DAY 20 – Sunning it up on Railay Beach

Railay beach is picture postcard stunning.  A wide stretch of sun-kissed sand juts out from the jungle to meet the sea, overlooked by jagged limestone cliffs that surround it on all sides and prevent it being accessed by road – for this reason it remains relatively unspoiled.

Before we went there though, there was the essential matter of breakfast to attend to.  We walked to the Maharaj Market – the biggest in Krabi town, opening at 3 in the morning.  We didn’t get there until 10am, by which time some stalls were already closing up, but there was still enough hustle and bustle to make it twice as big as any British market I’ve ever been to.  We walked through lanes and lanes of weird and wonderful vegetables and had a look round the seafood section.  I love looking at the fishmonger’s counter – this goes back to when I was a kid and I went on holiday with my family to France.  I used to spend ages gawping at the live crabs and lobsters scuttling around in tanks at the supermarket – I remember being bollocked by a French fishmonger once for poking his prize lobster.  I managed to keep my hands to myself on this occasion as we walked past giant tiger prawns, octopi, grouper and tuna chilling in the ice.  A metre-long barracuda glared up at us from another counter whilst live spider crabs crawled all over each other and catfish swam around in a tank as big as a skip.  I don’t know how sustainable Thai fishing is – I’d suspect that it isn’t really, since nothing ever is these days – but a walk through the Maharaj market is a reminder of the incredible wealth and diversity of life that exists in these Andaman waters.

The food joints were closing up by the time we’d finished gawping at grouper.  We had to move quickly, and we bought a bagful of honey glazed roast pork with crackling.  We sat with a cocktail stick each, picking at this bizarre, gluttonous breakfast until we began to feel slightly sick, as if we’d sat picking at the leftovers of Xmas dinner – only in 30 degree heat.

We left the market and took a taxi to Ao Nang resort, where my scuba diving adventure had begun the previous day.  After being dropped off at the beach, we queued up for a ticket for the longtail boat taxi service, then sat on a bench for all of thirty seconds before we were called.  We were beckoned over by a scrawny Thai boatman (I’ve yet to meet any other kind), who attempted to hold the boat steady whilst a man three times his weight waded out and plonked himself onto the deck.  They crammed as many beach bums as they could fit into the boat, and it was pretty low in the water by the time he spun her round and plopped the longtail motor into the water.  Our helmsman made no attempt to compensate for the weight in the boat, and proceeded at full throttle towards the group of rocks that hid Railay beach from view.  Longtails are very graceful boats, until you overfill them.  Rather than carving through the water like a knife through butter, we smashed our way through it like an angry fat man in a football crowd.  The spray was everywhere, and by the time we rounded the rocks and the beach came in to full view we were absolutely soaked.  I tried to protect the backpack containing our phones and other electronic gadgetry, but it seemed as if nowhere on the boat was safe from the onslaught of spray.

We jumped out in the shallows and picked a spot on the beach.  It was busy, but the space was so vast that we were able to stretch out comfortably.  We lay down to sunbathe – something that I can generally stand for all of about ten minutes before I get hyperactive and have to go for a walk.  I managed my usual ten minutes then got up and walked to the shops to buy two fresh coconuts.  I returned to Hollie with (if you’ll pardon the Carry On film style innuendo), the two biggest coconuts you could ever hope to see.

As we sat draining these massive vats of coconut milk, we were approached by a short Thai lady with a sheet of laminated paper.  “You want massage? You need massage!” She waved the list of prices at us.  “I am Zayah! You want massage, you come to me!” Zayah then stretched out her hand to me and I shook it.  It was a soft, caressing kind of handshake, and I decided that they were the kind of hands that would provide a tender service.  I said “Okay, I’ll come to you later” and she seemed pleased with this.  She pointed to the number 21 that was sewn into the fabric of her t-shirt – “You come to 21! Zayah!” she walked off to drum up more punters.  A few seconds later, a different masseuse lady with the number 19 sewn onto her shirt came up to me and mimed massaging my feet.  “You want massage?” I explained that I had already agreed to go with Zayah, 21, and she moved on to the next tourists.  As soon as number 19 had turned our back on us, Zayah popped up out of nowhere and whispered in a slightly threatening manner: “Zayah, 21.  You come to me!” then disappeared again as stealthily as she’d appeared.

