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Mikey's Escapades

I'm travelling places so hopefully stuff happens

Swimming in Sea, Swimming in Beer

It was Christmas Eve in Otres Village and it was hot. Crazy hot. Once we managed to brave the sunlight and escape the air con in our rooms at Vacation Bungalow we headed straight for the beach. Just a 5 minute walk yet in the baking heat it felt like crossing the Valley of Death. Especially with a hangover deriving from a shitload of Angkor Beers the night before. Fortunately once we reached the beach there before stood miles of pristine, perfect hungover hot day remedy. A massive stretch of sand with barely any people on it. Trees scattered about to provide shade where needed, yet not too many to crowd the beach. But most importantly the sea was absolutely sublime. It stretched out in all directions, but it wasn’t just that. It was the fact that it was the absolute perfect temperature and the perfect depth that made it so fantastic. Deep enough to fully submerge yourself and have a good swim, yet shallow enough to play frisbee and mess about while keeping cool. Cold enough to completely refresh you and provide an utter respite from the baking heat, yet warm enough that you could lie in there for hours, spending a whole day chatting and shuffling around with your hands, without ever feeling the need to evacuate with chills. In fact this is exactly what Rob had to do. For the evening before – the first he had spent with his friends after many days of planning – he decided to jump over a gate in the middle of the night and completely destroyed his foot. What was worse was that there was a man sleeping next to the gate who’s specific job it was to open it for people. For the next two weeks Rob would be hopping from place to place, hailing lifts with strangers where he could, and bobbing in the ocean to take the pressure off at any given opportunity.

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Otres Beach, Otres Village

Obviously we spent the whole day at the beach, drinking beers from the local shop and slacklining between palm trees. Though I wouldn’t recommend slacklining between palm trees. Their shallow roots clearly aren’t designed for it, as we discovered to our detriment…..

That night we went to Otres Village Market. Kind of a big all round bar/food/events kind of place. I guess they also have markets there sometimes but I never got round to finding this out. Every Saturday they have live music on, and as luck would have it (or more likely careful planning) our friends were going to be playing a gig.

The whole load of us, around 18 by now, headed over and found a spot in front of the band stand. It was a good place Otres Village Market. Decent prices on beer and cocktails, super tasty local food, also inexpensive. And the atmosphere was great. We all chilled throughout the evening and got suitably mashed, topping up the beers consumed on the beach earlier.

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Live Music at Otres Village Market

Sadly though it was eventually time to leave. And to navigate our way back to the bungalows. As I’m sure you can imagine this was a difficult task. Twenty friends (at this point more had turned up…) on pretty much their first night ever in Cambodia trying to navigate their way back down random dust roads in the middle of the night. Everyone scattered in different directions.

Rob was forced to hail a tuk tuk due to his dodgy foot so he got home safely with Kim and Johanna, though on the journey back they received a nasty surprise in the form of a snake launched at their feet. A lot of debate would happen regarding this snake after the event, but still one cannot ascertain who threw the snake, and whether it was alive or dead.

Jake decided it was a fantastic idea to carry Merryn back to the bungalows. I was trying to navigate our route through the darkness, in which every road looked the same, while peeking out of the corner of my eye to check they were not going to do unto themselves some serious damage. After a couple of falls I took a stand.

‘Jake!’ I said, full of authority. ‘You must no longer carry Merryn or you will do yourselves some harm.’ Jake looked at me with a mischievous glint in his eye. He picked Merryn in a front carry kind of like you’d carry a sack of potatoes, and started running as fast as he could. It was about twenty feet before his legs went wobbly. Wibbling around like jelly as his centre of balance grew further and further forward. Eventually doing that helpless movement where you frantically try to regain balance by running faster and faster, but this just adds to the momentum that increases the toppling effect.

KAMTHUMP. They landed heavily onto the tarmac, Merryn first, Jake almost going head over heels, his arms outstretched. They lay on the floor in a heap. I laughed.

I’m not sure how we made it back after that, but the important thing is that we did. The following morning Merryn came up to me with a genuine look of disbelief.

“How on Earth did I get this horrible bruise?” She enquired.

My mind was perplexed.

