After a relaxing start to the day - the usual (lame) inclusive breakfast by the mangrove smattered sea front - itâs time for a little physical exertion. A miniature adventure, right to the hidden heart of the Railay peninsula. Itâs landlocked tidal lagoon.
The lagoon sits in the middle of a formidable ring of rock cliff at the southern tip of the peninsula. As mentioned already it is a âtidalâ lagoon and so its waters rise and fall with the ebb and flow of the oceans waters. Accordingly, should you decide you want to go on this little tropical romp, time your journey accordingly to high water. Tidal range at Railay is large, so unless you completely c*ck things up the window of time available is sizeable.
A good number of hours at a time.
The incredible palm-forest middrif of Railay peninsula
The journey to the lagoon commences via a 150m root, rock and rope scramble-climb up a slope of dusty, russet coloured earth. The slope is clearly marked with a sign and is located near the start of the paved path that runs around the base of the cliff, starting at the southern extremity of the sweep of East Railay beach, en route to Ao Phra Nang beach.
This first ascent is nothing too challenging even for those totally uninitiated in climbing. Slightly strenuous and sweaty as hell, donât get me wrong. Nat and I immediately regretting the fact weâve both come burdened with backpacks. But not too tough. Stood at the top of this first ascent there are two options, both signposted.
First we turn left to the âViewpointâ. About an 80 metre stroll to a natural, tree fringed ledge or opening from where an absolutely stunning panorama view of the main central swathe of the Railay peninsula is brought into glorious view. The turquoise waters of both East and West Railay visible, Long Tails bobbing on the waters far below. The incredible drift of the dense palm tree forestation that covers the land at its lower extents seduce the camera lens, whilst here too, magnificent views of the grandiose limestone cliff eructations that make this landmass so captivating to the eye abound. I would suggest even if the lagoonâs not your bag you MUST make it to this viewpoint to truly appreciate where youâve come!
Doubling back from the viewpoint you may now either clamber back down the way you came not so long ago, or to carry on a little path through the trees and to commence the descent towards the lagoon.
This route starts with moderate ease and the scenery gets more and more fantastical the further into the heart of the peninsula jungle you go! Stupendously large emerald coloured palm fronds reach tens and tens of metres into the air, their colour complimented by the red clay and tree roots of the jungle carpet. Vines writhe, climb, swing and sway like so many oversized snakes from tree to tree. At the base of this miniature valley a tree, an absolutely gigantic, solitary ambassador of its own (I know not what?) species stands impossibly tall, broad of foot and firm. It is bigger than big. A real botanical behemoth. IT IS HUGE! The diameter of its base must be measured in several tens of metres and it reaches up practically beyond the visible line of sight.
Natalie grabs one of the many ropes that (sort of) assist your adventuring to Railay Lagoon
The legendary tree whose boughs support the heavens and the stars maybe?! Who knows. The scenery around here feels directly lifted from childhood images of such fantastical, mythical lands as those maybe envisioned in âThe Land That Time Forgotâ, âJourney to the Centre of the Earthâ, the King Kong movies or âThe Lost Worldâ. Honey I Shrunk the Tourist perhaps? Iâm firmly prepared for a roaring Tyrannosaurus Rex to suddenly come crashing through the tropical undergrowth at any moment!
Jungle Forest - The Land That Time Forgot
Moving along you soon arrive at the most challenging part of the trip and, weâve been told, the part where the majority of people give up on the idea of ever laying eyes on the lagoon (not visible at all from any point until you clamber all the way to the very bottom), call it a day and head back to the lure of the beaches.
But oh no, not for these two pint-sized adventurers! The task before us : three not too high but fairly vertiginous rope descents to the waters edge. It doesnât sound too tricky, and in all honesty, if youâve got some balls and a little bit of experience finding footholds and clinging to ropes you WILL be able to succeed on this journey without much strife. Speaking plainly from a personal view of the experience, the hardest thing to overcome is your own fears and apprehensions. No, the ropes that reside here to assist you down do not inspire confidence. They are old, often frayed, and more often than not do not reach down as far as you would like them to, or would be desirable. But hey, itâs an adventure after all!
Tree Print (Railay)
As is common knowledge from various previous wafflings of this blog, Stevie is a reformed height phobic.
I even spent a number of weekends in the UK, mid-2008 scurrying up and down sizeable climbing walls and bouldering in Birmingham. I was becoming worried that I was becoming a victim of one of those frustrating symptoms of âageâ - that of resurgent fears. So I have attempted to face âem down and get that particular genie back in the bottleâŚ with varying success. That said though, looking down the admittedly meagre 10 metre descent here my heart palpitations, my reservations, my fears have all of a sudden taken wing vigorously within my breast.
