Tonsai! Tonsai!

When I was in France, my very good mate Kevin called asking if the notes in the Thailand Climbing Guide I’d given him were mine. Of course they were, I told him. Why?!?!?!??!? He’d booked a last minute trip to Tonsai with his girlfriend Claire. Oh????? What dates? Can we crash the party????

When I got home, I told Dan, the new owner of a fresh US passport, that we had an opportunity – one that involved Thailand and Kevin. His eyes lit up, but we kept ourselves skeptical – for us to go, I would have to get a couple of my shifts covered at work which wasn’t likely since we were super short-handed. It took another week for me to find out that yes, my colleague Wes would be able to take my shifts for me, volunteering to do six night shifts in a row for us to go on this adventure. I cannot be more grateful to be working at SLAC with such amazing people. We were going to Tonsai!!! While Kev and Claire would be there for three weeks, we would manage ten days, four of which would overlap with K&C. That would do!

Dan found us some amazing flights that would get us to the other side of the world in less than 20 hours and minimal connections with Cathay Pacific for about $1,000USD each. Not bad considering we booked only a few weeks out. I got home from my last day shift and we flew out that same night, Dan steering me through the airport since I was overly tired and had a little too much to drink while we’d been packing. The fifteen hours to Hong Kong went quickly for the both of us since we both slept and the few hours to Phuket from there seemed to only take a minute. Before we knew it, Dan had his first passport stamp and we were in the humid heat of Thailand.

We would realise a couple of days later that we’d made our first travel mistake minutes after arriving – left our debit card in the ATM where we’d got our first 10,000 Bhat. Thankfully we had other means to get cash, but we’d lost the no-fees option. Bugger.

On the ground, there were multiple taxi vendors and they were offering a better price than Thailand’s version of Uber so we accepted a ride from a well-dressed man with a nicely air-conditioned van with beige leather interior.

The two hour ride to Ao Nang was a good way to adjust to Thailand, looking out the window at the scooters, narrow roads, street foods and neighbourhoods. We both had microsleeps at different times but were awake again as we were dropped off at Ao Nang Pier. Starving hungry, we contemplated food, but Dan was too excited to get to where we were going. We bought boat tickets (100 Bhat each) and took up our positions at the ramp by the beach among the boat men.

Dan was tickled pink – I don’t think it had hit him yet that he was on the other side of the world. He was quick to get a beer in his hand and his feet in the ocean.

Soon enough we were boarding a longtail boat with six others and roaring around the peninsula, loud noise provided by the four-banger block sitting atop the stern of the ship. For me, I was back in a familiar place, happy to be back after my first trip here five years ago.

In typical longboat fashion, as we rounded the Ao Nang tower, the boatman started shouting “Railay! Railay!”, to which I replied, “Tonsai! Tonsai!” This is how you get around in Thailand – just repeat the name of the place you want to go and somehow you’ll get there. Our driver pulled into the channel at the edge of Tonsai beach and we disembarked, leaving the other passengers behind who were continuing on to Railay – the next beach over.

It was starting to feel real now, Kevin was close by. We’d barely made it past the beach when a local asked us where we were saying. “Dream Valley!” Conveniently, he was a Dream Valley employee and had a golf cart and so we got a ride up to our resort on the very short concrete path that is the spine of Tonsai. We were impressed with our rooms and even more so with the view and proximity to the pool.

We’d only been by the pool half an hour when Dan let out a yell to tell Kevin where we were. There they were! Kevin and Claire had spent the day kayaking around Pha Nang Peninsula and looked thoroughly relaxed after over two weeks of holiday.

Dan and Kev hadn’t seen each other in over two years and even though I’d seen K&C six months before, I was equally excited. The rest of the afternoon we caught up, first at the Freedom Bar, the over dinner at “Legacy”, the best restaurant on Tonsai according to our tour guides.

We finished the night with more time at the pool where I started falling asleep to the sound of Kev and Dan picking up exactly where they’d left off.