 

 

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A High Velocity Welcome to Cambodia

It was sadly the day to leave Thailand, for a massive group rendezvous in Cambodia. Freddie and I hopped on cheap Air Asia flights from Krabi to Bangkok, where we were to meet his girlfriend Kim. He text her saying what time we were due to arrive, but that as the flights were being temperamental we could in theory land at any time. This gave her a ‘big window’ in which to meet us at the arrivals gate, he said.

When we landed we finally managed to track down a bamboozled Kim. She had somehow totally misinterpreted what Freddie had said, and had spent an hour searching the airport for a ‘big window’.

But at least we had finally met up together, and hopped on a collective flight to Cambodia.

We were due to be meeting our friends in Otres Village, just down the road from Sihanoukville on the Cambodian Coast. We had assumed this would be a 30-40 minute taxi ride. But instead we found out it was 3-4 hours. Fortunately the two friends in Otres making the arrangements had organised a taxi driver for us.

What proceeded next were 4 of the most terrifying hours of my life. Our driver, ‘G’, was an excellent driver, especially going by the Cambodian standards I would later find out. Yet the entire journey was spent careening down a two way road, overtaking huge articulated lorries every 30 seconds. Of course the traffic going the other direction was doing the same, which meant every overtake was a life or death game of chicken, in which it was down to the driver to predict the precise timing it would take to inch further up the road. G would rage up behind a truck, flash his lights wildly, then poke the nose of his car out into the oncoming traffic. This way he could check if there was traffic coming. I’m sure you can imagine the problem with this. If he timed it wrong, we were dust.

If the coast were clear he’d quickly swing out and slam his foot on the accelerator, pelting it past the truck as he flashed his lights in a series that denoted some common language I could never work out. Speeding up to the front of the truck, by now with oncoming traffic visibly coming towards us in the distance, he would only then find out what was in front of the truck. Invariably this would end up being another truck. And G would face the decision. Try to edge in between these two trucks without getting pulverised, or slam the accelerator even harder and overtake the next truck. Both of these options were just as terrifying as each other. My nerves ran thick with electric current.

To top all this off there were a ridiculous amount of motorbikes on the road, driving like maniacs. One guy was sat about two feet behind the truck in front, with no helmet on and chatting away merrily on his phone. As the truck overtook another he pulled out behind it, still two feet behind it and STILL ON HIS PHONE! Literally if anything had caused that driver to even gently stroke his brakes the mobile phone moped man would be gone from this planet forever.

To add another addition to this terror, it very quickly got dark. This meant it was practically impossible for G to see anyone crossing the road until we were basically on them. Slamming his brakes to prevent mass carnage and taking out entire families. And of course G kept informing us just how tired he was, and buying Cambodian red bull in a vague attempt to fight off the fatigue.

But eventually, with the utmost relief, we made it to Otres Village. To Otres Long Beach Bungalows. And there before us were 15 of our friends from home. Sitting and chatting merrily. Ready with hugs. And most importantly they had a crate of Angkor Beer. Immediately it became evident. Every single second of the terror ride with G had been worth it.

Welcome to Cambodia

A Terrible Climbing Experience – Railay

Finally the morning came that Freddie and I were going to go climbing in Railay. We’d arranged it the night before, so we got up super early and popped to a local restraurant for an omelette breakfast. It really hit the spot, so we scurried over to the climbing hut to begin our day of fun.

Then my hangover kicked in. It was horrific. Like a gargantuan foggy wave I was overwhelmed, my balance lost and my stomach out of control. This was the worst possible timing.

The climbing leader for the day gathered us together and introduced himself. The group we had consisted of 3 others as well as Freddie and I. Then he took us all on a boat ride to a decent wall to begin on.

I couldn’t speak. Pretty much all my faculties had gone. The journey to the wall consisted of me looking at the floor and refusing to interact with anything. But after an age we reached the wall, the challenge of all eternity.

One of the other lads in the group went first. I lay down on the grass in the shade, rolling around in discomfort. But I was next up. “Let’s do this”, I thought.

