November 21, 2008

You can't be crabby in Krabi

Krabi, it's a pretty funny name, come on, laugh with me. Where is Krabi you say? It's on the Andaman coast of Thailand, not that far from Phuket, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta where I previously visited. The town of Krabi is not the main the tourist destination, but it's the surrounding beaches that draw sun seekers, and rock climbers to its world class walls (see map here).

Tonsai and Railay beaches are the main places to stay in the area. Both require a traditional Thai long-tail boat to get there. Since there are no motorized vehicles on these beaches, it's more relaxing than words can describe.

I opted to stay on Tonsai, since it's more of an alternative, hippie, rock climbing village. There is one U-shaped road with a series restaurants, climbing shops, bars, and bamboo bungalows. People come here to spend several weeks to several months climbing, as opposed to Railay Beach, which gets your week long holiday makers. Because of this, you get a nice little community of people. Everyone seems to hang out at the same places, and it's a very chill vibe. Since most people are up early to climb, the bars and restaurants are filled with people reading or playing chess in the evening-time.

I think that Tonsai is another place you either love or hate. Accommodation is really basic, and there is only generator powered electricity from about 6 pm until 2 am. If you don't rock climb, you might feel a little left out, but the beaches in the area are great for reading and swimming, and hey, you can always take a class with climbing school. I met tons of backpackers that tried climbing for the first time while in Tonsai. And if you're the type that wants to stay up late and party, there are beach bars that rock out until the early morning. I actually just saw the most amazing Thai acoustic band that played only Spanish music. Manu Chao, Gypsy Kings, etc. They could have fooled me as the real deal.

I fell in love with Tonsai, and decided to stay there a little longer than planned. I found a great jungle hut at Banyan Tree Bungalows (Andaman Bungalows is another good option), and for $10 a night, I fell asleep in my comfy bed with mosquito net, to the sound of crickets, and woke up to cheeky monkeys jumping on my roof. Relaxing, right?

I actually didn't get much sleep while in Tonsai, since I was up early everyday for either climbing or scuba diving. I made friends with Ta and Dee, two Thai climbing instructors that run the Tonsai Rock school right next to my bungalow, and Dee took me out on my first day of climbing in years. I was a little nervous, considering I inherited my father's fear of heights, but I fell back into the swing of climbing, and in no time was doing challenging routes such as 6A and 6B (climbing grades 5.10 a and b+), which are tough for the non-climber or old-climber like myself. The next day I met Dore, a really cool mountain guide from Iceland who was on holiday. The two of us rented gear and had another fantastic day of climbing on Railay. All I can say is that the views of the surrounding cliffs and beaches, while dangling at about 100 feet, is breathtaking.

After two days of climbing I found a nice dive shop in Railay beach called Railay Divers, and signed up to do my Rescue Diver course for several days. It basically trains you to handle any rescue or first-aid scenario that can arise while diving. It's rare when something goes wrong, but it's good to know just in case. It reminds me of my pool lifeguard training years ago, and it's kind of empowering to feel like you can do something in an emergency.

As for Railay beach, I'll give you a quick overview. It's a great place to stay if you want a little more luxury than Tonsai. Railay West has a much nicer beach than Tonsai and Railay East, but it is much more expensive to stay and eat, with its posh resorts. Railay East has a mix of backpackers and older holiday makers that want more value for their buck or baht (Thai currency). Also, from Railay East, you can walk to the amazing beach of Ao Phranang.

I've decided to stay put for a little while, and get both physically and mentally fit, before coming home to face work and a crumbling economy. So, i'll keep you updated on my adventures in and around Krabi.

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