOR YOURSELF!! We saw monkeys fighting, humping, and at one point hopping on a tourist boat and being carried off the beach and out to see because he was still searching for food aboard. They tolerated the gopro quite well, and one of the guys had the great idea to balance some bread on top of the camera, which got us some impressively close shots of the most brazen of beggars. After all that excitement, we headed back to our mainland bungalows and napped, hard.
Over the night’s dinner, we discussed our plan for the evening. We discussed a few details and settled on a course of actions. Little did we know at the time, but remember the people who were absolutely out of their mind the night before…
I guess a good way to go into what is to become a big night out is with three things. First: a large, obnoxiously large, cobra tattoo on your chest. The second: mustache, no brainer. The third, fluorescent body paint. What would a man with the cobra tattoo and mustache get painted on the remainder of his available chest space you might ask? Well, more cobra of course. 200% Cobra, 1 million % ferocity. All four of us looked incredible and when our powers combined we formed a powerhouse of inebriation that even Captain Planet himself couldn’t stop. It was as if we were on a runaway train determined to top the idiotic antis of all previous idiots observed the night before. We decided to each take turns boosting one another atop a pole to individually dance and drink on top of approximately 12 feet above the party. 12 feet above what probably would have been a catastrophic fall that luckily didn’t occur. At one point Kyle decided he was going to run around the beach jumping over fire as well as people who were lying on the sand. This seemed like a good time so several of us joined in. There were more antics I’m sure, but we’ll cut the story off here and say you just had to be there.
The next morning, we woke up slowly while the guys went to the Phi Phi mountaintop viewpoint (which we had seen on our last go through). Predictably, they enjoyed it, but were hurting afterwards. To spend our last few hours on PP, we rented some kayaks from a man on the beach, snorkeled and hated our lives fighting the current on the way back. It was the worst kayaking experience ever, but we eventually made it back and will never speak of how terrible that was ever again. Those boats were stupid anyways.
We bid adieu to Phi Phi and it’s party scene for our last stop in Thailand, Railay beach. Of all the spots Athena and I visited in Thailand over 45 days, this was our favorite. In fact, it’s in our top 3 places we’ve visited over our 8 months thus far. It’s a remote location only reachable by boat that offers, rock climbing, spearfishing, caves to explore, lagoons to trek to, muy thai to watch and the absolute perfect beaches to relax on. Our lodging at the private homes we rented from Railay Beach Club was our best accommodation in all of SEA. Our first night we arrived via the ferry, jumped off into the 3 feet of water with all our bags (that’s as close as the ferry gets you) and headed to shore. The surroundings of Railay take your breath away, and we were content to crash, catching it the next morning.
The next morning we headed straight t the beach upon waking up. Most people to relax, myself to spearfish of course. This go round was less fruitful than the last time we were in Railay, no barracuda sightings or anything of that nature. I shot a few small fish that we kept and would eat throughout our few days. After beaching it up, and returning to our bungalow it was decided that the men would hike out to a remote lagoon rumored to exist high in the mountains between a couple of Railay’s beaches. (Athena wasn’t feeling the hiking urge that morning, so she opted out) On the way to the lagoon, we stopped at Diamond Cave. The $1 price tag of admission didn’t elevate our expectations much, which turned out to be a big error judgment. The inside of the cavern was massive and the texture of many of the walls under the tasteful lighting appeared like small diamonds with a subtle welcoming glimmer. It was not like any cave I’d ever seen before, and I appreciate the lack of colored lights or spotlights as is sometimes common to see with overdone or altered natural attractions in SEA.
Once we were finished being awed by the caves (which we had entirely to ourselves save 1 person btw) we continued on our walk to the trailhead of the lagoon. On our way, the rain clouds that had been threatening decided to loosen their grip on the precipitation above. There were signs warning of the extremely slippery and steep track that awaited us, as well as a few pairs of discarded completely mud covered converse all-stars which gave a bit of foreshadowing for what we were in for. We took of our shirts, tightened our shoe laces and started the steep uphill route. Almost immediately we began picking up traces of the reddish muddy soil on our shoes, ankles, knees while bracing and hands while gripping roots and a few ropes which had been placed to aid in ascent. We painstakingly picked our way to the first highlight of the trek, a lookout over East Railay beach. It was quite a perfect lookout really by definition – we observed the clear/turquoise water below, groves of palms and of course Railay’s signature granite cliffs across the bay. Despite all this, it wasn’t the real reason we had decided to get halfway covered with mud and halfway soaked to the bone, so we continued on to finish the job as we progressed towards the lagoon. Shortly after another kilometer or so of uphill, the track changed and we began heading down. Heading down the slippery slopes presented a whole new set of challenges. Instead of fighting gravity to pull ourselves up, we were fighting it’s constant attempts to have us slip and sliding on the rugged path. It was a challenge for sure, but one that we welcomed. At this point on the trip, I can’t count the number of hikes and walks that we’ve done, but real challenges like this were what makes hikes (or any experience for that matter) memorable. And the most difficult parts were yet to come.
