We departed Bangkok on an overnight train to Surat Thani. After 13 hours on the train, we continued by minibus for three more hours to the resort town of Ao Nang in Krabi Province. I wasn’t awestruck upon arriving in Ao Nang, as the town is overdeveloped. In the afternoon we hired a longtail boat to Railay, just around the bend from Ao Nang, and my impression of the area instantly changed. The blonde, sandy beaches are surrounded rugged limestone cliffs, making them accessible only by boat. The views are stunning, with limestone karst formations capped with lush vegetation rising out of the turquoise Andaman Sea. No wonder that the Railay beaches are considered among the best in Thailand.
The first half of the afternoon we chilled on Railay Beach West. Thai-Rasta bars are located close to the beach, so I bought some Chang beers and relaxed on the beach while watching a Thai family build a sand stupa. Later I walked past the Thai-Pasta bars and scent of weed to the southern end of Railay Beach East to watch the beginner rock climbers. I considered giving it a go, but decided that it wouldn’t be prudent to learn to rock climb with a beer buzz. Later in the afternoon the group moved to Phra Nang Beach, where we were entertained by a freakishly fit, elderly man free climbing the cliffs. The amazed onlookers cheered him on, and afterwards he led a yoga session on the beach with half a dozen enthusiastic students. Opting for another beer instead of the yoga lesson, I checked out a small cave filled with wooden penises of all shapes, colors, and sizes. Thai couples hoping to conceive bring offerings to the penis shrine. We stayed at the beach until sunset, then boarded a boat back to Ao Nang.
On Christmas morning we donned Santa hats and drove to Ao Thalane for a half-day of sea kayaking in a mangrove forest. After being briefed on the kayaks and the itinerary, we launched our kayaks into the sea and paddled past towering karst formations and small islands to the mangrove forest. We slowly paddled through a passageway of bays and canyons while monkeys swung overhead in the trees. Near the end of the morning, we leaned completely back in our kayaks and paddled underneath a karst formation, our noses just inches from the roof of the passageway. When we emerged from the passageway, we were in a hidden lagoon. Unable to resist taking photos, I took my phone out of my dry bag to capture the beautiful scene. We left the lagoon the same way we came, and were almost through the passageway when my partner shifted in the kayak, flipping us over! We were both OK, but unfortunately my phone didn’t survive the dunking.
The kayaking guide gave me a bag of rice to absorb the water from my phone, but it failed to come back to life. In addition to weeks of photos, I lost my travel itinerary and apps that I highly depend on while traveling, such as Google Maps. My millennial travel companions considered their phones to be essential, secondary only to their passports and payment instruments. Having traveled for years without a phone, I considered the loss to be an inconvenience, but not a catastrophe. I shrugged it off, not letting it spoil the remainder of my holiday.
After splurging on Christmas dinner at a fancy hilltop restaurant, we headed to a popular Ao Nang bar for drinks. Decked out ladyboys started gathering around, promoting a special Christmas edition of their cabaret show. We all bought tickets to the performance, and the ladyboys entertained us with dancing and singing in elaborate costumes. One of the ladyboys had a wardrobe malfunction, exposing her nipple, but she didn’t seem bothered. After the show the ladyboys posed for photos with their fans. We moved on to another bar, where we played drinking games and beer pong before calling it a night.
Before falling asleep, I reflected on my unconventional life. Most American men my age were spending Christmas at home with their wife and children, huddled around a Christmas tree opening presents. Meanwhile, I was in Thailand watching a ladyboy cabaret show. I feel at home on the road, every day bringing exciting new places and experiences. I dream of trekking to Everest Base Camp and crossing the Antarctic Circle; Disneyland vacations with a wife and 2.5 kids are not for me.