It has to be said that Bangkok is not an easy city. It’s vibrant, colourful and lots of fun, but the manic pace of the smoggy and chronically congested city, with a trader on every corner offering anything the human condition desires, means there is little time to relax. Bangkok is a city that means business, no matter what that business is.
A night out in the Silom/Patpong area proved a revelation for me. A friend had described the Thai metropolis as being like the Amsterdam of Asia, but never in even the most explicit corners of Amsterdam had I seen the underwater live sex shows or the muscle go-go boy smorgasbord available to purchase as discovered in the bars of Bangkok.
Sex is a big business here and there was no shortage of takers -“ or givers for that matter, as seen in full display at one bar as the show moved from the water tank and onto the tables in front of me.
After a few days of seething Bangkok and its eight million inhabitants, a shift in gear to an easier holiday pace was definitely needed. An hour’s flight south to the lapping waters of the fishing village of Krabi on the Andaman Sea felt like a tonic.
And a gin and tonic later, as I looked over the bright azure waters that stretched around the limestone cliffs and islands dotted along the coast, the holiday had begun.
Our adventure began the next day when Woody, the kayaking tour guide, arrived to escort the group for the first day of exploration of the local caves and canyons.
Khao Phanom Bencha National Park is 20km north of Krabi town, and the lush forest and the dramatic mountains make it one of the area’s most popular attractions. Kayakers particularly are drawn to the waterways through the giant mangroves and caves dotted along the cliffs.
As we pushed off from the river launching spot, two local ladyboys leading another kayaking group came paddling in to shore. A few smart comments from Woody about ladyboys guiding the boats were met with some red-hot replies and a splash of their paddle, leaving him wetter than before. These ladies didn’t take any nonsense, and his mouth remained shut as we embarked on our trip up the river.
Travelling through the mangroves, the kayaks took us into a series of caves. They appeared dark and foreboding from a distance but, as we paddled closer, we could see dramatic stalactites hanging from the roofs and the caves opened up to the hongs beyond. A hong is an open-air lagoon accessible only through the cave, and most only at high tide.
When we paddled further down the river, the Khanab Nam Mountain came into view and provided an insight into the ancient origins of the area.
Climbing 100 metres up the side of a cliff to Skull Cave proved worth the effort for the spectacular views it presented and the ancient rock paintings in the enormous limestone caves, which Woody claimed had been dated as 4,000 years old.
The next day exposed a different face of the same park as we embarked on a different river for a ride through the limestone canyons of the mountain range.
The canoe snuck along a serpentine path through the mangroves in the bottom of a deep canyon. It was an up close and personal view of the lush flora and fauna -“ almost a little too close when one of the other kayaker’s paddles hit something and we looked into the water to see what it was.
Don’t worry, it is only a baby crocodile, Woody said nonchalantly, as the mini-reptile paddled away. We did the same thing, only much faster and in the other direction.
The following day was spent paddling along the beachfronts of Ao Nang, Railay and Princess beaches. This kayaking was much easier and, whenever a break was needed, we just paddled into the shoreline and lay on the beach for as long as it took to revive our interest in picking up a paddle again.
Late in the afternoon, the two ladyboys were still driving their group at an unrelenting pace through the water, but then everyone was in for a surprise as they pulled their kayaks onto the sand and launched into an impromptu routine, with the bewildered but smiling group applauding as the ladies struck their final pose.
Once the clapping stopped, the ladies then announced to their group, Okay, now back into the kayaks. We have another two bays to go.
Kayaking along the beautiful Thai coast, and with a show on the sand thrown in -“ Thailand really didn’t get much better than that.