Kev had been desperate for some climbing competition and banter and so our first day we got straight into it. By “straight into it”, I mean we had breakfast around 9am at Green Valley (the best breakfast restaurant on Tonsai), got our climbing shit ready, then stopped for an early lunch by the time we got over to Railay East beach.

It turned out to be good timing becausse it gave Kev’s system a chance to recover from the spicy lunch and by the time we reached 1, 2, 3 Wall, the crowds with guides had broken for lunch.

Despite that, our first choice of climb was taken from us by a guide with a customer and so we moved further along the wall to a pair of 5s right next to each other. First climb in Tonsai, it was a pleasure and Kev was giving me shit from the outset. Of course I gave it right back. I’ll give it to him, you could tell he’d been climbing for the last two weeks whereas I definitely felt as though I hadn’t climbed in months (which was true). The short climbs were good fun, for the followers as well. By the time we moved down the wall to another pair of climbs, this time 6as, the wall was becoming crowded again. These routes were higher which was great, but I was already feeling fatigue from the first couple routes, grabbing at a sling in desperation when my arm muscles started giving out.

The crowds were getting too much at this point so we ventured towards Pha Nang beach, experiencing our first monkey sighting along the way.

We had a quick stop-in at the dick caves (literally, caves full of phaluses of every shape and size) then wandered our way through the beach-going tourists to get to the back side of the Thaiwand.

Kev and Claire were walking around like locals, finding the non-obvious path through the brush the took us up into the Thaiwand cave. Soon we were out of the trees and into the rock, donning our head torches to venture deeper into the cave.

Dan led the way, the only one to have not experienced these dark depths and he soon found the bamboo ladders that scaled through the stalactites up and out the other side of the cave to a brilliant view of Railay West beach. From the opening on the Thaiwand wall, we set up my rope and abseiled down the wall to join the climbers below. What a brilliant way to get around!

The next day we actually set an alarm to get up in time for our deep water soloing trip. At Basecamp, we picked through a large array of old shoes to take into the salty water.

Picking up my third set, I let out a yell, dropped the shoes and backed away quickly from the snake that emerged. Yeeewww!! Thankfully he was facing away from me as he moved from underneath the shoes. One of the basecamp guides came to investigate and when he eventually found the white and red snake, he drew in a sharp breath and said, “No. Not good.” The snake’s life ended shortly after that – thoroughly dealt with by our guide.

Another three people joined us on our trip and we got to know them a bit as we longtailed out to a distant island.

Our routes were easily spotted thanks to the bamboo ladder that was hanging from the base of the rock. I was the first climber on the rock and quickly discovered the ladder wasn’t straightforward!

Kevin figured out that the wall, though overhung, was a better starting option. I was thankful for my tired arms because it stopped me going higher than I wished to jump from. Kev didn’t suffer from that though, jumping from great heights after building up the courage.

Dan enjoyed his climbing, opting to fall into the refreshing water when his hands got slippery instead of sruggling to hold on. Claire with her hair recently taken out of a braid looked like a mermaid out of water as she navigated the rock, astounding us with her flexibility. On my last climb at the first location, I experienced my first ever surprise fall. I was midway up the wall when my right hand let go with no warning. I hadn’t even feel my grip loosen. I yelled out in shock as I fell, then managed another yell as I realised I was still falling. I was still processing what happened as I hit the water.

Once everyone in the group had climbed a few times, we moved on to another island protruding out of the ocean. These guides obviously knew where to go according to the tides and allowing us to always be climbing in the shade. The climbing was easier at this second spot and usefully, one of the climbs was long in the horizontal direction, instead of vertical.

My hands were toast after a couple of runs up this wall so I followed Dan’s lead and grabbed a snorkelling mask to float around behind the island. It was shallow in places with plenty of coral and fish to see. It was a nice leisurely activity after the pumped-up climbing.

