Ah, Thailand. The tourist mecca of Southeast Asia. The only country in the region never to suffer a European boot upon its neck. Thailand. A place of great beauty and diversity, of adventure and vice, of towering resort hotels and amazing natural treasures. One such place which can be described as both a resort destination as well as an amazing natural treasure (though much more the latter) is Rai Leh. The place seems like an Island and, in fact, I thought it was an island at the time I was on it. Come to find out, it is actually a peninsula. I have no knowledge of how to get there other than by longtail from nearby Ao Nang, a beach resort not far from the city of Krabi. A longtail, by the way, is a type of boat common only to that part of the world. In fact, I’ve never seen a longtail elsewhere. It’s basically a long canoe with a car engine attached to a long rudder on the back. The power of the engine is usually controlled with a string attached to a carburetor and direction is controlled by swinging around the long rudder. It’s a pretty simple design and, if you see enough of them, you start to notice that they are all sort of cobbled together a with slight variations. The design, however, is simple enough not to give one worry. Though, I would not want to go far out to sea in one.
Luckily, in Thailand, you seldom have to go far out to sea. With the Andaman Sea on one side of the mainland and the Gulf of Thailand on the other and each sea dotted with islands more lovely than the last, you seldom have to go far by boat. In general, I have noticed that west coasts are nicer, in my opinion, than east coasts. Though, that may be reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. I require further personal travel research in the the Southern Hemisphere to be sure. I like the west coast of Britain and Ireland better than their east coasts. I feel the same way about Italy, North America, in general, and the Iberian Peninsula too. Though these are points of a connoisseur-like nature. If you are headed to Thailand, go to both sides if you possibly can and don’t forget about the mountains of the north. I have digressed long enough. Let’s return to Rai Leh.
I went to Rai Leh thinking, at the time, that it was another island. I suppose I thought this because, just the day before, I had cruised to and snorkeled off the shores of at least four different islands that I can remember. I’ll have to go through the photos to be sure. Turns out it is a peninsula. I went to Rai Leh to lie on the wonderful beach, contemplate taking up mountain climbing, swim in the cool, relaxed Andaman Sea and drink overpriced (for Thailand) cocktails. If the little resort on Rai Leh’s northern end is overpriced, it’s because it’s isolated and absolutely beautiful; things worth paying a few more Baht for. If you are a mountain climber, then you probably already know about the place as it’s world famous for climbing. I am no climbing expert. Yours truly is afraid of heights, but I found myself wondering about taking up the sport. I was just wondering what the view was like from up there. One look at the amazing limestone face rising up out of the azure waters and it’s no wonder that climbers come from around the world to find these particularly huge chunks of rock and climb up them. Remembering the view from sea level makes me consider joining a climbing gym, getting really good and then heading back to Rai Leh just to climb. The swimming there is very pleasant, as is the snorkeling. The beach is a bit shallow, but also very nice. The truly surprising thing to me was at the far north end of the beach where I happened upon a little cave with a little shrine.
The shrine. It is, in fact, full of phalluses; lots of them. All of them are carved and painted a little differently. There are small ones, big ones, some really big ones. Some are carved carefully, some look like they were done in a hurry, some aren’t even painted. I asked a nearby bartender about this and he said it started as a good-luck shrine for fishermen. In ancient Hindu times, the lingham (phallus) was a powerful symbol. The gift of one of these carvings to the right god, it was believed, could help keep a storm at bay or bring in an extra bounteous pull of fish. Thailand, in its long and diverse history, has been basically Theravada Buddhist for hundreds of years. Apparently, some of the Hindu traditions have stuck around anyway. The shrine is quite the colorful addition to an already beautiful place.
If you find yourself in Thailand after tasting and adventuring your way through the bustling and diverse little city of Krabi, on your way to or from Phi Phi, Lanta or Phuket, consider stopping by and spending at least a few hours at this beautiful little spot called Rai Leh. It’s easily accessible from Ao Nang. If you are a climber, I understand you have to go at some point or another in your life. I have to say, I struck up a conversation on the beach with an Aussie climber who said you have to be careful when climbing Rai Leh. The soft limestone combined with the eroding effect of the sea makes it potentially dangerous. So if you are a climber, make sure you research it carefully. I can’t speak to how good a climb it really is, but it looks awesome.
Written by: Jake
IMAGES VIA: Jessica Rabbit on Flickr