The One Less Traveled By: a chronicle of my yearlong sabbatical


Railay to Ko Lanta
November 24, 2009, 12:52 am
Filed under: Thailand

I spent a few more days in Railay exploring, relaxing, and getting in another day of climbing. I also hiked to a “hidden” lagoon that was accessible only via a ridiculously dangerous hike, which involved four sections of straight vertical to overhanging rock walls about 20 to 30 feet high that had to be descended on the way there, and climbed on the way back out. The Thais had placed knotted ropes to assist with the climb, but they provided little help after the daily downpours. While the water itself was rank, the lagoon was stunning: it was surrounded on all sides by sheer rock walls hundreds of feet high and was eerily quiet. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring the camera. Nevertheless, here are some additional photos of Railay.

Railay West beach as a storm approaches

One of many food vendors plying the beaches - on the ends are charcoal grills to cook corn and meats

View of one of the innumerable limestone cliffs that separates Railay from the surrounding mainland

Ancient local wisdom - what globalisation threatens most

My next stop was Ko Lanta (Lanta Island), a two-hour ferry ride from Railay. Lanta is a decent size island (30km long or so and probably 10km wide) with an indigenous Thai population of about 20,000 (whereas Railay probably had like 50 Thais who lived there; the rest commuted in and out by longtail boat).

Homes and restaurants on stilts in Ko Lanta

I stayed at an excellent guesthouse called Sanctuary – one of the few recommendations that Lonely Planet got right. Sanctuary is right on the beach and all of the rooms are bamboo huts complete with a private outdoor bathroom/shower, front porch hammock, and mosquito netting. It has excellent food, daily morning yoga classes overlooking the ocean, and a chill outdoor bar area perfect for enjoying the sunset and several Singha. Every night it rained in spectacular fashion with incredibly heavy downpours, a fine reason to use my hammock or otherwise grab a beer or dinner with one of the other friendly travelers staying there.

Aside from daily swims, some body surfing, a few runs on the beach, and a little yoga, I rented a scooter for a day (for $8, not bad…) to explore the island. It was a peppy little sucker that could easily reach 90 km/hr. Driving is fairly tame compared to other places I’ve been (see: Sicily); however, you drive on the left here, and using the opposite lane to pass others on blind curves is ordinary. Also there are dogs everywhere here, and some find considerable apparent joy in sleeping in the middle of the road. In any event, I visited an interesting community of sea gypsies who settled down some years ago that is tucked into one cove of the island, and another “old village” area where the buildings are over 100 years old and quite weathered. The day I visited there was a bustling outdoor market with all sorts of foods and sea creatures for sale. I sampled a few things, most memorably a pancake-shaped concoction made out of some leafy greens dipped in an orange batter and then stuffed with large shrimp and deep-fried. As with most of the food here, its was excellent. Next stop: Chiang Mai.

My bamboo hut with hammock out front and mosquito netting inside

The bar area at Sanctuary Guest House where I stayed

My trusty scooter



Thailand – First Week
November 12, 2009, 9:12 am
Filed under: Thailand

My travels started last Thursday morning when I left Los Angeles and flew to Bangkok, Thailand, arriving very late Friday night. Lots of international flights land at BKK well into the night, so the airport was bustling and it took all of a minute to hail a cab into the city. Saturday I spent wandering around the older part of the city, seeing the sights, and sampling the incredible assortment of street food. It’s true what the guidebooks say about Bangkok being an olfactory adventure, and it ranges from disgusting to delightful.

One of the places I visited was the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. To visit, you have to don long pants and a long shirt, and for the gobs of tourists who, like me, show up in shorts and a t-shirt because it’s about 80 degrees and incredibly humid, they lend out pants and shirts for free. Fortunately, I had my own long sleeve shirt – I’m always almost prepared – but I had to borrow purple MC Hammer pants. Not surprisingly, I have no pictures of this.

The Grand Palace is composed of a bunch of intricately decorated and colorful buildings on a fairly large ground, and is where many royal functions are held. The Phra Kaew temple on the same grounds houses the venerated Emerald Buddha, which groups upon groups of tourists and Thais come to see. And it’s about a foot tall. This is in stark contrast to Bangkok’s other famous Buddha, the Reclining Buddha, which is 46 meters long and 15 meters high.

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On of the many building that make up the Grand Palace
Contented figurine – Grand Palace
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Everybody's trying to glimpse the diminutive Emerald Buddha

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The Emerald Buddha

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One big Reclining Buddha

On Sunday I wandered some more and went to the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market, where over 10,000 vendors set up in row after row after cramped row. As with the rest of Bangkok, the food here is incredible, and you can get all sorts of interesting things to eat.

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I didn't eat these

That evening I boarded an overnight train down to Railay beach, in Krabi province in southern Thailand. Of course I traveled first class, which meant that I got packed into a tiny little sleeper for two people that had an A/C turned down to about 45 degrees. I shared the compartment and a bunch of beers with Eric, an American living in Japan working behind the scenes for Cirque du Soleil. He busted out his sleeping bag liner while I broke out my warmest clothes to try to catch a few Zs before detraining at 4am to catch a bus to another bus to a longtail boat to Railay. Because Railay is a small isthmus surrounded by towering limestone cliffs, the only way in and out is by longtail boat, which not only makes for a nice trip, but means there are no cars here.

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Longtail boats waiting to transport passengers to Railay

Railay is famous for its beautiful beaches, bohemian vibe, and excellent rock climbing. I hired a guide for half a day to take me climbing, and he showed me some excellent routes along the East beach. The rock is all heavily featured and pocketed limestone, something I’ve never climbed before. The views from the top were spectacular.

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Me climbing one of the dozens of routes at Railay East
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The view from the rock and of the area where I’m staying
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Another nice view from the climbs
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Our guide, Nat

Railay is also well-known for its Princess Shrine, a cave on the beach where fisherman have placed dozens of phalluses made from wood (naturally) in offering to a drowned princess in hopes she will grant them a bountiful catch. Last but not least, the mosquitoes: they really are the crème de la crème here. Those little bastards bite through even the thickest shirts and layers of DEET. (WARNING: Kids, cover your eyes.)

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What every princess longs for...a shrine