Krabi: The higher they climb the bigger the phallus

Tonsai beach, Krabi. 16-18 February 2020.

Our next travel brings us back to the mainland to Krabi, home of rock climbers. Here we touch base on Tonsai beach, a quiet, idyllic bay surrounded by jungle and gigantic karst rock formations, which is accessible by long tail boat only. For our final three days on the Andaman Sea we look forward to mainly relaxing on the beach.

Krabi is a small city on the west coast of southern Thailand facing the Andaman. Just outside the city is the resort town of Ao Nang, which is an access points to the beaches of Railay and Tonsai. The limestone rock faces in this area attract climbers from all over the world and most of the climbs start from the beach itself.

When our ferry from Ko Lanta reaches the bay the whole boat empties into long boats heading for Railay beach, and we’re the only two passengers getting dropped off at Tonsai beach. There’s only a 500m jungle path separating the two beaches, but they are worlds apart. Railay is fully developed with hotels, bars, restaurants, swimming pools and shops and you can’t see the beach for the sun bathers, while Tonsai has just one beach bar, a handful of largely empty hotels, a yoga studio, a convenience store and the perfect empty stretch of golden sand lined by palm trees. Yup, we’re feeling pretty smug right now!

Tonsai has a bit of an alternative feel to it, some good vibes. Accommodation consists of mainly bamboo huts, with spacious seating areas inspired by opium dens and drenched in reggae flavourings. A concrete wall running alongside the only road in town is covered in some sweet and quirky graffiti.

The few visitors it gets are mostly rock climbers and others like us that have come looking for the good life. Daredevils scaling the huge cliffs around the beach are joined by the local climbers: crab-eating macaques and dusky leaf monkeys.

The jungle path to Railay beach offers some great views over the bay.

From Railay it’s a ten minute walk to get to Phra Nang beach. With its easy access, silky white sand, shallow blue water and limestone caves it is another place popular with tourists. On the edge of the beach, one of the caves has been dedicated to a myhtical sea princess named Phra Nang.

According to legend, Phra Nang was either killed in a shipwreck or the wife of a fisherman who was lost at sea who lived out the rest of her days in the cave, awaiting her husband’s return.

Today, local fisherman and boatmen leave offerings in Phra Nang cave to ensure safe travel on the sea. These offers take the form of male genitalia – the cave is covered in many “linga”, or phallic-shaped statues meant to represent the Hindu god Shiva. The offerings in Phra Nang cave are especially realistic – the penises have discernible ridges and heads and some are decorated with colorful cloth. Anyone can leave an offering to the goddess, but beware there is a rule that strictly prohibits statues with testicles. After all, there’s no need to be vulgar about it.. Source: Atlas Obscura

Another “offering” perhaps?

Other caves around Phra Nang beach contain different surprises, such as giant water monitor lizards, one of which comes suddenly popping out onto the beach beside us!

Three days at Tonsai beach have come and gone in a flash and just like that we’re preparing to travel from the west coast across to the east coast of Thailand where we’ll be stopping in the working class city Surat Thani, in search of more beaches, ancient ruins, bike-riding monkeys and some proper southern Thai food. For now it’s goodbye from Tonsai!

Ko Lanta’s coral: Look, it’s moving! It’s alive!

Ko Lanta, 13-15 February 2020

From Phi Phi we travel further south towards Malaysia and stop off at Ko Lanta. The district was established in 1901 and consists of four main island groups: Mu Ko Lanta, Mu Ko Klang, Mu Ko Rok and Mu Ko Ngai. Lanta is believed to be one of the oldest communities in Thailand, dating back to prehistoric times. Interesting about the area is its diversity. Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and sea gypsies are all found together on the islands.

Mu Ko Lanta consists of 52 island, most of which are uninhabited. We stay on the largest, most populated island Ko Lanta Yai (commonly known as Ko Lanta), which has nine beaches running down the entire west coast, as well as forests and tropical jungle.

Since the Lanta district is known for its scuba diving we look into this first, but it turns out to be quite pricey at £125 per person for only two dives. Even besides the pricetag, or the fact the divemaster (a fellow Scot!) mistakes Lauren for being Irish, recent visibility hasn’t been good either, so we decide to forget about diving here and opt for snorkeling instead.

A speedboat brings us to Ko Rok Noi (part of Mu Ko Rok), roughly 60km from Ko Lanta. As we’ve come to expect in this part of the world, it’s paradise.

Ko Rok is an area supposedly frequented by Hawksbill turtles, but there doesn’t appear to be any seagrass for the turtles to feed on and at any rate we don’t find any. What we do find however is hands-down the best coral we have seen over the past 7 months!

With all the bright colours around it’s clear the coral is pretty healthy and that attracts a lot of fish and other sea creatures. The corals are littered with brightly coloured christmas tree worms.

Hiding on the bottom of the sea bed, we spot the biggest puffer fish we’ve ever seen, and observe a giant sea cucumber eating its lunch.

Our next stop Ko Haa is one of the tiniest island groups within Lanta, but probably the most photogenic with its jaggy rocks sticking out of the water.

There are a few baby reef sharks in amongst the coral, plus an enormous triggerfish I’m following at my own risk (they can pack a mean bite), and loads of angel fish and star fish. I was almost ready to give up on ever taking a good underwater photo, but Ko Lanta saves the day!

Out of Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and Ko Lanta, the latter has been our clear favourite. It’s been laid-back, easy to cross by scooter, not overly touristic and has the best coral. There is one last stop to go for us in the Andaman when we visit Krabi next.