We found our way very quickly to our accommodation, Baan Taveesri, thanks to our earlier scooter reconiscence mission and within a matter of minutes we had thrown our stuff down, donned swimsuits, loaded a day pack and were headed to the beach for our long awaited beach day.
The beach at Ao Nong is only OK by Thai standards so we hopped on a long boat for the 15 minute ride to Railay where the beaches are positively spectacular. The "long boat" is an amazing invention. It is a long, wooden boat with a high, prominent bow and a low stern. There is seating for ~8 on wooden planks that are crudely suspended across the width of the boat. In the back there is a huge rusty engine with a very long drive shaft hanging 15 feet or so off the stern. At the end of this is a small prop which whirls violently. To the untrained eye it appears to be the masterpiece of some 1/2 mad 1/2 drunk mechanic; in reality it is feat of relatively efficient, albeit creative, engineering...the thing hauls ass (!) although I must admit it looks a little squirrly and tricky to drive. Ours had it's own unique bit of charm...a small whole in the bottom which leaked water in small spurts. Very cute. There is no ladder to get in or out so you have to hoist yourself in and then out.
We did OK, but other passengers were unable to follow our graceful lead and required some extra pushes in the backside from their partners to get in. In any case the ride was short and we found ourselves at the beautiful Railay West beach. We got a quick bite for lunch, then promptly beached ourselves in a sunny patch of sand, opened our books and proceeded to do very little except read, snooze and rotate to avoid sun burning. It was a TERRIBLE few hours, let me tell you, especially considering the view. Railey is known for it's spectacular limestone cliffs which make it a mecca for rock climbers and makes it a dramatic and spectacular beach for the rest of us. Maybe I'm getting old, maybe just lazy... or it could have been the heat, but a few years ago I would have been all over it, indeed would have planned a few days to get stuck into the climbing, this time I was happy as can be on my back with my sunglasses, hat and book.
After a good session in the sun and a few swims to cool off, we decided to take a walk around to see the rest of the area. The east side of the peninsula is also beautiful, but more in a muddy, mangrove lined with occasional piles of trash kind of way compared to the golden sand, palm tree and turqouise water kind of way we had found on the west side. A few minutes walk south- west gets you to the real gem of Railay, however. Lonely Planet describes Hat Phra Nang beach as "quite possibly one of the world's most beautiful beaches" and I cannot say I disagree. The monkey and rock climber covered limestone walls converge onto this small stretch of thick golden sand. The water is the same amazing blue we saw earlier, if not bluer, and the horizon is dotted with uninhabited limestone islands and pinnacles that jut dramatically from the ocean. Why the hell weren't we here all day?, we asked ourselves. We dropped our stuff and were in the water immediately. From that perspective you could really see the scale of the cliffs which hung out over the water, directly above us. This is the area where the famous climbing photos have been taken that feature climbers free-climbing insane routes with their only protection being the vast blue ocean that sprawls out beneath them. Pretty sick spot for sure.
The long boat ride back to Ao Nong was uneventful except of course for the novelty of the whole thing, and we walked the 20 minutes back to our spot to shower, change and grab a bite. We were going to check out a spot we passed on the main drag, but as it was starting to rain and as the place next door to the hostel looked good, smelled better, and was full of locals; we stopped in there for dinner. We decided to get a little outside our standard, go- to dishes- Gina's being Tom Yum and mine being Pad Thai or Green curry. Gina found a section of the menu called "chile paste" and selected the "prawn and vegetable chile paste" as her main. I was going to get the chicken in spicy peanut sauce and we had decided to stay safe with a papaya salad starter, quickly becoming our favorite dish. When the woman came to take our order and G pointed to her chile paste prawns the woman took a pause and looked slightly confused. Her English was rough and, of course, our Thai is nonexistent, but we managed to decipher that she thought that dish was "OK for Thai people". In our minds we imagined a spicy stir fry of veggies and prawns from the menu's description. We thought that her hesitancy was maybe that it was too spicy for western pallets, but weren't sure. We decided to be adventurous and order it; it was US$2, anyway. I ended up calling an audible and getting a Yellow Curry with prawn so that if G's dish was inedibly hot or something we could share. When the food arrived, we understood the waitresses hesitancy. It was no stir fry, but instead a plate of wilted looking (bolied or steamed) vegetables (carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, morning glory) and a very small bowl of an odd shrimpy mixture. Normally, I hate small portions, but this time we were thankful the bowl was small. The shrimp concoction was pungent to the nose and worse on the tongue. Not sure how to describe it, except fishy, strong, and more fishy. Stubborn as we are, we split and ate the whole bowl as we thought sending back a half eaten bowl would be admitting defeat to our waitress. We have a 3 photo sequence of me eating a bite which we will post soon which should pretty clearly illustrate the experience. It's too bad, because the curry I ordered was awesome and the papaya salad maybe the best we have encountered so it wasn't the cooking, it was our ordering that had been the issue. In any case, when she came to clear our empty plates our server looked surprised to see our chile paste veggies and prawns fully eaten and asked: "How you like?" Gina smiled, triumphantly: "It was delicious, thank you."
