It was time to cross from the eastern coast of Thailand to the western coast. Once again we booked a ferry-bus-van-boat ticket combination to our next destination, and one of the most picturesque provinces in all of Thailand…Krabi. Many people stop in the capital city of Krabi Town (it even has its own airport), but we decided to get straight to the point and booked a single ticket all the way from Koh Tao to Railay Beach, which by the way is only accessible by boat even though it’s not an island. Why? Because Railay and an adjacent beach area known as Ton Sai are surrounded by cliffs and therefore completely inaccessible by road.
I can’t stress enough how convenient it is to get the single ticket rides along the well-worn paths across Thailand. Aside from the pouring rain as we departed Koh Tao, the trip was a breeze. The sun was even peeking through the clouds when we caught the final leg of the journey, a long tail boat ride from Ao Nang to Railay.
So, here’s the catch…we didn’t actually have a room booked ahead of time. We tried looking into places to stay either in Railay Beach or Ton Sai, but most of the reasonably priced places (i.e. super cheap places) were nowhere to be found online. We had the option of staying in the more well-known and high-end area of Railay Beach or the more rustic, under developed Tonsai Beach both of which are within about a 5 minute walk of each other. In the end, we were on track to really embrace the backpacker experience with my little sister Lilli on board. So once the boat approached Ton Sai, we jumped off with our bags on our backs and started walking.
Leaving the boat, we followed the only path that runs along the far left side of the beach to the series of guesthouses and bungalows set way back from the shoreline. A little skeptical about just showing up and asking for a room for our first time, we anxiously approached the first place. “We are looking for a fan room for three people,” we inquired. The host looks around for a second, then down at a small ledger on the desk before responding, “We have one room available that usually fits two, but we can bring in an extra bed.” We nod with concern. “It will be 800 Baht per night and it has its own bathroom and shower,” she finishes. After a quick look (and doing the math in our head…it came out to $24/night or $8 per person per night), we decided it would do the trick and set our things down in the room. As we only had 3 nights to bear the rustic experience, we settled for this cozy, non-AC, concrete walled room with power only between the hours of 6pm and 6am (not that reliable I’ll add). As glamourous as it sounds, we were just happy to be settling into the room so we could head right back to the beach since our last beach day got a little rained out in Koh Tao.
We suited up, made a quick reservation for rock climbing the next day, and then headed to the beach to splash around as the sun neared the horizon. It turned out to be one of the most picturesque sunsets thus far with numerous islands jutting up in the distance and the colorful descent of the sun in the clouds. We were off to a good start as usual.
That night we had a quick bite to eat at one of the few restaurants in Ton Sai before our big adventure of the night. We learned that the rock climbing was going to be a little more expensive than expected and we were short on cash. The staff of the guest house let us know that there was an ATM in nearby Railay Beach, but it might be a little bit of a trek. Having asked when low tide was we headed back to the shore line around 9:30pm to creep around the water’s edge. It turns out that the water never actually recedes to leave a dry beach to walk along, so we were forced to climb over the jagged rocks and shallow waters until we made it. It’s definitely not the recommended way to pass between the beaches especially at night. We later found out there is a convenient slippery trail through the small patch of jungle separating the two beaches, which we found the following day.
Our first night wasn’t too bad until 6am when the power went out and the humid air immediately took over (this became our daily alarm clock). There’s a moment when you feel the air circulation stop and the instantaneous sensation of water pouring from your skin. It’s not much longer until you are wide awake under your mosquito net pulling the now wet sheets from your skin and stubbornly beginning the day. To describe the room more clearly, it’s like sleeping in a concrete swimming pool that may have been drained the day before…everything just feels wet no matter what you do.
Now that we were up, our plan was to do a full day rock climbing course. We grabbed breakfast at a small coffee shop that offered some amazing chocolate banana pancakes then met up with our rock climbing guide for our first true rock climbing experience.