I tied up my rope as quickly as I could, then with the urgency of a bomb disposal unit disarming a device I pelted it up the wall as fast as possible. Back down I came, gave the climb leader a little smile, untied my rope, then ran around the corner to throw up my breakfast. This is how my day went for a number of hours. Lying in the grass as the world spiralled in front of me until I was called on to climb. Climbing as quick as I could then getting horizontal as soon as I hit the ground. I’ll be honest the climbing in Railay was one of the things I was most looking forward to on my 4 month travelling trip, and this was not what I expected.

I can guarantee I’ll be back one day though, as the walls and routes were incredible. There were climbs for every difficulty, from absolute beginner to unbelievably extreme. The community is fantastic too, with everyone willing to help each other and give friendly advice when needed. The area is not overwhelmed with tourists, and the prices in Tonsai are very reasonable. I will definitely be back.

But sadly this wasn’t my time. I spent 4 hours wishing my climb was over. And then the point came, we’d made it. I’d attempted every climb, and hadn’t given up like I thought I would. We rushed back to the bungalow as fast as we could, and watched Gladiator for the rest of that day.

Shadows and Dust.

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Freddie on the wall at Railay

Mr Lightyhead

Freddie and I awoke with horrific hangovers. This was meant to be a climbing day, but we quickly changed our plans. We had two full days left in Tonsai – these were going to be climbing days but we instead decided, one day for drinking, one day for climbing. Today could be our drinking day.

We clambered onto our balcony, cracked open a bottle of Thai whisky – Hong Thong – and began playing Christmas songs at extremely high volume. It was mid December after all. Singing along at the top of our voices, ‘OH I WISH IT COULD BE CHRISTMAS…. EVERYDAAAAY!’ We managed to disturb everyone in the entire vicinity.

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Freddie with his Hong Thong 

Eventually we’d drunk enough to totally overcome our hangovers, so we ventured out to the next bay around – West Railay. As there is no real path round to Railay from Tonsai you either have to get a boat, or follow a small overgrown path over a huge hump in the headland. It takes about 20 minutes and you must clamber over huge boulders, through think jungle vegetation and navigate around cracks and caverns that emerge at your feet as the waves have washed the ground away. Obviously we chose the path, as we could save money on a boat and of course it’s way more fun. But with our bellies full of Hong Thong it wasn’t exactly easy. We stumbled and clamoured through all the obstacles, but eventually emerged out on to the beach of West Railay. You basically just appear out of the jungle on top of a rock, and surprise all the sunbathers who had no idea there could be a path anywhere in the area. We hopped on to the beach and wandered through.

Railway is the main area for easily accessible climbing, but it’s also extremely built up. The beach out front is beautiful but sadly has a lot of boat traffic. It is still a stunning place to hang out and swim, with the huge cliffs rising out of the seas in the background.

But the heat was too intense for us – so we wandered through the built up centre of the island to get to East Railay. This is a stretch of hotels and restaurants that has a great chilled out vibe, but has no real beach to speak of – the concrete path just drops off straight into the ocean. Nonetheless it was a great place to hang out, drink beers and eat pizzas.

In fact we had a lot of beers, and even stopped at a tiny little bar where the owner let us play some criminally loud drum and bass through his speakers while he knocked us up some fantastic cocktails. We smashed a few drinks here, watching the waves crash on the mangroves at the shore and spotting a slow loris climbing in the trees above. But it soon got dark – and we had plans.

We’d discovered a bar earlier that day that had a Thai boxing ring. ‘This could be a good opportunity to experience the real Thailand’ we thought. So we grabbed some beers and settled in the crowd. A really annoying Westerner with dreadlocks became the announcer, and introduced first up some fire poi. I’m not gona lie, it was pretty impressive, but it felt a bit odd watching extremely young local boys spinning fire round for the entertainment of drunken foreigners. But we let it slide and waited for the main event – the boxing.

Two men came out, introduced by the guy in dreads. They began to fight, and it was pretty brutal. But the way it was happening didn’t sit right with Fred and I. It felt less like a competition between athletes and more like a show spectacular put on for tourists alone, in which the aim was to have as much violence as possible for the sake of it. No finesse or skill like you’d normally find in a bout. It all felt pretty exploitative, and so we left downhearted.

