The whole trip oscillated gently between lazy Eden bliss and Thai adventure.
By David G. Allan
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in November 2001 on the website TheDharmaBums.com. David’s CNN.com column, The Wisdom Project, can be subscribed to here: https://tinyletter.com/wisdomproject
KRABI, Thailand — Back in Bangkok, Kate wakes me at a pre-dawn hour and in my half-awake state, I think she’s telling me all I need to do is pack for five days on the beach. No details.
Flip-flops, sunscreen, bathing suit, snorkel, camera and beach reading (a perennial favorite of mine: Paul Thereox’s “The Mosquito Coast”). Ready.
Fast forward a couple hours and we’re in the Krabi province, down the south coast, far along Thailand’s elephant trunk. A man in the tiny two-gate airport is holding a sign with our names on it (a first for me) and his mini-bus takes us straight to the beach where we catch a longtail boat to Railay cove — our little bit of paradise, only accessible by water — a white beach on the Andaman Sea, flanked by high limestone cliffs and home to three restaurants and a bunch of bungalows camouflaged by the palm tress. Our bungalow has two ceramic love birds and no television. (How’d they know?)
Kate was worried about a rooster sitting outside. Had a bad experience with a loud one in Chiang Mai. “Don’t worry,” our bellboy said, “He goes home at night.” And he did; off-duty by the time we were done snorkeling through the nearby sea caves.
The whole trip oscillated gently between lazy Eden bliss and Thai adventure. Our first excursion was to Wat Tham Sua (“Tiger Cave Temple”), a forest wat (Buddhist temple) near Krabi. Longtail boat, song taew (pick-up truck with seats in the back, common outside Bangkok) and motorcycle taxis delivered us to the edge of the cave temple.
We took off our shoes, and respectfully wearing pants despite the warmth, we entered the marble and rock cavern like good farang (foreigners). Inside, a soft-spoken monk sat, surrounded by golden Buddha statues, monk photos and other religious baubles. The saffron-saronged monk approached us and spoke Thai with Kate. (Her first monk conversation!) There was a little miscommunication, something about Buddha’s foot and Kate thought she was asking if people pray to the foot. But, instead, she inadvertently asked the monk to say a blessing for us. He then brought us over to his sitting area and we sat before him careful not to rudely point our feet in his direction, and he sprinkles us with his (holy?) water and gives us matching red string bracelets dipped in the special water which he tells us will protect us from danger. None of the other visitors have received the special monk blessing and harm-protecting bracelets, I note with insider glee. We aren’t tourists, we’re pilgrims!
Next, we walk up a mountain. 1,273 steps to the peak, home to a shrine for the Buddha’s footprint (not foot, it turns out), our sweat is cooled by the wind up there. Our view extends down a peak-studded valley and out to the sea. “It is easier to be a holy mountain on top of a mountain,” said I (quoting Bill Murray’s Larry Darrel from The Razor’s Edge).
We made our way back down only to run into a couple dozen hungry macaque monkeys who’ve taken over the stairs. One looked like the Lorax (Dr. Seuss’ “keeper of the trees”), another jumped on my leg and started biting into the camera bag. Many pictures later we left to walk through the actual forest wat — home to cave temples and simple monk huts on stilts hidden behind tall 1,000 year-old twisty trees, some so big they would make the redwoods in Muir Woods blush.
Back in the town of Krabi, we stumbled upon a tasty vegetarian restaurant, walked around a bit and then refused to be overcharged for the boat ride back. We weren’t sure how we’d get back to our cove after we walked away from the rip-off artists at the dock, but our monk blessing was with us and we found a song taew full of school kids that would take us most of the way (for about 1/10 the price at that). Best part about the ride, besides the local kids in their cute uniforms and large standard-issue leather satchels, was that I had to stand on the back bumper most of the way through the countryside. I would admit it was fun and a bit scary if only the little boys standing with me didn’t look so bored.