15/10/09 - 14/10/10 37 °C
Why does no-one tell you that you cannot swim in Thailand? Go to the Islands, they said. The beaches are beautiful, they said. Thailand is so cheap, they said. Well they omitted one prescient piece of information – you can’t swim in Thailand. I am here to right this wrong, I am telling the world (or the 55 of you that read my blog – but you know how word spreads), you CAN’T swim in Thailand.
If you were being a pedant you might say that it was my fault, that I chose the wrong beaches, but I don’t hold truck with that. I went to the same beaches as everyone else, Baan Tai on Phangan, Sairee on Koh Tao etc. These beaches were perfect, if what you were looking for, in the searing 36° heat, was a very hot, shallow bath, accompanied by a sea cucumber or two. I (clearly) misguidedly thought that the sea was supposed to be a refreshing respite from Hadean heat. Also for main tourist beaches, I thought they better resembled marinas. Flotillas of longtail boats moored just off shore, pumping their delightful effluent into the water. Have I mentioned yet - you can’t swim in Thailand.
Luckily, an inspired recommendation came in the form of Railay Beach. Surrounded by beautiful limestone cliffs that effectively isolate it from the mainland, Railay is accessible only by boat. One of the main attractions here is rock-climbing and I figured, even though I had no intention of participating, rock-climbers might prove to be a more interesting bunch than divers (who are interminably boring), gap-yahs and ardent bucket-drinkers (“I was so drunk last night, I lost a toe”(or some such nonsense, I don’t really think I was paying attention!)).
I found a lovely wooden hut on stilts in the hills behind East Beach and even though I had about ten days until I left Thailand, I couldn’t be bothered to move again. I strung up my trusty hammock once more and ensconced myself. My first day in Railay I met a German/French couple and another German boy. “Did I want to go with them to the Lagoon?” Arriving at the foot of the climb, I was horrified. “There is no way I can do that. I don’t really see myself as a rock-climby sort of person. What if I break a nail?” They, however, ignored my heartfelt entreaties and soon enough I was actually climbing up the scary, steep hill thing.
At the top and feeling suitably proud we posed for photographs, categorical proof of my triumph. Now the conspiracy theorists amongst you will love this, for subsequently they all lost their cameras - any evidence of my story gone forever, my first thought was ‘Quai d’Orsay’ (perhaps I have been reading too many bad spy novels; I have definitely been reading too many bad spy novels). I suppose I could have gone up there again with my own camera, but the silty, red mud was a bitch to wash out, so I didn’t. Go up there again I mean. I did wash the mud out.
The next day they promised to teach me rock-climbing proper. Marian was an instructor and they were hiring the gear anyway and I just had to hire shoes. ‘Hire’ and ‘shoes’ are two words that never should be said together, like bowling, its just gross and against shoe-nature. Rock-climbing shoes are supposed to pinch your toes so they almost curl under and for some reason mine also had hard rubber back bits that dug into my heels. I can’t think of anything more distracting when you are half way up a sheer rock face than feet in agony, but mine is not to reason why.....
Apart from the shoes, and I am sure the girls out there have already considered this, is of course the harness. Did I really ever want my bottom viewed from that angle, strung up in a harness? Well no I didn’t, but I figured that it is smaller now than it has been in a long time and I was never going to see these people again anyway...In the actuality I managed to get about 3 meters off the ground. Then Marian told me that I had chosen the hard bit to climb up. As I was still up the rock and had yet to get down, I didn’t like to mention that she was the teacher and should have told me to climb up the not-hard bit. “Let go” was my instruction on descent, which I did. I, of course, spun around, through no fault of my own, but physics’. Then I was told never to turn my back to the rock – that is the kind of information I could have done with before I had spun round and turned my back on the rock.
Rock-climbing – Tick.
In my desire to swim I made my way to Phra Nang Beach, where the only teeny-tiny bit of Thai culture in all Railay can be found. A beautiful cave cum shrine to an Indian Princess, shipwrecked here. Hundreds of lingam offerings, garlanded in flowers, in the hope of increased potency, prosperity and good-fortune are left here by the fishermen.
I was able to find a deserted stretch of beach where I managed to sunbathe for all of an hour – and swim, in deep water, beautiful, blue, cool-ish, water. Beautiful, blue, jellyfish infested water. After being stung twice on the leg, three times on my arm and finally and most painfully across my neck, I marched out of the water and returned to the relative safety of my hammock.
And so it was. Poor Thailand, the first mistake Thailand made was that it categorically wasn’t India, and to be honest I don’t think I ever quite recovered from the shock or forgave her. There were many wonderful aspects to my trip, i.e. two amazing friendships made. Also many firsts: like my first bikini, that I bought in Koh Tao and have proudly worn just once. I walked the length of Sairee Beach (Koh Tao) until I found a secluded spot, next to a girl much fatter than I, and surreptitiously took off my dress and quickly lay down. The world did not stop spinning, no-one threw up and I was not arrested for putting the human form into disrepute. Who knows, after that auspicious start I may even try wearing it again!
So what an adventure Thailand proved to be. I spent way too much money, knocked cockroaches out of my bed all by myself, learnt the art of Thai cooking, nearly learnt how to do fire spinning, stopped a flood in my hut, screamed at coconut beetles and slept sardined like refugees on a night-boat.
And one more thing, I cannot leave Thailand without mentioning the Spectacled Langurs. These adorable and shy creatures could sometimes be seen swinging through the trees without me even having to leave my hammock.
Langurs – Tick.
Sadly though, you can’t swim in Thailand.