We headed back to the beach to journey home to Tonsai. On the beach it was pitch black. We were very drunk wandering along and spotted a weird light floating in the ocean. It was travelling alongside us and we couldn’t work out what it was. Some underwater creature with a luminescent trap on its nose? A local searching for precious items to sell in his shop? Aliens perhaps? Eventually we worked it out – someone was walking in the sea with a torch on his head. We laughed at the pointlessness of his situation, and christened him ‘Mr Lightyhead’.

Then we got to the path to Tonsai, over the rocks. Or at least we got to where the path was meant to be. My phone, our only source of light, had ran out of battery a few metres back. At the time we’d concluded it would be easy to navigate with our hands. But now we realised this was going to take a very, very long time.

We walked up to the shoreline and tried to work it out. Eventually we spotted a gap in the treeline which had to be the path. Only it was 3 foot deep in water. There was nothing for it, we had to wade. Into the sea we went, where to our delight our feet were lit up by a plethora of bioluminescence, helping us to avoid the sharp rocks hidden beneath the surface. But still at the entrance to the path we were feeling blindly with our hands, grasping for rock to see if it was smooth from the feet of travellers past. Eventually we found the start, and getting washed about in the waves pulled ourselves up. We’d made a start, but now our minds were filled with despair. It was pitch black. Utterly dark. We were going to have to feel our way every single inch, every tiny step. Soaking wet, covered in sand and dirt, we tried to overcome our trepidation.

But then he came out of the darkness. Came to rescue us from the smothering blackness of night. Our saviour. Mr Lightyhead.

By sheer coincidence he was returning to Tonsai too. His head torch, once mocked, now a ray of burning hope. We clung to him as he took us through the jungle, over the rocks, around the holes. Every step appreciating just how long this would have taken on our own.

After 20 minutes smiles beamed on our faces as we reached the sands of home and we thanked Mr Lightyhead with every bit of gratitude left in our hearts. We decided to find out who he was and where he lived so we could thank him properly the next day.

But when we turned around. He was gone.

A Climber’s Haven – Tonsai

It was early in the morning when we arrived at Ao Nang so we had a scout around. There are a number of options for accomodation when it comes to staying near Railay for climbing. Railay is on a small peninsular that can only be reached by boat. So the options are staying on Railay itself, in some very expensive resorts. Staying at Tonsai, which is a small bay around the corner from Railay – requiring a clamber over some rocks to get to the climbing spots. Or there’s Ao Nang on the mainland, from which you can get fairly cheap accomodation and hop on boats to the climbing spots each morning and evening. Upon arriving at Ao Nang we immediately concluded it was a shithole. So we parked up our bikes outside a massage house and hopped on a cheap boat to Tonsai.

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Freddie hopping off the boat at Tonsai

We immediately liked Tonsai. Though it is a strange place. It’s a tiny bay completely surrounded and cut off by huge karst rock cliffs that burst seemingly out of nowhere and continue up until they block out the sun. There is a pleasant beach but immediately behind the beach is a vast patch of wild jungle. Apparently some rich man purchased this land years ago, and hasn’t subsequently built on it. Instead he built a wall around it. It’s an utterly strange and a shockingly selfish thing to do, isolating such an area on a patch of land where a real community is thriving. This has meant all the accomodation and restaurants are behind this patch of jungle, off a rough cement road. It’s utterly weird. But fortunately the resident climbing community has risen to the challenge. Beautiful pieces of graffiti adorn the wall. Bungalows spring off the road in all sorts of places. Fantastic restaurants and chilled out bars are squeezed into every gap. It’s just an all round chilled out place.

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Some Graffiti on The Wall

We had fun exploring all these places whilst looking for somewhere to stay. All the intricate paths spread out into the forest and up hill-sides, with friendly entrepreneurial locals selling their little business with real passion. Eventually we settled on Mountain View Resort. Mainly because Freddie loved the lady who owned it (they spent a particularly long time debating the price we should pay), but also because the place was beautiful. Wooden huts on stilts lined a small winding path heading up towards the cliffs. Little hedges and patches of grass gave the whole place a garden feel.

The first thing we did upon getting into our hut was sit on the balcony with some whisky. We sat there guzzling whilst watching monkeys hop around in the trees in front of us, and small black squirrels scuttled about, hopping from rooftop to rooftop like they had elastic bands instead of legs.