Back around the front side, Kevin was really getting his climb on. I think he’d realised this would be his last day climbing and so he was making the most of it. I was bummed I couldn’t compete with him but it was a pleasure to watch him climb so well. He got himself into a massive jump for his last run up the wall, taking his time to plunge into the blue water. In perfect form I should add… THERE Kev, it’s in writing. You’re a better climber than me!

Lunch was next at a small beach cove nearby. Our guides laid out a mat and presented us with fried rice with chicken, complete with lime and chillies, with freshly cut pineapple for desert. This was probably my favourite meal of the whole trip. Home-cooked in a pot set to keep all the servings warm, we ate happily, swapping stories with our new climbing mates. After exploring a side-cave, it was time to head out. Our climbing was done, good thing too because no one had any arms or hands left. We enjoyed the view from the boat as we motored back to our home beach, marvelling at the beautiful place we were in.

Back at our hotel, we were quickly into the pool to cool off then Dan and I lay by it as K&C went for a nap in their room. Though we didn’t intend to sleep, an hour later, Kev gently woke us to see if we wanted to join them in walking over to Railay West for an ATM and a massage. We could have kept sleeping but we didn’t want to miss out. Off we went on our trek along the jungle path and over to Railay. It was our first time wandering the market that ran through to the other side of Railay. We easily found an ATM and with Dan supervising me, we made sure to retrieve our debit card this time, after declining to accept the machine’s exchange rate which Dan had learnt was a scam.

As K&C went into an airconditioned room for a massage, Dan and I continued wandering the markets, not really shopping but just looking. We discovered the place with the cheapest drinks and sat atop the patio looking down on our fellow tourists sipping Pina Colada’s as the sun went down. K&C joined us and we had another drink before heading back to Tonsai for dinner.

A K&C suggestion, the next day we longtailed over to Ao Nang to rent scooters for the day and go hunting for adventure.

Dan and I were still in “follow the leader” mode and were happy to go along with Kev’s idea to get out and see the Emerald Lagoon. We rented two sick rides, paying something like $10 for the whole day and forking out $2 for petrol.

Thankful for Claire’s yellow dress, we followed our fellow bandits scoot through Krabi, past the airport then onto the highway. It was over an hour ride and everyone’s bums were feeling it by the time we got close. We stopped for a bite to eat and a rest before carrying on down to the Pool. We could tell we were getting close to a touristy area thanks to all the taxis heading in our direction.

There were markets at the entrance to the pools selling an array of delicious foods and we had a few snacks before paying to go into the national park. Though touristy, the pool was beautiful and we enjoyed a few sweet spots on the walk in.

Spring fed from somewhere, it had a hot-springs feel with limestone bedrock and a distinct aqua colour.

We all managed to stay upright on the slippery ground and went for a short swim.

We took the long way back and soon found ourselves at the food stands again. Just as we were munching on fried chicken, we experienced our first monsoonal downpour. It absolutely pissed down! The temperature remained warm but we knew we weren’t going anywhere on scooters anytime soon.

After hunkering down at the side of the market for a few minutes, we eventually retreated to a restauarant just up the hill and ate some more food. After the rain passed, we got back on our scoots and head back to Ao Nang the way we’d come, this time with me and Dan leading the way. Lucky Dan, as we sat stopped at one intersection, he saw 100 Baht fall out of someone’s pocket and as soon as he announced as much, Kev was out into the intersection to retrieve it. A whole $3!! We pulled in at the site of the Krabi night markets only to discover it was neither the right time or the right day and so head back to Ao Nang to return the scooters and grab a boat home. We bought our boat tickets and then were treated to the most beautiful sunset of the trip.

