23.03.2010 - 23.03.2010
It’s nearing the end of bikini Tuesday and our first formal day at the beaches here in Ao Nang. The evening winds down and thus so do we, tired from spending the day in direct sunlight while splashing in the clear waters off Railay Beach.
Our morning began lazily, as they often do when one is on vacation, unless you’re Jenna, of course. If you’re Jenna you want to wake up early and get going. No time for dawdling. Move it on, get it going, and stop whining about it. Zac and I are late to rise and even later to leave, insisting on showers, breakfast, and maybe a cup of tea before going anywhere. Jenna was very impatient with us this morning, as she wanted to get going to the beach as early as possible. Railay Beach is just a short long tail boat ride (about ten minutes) from the shores of Ao Nang, around the bend of limestone cliffs. The long tails cost about $5 US for a return ticket (somewhat pricey by Thai standards for ten minutes of transportation), and Jenna wanted to make sure she got full use of her day at the distant beach if she was paying for it.
We ate breakfast at an establishment nearby and had a pretty good fill of scrambled eggs and toast (with fresh squeezed juice, might I add) before we headed to the beach to catch a boat. We paid our fare and loaded up on one of the rickety long tails to head out. Not surprisingly, the long tails are well aged and generally filled to capacity. An interesting combination, and not one for the weak spirited.
Long tails are supposed to hold a maximum of 8 people, but it’s not uncommon to fill them with eleven or twelve people (as we experienced). The boats pull up pretty close to shore, but there’s no way to beach the things without damage to boat, so taking off your shoes and submerging your lower half to push off from the waves and onto the bow is the way to board. This was okay until the way back when I bumped my shin and was left with a nasty little bump and bruise, and of course a bad attitude.
Again, the ride was a short one, and worth a day trip at most. Railay Beach is more beautiful than Ao Nang, with calmer waters for easy swimming. The ride over had no shortage of views for the massive limestone cliffs towering on the coast with shades of cream and red beneath the green foliage that grows on top. It reminded me of a scene from Jurassic Park, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if a tyrannosaurus rex came speeding out of the jungle to pick off a few tourists during our stay. Probably with a little Thai man resting comfortably on its head and guiding it with a bamboo stick, as if it’s an elephant. Those Thais are crazy!
The water off the shore is truly spectacular. Hardly have I seen water more beautiful (although I know it exists!) and hardly have I wanted to jump in more enthusiastically. The waves are a beautiful jade green and the limestone cliffs give way to dropping rocks and other limestone deposits into the water that leave clear and clean sand, free of muck that distracts from visibility. It’s a swimmer’s paradise, and Railay Beach is a cove protected from the ferocity of open ocean, leaving one all the more able to enjoy an easy and rip tide free dip.
The sand on Railay is much smoother than that of Ao Nang, although toward east Railay the sand is covered with peppering of sharp sea shells that are in the process of breaking down while mixing with the good, smooth sand. This left some moments of ouches, but nothing unbearable. We carried our belongings away from the smoothest part of the sand (which was also the landing zone for many of the long tails) and rested under the shade of a large tree with good protection. The tradeoff was worth the poorer quality in sand. Sun screen was applied liberally, and the swimming began.
The waters off Railay were relatively shallow. I could walk out a couple hundred feet and still touch the bottom. In a strange and unfamiliar happening, I could also see the seafloor at this depth. I could step over small and large rocks thrown recklessly into the ocean by the nearby cliffs without incident or injury. I could see fishes swimming by my legs. I could see that the thing rubbing up against my leg with slimy repetition was actually a fallen leaf and not some dangerous sea creature. The concept of good ocean visibility is foreign to me, particularly growing up and swimming around the waters of Whidbey Island. How did we escape hypothermia and how did we accept the floating algae that wrapped around our submerged limbs? The sharp rocks that stubbed our toes? Or the spiky sea creatures that stung our feet and made walking for the next few days an uncomfortable penalty to stepping into the frigid waters there?
This water was so much better, and it’s no wonder I was in there for a couple of hours. The water ranged from temperate at its coolest to warm at its hottest and there were times when I felt as if I were sitting in a bathtub at home. Bring me a good book and some headphones with music and I’d be content.
