With our friends Phil and Tereza finally having arrived in Ao Nang following a last-minute transfer panic at Bangkok Airport, we all made our way onto a longtail boat for the 15 min journey to the Rai Leh peninsular where we disembark on a glorious stretch of sand under the imposing Karst shadow of the Thaiwand wall.
This entire peninsular area is a Mecca for climbers and is regarded as offering some of the best climbing anywhere in the world, possessing as it does hundreds of bolted routes up it’s sheer limestone faces.
Any serious climbing is off-limits for us due to our less than comprehensive levels of insurance (I think snooker, pool and shove ha’penny are covered, but darts may be a considered a “dangerous sport” according to the exceptionally restrictive small print), but of course I’ll have to struggle for my art and at least clamber up some rocks in order to get that alternative viewpoint for my virtual photo album.
We plan to stay in some basic (and I mean, really basic, dark wooden walls, wall fan, cold water in bucket kind of basic) stilted huts which sit in a shallow dell halfway up the hill to the rocky spur that divides the upmarket East Rai Leh beach and the backpacker party zone of Ton Sai beach.
It’s a good 15-minute hike up a continual gradient with our full complement of backpacks and by the time we reach the accommodation I’m dripping with perspiration.
Phil looks worse.
He looks like he’s run back-to-back marathons, but to be fair he’s also jet-lagged from the best part of a 20-hour journey so it’s a draw on the judges cards.
In stark contrast to our clammy male appearance, Tereza and the 0.5 loook like they’ve just stepped out of a beauty parlour.
Que Tal and I assess the situation like the real men that we are and agree it must be the extra couple of kilo’s we were carrying that took us to the threshold of sweat and beyond.
From the verandah of our huts, the vista is impressive. A jungle clearing with soaring cliffs on three sides and nothing but the sounds of nature and a few domestic chickens to keep us company.
After dropping our bags and grabbing a pad thai at a shack located beneath an overhang surrounded by huge stalagmites, we spend a lazy afternoon on West Rai Leh beach.
The highlight of the afternoon is The 0.5 and Tereska participating in what can only be described as a synchronised beach gymnastic pentathlon.
Their first of their five exercises appears to involve spinning swiftly, arms outstretched, in tightly choreographed clockwise circles.
Both perform well under difficult late afternoon light on an uneven, sandy surface.
I am soundly impressed.
Hot on their heels are what look like full body crunches. A tough set to knock out under what must be already rather dizzying conditions, where both head and extended legs are raised off the ground forcing the abdominal muscles to work to their full capacity.
Halfway into the regime and we have the neck bending event.
On first appearance, emphasised nodding of the head may be considered an easy discipline, but I’m not being fooled.
I conclude that these brave girls must be going through hell right now. In athletic parlance, they’ve probably just hit “the wall” and each nod probably feels like it comes with an attached tonne of weight.
As soon as the neck bending is over, we’re into “the camel”.
This seems to be a classic back bending routine where the bum is raised by flat hands from a seated position into a a high arched “crab” position.
Tough. Very tough at this late stage in the game.
Finally, we are onto what I can only describe as the “shagging the floor” discipline.
In unison the heroic twosome lift their hips from a prone position into an inverted “V’ before slamming back downwards as if their entire lineage depending upon procreation with the beach at this one moment in time.
Overwhelmed by the explosive display of athleticism in front of us, Phil and I sip our Singha beers and reflect upon how we are more suited to well established endurance events such as “The pub crawl”.
It transpires the exercises Tereza has taught the 0.5 are part of a Tibetan regime known as “the five rites” which were discovered by a British Army Colonel in the early 1900’s.
The routines are said to prevent ageing, and though I am naturally sceptical of miracle exercises having failed to gain a 6-pack after many dedicated sessions of sitting on my backside watching Elle MacPhersons “The Body Workout”, the fact that Tereska’s parents (who have being practicing these rites for 15 years) look younger than me suggests there may be something in it.
Following yet another glorious Thai sunset and a few drinks at the rasta influenced “Ya Ya Night Clmbing Bar” (where it is possible to watch climbers scaling the rockface using a combination of moonlight and headlight), we hut-down for the night amongst the hoot of gibbons and the mating calls of Gecko’s
The next day takes us to the fabled Phra Nang Beach, which its has been argued is the finest beach in Thailand, possibly in all of South-East Asia.
The beach itself is a sheltered strip of white sand, bookmarked by massive Karst outcrops with a turquoise sea lapping gently upon its shore.
The beach is busy yet beautiful, boasting an absence of bars and cafes, but with a series of longtail boats anchored in the shallows selling a variety of food and drink to the assembled beachgoers.
As an unexpected treat, today’s entertainment is provided by a group of macaques and a family of spectacled langurs who leap from branch to branch amongst the tree under which we have sheltered.
The langur is a truly beautiful animal and I’m surprised they are not a more well-known species given their cutesy eyes and surrounding white circles of hair which provide them with their name
I’d like one as a pet.
Failing that, I’d like to own an ashtray made out of one of it’s palms.
Following the simian antics, I make my way to the South end of the beach passing a cave shrine dedicated to a drowned Princess, and wading through gentle waves to the headland beyond. I clamber over some boulders and up a shallow rock shelf from where I get a great view looking back at Phra Nang as it is framed by a limestone cave and its stalagmites.
Fair play, Phra Nang is definitely up there with the most spectacular beaches I’ve visited.
Admiring the scene, it leads me to wonder what we could have in South Wales with global warming becoming a little more lively.
After all, Rhossili and Three Cliffs Bay are already world-class even if a little cold and wet.
A dozen degrees of heat in the future, and maybe I’ll look at getting me one of those longtail boats from which to sell my homemade rissoles and cans of fizzy corona pop at a huge mark-up.
Seriously now, I think I might be onto a winner…