Ton Sai is a friendly, haphazard, cheap little hippie backpacker oasis, set amidst a desert of over-developed resort strips. Ton Sai is located on Railay Peninsula — the famous home of Thailand's best rock-climbing walls, and also of some of the country's most gorgeous beaches — and it's squeezed in between the beaches of Ao Nang and Railay West. It's only accessible by boat (or by several rugged walking tracks, some traversable only at low tide), and there are no paved roads (and few unpaved ones, either). I spent almost a week here in Ton Sai — if I had more time, I definitely would have done "the Ton Sai thing", and got stuck here for much longer than planned.
Karen and Nick are a super-chilled Canadian couple: Nick's been here on Ton Sai for a few weeks already; and Karen just rocked up today (not sure if they're together, or just friends, or what-have-you). Nick is apparently "extremely short on cash": as such, he's sleeping in a tent instead of renting a bungalow (can't afford $7/night — ouch). I met the two of them while having dinner this evening, and I later went out and had a few drinks with them, at the Chill Out bar on the beach. Saw plenty of other folks at the beach bars tonight as well — great, pleasant way to end my time in Ton Sai.
Today was the third and final instalment in my three-day climbing course, and it was one hell of a daunting conclusion. The main topic of the day was multipitching: that is, learning to ascend walls that are too high to climb with a single rope (such walls are more than 50m), and/or that consist of multiple sections, each of which has a different "pitch" or angle. Multipitch climbing is an extremely complex procedure, as it involves a pair of partners taking turns at belaying each other up and down (multiple times, depending on the number of sections that the wall has), switching yourself between various ropes, securing ropes in such a way that they can be switched, and learning a whole heap of new knots and rope configurations. It is, in my opinion, far too complicated to learn in one day; and it's also quite unnecessary to learn, unless you're already a strong and experienced enough climber to actually tackle multi-pitch walls. I barely remembered a quarter of the details of what I was taught today; but nevertheless, it was worthwhile being exposed to some of the more advanced techniques in rock-climbing, and it was interesting to learn how the pros do it.
Yu's an interesting guy: his heritage is 100% Thai, but he's been living in Canada for the past few years, and he's planning to go back there, in the hope of obtaining residency. As such, he speaks much better English than most do most Thais (it's quite rare for Thai locals to have travelled internationally). As my buddy Let was away today, and as Yu just arrived back in Ton Sai (and in Thailand!) this morning, he was my instructor for the final stint of my climbing course today. He's strict and extremely thorough, but he's a great guy and an excellent climber.
After two full days of rock-climbing, today I decided to pause my three-day course, and to relax and have a rest day. Three days in a row is simply too much: I'm tired and aching all over just from two; and I can't go on without a bit of time to catch my breath.
As anybody who's visited this country should be acutely aware of, Thailand is still a kingdom. A constitutional monarchy, to be precise: much like Great Britain's setup, where the king (or queen) is still technically the head of state, but where said king / queen actually retains very little power. In Thailand, however — unlike in most other surviving 12st-century monarchies — it's virtually impossible to not notice the fact that they have a king. They absolutely ADORE him! The king's photo is on every street corner, framed in gold and lit-up like a superstar. Speaking ill against the king is highly inadvisable: not only is it illegal; it also has about a 99% chance of pi$$ing off any local that you may encounter. All hail the king: he's pretty hot stuff around here.
As I approach the end of my massive world trip — I now have exactly one week to go, before I touch down back in Sydney — I can't help but think about what it's going to be like returning home. And one thing that keeps worrying me, is that after a year of travelling, my English language skills have become somewhat eroded! I never expected I'd ever be saying this: but I'm really concerned that my spoken English has deteriorated during my travels. I believe that it's been caused by a combination of my intensive Spanish study; of the significant amount of time that I've spent in non-English-speaking countries; and more than anything, of the amount of conversing that I've done, in English, with non-native English speakers.
Stewie's a great bloke, who's originally from sheeped-in-history Kiwiland, but who now lives in Brisbane as a high-school science teacher. Stewie's just been up in Laos, and the guy absolutely will not stop raving about the place: if he can be believed, then Laos is truly the most kick-a$$ 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.