Catch up time!
We decided to make a few changes to our proposed route. It will now be:
Myanmar – Bangkok – Krabi (southwest thailand) – Ko lanta island – back up to Bangkok and then fly up to Vientiane, Laos. We’ll travel around Laos for 3-4 weeks, then head south into Cambodia, travel there for another 3-4 weeks then fly back up north to Hanoi, Vietnam, travelling down through the length of the country. From there,we’ll probably head to south east Thailand before hitting Malaysia.
From Burma to Bangkok
Following our Burmese adventures, we flew to Bangkok. After spending a couple of vaguely horrendous nights there, not far from Khao San Road, (which is a perfect example of how mass tourism can utterly destroy a place’s soul), we escaped the crusty hippies and scammers to fly south to Krabi. Krabi sits on the south west coast of Thailand and is the jumping off point for a variety of jaw-droppingly gorgeous islands. First stop was Railay – a pedestrian only beachside town accessible only by long-tail boat. Driving there from Krabi is impossible because of the enormous limestone rock formations rocketing into the sky.
Railay was stunning – the western beach was a calm turquoise lagoon framed by a backdrop of jungle-clad karst cliffs. There are monkeys that tightwalk the low hanging tree branches, caves, warm seas and white Sands. We lucked out with our room, which had a wicked view of the incredible rock formations that the area is known for, with the sea beyond.
Climbing in an unusual place
Railay is a fantastic place to climb, so we of course gave it a go. (We met through climbing). We were taken by our guide to a series of routes set on a karst rock face on the southern beach. I managed to get 5 routes in, and tried out some new techniques and so was pretty pleased. Everything in view was what you’d expect from a Thai beach famed for climbing, except for this.
Yes, it is what you think (or fear) it is: a cavern brimming with phalli… Some of which are startlingly detailed.
There are, in fact, two of these bizarre grottos on this beach. Phallic symbol enthusiasts should certainly visit. The two caves are places of worship to a female deity in command of fertility. Offering up what the descriptive tourist placard described as a ‘stick’ (i.e. model of a penis) brings the giver good luck and fortune. The deity also asks that worshippers help keep natural places clean and clear of rubbish. The faithful clearly still visit – each grotto was still full of burning incense sticks and candles. The religion seemed to be a part of the animist worshipping system common in this part of the world, which in many ways resembles paganism.
Modern Buddhism also still owes parts of its rituals to animism, especially in Laos. Their annual rocket festival involves launching fireworks into the sky, while waving more wooden penises around. This is in an effort to anger the gods, who are expected to retaliate by bringing thunderstorms and hence, lots and lots of much-needed rainfall.
Suicide jungle trek
After our climb, we had planned to visit a lagoon and trek up to a viewpoint nearby. We at first struggled to find the starting point. The sign pointed left to what we initially thought was a vertical cliff. But when we looked more closely, we realised that this indeed was the starting point for the trek. There were makeshift steps etched out of the clay cliff face and mangrove-type roots running down it which made for very nifty bannisters. We scrambled up and checked out the viewpoint first. It was well worth the climb.
The difficulty of the climb was about to leap up from about 4 to 10 though, as we began our descent further into the wilderness towards the much-anticipated emerald lagoon. This part of our mission can only be described as a suicide jungle trek. Lowering ourselves down slippery vertical drops, clinging to equally slick clay-sodden ropes, and trying to gain purchase on elusive holds in the limestone rock was at times terrifying (sorry parents). We were as careful as humanly possible, and worked together to get through the trickier bits. The Railay suicide jungle trek is a great option for office team building exercises if you have (very) comprehensive company insurance.
After a good 40 minutes slowly edging towards our destination, during which we were transformed into strange slippery beings – coated in a thin layer of sweat and orange clay – we at last made it to the near-unreachable lagoon. Again, our efforts were well rewarded. Tall karst rock, covered in tropical trees and plants, jut up all round the enormous cool saltwater lagoon. It’s formed by underwater caves that let the sea water flow in. I floated in the middle of the lagoon looking up above me – an oval patch of blue sky edged with the slate grey rock, fringed with greenery. The peace and beauty made it seem like quite a spiritual place. There’s quite a bit of animist religion down here – the worship of nature and animals – and you can understand why. Spots as pretty as this seem almost sacred.