That night, we said goodbye to our mates. They were starting their trek home early the next morning and we didn’t trust ourselves to get up in time to see them off. Sure enough, as we ventured out the next morning, our friends were gone. We tried the Tonsai Resort for breakfast and while we enjoyed the waterfront seating, we didn’t think much of the American-style food.As we wandering back to our rooms via the beach, we saw a couple of familiar faces waiting at the boat station. I was happy to spend the next hour sitting with Kev and Claire as they waited for the required 8 people to show up to fill a boat to Ao Nang. Kev and I just talked shit about various things, including electric tug boats and the benefits of having a job with flexible hours. Around 9am, Kev bought the two extra tickets they needed to get the boat going to make sure they wouldn’t miss their flight. We helped them with their bags getting onto the boat then stood on the beach watching them disappear on a longtail boat. I got emotional then. Something about watching a boat disappear around a rocky point made me realise just how much I miss my mate. Thanks for having us on your holiday guys, what an amazing time.

After a quick stop back at our rooms to dry my tears and cool off in the pool, we packed a small bag and wandered off to the other side of the peninsula. We dawdeled through the Railay market and walked along the Railay East pier since it was high tide.

Halfway between Railay East and Pha Nang, we started our hike to “The Lagoon”. K&C had told us this was a worthwhile trip that not every tourist can do thanks to the difficulty. Sounded just like us. We navigated the muddy, tree root-ridden, steep passage, managing to find our way past a large group at the start, taking an alternative route.

At the top, we checked out the view to Railay East first, still not used to the blue colour of the water. Down the other side of the rise now, we descended down mud and rocks to find the lagoon.

We came across a few people at especially technical places where ropes were placed to help us to get down and up. We were happy to wait a while, taking in the jungle-type scenery around us.

When we got our first glimpse of the lagoon we were pretty much right on top of it. As we got off the last rope, we found ourselves at lagoon level and wandered away from the crowds to our own little secluded spot on the other side of a few caving moves.

We were straight into the water and out into the middle of the lagoon. Fed by the ocean through an underwaterway, the shoulder-deep pool was quiet and the reflections the water threw on the stalactite-ridden walls were stunning. We were completely surrounded by tall cliffs of rock laden with jungle, the blue sky high above us.

Back on mud-level, we caved back out of our secret spot and tackled the ropes in the opposite direction to get out. We spent the rest of the day on Pha Nang beach. Dan got us some food from the longtail boats parked up on the sand with many boards displaying the cuisine they had on offer. While he was doing that, I set up camp at the back of the beach under the shade of some trees where most other people were hanging out. Dan only had a couple of bites to eat and let me finish the rest since he had a bout of Tonsai tummy. He was happy to nap on our Thai mat while I had a great time people watching.

After the sunset we’d been treated to yesterday, we vowed to watch every sunset from then on and we did so from the Freedom Bar having more cocktails. We had a bit of food there too, keeping it simple with some spring rolls.

The next day we enjoyed going at a chill pace, checking out Legacy Restaurant for breakfast then going back to our rooms to rack up for the day (and for a dip in the pool). We were climbing today and headed to the Thaiwand. After strolling along Railay West seeing the early risers on the beach, we started up a jungle path towards the cliffs.

We never got to the Thaiwand thanks to Wee’s Present Wall. It was a small area completely shaded thanks to the trees right by the cliff and only one other couple was there. Talking to them, it sounded like there was a bunch of easy-ish stuff right next to each other. Sounded great! We started on a 5, then a 5+, 6a then 6a+.

This was the kind of climbing Dan likes and I was super happy with the gentle progression up the climbing levels. The routes were well protected and the first couple were in corners and amongst stalactites so we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

We had the whole wall to ourselves for a little bit after the other couple left but then we were joined by another pair who borrowed our guidebook then started on the other side of the wall.

I enjoyed the 6a+ so much I wanted to climb it a second time so when Dan came down, I tied in on top rope. He’d noticed the breeze picking up and the black clouds on the horizon from the top of the climb so we were prepared for the possibility of rain. After yelling out for my fingers in the last few moves of the climb, I got on safety and looked out at the clouds. I called it that we should probably pack it up. I asked the couple next to us who were struggling on a 7a if they wanted me to get their gear out of the wall for them and yes, they were grateful for that. As I came down, the first drops started to fall and by the time I’d handed the other gear over, it was fully raining. Hahaha! We packed everything up and retreated for cover, knowing there was a cave nearby.

