The Big Budda, Phuket
I’m not travelling with a guidebook. Or much of a plan. The places I’ve visited have mostly been suggested by other travellers. While I head in a generally logical direction my route is most often decided by who I know along the way. I visited friends in Warsaw, Berlin, Graz, Israel and Thailand, and it is those interactions that prove to be most rewarding. I mean, who doesn’t love a catch up with old friends, and the accompanying hugs?
I would never have ventured into the tourist trap that is Phuket, Thailand if it wasn’t for the lovely Kassandra, a friend from our drunken university days. KC – or Kracey if you’re Thai and fond of easy-to-say nicknames – has been living in Thailand for ages now and has got a good thing going teaching English in an international school in Phuket. For the few days I spent with her we chatted non-stop, catching up on the years gone past and all our friends. It’s always refreshing to see a friend after a long time and find that you feel comfortable in each other’s company. And who wouldn’t want to be friends with this beautiful smile?
As much as I was enjoying hanging out with KC, spending long afternoons on the beach, drinking beer with ice as is the Thai way with a bunch of South African boys we met (funny coincidence: they all grew up in the same suburb as me), sweating through every pore in my body in her Bikram yoga classes (as if Thailand isn’t hot enough already) and admiring her ordering our meals in Thai, KC couldn’t let me leave Thailand without visiting her favourite place, Tonsai beach in Krabi.
Tonsai, the smaller, quieter beach next to Railay, is heaven on earth for rock climbers. The beach is surrounded by towering limestone crags and climbers have their pick of routes; shaded from the sun, hanging over the sea, poking up through the jungle. I know a couple of climbers who would go weak at the knees for these cliffs!
Tonsai is a must on the backpacking trail, but it’s not a cheap place to stay in high season. Even my hunt for a room took longer than an hour and by that time, sweat soaking my T-shirt after trooping along the beach and through the jungle, I was ready to settle for anything. However, the room I did find was better than I hoped, even if I did share it with a little scorpion. The owner man made me laugh. He was blind in one eye, had one arm and spent most of his day reclining on a bench in reception, and every time I passed his desk he would ask me if I was looking for a room. The day I left I handed back my key, said goodbye and started on my way, but had just rounded the corner when he came running after me asking me for the key. Then he tried to hug me with his half arm and told me he loved me, exuding a strong smell of booze, probably the cheap Thai variety. Lucky I’ve learnt how to extract myself from awkward situations – a very helpful skill when travelling.
And that, my friends, was Thailand. Twenty eight days (how long immigration gives you on arrival) gone in a flash. Next stop, southwards to Malaysia.