O.k., I was a bit disappointed and didn't have much time on the 'net when I wrote the last entry so thought I'd update and explain the situation for everybody.
Firstly to explain the situation here:
We are currently just west of the green arrow on this map (sorry, couldn't figure out a way to post it to the blog): See here
Of the three villages along that piece of coastline, from the right, there's Railay, Ton Sai, and Ao Nang.
We're currently based in Ton Sai beach.
In a weird quirk of how land ownership works here, lots of it seems to be owned by banks, etc. Lots of the people running bars/shops/hostels/etc. don't actually seem to own it. They're basically just squatting there until the owners decide to do something with the land (i.e. sell it on to the highest bidder who then tries to properly develop it).
Originally it was Railay and Ao Nang that this happened to. Much of these beaches are now owned by 'resorts' that have completely closed up the land. the beaches are still free to walk on, but you're not allowed trespass.
This is the view of Railay from above. Much of the flat land is now private property and you can pay anything up to $1,200 PER NIGHT to stay here. I kid you not.
Dawid and Sean can vouch for the issues after they took a wrong turn one day and were thrown out of one of the resorts. I had my own experience of this this morning after I decided to walk across the hill instead of taking the boat to Ao Nang. In the resort that you have to walk through, myself and Dawid were forcefully threatened that they were going to call the police on us as we had walked across the beach!!!!
anyway, this is the current view across Ton Sai beach, the climbers and traveller's home. you'll find all of us staying here cause basically it's the cheapest place.
At present, the cheapest is about 5 euros a night for a single bungalow, although you can usually fit one person extra (on either the floor on mats or sharing the bed as the beds are big).
At present on Ton Sai, there's about 6 bars on the beach. The original is Freedom Bar (the one you can see on the right of the picture). As you can see, the structures are pretty permanent with the use of concrete! the lastest we've heard now is that the whole beachfront, with the exception of Freedom bar, is being demolished to make way for some more 'resorts'. you guessed it, most of the beachfront is going to be off-access (although the beach will hopefully still stay open - not guaranteed either as the next beach further north is where myself and Dawid got thrown out of this morning - even the beach is off-access).
so, what's going to happen to the climbing and traveller's situation here? Well, the local Thai attitude is that they're just going to move further back into the jungle. Pretty great to here for us, but not so good for the local environment. It's pretty disappointing to see more areas of jungle being destroyed.........
On another note, as you can guess, these semi-permanent bars don't have the best sanitation facilities. To be honest, we're not exactly sure where the toilet run-offs, rubbish go. We've heard stories of all the rubbish being burned. That includes all the plastic bottles as well!!!! It's definitely improved, largely due to Westerners telling the locals not to do it, and I know this will surprise a few people but excluding China, these beaches are the dirtiest I've been to.
I get the impression the Thai's are living in the here and now, and chasing the money. Doesn't sound much different to home if you ask me :) Basically anything goes here, the boat drivers take the exhausts off the engines to increase the power of the boats (yes, they cause an absolute racket). Interestingly, there's no coral left off-shore either here due to the amount of boats driving around with tourists.
On another note, all electricity in this locations is provided by diesel generators. they re-fill them every night with fuel and just run them (sans silencers) through the night. They're turned off during the day. Myself and Sean got a prime example of the pollution they're causing after we climbed one of the big routes above the village: the rock isn't actually black, it's covered in exhuast fumes.........
On a financial note, to my surprise and to some others who've noticed here, I can actually live cheaper in Spain or France at the climbing areas than here in China. Even with an exchange rate of 46 to 1 at the moment, prices are so much here that it's not as cheap as you think! I'm surprised no-one ever pointed this out who's been here before! Accomodation is 4/5 euros a night, breakfast (muesli and a coffee) costs 2.50 a day, lunch at least that again, and dinner is over 4 euros after you add in food and a drink. O.k., it's still not much, but I'm astounded how much it's costing me here. It was only after speaking to someone from Siurana that they confirmed my thoughts that it's cheaper in Spain.
Obviously some of this is partly due to having to eat out pretty much all the time (you can buy muesli/baguettes/etc. cheaply in hypermarkets in Europe), but there's a two-tiered system at work here. Its turns out that we get charged 30-40% more on everything than locals do, i.e. if we pay 1 euro for a bottle of water, they pay 60cent in the same shop. It's the same for everything. I'm sure lots of people will know that you barter for everything here when buying clothes/etc, but it's not an option here on food. Pretty disappointing to see if you ask me.
So, in cause anyone is wondering if I'm unhappy from this posting.... Am I enjoying myself? Is it worth visiting?
Absolutely, I love this place. The beauty, the lifestyle, the sport, this country is amazing. The people are fantastic/friendly/social and they genuinely make you feel like part of the family.
But as for the tourist rip-off, the pollution, and the 'resorts'. After hearing that a lot of the island reefs are now in a pretty bad state from tourist boats I'm not even sure if I'm going to take part in that. Hmmm, I sure hope they clean up their act soon...........