After dhows through Halong Bay’s mist, beelines up the Mekong to northern Laos and business-like diving outings, the pleasure cruise to Railay Beach seemed odd.
This was textbook Thailand.
The one that had bounced out at me from brochures on those blustery October days in South Wales. There was Chang beer on board, the small propeller barely broke the sea’s surface and I had nothing to do but sit back and relax. No equipment to prep, no map to consult and no mandatory activities to indulge in overboard. Just me, a bold playsuit I’d picked up in a Bangkok market and a whole lot of Factor 30.
Although luckily, I hadn’t yet escaped the looming limestone so synonymous with that part of the world. The stunning tree-clad structures hauled themselves out of the flat water one by one to burst through the horizon, as we casually traced the jagged coastline north of Krabi.
Our destination, a petite peninsula that protected the curve of famous Railay Beach behind it, came into view like a manicured oasis in a desert of salty spray. Rows of organised palms matched lines of parked boats beneath them. Each with vague names like Paradise Pearl and Sea Explorer, beautifully suited to the mass tourism they delivered to this part of the country. I felt like an imposter. A budget backpacker gone rogue amid the neat arrangements of a five-star resort.
Feet back on firm ground things were slightly more familiar. I strolled around the peninsula’s tip, which was shaded by thick vegetation. I wondered whether I’d accidentally signed onto another jungle trek as boisterous monkeys swung from vines and eye-balled me curiously from overhangs. Those same cream curtains that had dangled over the illusive entrance of Pak Ou Caves a few weeks before.
Here though, I had a gang. Holidaymakers, crispy pink from yesterday’s sun, strolled with me. Novelty towels slung around their shoulders and designer swim suits looking cleaner than I had in weeks. We were all eager to reach the strip of paradise we’d call ours for the day. And we weren’t disappointed.
Beyond the final branches of the planked walkway, I was met with a postcard (albeit with slightly more people obscuring the foreground than in most money shots). A immaculate swathe of shoreline bent towards a huge green cliff. Together, they cupped a bay of aquamarine water so bright that sunglasses were a necessity.
As if this wasn’t inviting enough, Railay deployed a strategy to deal out maximum pleasure: As visitors arrived, they hopped from foot to foot across the piping hot sand trying to find shade. There was none. Instead, there were bobbing boats at the water’s edge serving ice cold cans of Chang. Making the decision for a permanent plunge a no-brainer for everyone.
That evening, slightly rosy in the face with sun and Chang, I couldn’t decide whether my beach day was a package-deal-gone-mad or if in fact, it was quintessential Thailand at its hedonistic best. Either way, there was no better goodbye.
I was about to cross a sea border into the penultimate country of my journey.