It’s only been a week since I left sunny Edinburgh behind, but already it seems, literally, thousands of miles away. For the first time in years, the weather gods were kind to us and allowed us to leave without any hitches. (Previous year’s offerings have included the The Great Snowpocalypse of 2010 and, more recently, taking off shortly before “Hurricane Bawbag” closed Edinburgh Airport!)
As the movie selection on our 10 hour flight was rather limited, we decided instead to make our own fun. Partly inspired by a post I had seen on facebook entitled “Fifteenth century Flemish Portraits recreated in an airport lavatory”, and slightly delirious with sleep deprivation, I think it is safe to say that we certainly made our flight attendant’s day when he clocked me photographing mum with a flight cushion on her head and a ruff improvised out of napkins.
We touched down into Bangkok in time to see the sunrise on Christmas morning, and one flight, a taxi ride, and a rather splashy longtail boat ride later, we were plopping down into the sea, ready to drag our suitcases up the last few metres of sand to start our holiday in Railay Bay.
It was our fourth visit to Railay Bay, splashing out, as ever on a lovely 4 star hotel right on the beach. Cos it’s Christmas! However, I could barely contain my excitement when it turned out that we had been upgraded to a “Privacy cottage” with a jacuzzi! We played it cool til our porter had left, before squealing like little girls and rushing around marvelling at the complimentary fruit basket and the fact that our towels were folded into swans. We then proceeded to fill the tub and put the bubbles on. Because we could.
There is something instantly relaxing about returning to a place you know well. As we sat enjoying our extremely leisurely breakfast overlooking the beach, we mused on how neither of us felt the need to rush out and do anything! Somehow, here in Thailand, “doing nothing” is a such a positive thing! That, and the fact that people watching could be a national sport here!
That said, I have two goals this holiday: To study, and to train for my open water swim. Next july, I have signed up to take part in the Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon, as part of the Athletes’ Angels Relay team. My remit is swimming 1.5km across Loch Tay. I have never swum in open water before.
I also have a pathological fear of swimming in the sea, probably from having swum into a massive jellyfish in Spain at the age of 13. Whether it was the pain, or the advice of the very well-meaning local lifeguard that I try and pee down the outside of my own leg, I was left somewhat scarred by the experience! So, on Boxing day morning at 7am, I decided to face my fear head on. Pranang beach is just around the corner from our hotel, best known for its sacred cave full of “Fertility symbols” (Or the “Cave full of Cocks”) as mum and I have so delicately christened it. It does, however, have the advantage of being almost completely deserted at 7am and, under the circumstances, it would be rude not to take advantage of my own “private pool”!
For the first few strokes, I thought “Ahh, this is nice! It’s so warm, and so pretty” which soon changed to “Bloody hell, this is hard work!” and soon to “OH MY GOD THERE’S A JELLY FISH!! Oh no that’s just some seaweed brushing my leg…” I emerged triumphant 25 minutes later, safe in the knowledge that I had faced my fear… and earned my right to absolutely destroy the breakfast buffet!
By day four, I was even starting to (whisper it) enjoy it. The monkeys trying to steal my clothes and towel on one occasion was also very entertaining. Luckily there was a hotel security guard on hand with a sling-shot who was more than willing to come to my rescue! It would have made for an interesting walk of shame otherwise…
There are certain “Railay traditions” that mum and I always tick off our list when we visit: Trekking through the jungle to Tonsai beach, hiring a Kayak and exploring the incredible limestone rock formations around the coast, sitting on the beach and watching the sun go down on Christmas Day shortly after we arrive… There are also the slightly less enjoyable traditions, such as both getting sick roundabout day three. We can only put it down to jet lag, as you can practically time your watch by it! This has thus prevented us from making it up to the famous viewpoint in previous years, so, determined to do it this year, we set off on day two to conquer the climb.
Now the climb is not for the faint of heart. I have seen people attempt it in flip flops and bikini tops. I have decided that these people are clinically insane. And far more glam than me. Mum and I opted for the sensible option and wore trainers and shorts (Mum managed to split hers at one point. The gaps between footholds are not really designed for wee folk. Being proficient in the splits would be a helpful attribute at this point) It soon became apparent that it is pretty irrelevant what you wear, as, if there has been any rain in the last 24 hours, you are guaranteed to end up clarted in red mud, which, I am reliably informed, never comes out of your clothes! By the end of our adventure, mum and I were rocking the “streaky fake tan” look, and I also seemed to have got rather a lot of mud all over the backs of my thighs and the seat of my shorts, giving the impression that I had crapped myself copiously en route. I can assure you that I am not THAT scared of heights!
It was worth it for the view though. Upon returning to our room, we were also especially grateful for having got a posh room with an outdoor shower: Ideal for washing the mud off our trainers. With the complementary toothbrush. Naturally.
Having survived the climb, we opted for a slightly less steep adventure the next day, hiking through the jungle to Tonsai beach. At points, you could almost be in an Indiana Jones movie, or Jurassic park! This was only reinforced further when we arrived at Tonsai beach and I spotted what can only be described as a small dinosaur rummaging through the rubbish at the edge of the beach! I managed to snap a quick photo of it before it disappeared into the undergrowth, and after a bit of research, we discovered that it was a Southeast Asian Water Monitor, second largest lizard after the Komodo dragon at about 1.5m (not including the tail!). Upon reflection, we decided that we preferred the cute little smiley geckos that had taken up residence in our bathroom. I didn’t really fancy bumping into that badboy when I got up for a pee in the middle of the night!
The weather during our stay was changeable to say the least! Blazing sunshine most mornings when were were out playing, and at about 1pm most days, the sky darkened and we were treated to a downpour of biblical proportions! Stair rods at best, and that famous Scottish phenomenon of “Horizontal rain” if we were really lucky! Usually, this was the point at which we usually retired to our favourite wee Thai cafe for lunch and enjoyed watching the rain batter down and the hordes of soggy, bemused looking beach goers traipse past. That, and watching the waiters deliver food under umbrellas!
Usually the showers were short lived and the storm had blown past within an hour or two, or about the time it takes to get a massage, so under the circumstances, we coped! It was the perfect opportunity to catch up with the ladies at the Railay Thai Spa, where we became familiar faces last year, and where I notably caused a minor stampede when I gave the ladies some much needed massage!
Inevitably, the sickness hit us eventually! Having made it past the fabled day three unscathed, we both got “The fear”…
By 6pm on day four, both of us were getting to know our bathroom very well. I personally think the low point was when I groaned “Iss ok, I sleep here now” and slumped next to the toilet… All part of the travel experience!
Fortunately, the nice lady at the pharmacy sorted us with anti-nausea medication, which did, at least, help us survive the boat trip, taxi ride, and flight to Bangkok the following day! Onwards to Nong Khai for New Year Year, and whatever it may bring…