Rai Ley/Ton Sai [Day One]
Plan: Stay in a beach bungalow (cheap and awesome) in Rai Ley.
After that terrifying experience, awesome times followed.
Stumbling out of the boat, kissing the ground, and clinging to random strangers, we arrived in Rai Ley. This island is known particularly well among climbers – awesome rock with great views and a variety of routes – and therefore was a must-see for Jill and I, climbers who were suffering withdrawal from the lack of climbing in Bangkok.
We tried to track down the infamously cheap beach bungalows in either East or West Rai Ley, but realized that these are located on an entirely separate part of the island: Ton Sai.
We took a 30-second longboat ride over to the Ton Sai beach, and it was an entirely different atmosphere. Rather than baby boomers with private yoga instructors and random beach-bathers, we encountered beaming reggae-blasting bartenders, a charming man getting a traditional Thai tattoo, and various “zen” climbers making their way to/from climbs and eachothers bungalows. The ambience was welcoming and relaxing. All of the structures facing the beach were wood, giving the place a Swiss-Family Robinson feel that has become quite common throughout my Thai journeys.
We made our way to a place called Mambo – a restaurant/bungalow property right on the beachfront. The staff were a bit difficult to understand (language barrier), but we quickly got three bungalows for the six of us and dropped off our stuff. The bungalows weren’t much – tiny huts with one lightbulb, electricity only from 7:00pm-7:00am, and a small metal shack in the back serving as the restroom (“hong nam” for Thai-learners).
We headed to the place next door (it had a sign for Chai tea – hello) to chillax, regroup, and figure out our plan for the night/next day. We chatted with a lovely climber who was sitting down to endure his new tattoo. He opted for the traditional Thai tattoo – made with tiny individual pricks with bamboo. Much more painful than modern tattooing, but apparently more sanitary and definitely a unique experience. The tattoo was down his spine – and read something like “Life is Beautiful” in Thai.
Over the small wooden railing, we noticed some guys slacklining just next to us (the cafe has it’s own, of course). Jill and I were intrigued – and temporarily abandoned our chai to try it out. Turns out slacklining is easy with a helping hand, but quite humbling if you attempt it on your own. Let’s just say Jill and I were – from that moment – determined to become slacklining pros.
We ended up talking with the guys – James, James (Jimmy), Ian, and Tino – through dinner, post-dinner drinks, and eventually moved to the beach for some impromtu local fire-breathing, dancing, and lighting of a Thai lantern (google “Loi Krathong” for enlightenment, and a way-more-impressive display).