Eventually we realised we had somehow locked ourselves out of our bungalow and onto our balcony. I don’t even know how this is possible. Thus began Freddie’s first climbing challenge. He had to climb down 10ft of the extremely rickety wooden balcony handrail and stilts, drop in to a bush, then let himself in the front door in order to release me from my prison. Despite some close calls he managed it. And we were free.

I placed my rucksack on the wooden shelf inside but with an almighty crash it cascaded to the floor and splintered in all directions. This was not a good start, we’d only been here a few hours yet we’d locked ourselves out and destroyed half the bungalow. The only safe option was to go out.

We ended up at Viking Bar. A proper ramshackle wooden old bar with a great atmosphere. We smashed a load of beers and chatted to some climbers, trying to make out we knew what we were talking about whilst also trying to get some free tuition. We had no luck that. But then the fire poi and slackliners came out.

I usually get a bit bored with poi but this fire poi was extreme, this guy was swinging out patterns I didn’t even know were possible with balls on a string. It was very impressive, but not as impressive as the slackliners. Having tried slacklining I have a massive appreciation of how difficult it is. But these locals were taking it to a whole other level. Balancing on their heads and all sorts. Then one guy started bouncing up and down, before springing himself from one slackline into the air and landing on another then springing off that back to the first. Bouncing to and fro like a Kangaroo on speed, each time balancing on a tiny sliver of slackline, swinging back and forth, wiggling his legs faster than the speed of light. It was magical.

On the way back to our bungalow Freddie and I jumped into the back of a parked up pickup truck to have a philosophical chat. At Tonsai we had already witnessed some of the most amazing physical feats of our lives. But we hadn’t even seen any climbing yet. We returned to our bungalow and dreamt happy thoughts, as around us the monkeys slept in the trees.

Back North on Broken Bikes

Freddie and I were desperate to get to Tonsai. The gateway to Railay, a climbing mecca just north of Krabi. It was to be a long 350km motorbike drive to get there – from Pak Bara to Ao Nang. We were sad to be leaving Ko Tarutao, but it was time for a different adventure to begin.

We hopped on our bikes, slathered ourselves in sun cream and began to drive. The target was Trang, a city in the middle of the Thai peninsula, where we would spend the night as a break. We arrived sweaty and tired, and immediately grabbed some beers at a tiny restaurant with some mega air con.

Then we found a hotel to stay at. It was the best we could find, but it was one of the strangest places I have ever stayed. It was a massive multi-storey cement block full of dingy rooms you’d imagine contains the murder from a Raymond Chandler detective noir. The hotel also expanded across any alleyway to encompass the building opposite, with corrugated iron panels slapped across the top as a makeshift roof. Drips feel audibly into dark nooks and crannies, lit by the glimmer of various neon lights. It was like a scene straight out of Bladerunner. We immediately comtemplated leaving the city for a more favourable locale. But then it began to rain. Some of the hardest rain I have ever seen. We were trapped in Trang.

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The Weirdest Hotel in Thailand

So we sat under cover from the rain in the nearest bar and smashed as many beers as possible until the time would come that we could leave this godforsaken city in our dust.

And so it was that we hopped on our bikes the following morning and continued the trek north. By this point in our travels my bike had seen some pretty terrible days, and as a result it was falling to bits. It could barely accelerate and we still had to kick start it every time. There was also a constant ominous rattle as a permanent reminder of our proximity to death by crash. We decided to switch it out at the rental place as we passed Krabi.

Unlike our previous drive in to Krabi, this one didn’t go so well. Freddie was angry that the bike was faulty, so he refused to put any petrol in it before giving it back.

“We’ll be ok with what we have”, he said confidently.

So about 2km outside Krabi the bike ran out of fuel. It sputtered, puffed and sighed a deep sigh. Then drifted to a halt at the side of the road.