Deciding we didn’t necessarily want to hide from the rain, we opted for the beach, carefully tredding down the now drenched path to the sand where we saw a few people taking shelter wherever they could. We ended up stashing our bags underneath a beached longtail boat then running into the ocean where it was warmer than the surrounding air. We soaked up the experience of torrential rain while in a huge body of green water. Just like last time, the storm lasted only 20 minutes and blue skies soon returned. Hungry for a late lunch, we found an upstairs spot along the Railay marketplace and enjoyed a Thanksgiving lunch.

We only had one more thing on the agenda for that day, a climb at Happy Island called “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. This had been one of my favourites from my last trip and I was keen to try it again. We got to Happy Island from Pha Nang by walking across at low tide. We planned to chill out on the island a while before starting the climb, aiming for a sunset peak, but Dan was too keen. We racked up and I contemplated the overhung start of the route. Starting with my hands well above my head, I tried to bring my feet up on the slippery rock that spends half its time underwater. I didn’t have much luck and the small crowd of spectators that had gathered behind me wasn’t helping things. I eventually got going after sitting, then standing on Dan’s shoulders before transferring over to the rock. I had to sit on the rope before getting to the second sling in the rock, then I was home free. The rest of the climb was as I remembered it, with plenty of interesting features and a stunning view at the top. I was so happy to be where I was.

Dan muscled up the start, yelling out in effort and spending most of his arm muscles to get there. I was super proud of him, and grateful he didn’t have to use my shoulders! He told me later that despite the effort and the difficult ending to the climb, he loved it. He cleaned the route and enjoyed the view before I lowered him down. Awesome last climb of the day.

Opting for the walk back to Tonsai instead of the cave route, we strolled through the Railay market, getting to the beach a few minutes before sunset. Astoundingly, what I called “stadium seating” was available! One bar/restaurant at the end of the market had an ocean-facing bar with a few seats and two of them were free! Yes please! We made camp for the next hour and had more cocktails as we watched the sun set.

Tired from climbing, we were on for a day in Ao Nang. We had planned another day of scooting but decided we didn’t quite have the energy and the weather also didn’t look to be in our favour. We sauntered down to the boat house after breakfast and waited for a crowd to gather and take us around the peninsula.

It was from here that we saw the first day’s rain come across from Railay.

In Ao Nang, we had no agenda, just a wander. We enjoyed the few sprinkles of rain as we perused the various market stalls. We were on the hunt for some Red Bull shirts and beer singlets but you couldn’t have called us serious shoppers. We ended up walking to the next beach along and found some food stalls and massive Koi fish! We spent some time on the beach, in the water, trying to find shade, then shelter from the biggest and longest rain storm we’d had yet.

When the rain eased, we started making our way back, sipping beers at first, then getting “to-go” cocktails from a stall that took our fancy. We were stopped in our tracks when we saw an art shop with painters at work on canvas with beautiful paintings all around them. We saw more art as we carried on and we both marvelled at the colours and the different images. We came across one man in a shop partway through painting a lion’s face in all sorts of fluorescent colours. What looked almost finished to us probably was only a draft to him. We watched him push his brush around his messy water-colour palette to get the right colour, then haphazardly brush across the canvas to get the design he wanted. It was brilliant.

Ready for a boat home, we were loaded with some magnets, great stubby holders and a piece of art for above our bed. It wasn’t the colourful lion, but something that would remind us of this awesome experience.

That night we watched sunset from Railay West with front row seats on the beach to watch the local soccer game. About 10 on 10, it was shirts against skins and these guys were good! I was impressed how long into the sunset they played, somehow able to see the ball in the fading light. We both ate pretty lightly, not feeling 100% and later that night, we both had full-fledged Tonsai tummy. It was pathetic really. My tummy was grumbling so hard I couldn’t sleep and Dan played nurse, giving me a wet flannel for my forehead and relinquishing all the pillows so I could sit up. We listened to music until our stomachs settled and we were able to sleep again.

