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.
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.
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.