Whitney has never attempted this, I tried climbing on an indoor course back in high school, and Lilli had a bit more training within the last year so at least one of us knew what we were doing. We made it to our first climbing wall and strapped in our gear for the first climb. Whitney grabbed on to the wall first and crawled up to the top. She really made it look easy. Lilli went second and was equally as fast. I strapped in last and after a few shaky moments made it to the top. We climbed a couple more runs along this “beginner” rock face, then headed to the next one.
Each climb grew easier yet harder all at the same time. I would get more and more comfortable with each handhold I would grasp, yet feel each muscle weaken with every climb. I think we may have scaled about 5-6 runs before reaching the coolest one, which happened to be a path between a large opening in the wall where our steps would span the opening. This one was my favorite especially as I climbed the last few steps facing outward over Nang Cave Beach with the onlookers gazing up (The ego in me says “I’m so strong!”).
Exhausted at the end of the day we dropped off our gear and made our way back to Ton Sai beach to relax in the sand and soak our now creaky muscles in the cool sea. Another beautiful sunset and tasty dinner completed the night. Thankfully, we didn’t have to scale the shoreline again that night.
On our last day, I woke up determined to find the “secret lagoon,” but we had a little business to take care of in the morning. If you read our last post you may remember Lilli decided to pet/play with a stray dog in Koh Tao setting in motion a series of visits to local clinics for Rabies vaccines. So first thing we did was catch a boat back to Ao Nang for her next vaccine. Once that was taken care of, we were back on course.
I read about so many people that had attempted to get to the “secret lagoon,” but turned around at the most difficult parts only to return to the start of the trail with their tail between their legs and covered from head to toe in mud. We got our things together, grabbed breakfast from our same coffee shop then set off to the muddy trail in Railay. As I looked up the steep muddy trailhead, I made the split decision to go barefoot.
Then one step in front of the other up the hill we went. Climbing over the muddy roots and rocks we eventually make it to the top and follow the signs to the “viewpoint.” After snapping a couple pictures, I pull the three of us toward the challenging climb, or should I say slide, toward the secret lagoon. After descending the first 30 meters there comes a point that the sloping muddy trail becomes actual cliffs for the final 10 meters. Peering over the edge of the first drop off, Whitney and Lilli decided they had gone far enough. I on the other hand was as determined as ever and with the new “rock climbing skills” I wasn’t going to be deterred.
I strapped a GoPro on my head and cautiously scaled the first ledge. From there a series of drop-offs took me to the bottom. Barefoot and gloveless I could sense the tiny edges through the soft mud confidently taking each tiny step all the way down. A short GoPro clip will make it here one day when I have the time, until then you will just have to imagine it. Anyway, once I finally made it to the secret lagoon I can say it was a little disappointing. Basically it’s a shallow pool of water surrounded by steep walls with a bright opening to the sky above. The shallow waters are as muddy as the trail and have sharp rocks waiting at the bottom. As they say, “It’s the journey, not the destination.”
Satisfied with the achievement, we crawled back to the top then slid our way back down to the trailhead. From there we headed down to the beach to wash off all the mud. Tip, don’t wear anything you plan to keep. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beautiful Nang Cave Beach which is probably the most crowded and most beautiful spots in the area to spend your day. We sure wish we had another day just to spend there.
Up early the next morning as the fan turned off with the daily power interruption, we gathered our things and headed to the beach to catch our ferry to Koh Phi Phi.
In the end, we certainly enjoyed the rustic charm of Ton Sai and would add this to every trip through the region. We only spent our nights in the room, so the fan will do short term, but of course an AC would have been really nice. The number one thing to do here is make at least one full day of rock climbing. The secret lagoon isn’t much, but it does feel good to do what others had failed to do. I doubt I’d ever attempt that again, but I will definitely keep Ton Sai and Railay on my short list of places to return to.
For now, it’s off to Koh Phi Phi for our Christmas in Thailand.