We continued on our path that looked like a flash flood nightmare until it led us to a cliff drop off. 20 feet straight down, muddy rocks, well I guess that’s it. Time to turn back. We stood in the rain, defeated, and attempted to analyze if there was any way around. There was nothing. We were ready to give up. Just before the last of us turned around to climb back home, we spied a rope, blended perfect with the color of the surroundings because it had obviously been gripped by many sets of muddy hands before us. We decided to take our chances and spotted each other until all 3 of us were safely down and over the cliff. We decided it would be very difficult to make it back over in the other direction, but that we would do it, because quite simply there was no other way out. We hiked on. In another 5-10 minutes, we encountered muddy crag #2. This time we looked for a rope and low an behold another was provided! Unfortunately it seemed at least twice as hard of a route down. Less footholds and a greater drop. We spotted each other down. Another 5 minutes of flat hike and we approached yet a third drop off. We found the rope quickly this time, but it only went halfway down. We were sunk. The remaining drop below the rope was a recipe for disaster and the conditions prohibited descending in any unsecured free climbing manner. We appeared to be done yet again. Frustrating because we felt as if we were so close. I guess the sign warning not to hike in wet conditions would have saved us a lot of time and trouble. Nonetheless, we decided to have one more look around at the possible routes down the face before turning back. That’s when we saw it. On the far corner of the cliff’s right side, a small hole that when crouched like a baseball catcher, we could fit through. On the other side of the hole we discovered a rope! This rope led to the bottom of the cliff. It was still a tough passage, but we had to try it. I made it down, as did Matt but unfortunately something bad was bound to happen on this hike. Kyle slipped, and quickly fell about 15 feet to the rocky ground. He was unresponsive as we rushed over to him… Just kidding, Kyle made it down our last slick drop and we almost instantly spotted the lagoon from our newly accessed position. We had made it!
The lagoon itself was beautiful, and probably appeared even more so because of the process of getting there. The warmer than expected water was completely still while the cliffs surrounding the water on about 355 degrees climbed straight up. It gave the impression that we were the first people to ever reach our destination. Vines and trees climbed up the walls, other tropical plants topped the cliffs and there was no sounds except the rain pattering on these leaves. It felt as if we had snuck inside a volcano, but instead of lava it was filled with paradise. A perfect end to our afternoon adventure. We hung around for a while, but as the rain picked up slightly, we realized we better get out now before the conditions worsened. We made it home without incident, but had no time to relax and celebrate, there was still so much to do that day!
We ventured into town for dinner where we also picked up a few gifts for family and friends. After that we did finally have the chance to chill for a few hours before our next activity for the night. We sat on our bungalow’s covered porch, listening to the sounds of the waves crash in front of us, and the noises of the night birds and insects of the jungle behind us. The jungle however decided to creep closer as we quickly faced an “air assault” from bats and the locusts! To top that, giant geckos emerged ready to help tackle any sort of insect problem that may or may not have been brewing. Given that the locusts were large and easy to capture, and these were in fact, the largest geckos ever seen in recorded history, I decided to step in and take action. Finding a locust was easy and capturing just as simple as pinching it by the wings on its back. Next we located the gecko on the beam above us using a flashlight. The final step was to hold the noisy fluttering locust so only it, not my hand, protruded out on the side of the beam accessible to the gecko. Then, waiting. Waiting. Waiting. “Ohhhhhhhhhh,” we all screamed! The gecko jumped to it and latched on. We did this a few more times and headed to town for another battleground just as exciting to observe with a front row seat… The muy thai boxing ring.
As we sat around the well worn boxing ring waiting for the fights to start, the emcee for the event, a man who was about 20% Thai and about 80% Bob Marley, began to ask for volunteers. He brought three of us on state and informed us that we would be playing the didgeridoo. I managed to shock Athena by actually having a slight idea of how to play this Australian pipe of sorts (Thanks to my friend Brandon from Penn State for having one of these freshman year). The fights were awesome, the first one going to decision, and the second one ending early with a knockout. After the fights, we were treated to our 300th fire show on the beach, which we hung out watching for a little bit as there’s always a slightly different wrinkle to each performance. The 2 takaways from this experience were me getting hit with a flaming baton and the frequency with which the batons ended up actually in the ocean. Thankfully, there were no casualties this evening, but we left early so who knows.
For the last activity of our already action packed day, we had the option to swim with glowing phytoplankton out in the ocean. Since Athena and I had done that once before, we elected to leave Matt and Kyle to tackle this one on their own. I’m sure they found it as romantic as we did previously. Swirling surrounded by glowing micro plankton all around you under the stars and faintly visible looming granite cliffs of beautiful Railay beach.