In the morning, we played it safe with rice and boiled eggs for brekkie. Determined to get another day of climbing in, we head over to Railay West thinking we’d make it onto some routes near the Pha Nang cave. Again, we never made it there, stopping at Muay Thai Wall where there were a bunch of open routes. We got some advice from a guide who was there with a couple and we were soon off on some really nice 6a routes.

Great features again with sharp rock to test our fingers and polished foot holds. This small wall was away from the nearby crowds on 1, 2, 3 wall and though there was the threat of rain, there was never anything more than a few specks.

At the top of the second climb, I transferred our anchor over to the 6a+ next door that had a cave feature. Thanks to the fall we saw another guy took, I wasn’t up to leading it and I was happy with my decision, the fear would have taken the fun out of the climb for me. Dan gave it a crack first and after finding some impressive shoulder-resting spots and reaching for the multitude of chalk-spots, he was spent.

He came down and I gave it a go, using everything up to my fingertips to get up and over the cave. I discovered just how wide I can spread my legs and put weight on them! That was us done for the day. I came down and we packed it up and moved out.

My Tonsai tummy was returning so we stopped in at a convenience store for a sugary drink and after a sit down with my head between my knees, I was back on track. We sauntered slowly back to Railay West, stopping to get a pizza in the marketplace and taking it down to the beach to enjoy it. Now Dan’s tummy wasn’t feeling the greatest and the heat wasn’t helping. We dipped ourselves into the ocean on our way back to Tonsai then thoroughly enjoyed a proper cool down in the pool. We cleaned up with a shower before going to Green Valley for an early diner while our tummies were behaving. While we had every intention to catch a longtail over to Krabi for the weekend night markets, just sitting at the resort and watching a family of monkeys entertaining themselves in the trees nearby, we couldn’t quite motivate ourselves to get there.

So we sat, enjoying the view then taking in the sunset from Tonsai beach one last time.

Our last day on Tonsai, we didn’t have any real plans. We packed up our hotel room, amazed at just how messy we’d managed to make it and finding it harder to fit everything into our bags than it had been getting there. We left our stuff at reception and travelled light over to Railay West. We wandered very slowly through the markets, actually going into the shops for the first time but not finding anything that tickled our fancy. None of the Red Bull singlets or beer shirts were quite right. We discovered Thai pancakes way too late in the trip, devouring a couple and finding our stadium seating open once more, just in time for a rain storm.

We were stoked! About ten minutes after we sat down, another round of torrential rain passed over and we marvelled at how quickly everybody went for shelter or retreated to the ocean.

We had another bite to eat – in Tonsai it’s all about constant snacking – then made our way back to Tonsai. I was getting emotional again. This was such a gorgeous place, I couldn’t bear to leave the green waters behind. We jumped in and out of the ocean as we walked not just to cool off, but to soak up as much of the salty water into our skin as we could.

At the hotel, we frolicked one last time in the pool, saying goodbye to the place we’d called home for the last week.

Once cooled off, we got a lift on the golf cart down to the boat house where we waited for our ferry to Phuket to arrive. We watched a huge family of monkeys while we waited – the kids were playing, the alpha shagged a few of the females and the rest constantly scrounged for food.

One of them hit the jackpot, munching down on someone’s complete meal.

The boat was running on Thailand time (a little late) so Dan ended up falling asleep as I kept a look-out. The Dramamine we’d both taken for fear of rough seas was working overtime.

When the Ao Nang Princess arrived, it stayed out to sea and we longtailed out to it. A seamless transition, we were soon on the top deck of the boat looking fondly back on Tonsai.

Dan was asleep on my lap again before we took off but when the motors started up, we both rose to witness Tonsai disappear into the horizon.

We spent the rest of the journey inside the boat on very reclined seats, Dan sleeping pretty much the whole way through while I listened to a few podcasts. A couple hours later, we were in disembarking in Phuket, crossing the decks of two other ships to get to the dock. To our surprise, transfers for every passenger had already been arranged. We needed only to repeat our destination “EcoLoft Hotel! EcoLoft Hotel!” to be put in the right car.

