A Long Overdue Update
So sorry for the huge amount of time that has passed since my last update! I didn’t realize it hadn’t been since Phuket, and internet has been expensive/spotty ever since. Right now we’re in Kanchanaburi, Thailand once more for our group “disorientation” but I’ll back up to fill you all in on the last week.
From Phuket the three of us traveled by minibus up to Phang Nga state park, where we hoped to catch a longtail boat to tour the beautiful Phang Nga bay. Renown for James Bond Island (featured in Man with the Golden Gun), the bay is made up of close to a hundred enormous karst limestone islands that shoot hundreds of feet out of the water in dramatic cliffs. The boat ride out was exceedingly wet due to pouring rain, but the highlight was definitely staying at the muslim floating village called Ko Panyi.
When we arrived the last tourists of the day were leaving and the touristy market selling cheap souvenirs was just closing up. Each day dozens of boat tours drop off travelers from Phuket who shoot around the bay for exorbitant sums and eat a quick lunch in the village before returning to their ritzy resorts. Our experience was far different and I feel we got a true idea of what the village life is like. The village is nestled next to an dramatic cliff-like spire and floods with the tides. When we got there the houses were all raised on stilts a good 15 feet above the dry ground beneath; by after sunset there was only a few feet between the waters surface and the bottom of each dwelling. Oh and that sunset! It really doesn’t get more picturesque than that. For dinner we were served a somewhat trying (for my perhaps overly discerning tastebuds) but exceedingly delicious seafood dinner that included whole fish, calamari, tom yam soup with prawns, spicy chicken curry, fruit, and white rice. Afterward one of the owners sat down and played cards with us and we tried to learn Thai poker with moderate success. While we were staying in a “guest house” of sorts, we were the only ones there and the family literally slept on the floor right outside our rooms in what might be called their living room. They sleep in the restaurant they serve hundreds of tourists at during the day, and their couch and TV and sleeping pads were located at the back of the establishment. The accommodations were dismal; there was no sink, the beds were lumpy with dirty sheets, and I had a couple plates of moldy food in the corner. As a Muslim village, there is no alcohol allowed (offenders must pay 5,000 baht and one goat) as well as no gambling or littering. There is a call to prayer five times a day and even the world’s only floating soccer field. In the morning I got up at sunrise to see the village start its day, which was again so so picturesque and interesting.
Ko Panyi was definitely the highlight of our travels, but in no way does that take away from the beautiful Railay peninsula near Krabi town. We met up with two others from our group and the five of us spent the majority of our days laying out on fine white sand beaches ringed by towering limestone cliffs. There are two main beaches on Railay-the West and Pranang- and we spent most of our time on Pranang, the nicer of the two(longtail boats beached along the shore here and cooked delicious food right there for you). The last full day I spent on Railay I got up early to try my hand at rock climbing. In total I did four different routes and lugged my camera up the last, a 30m behemoth, to capture the great views back toward East Railay. It was tiring but so rewarding! That afternoon I trekked to the lagoon, a somewhat mystical inland waterhole surrounded on all sides by cliff faces. After a dramatic hike (with ropes for support) up I discovered that the only way down to the water was by way of three cliff faces that you essentially belay down without a harness. These separated the wise masses from we foolhardy, and I arrived at the beautiful, echoing lagoon caked in a solid layer of red mud and sweat. Description simply doesn’t do it justice; it’s probably the most peaceful place I’ve ever been.
The trip to Kanchanaburi was also interesting. Three of us decided to try to catch a train, yet after a longtail boat ride and van pickup to the bus station, we were told that the bus wouldn’t be arriving for another two hours. My two sick companions opted out and taxied to the airport while I soldiered on in hopes of a nice bed on the overnight train and to save some money. The bus arrived and drove to Surratanyi, where the train was supposed to depart at 11:30. The half hours quickly marched by, however, and we weren’t rescued from that abysmal train station till 2:30 AM. This meant arriving in Bangkok at 3, managing to catch a minibus (ie large minivan) to Kanchanaburi, and arriving at a random street in the city by 7:30. Everything worked out eventually we were all happily reunited at the guesthouse. This is probably my last entry here, as we only leave in a few days! Today we explored a series of waterfalls a couple hours from the city and then discussed our ITT’s underneath an enormous and ancient tree. Now time for some karaoke.