This tree is BIIIIIIIIGGER than me! :)
The male contingent of a French family commenced the descent a while ago but the women have pretty much taken one glance and stated - wisely - âNon merci!â. I try and start proceedings for Natalie and I, but just 1-2 metres down, rope clutched rigor mortis hard in my fists and sweat coursing down my back I freeze up pretty convincingly.
Fear has got the upper hand on this attempt and I pull myself back up to collect myself. After some banter with the French ladies and some simple but straight-to-the-mark pep talking from Nat, Iâm ready for attempt number twoâŚ and safely down! âPhew!â Nat follows with far more skill, and less fuss than I. The second descent is higher, looks meaner as you attempt to stare over the rocky lip, but actually encompasses such a wealth of natural footholds that as long as you keep clinging tight to that rope, youâll find it a breeze. I dump my backpack at this point. Given the incredibly few people I gather who bother to make it this far, I have little fear of theft.
Nat clambers down - braver than I!
Again Natâs proving her worth as a fabulous travel pal for the trip, shouting down footholds and where best to put my feet for the descent and generally keeping my mind off my subconscious fears of what weâre doing.
We are both agreed that the third descent and itâs inadequate ropes is a deal breaker and are just succumbing to the âso close, yet so farâ pangs of disappointment when Nat and another young couple whoâve caught us up discover the âeasyâ way down. Heading to the right of this natural platform thereâs a hole and a rope down through the rock which provides the easiest drop-down yet to the cliff floor, and the way to the lagoon!
... ONE HANDED TOO! "Yelp!"
And there it is, spread before us. A milky turquoise mirror sat undisturbed, ringed around by its imposing limestone walls, the upper reaches and tops of which are entirely fringed with tropical greenery and trees. Craggy rock formations âdripâ down into the waters. The roof of the lagoon and the palm fronds about are reflected artistically in the lagoons placid waters.
The tide clearly still a good way in, despite all the time itâs taken me to mince my way down here! Our voices echo and rebound around the circular walls. After a bit of dithering and following Natalieâs more adventurous lead once more itâs time to carefully step over the (very f**king sharp!) rocky cavern floor and to swim out into the cool waters of the lagoon. This is a really great conclusion to the physical and psychological strains of this little trek. A moment of peace. Almost alone. No hordes of tourists down here. In The Land That Time Forgot. Strange to think that as the crow flies theyâre all happily frying on a beach probably no more than 100 metres due west but they might as well be in Timbuktu. Lying on ones back here, you are rewarded with quite a magnificent view of the elliptical âeyeâ shape that rests above in the sky; the silhouetted surrounds of the tree-fringed roof of the lagoon basin.
The tree-fringed roof of Railay Lagoon (the best I could manage with the P.O.S.2000 I'm affraid!)
Our slight concerns about our capacity to lift ourselves back up the ropes and out prove unfounded and with a bit of undignified scrambling, pulling and scraping Nat and I are soon aaaall the way back up and aaaall the way back down. Glad to have done what we set out to achieve, and glad to have nothing more strenuous to undertake for the rest of the day than chilling on Ao Phra Nang beach and sorting out the logistics for our respective onward journeys. For me, Iâm heading further south, ultimate destination Ko Lipe. Natalieâs off north east to visit one of her best friends on Koh Tao. By curious coincidence this friend, it turns out, is Sarah, one of the cherished members of the gang; the little Festive Family who saw Christmas in with me at the SpicyThai Backpackers Hostel in Chiang Mai.
And so we see once more, the small interconnections of travel that weave us all together in this apparently so small World.
Ao Phra Nang bay
One further coincidence is the fact that I have happened for the first time (knowingly anyway) upon my first two âaccidentalâ TravBuddies too! Both Nat and Sarah being infrequent members of the glorious TB fraternity, so it seems only apt that Nat is by far and away one of the pleasantest, most enjoyable people I have had the good fortune for to fuse my travel trajectory with for a time. Itâs been a near perfect three days of fun, sun and relaxation with just the right dash of adventure in it and a total surfeit of gorgeous, gorgeous natural surroundings. I was starting to get ever so slightly jaded from constant travel and itinerating when Natalie fluttered down besides me in Bangkok and her company and good humour have thankfully thoroughly reinvigorated me for the trail that lies ahead.
A little four foot, 11 (âAND a half!â ) inch prism of light through which I have been able to refract a little of my own tired rays of personality to split them back into the many coloured rainbow I was beginning to forget I possessed within myself, so I must end here by thanking her profoundly for that!
"I left my heart in Railay!" - german man sings this to me as he spots me taking this photo
Farewell beautiful Railay. Farewell Pink Honey Bee.