After Nicolas had applied for a new passport at the Canadian embassy in Bangkok (which, in all fairness, was a relatively painless procedure), and faced with a wait of up to fifteen working days (the German embassy – in Laos! – issued passports to their nationals as soon as details of the last passport were verified, as quickly as the next working day), we took an overnight bus southwards to Krabi, a shared taxi to nearby Ao Nang and then a fifteen minute boat ride to Tonsai. My daughter Andrea had spent a few weeks climbing in Tonsai a couple of years ago and Nicolas was here in September; both enjoyed it tremendously.
Indisputably picture postcard pretty, it was a big disappointment to me. (And a little to Nicolas this time, I think.) It was now high season and accommodation cost four times as much as it had when Nicolas had been here earlier. Most of the visitors were climbers, with a few other assorted travellers and holidaymakers added into the mix for good measure. But there were just too many of them for Tonsai’s limited resources. Hygiene was not really much in evidence and almost everyone I talked to was sick or recovering from being sick. It probably didn’t help that power was provided from generators and power availability was a bit spotty; food in refrigerators enjoyed a regular freeze-thaw cycle. And it wasn’t really a pleasant place to be unwell; if you’re going to spend your night crouched over a toilet, a nice bathroom would be a great help. A rough concrete addition to the rear of a bamboo hut with a non-flush toilet and plenty of mosquitoes didn’t qualify. Not according to my definition of ‘nice,’ anyway.Of course, one could argue that this all lent to the authenticity of the experience and I was too soft now in my later years. This may well be true. But I really didn’t want to get sick; I’d (surprisingly) escaped India unscathed but remembered all too well how miserable ‘Delhi belly’ could be and I had no reason to believe that the Thai equivalent would be any more fun.
The climbing was disappointing, too. Good quality but short and very polished by too much traffic. The heat and humidity made it difficult to climb near one’s limit and the routes were very crowded. There were lots of routes in my grade level so it wasn’t just that they were too hard for me; I just wasn’t having much fun sweating my way up routes that I could slide off at any time.
My feelings of disenchantment are due, I think, to a loss of focus. Cycling in India, despite its challenges, was incredibly rewarding and continually stimulating. The last month, in Laos and Thailand, feel less so. There doesn’t seem much adventure to it. Foreign tourists/travellers are everywhere. Even poor Laos, in some respects (notably the number of fancy SUVs and pickup trucks), feels modern and ‘Westernized.’ No doubt, the after effects of the fire and an itinerary largely governed by the waiting for new documents for Nicolas, bear some of the blame for my current malaise.
I also wonder if there are lingering effects of the worry I felt, escaping the fire through the cave whilst not knowing whether Nicolas was trapped up on a burning mountainside. I still shudder, and feel some panic, at the memory of those feelings.