“Shit!” We simultaneously thought. But oh no, we were in luck! For somehow out of sheer glorious luck Freddie had broken down right next to a petrol seller. In many South East Asian countries there are clever entrepreneurs who fill bottles of any kind with petrol to sell to passing motorists. Beer bottles, whisky bottles, every bottle imaginable, stacked one upon another with highly flammable liquid inside. This petrol seller was a godsend to us, or so we thought. Freddie bought a bottle from the ultra friendly elderly gentleman and filled the bike. But when we went to kickstart it we reached a little problem. It would not start. We tried everything, stamping and kicking and twisting and pushing. The elderly gentleman came over and tried himself, giving us a disapproving look with his eyes. But it was not to be. Even he, weathered with the knowledge of the years as his was, could not get the bike started. There was only one resort. I would have to sit on the dodgy bike while Freddie drove behind pushing me with an outstretched leg. This would be the second time in two weeks we’d had to do this, only this time it was much further and on a bloody road.

I wobbled all over as cars, trucks and motorbikes zoomed past us on either side. Freddie went red with exertion, his leg trembling with the strain. But somehow, fortunately, we made it. Freddie unleashed his wrath on the motorbike hire guy, but with his chilled out rental-guy demeanour everything just washed to nowhere. Fortunately he understood our plight enough to switch our dodgy bike for a better, much faster one. Freddie was exceedingly content with this, and so on we rushed to Ao Nang, the gateway to our rock climbing adventure…..

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Filling the bike with a bottle of flammables 

The Crocodile Cave

Koh Tarutao is one of my favourite Islands in the world. It has everything – quiet stretches of empty beach, a thriving ecosystem, an interesting cultural history. But there’s one thing that I like above all else about the island – The Crocodile Cave.

The friendly ranger man informed Freddie and I of a cave up a river that few people explored. It was known as the Crocodile Cave because it used to be infested with the things, but apparently there were no longer any living there… Either way we couldn’t turn down the opportunity.

We wandered down to the sleepy shore of the river, where a couple of locals were snoozing under a tree. They produced a kayak from a bush and slid it into the water, giving us some pretty vague directions. “Stick to the left an hour and you’ll be fine. But don’t get lost.”

We hopped in and began to paddle.

The river was a huge sweeping body of water, overwhelmed on both sides with dense mangroves. As we paddled we realised why the locals had been so adamant we should stick to one side. Without doing so it would be easy to get lost in the tiny tributaries that disappeared in every direction. We would peer into them as we paddled to see pathways fading into a maze of mangrove, where you could be consumed forever.

As we slowly paddled we drifted past some beautiful karst rock formations, but other than that it was only mangrove. We didn’t see a single soul or sign of human existence. The beauty and peacefulness of the river was mesmerising.

Eventually we reached a point where we could go no further, the river faded into a mass of foliage impossible to penetrate. A calm bay surrounded by rock, with the sun spattering gently on the water’s surface. This was the entrance to the Crocodile Cave.

Like Indiana Jones and one of his sidekicks, we tied up our kayak to the mooring and jumped on to dry land. There was a barely existant path into the jungle, over bridges of rotting wood and loose rocks that crumbled into waters below. But eventually we found it – a large dark opening in the side of the cliff with a turquoise pool of water at the entrance. A flimsy wooden platform led us inside where we came across a massive makeshift plastic raft. There was a huge rotten rope attached to the wooden platform that went through a loop on the raft and then entered the pitch black water on the other side, slowly disappearing into the depths of the cave.

We hopped aboard, beginning to feel the murky drip of fear creep down our backs. The raft was slippery with filth and slime. One wrong move and you’d be overboard, into the unknown darkness of the potentially crocodile infested pool. But we overcame the fear, and began to pull.

Yanking the rope between my hands we began to move slowly into the depths, gliding along the lifeless ebony surface. Freddie shone the only light source we had – a head torch – to reveal the route as much as possible. The darkness became oppressive as we got deeper, the light from the entrance disappearing quickly around a corner. Using our hands to navigate around stalactites and stalagmites that broke through the water like monstrous ogres. Bats were inches above our heads, chattering as they clung to the ceiling, or swooping and flapping around us as we disturbed their slumber.