We went for a swim, picking our way between paddle boards and bikini clad girls taking selfies to find our own stretch of clear water.  In spite of the many longtails moving around on the other side of a safety rope the water was clean and clear – there were no repeats of the condom or turdgate incidents that curtailed previous forays into the sea.

When we got out again I dried off and went in search of Zayah to fulfil my promise.  I found her at the end of a row of masseuses, working the knots out of a girl’s back.  I sat in the shade of a tree until she’d finished then stretched out on the mat that she’d laid on the sand.  She was pushy in a charming way – trying for a good while to coax the full body massage out of me, before finally accepting that I wanted a foot massage and no more.  For a fraction of the price that we’d paid at the 5-star spa in Bangkok, Zayah worked miracles on my poor, crippled feet.  I sat resting my chin on my hands, looking out to sea whilst she worked the dead skin away before rubbing in aromatherapy oil.  After half an hour I paid my way, tipping her handsomely for her troubles.  For the next day or two I felt like I was walking on air, until the combination of cheap rubber shoes and hot, hard pavements took their toll on my pins again.

We took a longtail back to Ao Nang.  This time the boat was half as full and the tide was in our favour, so we managed to land at the beach more or less dry.  We were pretty hungry at this point, with the weird roast pork breakfast now a distant memory.  Ao Nang doesn’t want for restaurants, but I’d bet that a lot of them are overpriced and underwhelming.  We picked Tandoori Nights Indian restaurant – it was a shot in the dark which worked out very well.  We paid similar to what we’d pay in England for a curry, but it was delicious and hearty, and I managed to avoid getting too hot by washing it down with a few Changs.  I had a chicken tawa and keema nan whilst Hollie opted for the paneer korma with peshwari nan.

We took a taxi back to Krabi Town and chilled at the hotel, before taking an evening turn around the walking market, grazing on shrimp dumplings and crepes to tide us over until the morning.

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DAYS 17 AND 18 – Ferry from Koh Yao Yai to Thalane pier, taxi to Krabi Town

We were up before dawn so that we could make the 7:40am ferry. We paid our host 500 baht to drive us across the island to the port, then we sat in the morning sun watching the tide roll in over the mud flats. Halfway down the pier a longtail was filling up with schoolkids in identical school uniforms – I assume the school must have been on a neighbouring island. As the boat was pulling away the class rebel came legging it up the jetty and leapt on to the boat.

When it was time to board the ferry we tucked ourselves away under the covers to escape from the heat. The return to Thalane was as spectacular as our outbound journey had been, as we passed within feet of collosal karst cliffs and watched baby barracuda launching themselves out of the water in pursuit of smaller fish.

Taxis were easy to come by in Thalane, and we settled on 500 baht for the journey to Krabi town. Our driver was a football fan, and I had the standard conversation that I have with most football-loving Thais who speak little English:

“Where you from?”
“England.”
“Ah! London?”
“No, middle – near Manchester.”
“Ah! Manchester United! My team. You like?”
“No. I like Derby County!”
“Durrby Canty?”
“Yes, have you heard of them?”
“I like Manchester United”
“Okay, nevermind.”

We were dropped off in the centre of Krabi town and we called in at a coffee shop for some much-needed hydration before heading to our accommodation. Sleep Whale Express Hotel is a typically bizarrely named place, but it was probably the best that we stayed in on this trip – with the obvious exception of the 5 star Chatrium in Bangkok. For just over twenty quid/1000 baht a night it was clean, comfy and the aircon was so effective that on our first night there I woke up freezing and wondered whether I was back at home suffering a British winter – what a relief to step out onto the balcony at midnight and be hit by a blast of hot Andaman air!

