And what a two weeks it has been!
I returned to Thailand just a couple of weeks after I had left in time to meet Mary, one of my best friends and all time favourite people to hang out with, who was coming for a holiday. Unlike last time when I entered Thailand feeling nervous and somewhat daunted by the unknown, this time it felt like coming home.
I could communicate with locals and even better, this time was traveling with three new friends from Laos, Bruno, Sanne and Fede, which always makes traveling more fun (though decision making decidedly more difficult!). We parted ways in Krabi while I waited for Mary and they continued their journey to Tonsai, where Mary and I would meet them in a few days.
All started well. I met Mary at the airport and soon we were catching up on the last six months over noodles and coconut ice cream. We spent our first full day together chilling out, going for a short boat ride up the river to the local caves and eating a lot of good Thai food.
The first bit of excitement commenced shortly after we returned to our hotel room when a small scorpion fell out of my clothes (which were hanging up) and onto my foot! I yelled in surprise and not really knowing what to do, we watched as it scuttled away and under the bed, tail poised angrily above its head the whole time.
There was no way we were sleeping in a bed with a scorpion underneath it so we ran downstairs to tell the lady on reception. She came rushing upstairs telling me it was ‘andaray’ (dangerous) and asking ‘why didn’t you kill it?’ (to which we didn’t have a good answer).
When we couldn’t find it she told us not to worry, it was probably just a lizard….
Now I am no expert but I have lived with lizards on my walls for several months and I know one when I see one, and I am definitely not afraid of them. This was definitely not a lizard.
After some persuasion we helped her dismantle the entire bed (yes, we were that scared) to find it, which we eventually did. Despite assuring us it was not dangerous, she promptly squashed with her broom handle anyway. I think perhaps it is the equivalent of a wasp or bee. Unpleasant but not serious.
We did however see a much angrier, larger and blacker scorpion a few days later and nobody wanted to mess with that one! I was glad ours had not been the same!
After a couple of nights in Krabi, we headed to Tonsai, the infamous climbing spot and accessible only by boat.
On telling Ben, Mary’s boyfriend, Mary was given the following advice: ‘Make sure you know where the exits are and wear a lifejacket’. It was somewhat ironic then when we boarded the longboat, a simple wooden structure with no sides to speak of and not a single lifejacket on board…
On arriving in Tonsai, we checked in to a bungalow at Mambo Resort for the night, unaware that much better bungalows existed just a short walk up the hill. That first night, we had no lock, no electricity and half the bathroom walls were missing. Mary nicknamed it ‘Fort Knox’.
Fortunately we moved the next day to a much nicer bungalow at Countryside Resort, for the same price we had a clean, bright room with all walls intact and a lock! What luxury.
Or so we thought….until Mary’s shoulders, elbows and bum broke out in clusters or red bites, suspiciously like those of bed bugs. After several inspections of our mattresses at the Countryside Resort, we concluded that we were in fact bed-bug free…and instead blamed Fort Knox as the culprit assuming the bites took 24 hours to come up. We spent a surprising amount of the rest of our trip discussing ways to get rid of bed bugs and hoping our luggage has not been infested.
Tonsai, as with many of Thailand’s beach resorts is known for being dirty. Mary and I love to swim but promised ourselves we wouldn’t swim at Tonsai, especially if it had just rained as that’s when all the shit (literally) gets mixed into the sea water.
But then we bumped into Yonaton and Amit, two friends of mine from Thakek who had also come to Tonsai. They were going swimming, so what’s the first thing Mary and I do on arrival? We swim. What did the boys tell us as soon as we got out? It had rained the night before. Oh well!
The following morning we set off to climb a few easy routes. Something it turns out is hard in Tonsai. The first crag was flooded by high tide. The second flooded by people. Climbing schools had set up top ropes on everything under 6b and the crag was unbearably crowded. Unfortunately this seems to happen anywhere the climbs are easier and we abandoned crags a few times due to this.
This time we went for coffee and second breakfast instead! Feeling refreshed, we decided to join the rest of the Thakek crew at The Keep, a beautiful and quiet crag with a fun walk in, but nothing easier than a 6b. This was a pretty tough warm up, especially for Mary who hadn’t climbed for a while and has never climbed sport before, but all the climbs here are stunning lines! She gave it a good go but in the end couldn’t make it past the crux (the most difficult part of the climb). Having already abandoned our best laid plans, we went swimming again instead! 🙂
At this point our Thakek group began to deplete as the first of our number, Johanna, got sick. It would conspire that everyone except me who had not been to Tonsai before would come down with the infamous ‘Tonsai Tummy’ during which, according to Mary you should “Never trust a fart!” Perhaps my few months in Thailand previously had toughened up my stomach.
Then again I did ensure I ate super spicy food, and drank a beer everyday to kill things in my tummy.
I also drank coke a couple of times in Tonsai but abandoned that after one night when I not only couldn’t sleep, but was bouncing off the walls until 3am. I got back to the bungalow at 2am because everyone else was going to bed…but when I got back Mary was in fact still awake! (She had also had a coke with her dinner). Though she was not quite as energetic as me, I persuaded her to come out dancing with me. Despite playing really loud music, there was no dancing in the bars and by 2.30am everything was winding down. Instead we expended some of our energy sneaking into the swimming pool of one of the resorts. We were in bed and asleep by 3 but three hours later at 6am I was wide awake again and ready for the day. I didn’t drink coke again!