The journey was only eighty metres, but in the darkness it felt like a mile. As though we had entered a new realm of existence. A realm where time is just a myth. Fears abounded in our minds. What if the rope broke? We’d be lost in this dark watery cave until the sleepy Thais on the shore noticed we were gone and searched for us. What if there was an earthquake and the entrance was blocked? We’d be stuck inside living like savages off the bats we can catch and the insects we could scrape from the walls. Eventually the torch would fade and we would no longer recognise each other’s faces, and the hunger might take us to places of unimaginable horror. What if there were things in here? Creatures that had evolved – once human or reptile, now just blackened souls out to eat anything they can get their mutated hands on……

Fortunately the raft touched a surface. A wooden platform, covered in grime but still intact. We tied the raft up, extremely carefully, and hopped on to dry land, relieved beyond belief.

But the fear was still there. We were eighty metres into a pitch black cave and wandering around. The head torch our only ray of hope. There were huge stalactites cascading from the ceilings, and stalagmites millions of years old commandeering attention from the middle of the massive open tomb. We felt like pioneers, lucky to see this astounding natural world before it gets developed and tourists are led in trains with a guide at the front brandishing a list of rules. We could witness the raw cave ecosystem – bats on the ceiling bringing in precious fuel, feeding the plethora of insects and arthropods with their guano. It was amazing.

But terrifying. It didn’t take long for the fears to creep in again. There were branches of cave in all directions, we could easily get lost. And the floor was sticky with clay, threatening to hold you prisoner with every step. We headed back to the raft, glad to be venturing once again towards the real world. As we pulled ourselves along the rope, the bright light of the entrance within our grasp and the sunlight nearly on my face, I imagined a creature – half man, half reptile – watching us and cursing with screeches and howls on the sticky clay floor. For he had missed his chance. We had survived the Crocodile Cave.

 

Crabs, Camping and a little Carnage

I woke to the sound of waves crashing just outside my tent. The park ranger had told me not to pitch too close to the sea for fear of a high tide, but the gamble had paid off. I didn’t get wet, and I awoke inches from the clear water.

Freddie was to arrive around midday, so I took the opportunity to wander the grounds of the national park site and educate myself on the history of the island. It used to be an old prison colony, but during World War II the food supplies stopped coming from the mainland. As a result, and out of desperation, the prison guards and prisoners sided together to build a fleet. They started a pirate nation that terrorised the coast all the way up to Myanmar, and were not properly stopped for a number of decades. An amazing story of people resorting to the extremes in order to survive and finding they were actually pretty good at it.

At midday I sat and watched the boats pull up. More than one boat arrived, each with at least 30 people, but all of these passengers were to continue on to Koh Lipe. Just Freddie and a couple of others would be inhabiting my near-private Island. He walked off the boat with a smile on his face, and I gave him a hug. Our Koh Tarutao adventure was about to begin.

We set up our camp, this time moving yet closer to the tideline, and swung our hammocks between two trees. Freddie was still feeling a bit sick so we decided a hammocks day was in order. This suited me perfectly.

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Freddie with his Hammock

We watched the ocean, listened to tunes and drank some Chang beer. At sunset we witnessed an amazing natural phenomenon. From immediately below us, where the sand began, to as far as we could see. Crabs of all sizes emerged from holes. Some small, some big. Some massive. From our vantage points we could witness the huge web of moving creatures as it expanded to cover the whole expanse of the low-tide beach. Crabs would have disputes, battling each other like there was nothing else in this world but their small hole in their small patch of sand. I guess in their minds there wasn’t. Sometimes I think it would be nice to inhabit a world so tiny, one that holds everything you have of value, and you have need of nothing more. The sun set slowly behind them and the living beach continued its activity until it was too dark for anything to see.

That night there was a torrential downpour. I was unbelievably snug and warm, cosy in my sleeping bag as I listened to the rain outside. After a terrific night’s sleep I woke and left my tent, to find Freddie standing next to his. His head was bowed, he looked distraught. At his feet was the biggest mess of a tent I have ever seen. A heap of fabric sodden with moist.

Freddie regaled me with the tale of his night. Shortly after the downpour began his tent had collapsed. He woke to the clinging fabric on his face as water cascaded in from every angle. Onto his bag, his clothes, his everything. He’d evacuated his tent at immense speed and carried his belongings amidst the storm to the nearest shelter, the museum. There he had spread out all his possessions and slept on the concrete floor, no protection from the plethora of mosquitos that for some reason absolutely love the museum.

