Arriving in Aonang, a shambles even by my standards
Wikitravel furnished me with everything I could possibly need to know about heading south. Get on bus to Krabi, get off bus at Krabi, get in white pickup truck which will take you to Ao Nang, go to Irish pub, they'll tell you where's good to stay.
The words "Irish Pub" should have set little alarm bells ringing. But Ao Nang is the easiest way to get to Tonsai and Railay, two of the best climbing spots in Southeast Asia. So as usually happens I ignored the alarm bells and got in the pickup.
I didn't have many expectations of Aonang, but if there's ever something I don't want to step out into, it's something with the atmosphere of Crete.
Some back-story. This summer I decided I needed a quiet break to work on the book, swim in the sea and generally relax. I picked a Greek island based on it being easy to fly to and cheap to rent an apartment with a pool and ended up in Crete.
As you can see it was beautiful. Just beautiful.
It was also populated entirely by drunken Irishman, families in desperate need of counseling, stag parties and more drunken Irishman. Don't get me wrong I love the Irish, I've also been known to enjoy a stag party. But it turns out arguing families are actually even more of a hindrance to writing than hearing "CANNONBALL!!" followed by the sound of the husband to be collapsing into a hedge.
So when I arrived in Aonang and saw the same dead eyed families shouting in English that they "just want normal coffee" closely followed by the telltale matching t-shirts of a stag party, dismay is putting it lightly.
Continuing with my spectacularly poor decision not to get a data plan in Thailand, a brief spell in a coffee shop with WiFi had the answer. Just head straight to Tonsai. Thirty minutes on a longtail boat and I'd reach one of the most secluded beaches in the area home to a renowned German climbing school. Easy.
Longtail boats have to be seen to be believed. They're essentially a two to four cylinder engine mounted on a ten foot pole with a propeller at the other end. The exposed flywheel and fan belt make the old Seagull outboard we grew up with in Scotland seem positively safe.
On arrival at Tonsai, everything looked promising, in that there was hardly anything there. No real roads, lots of people roped up and climbing, lots of comfortable looking bungalows. After a quick chat in the climbing shop I stopped into the booking office for the bungalows to check there was somewhere to stay for the three nights I needed. Absolutely! As long as I was also happy to stay another seven afterwards. Block bookings only over Christmas. Ah.
The delightfully hippyesque, I believe Eton educated, chap sitting near me confirmed my suspicion that potentially ten days was too long. After ostentatiously lighting a joint and proudly waving it around, he proceeded to look on with disgust at my daring to use a phone. In retrospect I wish I'd pointed out to him that people don't usually iron creases into hippy pants. For anyone who's seen the second inbetweeners movie, yeah, it's that guy.
Upwards and onwards. A quick chat to the woman running the coffee stand and I had a new plan, a brief wade around to the next beach, clamber over the headland then some more wading and I'd be at Railay beach. Slightly more developed so undoubtedly easier to find accommodation. And still good climbing.
Lesson one, "can wade" is not the same as "should wade with backpack". Lesson two, in a climbing area, "clamber" may mean climb.
Railay beach had similar problems, block bookings only over Christmas and New Year. By this point having slept only a few hours the night before, eaten nothing and walked/ climbed/ waded quite a distance, my amusement was beginning to wear off. There may have been slight traces of panic helped by a) the amount of coffee I was drinking to get access to WiFi and b) the onset of heavy rain scuppering my backup plan of sleeping on the beach.
I'd stopped giving the plans letters at this stage, but let's call this plan y. Go to the nearest travel bookers and panic buy a ferry ticket to any nearby island while at the same time booking anything available on hostelbookers. Success! There's a van + boat going to Koh Lanta in a few hours. I remember that's one of Kate McCulley's favorite islands, her blog being one of my original inspirations for wanting to come to Thailand.
The nearest travel booker turns out to be the most helpful woman in Thailand. She suggests a direct boat tomorrow instead and points me towards some bungalows further up the hill which she thinks will be available. "Fan and shower" is her description. I think she's subtly suggesting that it's not fair to get on a boat with others until I've showered. She has a point.
So now for 600 baht (GBP10) I'm sitting in a bungalow made I think almost entirely of wicker and paper mache, having never enjoyed a freezing cold shower more. It even has WiFi. Not the sort that connects to the internet but it's comforting to see the little symbol in the corner of the screen.
Even by my standards this was shambolic. Not so much the lack of accommodation, but the lack of talking to other people while in Bangkok to find out what the atmosphere was like in the various places around here before arriving. Or even checking with the hostel in Bangkok how booked up the area was and getting some recommendations.
On the plus side, these guys live outside...
They've just switched off the power to the area - no electricity after 10pm - which I think is my cue to stop writing and work out how to put up a mosquito net.
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