There are several ways to get from place to place when traveling throughout the world, some of which teach us more than others. In Bangkok we eschewed the easy routes and decided to get a bit more of a native Thai perspective by taking the city bus to the Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai). With much hesitation we boarded the bus and handed over our 10 Baht asking “Sai Tai Mai? Sai Tai Mai?” to anyone who looked like they would understand us. This method seems to work well, although you generally have to ask several people and take the answer most given. Helpful Thai people told us to get off at three different–and very far apart–stops before we finally decided to chance it and get off the bus. After a bit of second guessing our decision we walked around a corner and discovered we had landed in the right spot after all.
Once in the bus station it was apparent that our city bus experience was not to be an isolated incident and we were again the only farang in sight. Thankfully our tried and true method of repeating our destination again and again got us on the right bus headed south to the beach area of Krabi. What we didn’t know at the time was that westerners like us rarely took the Air-Con buses like the one we were on and generally stuck to the VIP buses or those that left from the backpacker’s ghetto of Khao San road. Twelve hours later, we arrived in Krabi to find a fat Thai man in a pink shirt telling us that where we were waiting for our bags was for thai people, our bags were waiting around the other side of the bus… alone, and with several zippers open that had been previously closed. A had even put a small key ring through her top pocket zippers to keep them together and we found that it had been removed. Fortunately we had planned for this and had taken all of our valuables on board the bus with us.
Fat pink shirt guy seemed to be the local travel agent and ran a small TAT certified info center. TAT tourist centers are supposedly regulated so that they don’t over charge or rip off tourists. Apparently it is quite common for places to fake their TAT certification and still rip off tourists… people just like us. After having him tell us that Ton Sai and West Rai Leh were closed, we decided to go to East Rai Leh to check things out for ourselves. Instead of taking the cheap route of a 10B pickup truck with seats in the back we were suckered into paying 100B each for a taxi to Nam Mao where we caught a longtail boat over to East Rai Leh. From here it was an easy walk across to West Rai Leh were some friendly climbers told us that we could just walk across what is commonly called the ‘monkey trail’ to Ton Sai beach were all the climbing and inexpensive lodging is.
Once on Ton Sai we quickly ran into some friends from Squamish and were instantly integrated into the climber social scene. Many of the climbers we talked to had been in the area during the tsunami and it was incredible to hear all of their stories ranging from “I barely noticed it,” to “I almost died.”
The one consistent element to each story was how the climbers all pitched in to help the various beachside areas clean up and rebuild what they could. Tales of climber assistance served to reinforce my beliefs in the great community we are a part of.
Once we were able to settle in and find a place to stay (we’re booked until the 19th as of now) it was nice to sit back and relax but sad to see the Thais struggling with the after affects of the tusnami. The odd part is that it wasn’t the damage that is setting them back, but the mass exodus of tourists and their money. Ton Sai was deserted when we arrived and every guesthouse and restaurant was offering special deals to attract people back. We have been enjoying the peacefulness and low costs but everything is touched with a note of sadness at the price that had to be paid by those affected by the tsunami.
Today we’re in Ao Nang, enjoying a rest day from the steep and punishing limestone, and doing a little shopping. Internet access is more expensive back on the beach (only accessible by boat) so we won’t be checking until we run back here or into Krabi in a few days.