I looked at Freddie. He was very angry.

He marched over to the super friendly smiley National Park ranger and began giving him what for. Freddie unleashed his fury on the man. But the smiling ranger was a porous creature, who could succumb to no wrath. He was like the sea defences that absorb and negate the power of the tides. He stood there with a warm smile, and the rage of Freddie was diffused.

Freddie replaced his tent with a sturdy one. And we made our plan for the day. Next stop was the Crocodile Cave…….

Beaches and Creatures on Koh Tarutao

Freddie was sick and suffering. But it was still island time for me. So I left him in bed with some Imodium to clog his body, took my bag and wandered to the ferry terminal. 

Even before leaving the accomodation I had a mini adventure. Firstly Freddie’s boxer shorts got blown off the porch wall and into some water below. I had to swiftly grab a stick and scoop them out, sinking as they were like the titanic. Fortunately I just saved them and had them hanging out to dry before he even realised. 

Then I came across a poor little crab on the walkway. With a startled panic it  it travelled with all the haste it could muster into the only safe haven it knew – the water below. With a ‘plop’ it landed and lay just below the surface. Still. Stunned. ‘Phew’, the little crab thought, ‘I am safe’. He moved his legs to swim. And..

‘GOBBLE’. 

One of the biggest fishes I have ever seen appeared out of nowhere and with one sweeping jaw action swallowed the little crab whole. Poor little crab, oh the adventures he might have had. And now he was dead.
But anyway I made it to the ferry on time, having stored my motorbike at the accomodation. The ferry was only 450 baht, and was a speed boat of massive proportions. It smashed it across the sea to Koh Tarutao at tremendous speed, and I loved every second. The engineer standing by the propellers gave me a sip of a mysterious beverage he had. Probably a special engineer’s ether.

As we came into Koh Tarutao I saw a huge stretch of sand before me , with not a soul in sight. The majority of people on my boat were staying on to go to the much busier island of Koh Lipe. Only about 6 people got off with me, and I strolled down the calm sunshine spattered path to the nearest structure. It was an old educational building made from wood with a corrugated iron roof. It had artifacts from the island and explained the amazing history there.


I immediately loved Koh Tarutao. It was like visiting a holiday camp you used to go with scouts or school. The kind of place I could imagine visiting as a kid, and being overwhelmed by the potential for mystery and skullduggery hidden in every corner. Barely a concrete path was in existence, and scattered around were numerous wooden huts and buildings. All hidden throughout the trees and grass, and looking across a lawn to the sea.

The reception held a small peaceful looking man with a permanent smile on his face. It was here I picked up a tent for 150 baht, a sleeping bag and roll mat for 100 baht, and was told I could pitch anywhere I pleased.

Foolishly I decided to carry all my stuff barefoot to the beach. With my heavy backpack on my back and my tent in my arms I entered the grassy lawn. Only to find this was no lawn. This was a minefield.

Halway across the lawn I heavily placed my collective weight onto my right foot, below which was the spikiest seedball known to man. I yelped in pain and stepped back, only to land myself on another treacherous ball of pain. I yelped again but refrained from moving. I looked around. The balls were everywhere, and I was surrounded. My flip flops were back with the nice man in his safe reception. I had to drop my stuff, and inch by inch slowly tiptoe back to the footwear. What seemed like miles of hazardous ground was eventually passed, and I nursed my bleeding feet like John McClane in the bathroom at the Nakatomi Plaza.

Fortunately I soon recovered, placed my tent no more than 4 feet from the beach, and decided to take a walk. There were a maximum of 4 tents on the whole beach, and none within earshot of mine. And the few people that were staying in the huts were little to be seen. I’d been led to believe islands like this no longer exist in Thailand, but it appears I had been deceived.

Within a few minutes of walking in the jungle I spotted numerous butterflies, monkeys, hornbills and even some greater racket-tailed drongos flying amongst the trees. This was my kind of island.

That evening I sat in peace eating my dinner on the veranda of the only restaurant around, watching the wild pigs scavenging and listenening to the noises of the jungle, before sleeping with the sound of waves crashing metres from my ears.

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