Finding adventure in southern Thailand

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Before I get started, let me say that it’s not like this site is going to become a travel blog. I’ve had plenty of travel-type stuff in here, but it’s usually in the context of outdoorsy fun and adventure.

But as I’m sitting here, many people are plotting how they can live up to their resolutions or goals for the new year. Many will vow to travel more, to see a little more of the world.

That brings me to some sweet memories from a few years back of a 10-day trip to southern Thailand. For those who would like to travel to an exotic locale and enjoy some active fun, this is your place. Airfare isn’t cheap but once you’re there you can stay in non-resort areas for relatively little money.

Southern Thailand’s most famous locale is Phuket, a coastal city that’s well-known for its beaches and night life. The trouble with Phuket is that you will pay Western prices for food, lodging and entertainment. You can solve that problem by doing what Australian and European backpackers have done for years – stay inland in more modest accommodations and save a bunch of money.

Better yet, staying away from popular resort areas allows you to get closer contact with Thai culture. In short, stay in a more Spartan-style guesthouse or hostel and gain a much more authentic glimpse of the country you’re visiting. I’m convinced that’s the way to go.

I’m going to let the photos do most of the talking here. But for reference, we stayed in an inland city called Phang Nga, a city that is maybe 20 minutes by car from the beach.

First mention goes to local climbing. This is an outdoors site, so you had to figure that I would get something like this in here.

Southern Thailand is famous for top-notch climbing on limestone cliffs. The best of these are close to the sea, which are mostly free of the vegetation that covers much of the impossibly vertical spires that are common further inland.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t find good routes in a place like Phang Nga. The city has a large park with its own climbing area.

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On the coast, weather-carved cliffs abound. Onshore, you get great lines for sport and trad climbing. Offshore, you can try your hand at some big-wall free climbing, where you can use the ocean as your crash pad. Seriously, that’s what they do here.

Below are some Aussies tackling a 5.8 sport climb near Railay Beach.

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If you’re looking to get outside but do something tamer, then that’s where the beaches come into play. I mentioned Railay Beach. Run on the beach, play some volleyball or just work on your tan. And do it in one of the most scenic places on earth.

Here are a few shots from Railay, which include some sweet beach scenery, vertical rock islands and a look down at another, more secluded beach from an opening in a cave.

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The trouble with all-inclusive and highly Westernized vacation destinations is that they almost sanitize the travel experience from all things local. If you couldn’t tell from that previous sentence, I think that’s a very, very bad thing.

Part of travel is meeting the people of the place you visit. You can’t say squat about a culture until you actually rub elbows with the people, talk with them, eat with them and otherwise get to know them, even if just a little bit. Go overseas and you’re bound to meet up with people whose language, religion, beliefs and customs are at times vastly different from your own. And still, folks all over are more alike than we could imagine – a shared love for family and friends and similar ambitions of trying to make our way in the world.

Some folks I met include (in order) a cool dude named Ong, some kids at a house-based church, more kids at a Thai school and a couple of monks at a well-appointed Buddhist monastery.

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Speaking of that monastery, here are some pics from that place. It’s ornate, and that’s not uncommon here.

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Obviously, everybody’s gotta eat. You can learn a lot about a culture by what the people eat.

One of the best things about Southeast Asia is that its geographic position makes it a confluence of many great Asian civilizations. You can see that in a lot of realms, but it comes together most agreeably in cuisine.

The food cultures of China, India and a host of other places mix in Southeast Asia, and they do so in colorful, spicy and tasty ways in Thailand. Some samples of the fare include an amazing duck soup and a spread of stewed chicken with quail eggs, fried chicken, spicy vegetables, rice and fresh cucumbers to cool your tongue. I’m not a cucumber eater, but those slices of heaven were the best I’ve ever had. Period.

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So why did I post this? Where’s a paragraph or three about running, lifting or busting out some push-ups? Let’s just say there’s more to an active life than training, competing or achieving. Sometimes an active life should lead you someplace where you can grow as a person.

If I can paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, the world becomes a better place when you walk in another man’s shoes. If you could backpack in southern Thailand, do some climbing, snorkeling and meeting people, you’ll be a better person when you get home. The only negative might be comparing stateside Thai restaurants to what you had in Thailand, but if you think about it, that’s not a bad thing. The fact that you’d know the difference means you had the opportunity to do something special. It will be one way among many in which your own world will have become a little bigger than it was before.

I don’t know what your resolutions or goals for 2013 might be, but going somewhere you haven’t been – a place out of your comfort zone – should be on that list. If it is, you might think of Phang Nga. And if not in 2013, then sometime soon thereafter.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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4 thoughts on “Finding adventure in southern Thailand

  1. I would love to go to Thailand one day. They call that particular style of climbing deep sea soloing where you just fall into the water. I do have one question for you. You didn’t hook up with a cute little Thai girl whom turned out to be a cute little boy did you? HAHA!

  2. HAHA! No, hooking up of any kind was not on the agenda on that trip. And that’s more of a Bangkok thing anyway. Once you get outside of certain parts of that city, Thai culture is pretty conservative in those regards.

    Thailand is one of those places that I call a must-see place if you can do it. So much to see and do. And once you get into southern Thailand, you’re easily in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

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