I may be the last Aussie on Earth to have visited; but now, at the grand conclusion of my world trip, I've finally visited Thailand. And let's face it: Thailand is the no. 1 budget travel destination in the world, and no true round-the-world backpacking trip would be complete without it. The Land of Smiles is home to sunny beach paradises, steamy tropical jungles, curry that redefines curry, a Buddhist religious heritage of great richness, cheap shopping to please anyone... and more. The only thing that remains a puzzle: what took me so long to get here?
Stewie's a great bloke, who's originally from sheeped-in-history Kiwiland, but who now lives in Brisbane as a high-school science teacher. Stewie's just been up in Laos, and the guy absolutely will not stop raving about the place: if he can be believed, then Laos is truly the most kick-a$$ place in the world, and at an unbelievably low price. Stewie's a lethal party animal; and like everyone else here on Ton Sai, he's here mainly to enjoy the amazing climbing to be found on this rather rocky ol' peninsula.
Randomness is part of travelness. And as travelness goes, tonight was filled with randomness. I bumped into a group of six (newly-acquainted) people this evening: four Germans, and two Austrians. Just walked past them on my way down to towards the beach, here at Ton Sai; and next thing I knew, I was off to "The Kasbah" with them, to join in on dinner and drinks. Then, what do you know: just after dinner, it was happy hour — 2-for-1 on Sang Som (Thai whisky) and coke — so out poured the rounds. And what's more: amidst the rainbow-coloured décor and the haze of weed smoke, we managed to find a Jenga set; and we enjoyed several hilarious rounds of this game (always funnier after a few drinks). Strange night, but good times.
Day two of my three-day rock climbing course stepped things up a notch. Yesterday was good fun, but nothing serious: just a few non-technical climbs on beginner runs, where I was teamed up with various people doing no-frills half-day sessions. Today, my venerable instructor Let taught me the most important and the most basic of technical climbing skills: how to perform top-rope lead climbing. It's very different to simply scrambling up carefree, with a rope above your head the entire time: more thrilling, but also far more scary.
For something completely different, this afternoon I continued doing what I started this morning: more fun climbing! We were a group of four this afternoon (plus Let as our instructor): Martina, a crazy Korean guy and his wife, and myself; and instead of the "1-2-3" wall, this time we headed over to the "Diamond Cave" cliffs, up on the northern side of Railay East bay. The climbing continued to be extremely fun, and to pose few real technical challenges. It also, however, continued to be utterly exhausting — by the time we were done for the day, I was wasted.
Like the famous tennis player, Martina is a thin, athletic girl from the fair realm of Switzerland. Martina hails from a small mountain village in the south-eastern region of Switzerland, where she's lucky enough to have been skiing her entire life. She now spends most of her winter months in a ski town in the country's Italian region, where she pays her way by working as a café waitress. Martina is fluent in German, English, French, Italian and Spanish — an impressive repertoire, even by (the not-too-shabby) Swiss standards. Martina climbed with me during this afternoon's session, where she blew us all away by conquering a climb that no-one else could.
This dude's real name is "Let", and he's my main instructor for the three-day climbing course that I'm doing here at Ton Sai. When I told Let that my name was "Jeremy", he had a lot of difficulty pronouncing it — the closest he could get was "Jet Li", and so that is now my official rock-climbing pseudonym. Let's a really nice guy: he's only been rock-climbing himself (let alone instructing!) for the past six months; before that, he spent ten years as a chef in a glamorous hotel restaurant in Phuket. His ability and his fitness levels are remarkable, considering how new he is to the sport; and after only six months of working with farangs, his English ain't so bad either.
If it's rock-climbing you're after, then Ton Sai is the place to be. In fact, there's very little else to do at Ton Sai — or in Railay — aside from lying on the beach: so if you're not into rock-climbing, then perhaps you should be someplace else. Last night I signed up for a comprehensive 3-day climbing course, with Ton Sai-based company "The Rock Shop" — and today was the first day of that course. I've never before been rock-climbing on a natural, outdoor wall; although I did a fair bit of indoor (artificial-wall) climbing many years ago, when I were a 'wee lad (plus I've abseiled down natural cliffs before). It was a sweaty, exhausting introduction to the sport — 9am-6pm, with a 1-hour lunch break — but it was more fun than anything I ever imagined; and I finished the day feeling a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
First night on Ton Sai. Ko Tao is now behind me, and it's been a week since I saw any of my diving friends from Sairee. And who should I happen to bump into — walking right past me on the beach — but Caroline! Turns out that she's been here — along with all the Canadian dudes from the course — for a few days. Naturally, I was obliged to join my old buddies for a few drinks tonight: especially since it's their last night in Ton Sai, with their destination for tomorrow being the island of Ko Phi-Phi. It seems that there's only one thing, and one night, that everybody remembers about me from Ko Tao — when the crew first saw me this evening, they all greeted me with: "hey, it's vomit boy!" Uhhh... yeah, thanks guys :\.
Mathias is a quiet guy from Germany, who's spent most of his life as a musician in one form or another, and who's currently about to start work as a sound producer. That is: if you ever wondered who composes all those cheesy little sounds that are the intros to TV quiz shows and news bulletins, it's him. Mathias is in Thailand for about a month, where he's relaxing on various beaches and enjoying the warm, un-European weather. I met him this evening, when we realised that we were sharing the "emergency room" at Kiew Thao, here in Ton Sai, while waiting for our own respective bungalows to become available.
After a brief interlude in Krabi, this morning I continued on to what will be my final "real destination" here in Thailand, and for my entire trip: the legendary beach of Ton Sai. I've heard a lot about Ton Sai — particularly from my friends back in Pai — and I think it's going to be a great place to wrap things up, and to have some fun and relaxation.