Saturday, August 6, 2016

Railay and Up She Rises – Erich

Railay, the beach, peninsula, the legend.

The beaches in this part of Thailand are disconnected. It's not like broad stretches of the United States where there is continuous beach for town after town. In Florida you could probably walk from Miami to Jacksonville on beach after beach. (I know, in reality there are rivers that break through to get to the Atlantic, so that's not really true. But you can get from one city to another in some places.)

In Thailand, or at least in this part of Thailand along the Andaman Sea, each beach is completely cut off from the others. The landscape here is such that these tall mountains jut out almost vertically. Many are covered in jungle like growth. But when you are on a beach, there is such a mountain on one end and on the other. So to get from one beach to another you either have to go inland or you have to go by boat.

The geography: Krabi, Thailand is a karst landscape. This means the bedrock is all limestone made by coral reefs that lived millions of years ago. Over the past hundreds of thousands of years, this limestone has been eroded by carbonic acid, a relatively mild acid caused as rainwater picks up carbon dioxide from the air. Many famous cave systems in the world are made in karst formations. This is one of only three places on Earth where such karst formations extend into the sea.

So where a beach exists, this is a low part that was carved out by acid. The remaining mountains on the sides are the not eroded parts left behind.

We are near Ao Nang beach. But just beyond that beach is a peninsula called the Railay Peninsula. This peninsula is cut off from the rest of Thailand by one of these steep limestone mountains. There are no roads crossing into it. So the only way to get to Railay is by boat.

We took a longtail boat there yesterday. A longtail boat is a long narrow high-sided boat with a long bow. It has an outboard motor at the back, but the motor connects to a long shaft and the propeller is on the far end of that long shaft. This is necessary in the waters of Thailand because the water is so shallow. The beaches drop off so gradually that they must have boats with very little draw, including their propellers. So the pilot of the boat can lift the propeller partially (or completely) out of the water if needed.

So let me describe the Railay Peninsula. It has three beaches. Again, each is separate because of the limestone formations between them. But there are paths that allow you to walk from one to the other. The three beaches are Railay West, Railay East, and Phra Nang.

There is one gigantic resort on the peninsula. It stretches between Railay West and Railay East. If you are not a guest of the resort, they prefer you to stay on the beach or on one of the paths that connect the beaches.

It was high tide when we landed at Railay West. The water was so high, it was topping the sea walls built to protect the resort. There was no beach visible at Railay West, it was all underwater. I was amused by a sign telling us that in case of a tsunami we were to move inland or to high ground. That wouldn't be easy in Railay. You would more or less have to rush to the limestone cliff and try climbing its almost vertical surface. Plus, you would have to weave through the bungalows of the resort to do so. If you were on Railay during a tsunami, I think you'd be doomed.

We walked the path to Railay East. Here the beach was also underwater. But we continued on the path toward Phra Nang.

This is a pretty amazing walk. If nothing else, you will be amazed at the monkeys. There are many macaques living on the Railay Peninsula. And they are right there, on the path, on the fence next to the path, or in the cliffs and caves on the other side of the path. We saw macaque babies clinging to their mothers' bellies as the mothers crawled along. We saw macaque juveniles trying to run away from their mothers only to be pulled back to her side by their tails. We saw macaques get into fisticuffs, nimbly run along the top of the fence, or stroke their chin like contemplating the meaning of monkey life. And this is all just inches away from you. Just don't tease them and they won't tease you.

Along one side of the path you walk is the limestone cliff. And it is carved out with many caves. You can climb up to get into some. Others you have to crouch or crawl through. There were a few tunnels where Alrica and I were not going to fit, but the kids were able to maneuver through. And it's allowed. There are no guide rails, no prohibitions, no guards. Just go explore and don't get yourself stuck or killed and the Thai are fine with it.

When you reach the end of the path you are at Phra Nang Beach. It's not a huge beach, but has a nice walk into the Andaman Ocean. And there is more.

This beach is a major rock climbing destination. There are vertical walls of limestone here. There are even some parts you can climb where you are in a negative grade, you have to hang basically from a slanted ceiling to get to the next bolt. The bolts are already pinned in the rock. We saw some serious rock climbers with lots of their own equipment make some serious ascents. There was also a man who was letting the general public climb with some ropes he had already placed. We didn't choose to participate ourselves, but enjoyed seeing so many impressive climbs.

Also at this beach is Phra Nang Cave. Now the cave has some beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. But that's not the thing you notice about it.

Phra Nang means Princess. So this is literally princess cave, and the beach is named for the cave. Supposedly the cave is the home of a mythical sea princess. And you leave offerings for the princess to ask for luck with your fishing expeditions. But more importantly, the princess is associated with fertility.

So the proper gift to leave in the cave is a phallus. There are hundreds of carved phalluses (or phalli, either is correct, I looked it up.) Most are made of wood. Some are painted to look more like actual penises. Some are painted to look nothing like actual penises. And some are not painted at all. Some have the accompanying testicles, but most are just the penis alone. Most are bigger than life size, but some are as tall as I am. Some are taller.

It is a sight one does not get to see everyday or everywhere. But it is a sight to have seen!

After playing in the water and watching the climbers, we walked back to Railay East and then across to Railay West. Now the tide was flowing out and you could see the beach! We caught a longtail boat back to Ao Nang beach.

Where the boats land and let passengers out is so not American. We climbed over the side of the boat, walked through the water over jagged sharp rocks. Then we had to climb up a bunch of similar rocks and pieces of broken concrete to reach a cracked cobblestone path. Following the cobblestone path back toward the street required you to navigate through the branches of a fallen tree, ducking under the highest parts and climbing over others.

In America that would never fly. The tree would be removed. A pier would be built. But in Thailand, it's all okay, man. It doesn't kill you, so hey go with the flow.

And we did go with the flow. And it was great. Railay truly is legendary.

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