One of the great things about teaching in Thailand is the almost hilarious number of national holidays, many of them adding up to three, four or even five-day weekends. On one such long weekend, I decided to fly south, to Krabi, to give rock-climbing in Railay a shot.
Railay is one of the most famous areas in Krabi province, in part for its beaches but particularly as one of the top rock-climbing destinations in all of Southeast Asia. Railay features towering karst cliffs that form the backdrop for its beaches. These cliffs are almost ridiculously popular with climbers of all ages and skill level. As you’d expect, dozens of companies offer climbing lessons and I signed up for a two-day course with Real Rocks Climbing School.
I’d only gone to a climbing gym a couple times in my life, and had never tried outdoor climbing, but I figured this was simply one of those experiences you had to have while in Krabi. My instructor was a guy named Poh. I’m guessing Poh was in his late thirties or early forties and if he had been any more laid back he’d have been vegetative. And I mean that in a good way; his supremely chilled out attitude had a calming effect that was more than welcome as you’re being strapped into a harness in preparation to climb a wall of the stone that appears to be made up of prehistoric ax blades.
Poh’s overall attitude also colored his every instruction, so that he made everything sound like the absolute easiest thing you’ve ever had to do. Again, for me, it helped me take it all in stride and have fun with it all.
And it really was fun; like solving a puzzle using your entire body. And then there was the reward at the top: spectacular views of the Andaman Sea.
After lunch, Poh, a fellow climber, and I went on a brief hike to some nearby caves. The caves were pierced with natural windows that gave out on yet more scenes of the surrounding sea and islands. To leave the caves, however, we would either have to backtrack (easy and boring) or rappel down a 20 foot cliff face (terrifying and exhilarating).
More climbing followed on the second day, though this was cut short as I suffered from a relatively mild but just-bad-enough bout of food poisoning. Relaxed and laid back as always, Poh had no problem spending the rest of the day lounging in the sun as I waited for my nausea to pass.
Poh was a genuinely fascinating guy. He didn’t speak much but, ask him the right questions, and you learn that he’d traveled a fair amount, had actually lived and worked in Canada, and currently lived in a small cabin behind the Real Rocks offices.
Despite my literal lack of intestinal fortitude, rock climbing in Railay was a great adventure and an experience I’d recommend for anyone—and I do mean anyone: at one point during the first day of climbing, Poh indicated one of the figures scaling a nearby wall. I looked up at what I took to be a child, maybe eleven or twelve, but upon closer inspection realized it was an older woman. “She’s Chinese,” Poh explained, “comes many times a year. She’s about 85, I think.”
I watched her climb effortlessly up the wall, as though scaling a ladder and, when she returned to Earth, the crowd that had gathered applauded. She grinned, taking the attention in stride, likely used to it by now, and was soon sizing up another section of the wall. . .