Both Jenna and I were brave enough to bare bikinis on the beach today, comforted by the many people present who definitely shouldn’t have had them. We may be questionable, but the fact that there is some debate surpasses the acceptability of wearing them compared to those who flat out shouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people wearing what pleases them and feeling empowered with their bodies to be comfortable and not limited based on society’s expectations of how they should or should not dress, but a 45 year old hairy, fat European man should stay away from the speedos and his 300 pound wife should not be wearing a tube top bikini top.
One other annoyance for me today was walking along the beach and spotting a few topless women. Boobies on the beach are fine by my standards. I’m not offended and I don’t think people should feel ashamed of their bodies. However, we are in a heavily populated Muslim area, and in a country where culturally speaking, public nudity is not acceptable. The Thai people are polite, and while they may be put off or offended by our western ways they will not approach someone and tell them of their offense. Perhaps this is in part why people engage in such behaviors, but while I hold firm to pride in empowerment and ignorance to self-consciousness, I also hold firm to respecting another country’s norms, expectations, and beliefs. We can’t take our social behaviors and expect that they should be accepted by a culture outside of our own when not in our own country.
Zac and I spent the majority of our play in the water, while Jenna came in for a short while before returning back to the shade of the tree and listened to music. I would really like to buy some snorkel gear (worth buying when compared to price of renting, despite having to tote around) and explore the clear seas, but the water is SO salty that I’m afraid I won’t be able to even snorkel. I dunked my head under the water with my eyes closed and came back up with burning eyes. This is an indication to me that the salt content is too much, and this problem is perpetuated with a diving mask where there is no circulating oxygen to flow through and your eyes just marinate in the salty fumes. It makes my eyes sting in all water, but it’s worse in waters with higher salt content. I may buy it anyway and just try my best to push through it.
Once we’d finished playing in the water the three of us went off to explore the rest of Railay. The small island has several limestone caves to explore, which we did. Not as impressive as the Jenolen Caves in the Blue Mountains of Australia, but definitely a pleasant little walk in cooler temperatures as we escaped the sun inside the caves. The limestone is beautiful and it’s amazing the way water has slowly carved the caves. It’s humbling to think about. Time is such an amazing thing.
To walk to the limestone caves requires walking through “guided” trails of signs leading the way. Unfortunately these signs only seem to lead you to local bars and shops. We finally grew savvy to the sham and headed back in the right direction toward Pranang Beach. Pranang is another beach on Railay with more people and a cooler swimming spot (hence more people). Zac swam a bit, but I was almost dry from the previous swim and opted to sit that one out, Jenna too. We didn’t stay long at Pranang before walking back to Railay west to catch a long tail back to Ao Nang.
Once we’d returned it was time to chill out and assess damages from the sun. Of course I got it the worst. I had slathered myself in sunscreen, but playing in the water for a good two hours had left me with a nasty reflection off the water far superior to my SPF concoction. My forearms are nice and crispy, mostly because I didn’t put any sunscreen on them (okay, totally because I didn’t put any sunscreen on them). They hurt this evening and I’m rubbing aloe vera on them periodically as I type. My shoulders are also burned, although not painfully (but they look like the pain will hit tomorrow morning, probably in the warm shower). This limits me to wearing clothes at the beach unless I am actually swimming in the water. Probably smart anyway. My skin is not meant for sun exposure. Ever. Have you seen me? I'm transluscent. Or I was, until I turned into crispy bacon today.
I was wise and stopped to buy a hat on the way to the beach this morning. Jenna laughed because I picked a Muay Thai boxing hat, but I liked the two fighters on the top of the bill and negotiated a good price for it. Luckily I wore it swimming with my sunglasses and thus my face is in good shape. A sunburn on the face wouldn’t be good. I already don’t feel attractive in this intense heat, sweating and pink faced all the time with no makeup because it would run like Forrest Gump, but a lobster face would be far worse and more uncomfortable.
Man it’s hot here. Way hotter than Chiang Mai. I’m sweating nonstop when outdoors—to the point where I have stopped wiping it off because there really is no point. As soon as I do the sweat will immediately return and it’s a state of lunacy to fight it. I can only double up on deodorant and hope for the best.
So that was our day as of now. Jenna and Zac have started a game of cards and think it’s hilarious to interrupt me when writing to tell me stupid things and sing me stupid songs. It’s time for some face punching.