Our hotel was a pleasure! Paying even less here than we had been at Tonsai, it was industrial in its design and on our first night, we had just enough time to check out the rooftop pool. Hungry for dinner, we ventured out onto the streets to find food. I couldn’t find the night markets I’d heard about so we ended up in a non-touristy part of town with no english to be found. Then, there were steamed buns!! We sat down at an open-air restaurant and communicated with hand signals until we had a pair of hot pork steamed buns and some fried sweet doughnuts in front of us. It was delicious and Dan was in his element communicating without language. Having walked a ways already, we started our way back, finding a hostel serving food and also selling hot pants for 100 Baht ($3). Yes please to both of those! After a quick drink at the Rasta Bar near our joint, we were back to our rooms and I was passed out.

For our last full day in the country, we spent it on a scooter. Our ride came direct to us at the hotel and we were out into it by 8:30am. We’d picked a few spots to stop at and basically did a tour of the whole peninsula.

We stopped in at a local market that caught our eye, Dan getting himself a belt to replace the shoelace that was holding his pants up. I marvelled at the array of food on offer and tried to comprehend just how more people didn’t get sick. Thai stomachs are obviously more resilient than ours.

Next we found ourselves at a temple where we wandered the grounds but remained outside the different temples because the shorts and singlets we were wearing meant we were dressed inappropriately to enter.

Back on the scoot, amazed it wasn’t lunch time yet, we flew threw some suburban streets towards the Big Buddha. Exactly as the name suggests, the Bid Buddha sits atop a hill looking out over the peninsula. The scoot barely maintained 30 mph at full throttle as we climbed the steep winding road leading up to the huge statue. There were multiple tourism spots on the way and sadly a lot of them involved elephants who were tied up in tiny areas. I only hope they were not kept in that condition all day every day.

Successfully at the top without any pools of coolant underneath the bike, we made our way to the free entrance but didn’t get far. I was followed by calls of “Lady! Lady!” I wasn’t allowed to go any furhther dressed the way that I was and so a Thai lady wrapped a sarong around my waist before bidding me forth.

The view from the top was stunning and that was before we climbed the stairs up to the Buddha.

It was an impressive construction and it was still ongoing. Probably five stories tall, we later figured out that you can see him from most spots on the peninsula (I’m sure that’s not by accident).

There were plenty of other Buddhas around to keep the big guy company complete with prayer flags, donation bowls and tiles that you can buy to help support the ongoing construction.

At the base of the Buddha we followed sounds of chanting to find a collection of monks in constant prayer and a line of people, tourists and locals combined, waiting to be blessed in some way.

We watched a while in silence, trying to understand the weird combination of worship with tourism.

Next, we drove out to the coast, starting our tour of the beaches along the west coast of the peninsula. We stopped at a viewpoint to see not only a view of the beaches we had to choose from but a shrine made up entirely of elephants. I imagine that one day some people placed a couple of elephants there and the shrine grew from it. They definitely do culture way better than westerners.

We cooled off at YaNui beach, hanging out in the shallow water people watching and telling stories. The heat of the day was starting to come in now and the hunger for lunch. We considered eating at a nearby set of restaurants but opted to carry on around the peninsula to see what we could find. We did some mucking around at Nai Han Beach but found it way too touristy for our liking with vendors making it hard for you to walk by with their welcome calls. We continued our search for food and around the corner there was a lady operating out of a scooter-turned kitchen selling omelettes.

For 20 Baht ($0.80) we got a delicious omelette served over rice with a bottle of cold water. Insane! We tried at another nearby stall to get a Thai pancake but they only offered the sweet version so we carried on to a nearby park that sat in the middle of a lake and thoroughly enjoyed our first snack.