Despite being sick and bitten by mosquitoes and bed bugs (enough to dampen most people’s spirits) Mary was still game for climbing and adventures.
We climbed a few fun (and sometimes tough) 6as, I flashed my first couple of 6cs and Mary gave a 6a+ a top effort. It was steep and she was pumped. She fell, swinging so far away from the wall she couldn’t reach it to get back on (she was on top rope and the next bolt was far above). Had we been on our own, at this point I normally would have let her come down. Instead, Fede climbed to the first bolt, anchored himself to it and threw her the end of the rope. He then pulled her back into the wall until she was hanging on again so she could have another go. She had no choice but to try her hardest after Fede had made so much effort to get her back on the wall!
The entertainment continued when Mary got back to the ground and Fede decided to swing from the top of a boulder on nothing more than a twisted tree root hanging from the top of the crag. He did it not once, but twice!
We also hired kayaks to paddle to a beautiful climb on Ao Nang Tower (a large pillar of rock protruding from the sea), saw Max’s brilliant fire show at Chillout Bar and went on a longboat trip to “The 4 Islands” where we went snorkelling and swimming. It was a beautiful day.
Another night I went for a midnight skinny dip in the sea (though unfortunately Mary was too ill to join us for that) and one evening we climbed the bamboo ladders on the beach to see the starlit sea. It was stunning.
Though Tonsai is popular and much loved by many, I did not love it. The climbing, though good, is often polished and crowded. The place itself dirty. What made it for me was without doubt the people – Mary, Sanne, Johanna, Bruno, Fede, Amit, Yonaton, Anne, Sai and Christie. Thanks guys!
After 6 nights we were ready to leave…but before we did, Tonsai had one last surprise in store for us.
A monkey bite.
Yup. You read it right. Mary got bitten on our last morning by the semi-wild monkey “Lingping” kept at the Countryside Resort bungalows we were staying at.
We were leaving anyway, planning to visit the quiet island of Koh Yao Noi, but as we were saying goodbye to the boys next door, our plans took on a different shape, namely, that of a Rabies injection.
We finished saying goodbye to the boys and then headed for breakfast. It was only really when we sat down to eat that the reality hit.
With the help of Daniel, a really kind guy who even bought our breakfast that morning (a small gesture that went a long way) we made a plan.
Our first stop took us to the 24/7 Tonsai Clinic to find it…closed.
No worries, we thought, we’re leaving anyway, we’ll just head to Krabi hospital. As we walked to the pier one of the local barman yelled, ‘There are no boats today!’
Not what you want to hear in a village accessible only by boat when your friend has just been bitten by a monkey and needs a rabies shot in the next 24 hours.
A brief moment of panic when both me and Mary believed him.
Then some slightly hysterical laughter as we realised/hoped he was joking.
Thankfully he was and soon we were on our way to Krabi hospital. Once there, we were seen quickly and efficiently. Mary was given a vaccine and by midday we were back on the beachfront in Ao Nang eating lunch with a new friend, Leanne.
We missed the boat to Koh Yao Noi that day but booked it for the next, enjoying an afternoon to relax by the sea at Ao Nang after an eventful morning.
And all was well until Mary asked the question, “Do you think the needle was clean? I just didn’t see them take it out of the packet or see a sharps bin…”
At first I thought it would be fine, then I panicked a little that maybe it wasn’t (but obviously couldn’t tell Mary that). Then I remembered my friend’s daughter works in a tiny hospital much smaller than Krabi in the north and they use fresh needles for everything. I felt more relaxed again. I told Mary.
But nothing put our minds properly at rest until we went back to the hospital two days later for a follow up shot. We were both extremely relieved to see the nurse use new needles from packets and see her dispose of them in a sharps bin.
We did also make it to Koh Yao Noi which was definitely the highlight of the trip in terms of location. A beautiful, relatively unspoilt island with lovely long, white-sand beaches. We hired scooters to explore, which was great fun and walked to a viewpoint on a hill. We stayed with the loveliest, most hospitable lady I have met in the south of Thailand at Pyramid Bungalows. We were only there 24 hours due to the need for a second rabies injection but it was worth the trip even for such a short time.
We returned to Ao Nang in time for Songkran festival, which is Thai New Year (unlike the UK they follow a Buddhist calendar). Traditionally people sprinkled each other with water to bless one another for the year ahead. Over time it has escalated to an AMAZING nationwide water fight.
It was so much fun to be a part of. Mary and I got stuck in with water pistols of our own and were soon soaked to the skin. Everybody smiles and it is impossible not to enjoy yourself!
We planned to visit a local viewpoint on our last day together but once more our plans changed. We had spent our last evening together the night before listening and dancing to a live “reggae” band (which included music from Bob Marley, Adele and Pharell Williams!). A late night meant we opted for brunch and massage to round of our trip!
It has been an eventful couple of weeks and I’m not sure everybody could handle a holiday as intense as this one, but in true Mary style she has embraced it and, as always, we have hardly stopped laughing. I’m going to miss her! Thanks for coming Mary – and I hope you feel a little bit relaxed!