Both a bit queasy after that experience, we thought it best to go for a little walk to get the blood flowing and hopefully more quickly metabolize the chile paste prawns that were undoubtedly burning a whole in our intestines.
The walk to the beach is lined with the same old stuff that we found in Phuket. It made us realize how nice Krabi was. Although it is by no means off the beaten track, Krabi does not have a beach, and thus is skipped by many tourists and therefor has managed to keep it's authenticity a bit.
We ended up walking for about an hour and a half and were exhausted by the time we got back to our bed; the 6am wake up call in conjunction with an afternoon in the sun and our chile paste prawn encounter had taken it's toll.
In the morning we got up and walked the 10 minutes to the Starbucks for a legit cup of joe. Don't judge. We're all about supporting the local businesses, but it's been almost a week in Thailand without a single cup of real coffee. We've been subsisting off of Birdy brand Iced Coffees, Thailand's version of the bottled Frappocinnos that you get from 7-11 in the States. They are sugar packed little morsels and get you moving in the morning, I'll give them that. But, I think if I had more then 1 in a session I would slip unto a diabetic coma.
We saw the Starbuck's the other day and the prospect of a coffee that wouldn't rot our teeth was too much and we shamefully slinked in and ordered our 2 iced coffees. They were below average, even for Starbucks. What's more; we could have bought literally 20 Birdy Iced Coffees for the same price.
We hurried back to the hostel to get ready as we were getting picked up at 9 to head to our Thai cooking class. It's a pretty standard tourist activity for visitors, but for good reason. We first went to the huge market in Krabi and were lead around by our instructor, Doi, who explained the different vegetables, spices, proteins and other key components of Thai cuisine. The market tour itself was cool; full of color, texture, aromas (some not so nice) and noise. The fish area was particularly interesting. All sorts of crazy stuff on offer. Chiles were piled high in the veggie area and numerous desserts were available in that area. We sampled a steamed coconut dumpling thingy that was awesome.
A quick ride back to Ao Nong and we were situated at the school's kitchen where we selected 7 dishes to prepare: Appetizer, Soup, Salad, Stir Fry, Curry Paste, Curry meal, and Dessert. It wasn't long before we had donned aprons and were manning our sizzling woks as they fried up our delicious food. We first cooked our soup and stir fry (Tom Yum for us both, of course and Pad Thai for me and spicy Tofu stir fry for G); then ate them. Next we cooked our appetizers (fried spring rolls for me, fresh spring rolls for G), and pounded out our curry paste (Red for me and Green for G) with our pestal and mortars. We then fried up our curry (chicken in Red for me and tofu in Green for G). The last step was to flip salads and desserts. Gina made the fresh papaya salad and bananas in coconut milk for dessert while I did chicken laab salad followed by Mango with sticky rice for dessert. The class was a lot of fun and the food surprisingly pretty easy to make and actually came out alright! Harder was trying to eat all that good food. We ended up boxing some up and bringing it home for dinner.
After returning to the room briefly to digest and cool off in the A/C we headed straight to the beach for a little sun and swim session before we were chased from the beach by some impending rain and T - storms. We passed the storm in a cafe enjoying some fresh juice concoctions and reading.
We were a little tired after the big day so we headed home and passed the evening over a few DVDs: All The King's Men with Sean Penn (not great) and I Love You, Man with Paul Rudd (much better, in an awkward, cringe-worthy type of way) and of course grubbed our left over Thai food.
The next morning we got up and hit the beach for one last session before packing it up and rolling out to the main drag to grab the "bus" back to Krabi Town. The "bus" is some dudes pick up truck with benches along the back and a shade structure rigged up. We got on going the wrong way, half because it was hot as hell and second because we figured he would be turning around to head our direction shortly. There was a bit of confusion, but in the end he did the loop but in the opposite direction...this ended up costing us only a few extra minutes in the end anyway, so no big deal.
As per usual, arriving at a bus station is a hectic experience. As so happened, again, we pulled up just as a bus was getting ready to go...meaning we were quickly herded into the station to buy tickets and more quickly herded back out to jump on the bus just as it skirted out of the parking lot. G was smart enough to at least grab a freshly sliced pineapple for us to snack on for the 3.5 hour journey back to Phuket. It was a different bus, but they played the same karaoke video on this bus back to Phuket as they had played on our way from Phuket. There are 2 songs by unknown Thai artists that we both are super into, but now are unsure how to track them down on iTunes. All attempts at humming the melody to Thais and asking who sings it has failed miserably thus far.
We took the bus to Patong to meet Becky who was flying in for another 3 weekend. We chose Patong cuz it was close, and that's about it. I was going to write a separate entry about it, but we were there for only about 12 hours and the place was neither of our favorites (far, far from it in fact). It is considered one of the sleazier towns in Thailand, and what we saw seemed to confirm that, although we steered clear of the real trashy areas. In any case, Reining got in about midnight and we had an early ferry to catch in the morning. 12 hours in Patong was quite enough!