The beach/food tour continued as we scooted into the wealthiest part of Thailand we’d seen yet – Kata Beach. There were flocks of tourists here. Dan spotted a Thai pancake scooter-stall as we sped down to the beach and immediately turned us around. Armed with two hot pancakes, we head to the beach and after being denied seating in the shaded restaurant, we walked beyond the beach lounges and umbrellas (which you pay for) and set up in the shade of a palm leaning against the knee-high wall that fronted a fancy resort. Ha ha, beating the system. Not sure if we were allowed to swim in the water without paying, we thought we’d test it. Nowhere near as good as the Railay water but it was cooling enough. We’d become such snobs, convinced we’d been to the best part of Thailand.

Back on the scoot, our last stop was Patong Beach. This was the land of Phuket Party Boys and essentially resembled Vegas only with more sand and less spectacular buildings. We saw pool parties, multiple party houses and hangovers galore. Neeidng some cool refreshment, we stopped in at another market, this one not so local but it was still fun to walk around. Hooked by the free samples, we were treated to coconut ice cream, served in the bowl it came from, it was the most delicious ice cream I’d ever had.

After people watching from the market, we didn’t feel the need to stop in anywhere else in such a touristy hub so we enjoyed watching it fly by from the scoot.

It only took us twenty minutes to make our way back to the hotel, we were stoked with how much of the day we still had left. Time to enjoy that rooftop pool! We grabbed some beers from reception and frolicked like rich people looking down over Phuket. Dan even managed to find the Big Buddha through the high rises around us.

Beers done, we went back to our rooms to freshen up and when I opened the curtain, we were presented with the blackest of black skies. We ran straight up to the pool to watch this massive storm roll in. What a force it was, the wind nearly knocking us off our feet. The only other couple up at the pool remained in it, the man raising his arms and shouting “Phuket!!” as his girlfriend filmed him. Clearly a Phuket party boy.

We watched the storm move over, managing only just to stay dry as the rain moved sideways.

Half an hour later, it had become a drizzle and we thought it safe to venture out on the scoot again. Now riding in the dark, through rain and on the wrong side of the road, Dan mastered the drive with me navigating from underneath my poncho. Nothing stops or even slows down when it rains in Thailand, life just becomes more colourful with ponchos on.

We found the weekend night markets easily enough and spent the rest of our evening wandering through endless stalls selling whatever your heart could desire. Turns out our hearts didn’t desire much, we only got a few things, enjoying mostly the food that was on offer.

We snacked on about five different things from fried sweet potato balls, unknown fried something, more steamed buns and chicken in a basket. As we walked past a table covered with ribs, Dan’s eyes lit up. I warned it might not be a good idea to eat any meat that had been sitting for a while because we theorised that’s what made us sick last time round. He agreed but five meters further away he turned back, decided it looked too good. By the look on his face, it was delicious.

We stopped one more time at the Rasta bar on the way back and it turned into a late night.

Dan discovered halfway through the night that those ribs were a bad idea. By the time our alarm went off, he didn’t have much colour in his face and nothing much in his belly. I packed everything up as he tried to get his stomach in order but he wasn’t having much luck. Down at reception, I mowed into some toast while Dan had a couple bites and sipped on some water. I was happy to get my passport back after returning the scooter keys and I booked us a taxi to the airport. Time to leave, Dan threw up one last time before we left. He wouldn’t eat a spec of food for the next 6 hours, that’s how long it took him to recover. He got some colour back as we drove in the taxi, which seemed such a weird way to travel after the boats and scooters of recent days. Check-in at the airport was seamless and we were granted short queues.

We had a couple hours to wait so we holed up in some comfy seats by the gate, Dan trying to get some rest and me talking to Mum – the first contact I’d had with the outside world since we’d arrived. Thankfully with every hour of flight that passed, Dan felt better and unlike our trip over, we were able to sit together and lean on each other. We were treated to some stunning views as we left Phuket, then again as we arrived in Hong Kong, it was a nice way to say goodbye.

Back on home soil, we were both tired but had one more thing to look forward too…

Not bad for Dan’s first time out of the US. It will be one of many but we will never forget the first.

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