With little to detain me I elected to head out for the beaches today, Railay having been the recommendation which had brought me this way in the first place. It being now very decidedly low season, there were no takers for the boats out there, it having no road access despite being on the mainland. A boat owner after trying his luck with me was at least honest enough in directing me to the pick ups serving the nearby point of Ao Nang. I chanced upon one bearing a brace of young Swedish chicks which boded well, and complimented by some now very fine karst scenery with unlikely rocky outcrops crowned with rich vegetation, it was almost a mercy that it began to rain (again) and so precluded any further progress beyond Ao Nang. Expecting little beyond a ferry pier it proved to be another sizeable tourist strip, but the beach and karst outcrops just perceptible in the gloom redeemed any sense of disappointment. I was lucky in securing a much better deal than the Swedes for a bed, and then with the whole day finally sent awash by a full on storm, all I could do was invest more time in the net and the laying of plans. Sabah or Sumatra, that was the question.
A few points of note at this time is that thankfully the mosquitos and bed bugs had rescinded to a vaguely acceptable degree, I had grown tired of having to constantly nurse a plethora of irritations with Tiger Balm. Also there was now no doubt about it, the monsoon had certainly broken, I was losing whole days to it now, and so as much as it was almost a relief from the pressure cooker of the build up, Laos and Cambodia were now most certainly off the agenda. The problem which that gave me as much as the disappointment of further curtailing the grand plan was that having had their reputation reaffirmed by so many, I would have to spare my conscience by seeing them on the way home, but that would be taking me in the wrong direction. Going round the world, as was now a presupposed must, was long enough without going back the way and up and down to boot. I was really having to take it just one day at a time though at this point. With southern Thailand being perceived by me disgracefully apathetically as boring despite its clear beauty and periodioc charm, the geography now made further progress complicated by the fact that I was entering a subcontinent of islands necessitating pricey, time consuming and ergonomically tricky connections. The northern Malay portion of Borneo was a must see for example, but it left me poorly placed to then island hop the considerable length of Indonesia without missing out Sumatra. For the moment that was deemed unthinkable but then stranger things had happened. One could simply continue to take it one day at a time then, but cheap flights needed prebooking, as I had just found out to my cost. Determined just to make a decision for the sake of finality, I plumped for a flight Bangkok to Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian Kingdom of Sabah, Borneo. I had left it a couple of days to ponder where my heart lay and the price had doubled in the meantime from the best deal around to a relatively outrageous 85 bucks. I booked it anyway on point of principle, trusting that Borneo would surely prove to be more invigorating.
It was in Ao Nang that I happened to bump into Steve again, a young English Wayne Rooney doppelganger I had met in Langkawi, who for a 26 year old immediately did me a favour in proving to be even more grouchy and cynical than myself. It was the perfect antidote to the now prevailing perception of agedness, having been surrounded by so many stupid sexy kids for so long. We checked out the beach together then, a very nice unusually straight strand of gold, with a flip flop challenging boardwalk at one end taking us over a monkey inhabited headland to a neighbouring cove. Another notable is that parts of this region got hammered by the 2004 tsunami, and evidently new prominent signs pointed to Tsunami Evacuation Routes, sometimes stupidly 700 metres along the beach for example. The aforementioned headland or even up a tree would have been a better bet I imagined. A cultural void, a beery evening was redeemed somehow by bagging a longboat to Railay the next morning, the kind that you see in a James Bond movie with the engine mounted atop a very long slender propshaft which is moved to afford steering. If the road into Ao Nang had perhaps been an indicator, we were not disappointed in the fantastic spectacle of more karst outcrops rising from a shiny blue sea now. It all came to a crescendo upon arrival in Railay, it was the perfect paradise which the holiday brochures always promised, and the first time I had been blown away to such an extent since Goa. Wow! Bad attitude Steve had to be coaxed to walk just the 2 minutes across the isthmus from West to cheaper East Railay, where his lassitude proved later to be a merit. His insistence upon just plumping for the first resort to hand at the East's disappointing mangrove beach landed us in an excellent and suitably affordable resort complex which seemed to have little competition in the end. Upon later investigation as we found an alternative route across to the better beach, scenes of abandoned buildings and piles of waste made me suspect that the tsunami had hit here too. We were so lucky in that either side of days with persistently crazy weather, the sun shone from a cloudless sky and paradise revealed itself like a slut suddenly on good money. Steve continued the theme of as little effort as possible by electing to just lie and bake himself to a fine red hue, whilst I never tired of just walking up and down the littoral with waves caressing my feet. The pretty ladies helped complete the scene too, and it was the first place I had seen topless bathing, even topless beach tennis. With the day predictably descending into another beerfest for the want of any better options, there was literally nothing else to do bar climbing, too much for me, with the resort being hemmed in by towering karst sugarloafs, we woke up (eventually) to see that the weather had changed its mood again and with it our plans. With Kiwi Rachel now having entered the mix, beer and belligerence conspired to pass a torrential day of rain in a boozy bout of blether and periodic argument, it was hard to say who bullshitted the most. It probably didnt help that the other 2 ended up getting spliffed up but my philosophies werent appreciated, subjected to a degree of cynicism I would have been proud of. Determined not to be swayed, I gave as good as I got and didnt care.