I’ve blended two days in to one for this blog entry because we had a slow, chilled start to our time in Krabi and that doesn’t make for a very interesting read. Krabi is a wealthy town with everything you need within walking distance – we really liked the vibe here after spendng time on relatively remote islands. It put us in mind of the old town area of Chiang Mai up in the north of Thailand that we’d taken to our hearts when we visited last year – the big difference being that Chiang Mai is landlocked, whereas Krabi is built on an inlet from the sea.

The view from Krabi pier

Ferries from destinations all over the Andaman dock on the outskirts of town, and a strip of park follows the edge of the river. We walked down this path several times and spotted all kinds of creatures – at low tide mud-skipper fish were everywhere, sliding along on top of the filth like alien ice-skaters from another dimension. Tiny crabs with one underdeveloped pincer and one that was double the size of their body scuttled in and out of holes in the sand. There were thousands of these little creatures, each one looking like walking wounded who’s larger arm had been placed in a sling. In addition to the more unusual life forms the estuary was alive with all kinds of fish, jumping clean out the water to catch mosquitoes on the surface or to try and eat each other.

 

We also checked out a plush Buddhist Temple set on a hill in the centre of town – Wat Kaewkorawaram. This temple was only built about six years ago – another symbol of the wealth that’s come in to Krabi from tourism and shipping. The walls were a brilliant white and in appearance it put us in mind of the White Temple in Chiang Rai. Inside were the usual array of golden statues of the Buddha and intricate paintings on the wall depicting scenes from the lifetime of Buddha. Considering that Buddhism is founded on the principle of detachment from material things, it always confuses me that the temples are filled with more bling than your average Kanye West music video. Nonetheless, there’s always something very tranquil and exotic about them, and Wat Kaewkorawaram was well worth a visit – and the time that it’s just taken me to type the name twice in this paragraph without making a spelling error.

My favourite thing about Krabi town was the markets. Krabi has three permanent markets and whilst we were there another huge “Walking Street” market had been set up in the centre of the town. If you’re into your food (as I most definitely am), there’s no better way to sample Thai cuisine than to weave your way through narrow lanes with a couple of hundred baht in your pocket. You might see things that you don’t like the look of. You might see things that you don’t even recognise as food. You might even see things that make you physically wretch, but if you ask me it’s all worth it for the adventure, and for the times that you take a tentative bite and introduce your tastebuds to something tear-inducingly exquisite.

Over the course of our first two nights in Krabi, we tried some real treats, the best of which I’ll attempt to describe to you.

Fish curry – a potent package of white fish in green curry sauce, wrapped in a banana leaf. This little gem set me back 20 baht (or about 40-50p).

Quail eggs – These are sold on markets all over Thailand. The chef will crack the tiny eggs into a heated tray which looks like the kind of thing that you’d use to bake mini-muffins. You get half a dozen or so per portion, and they taste amazing with a splash of soy sauce.

Chicken satay – Is EVERYWHERE. every roadside stand in Thailand seems to have a ready supply of marinated poultry on sticks ready to go. The taste is usually very sweet but not as peanutty as you might get in a Chinese restaurant in the UK.

Sai Oua – is basically sausage, Thai-style. It comes heavily spiced, sometimes sweet and sometimes sour with a hint of kaffir lime – a greasy treat on a stick!

Enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon – Are just as delicious as they sound! I think they should be marketed as a kind of canape for the fry-up loving Brit abroad…

And after grazing on various delights, we filled up with curry and rice for 50 baht from this place…

We whiled away the best part of two days in the markets and cafes of Krabi, enjoying the hustle and bustle that had evaded us on the more tranquil islands. The next day would be slightly more active though, as I booked to go scuba diving in the nearby resort of Ao Nang.