Ways to Help Railay/Ton Sai in Thailand
The Tsunami disaster of December 2004 claimed untold lives and devastated vast areas. Nations and heroic organizations are scrambling to attend to the worst hit areas. We must support and contribute to their essential efforts.
Still, it is human nature to take special care of place and people we know firsthand.
We want our friends to be spared suffering. But how?
Thats the question that has been haunting me. In 1998, I spent two fantastic weeks enjoying world class climbing, food, and people on Railay/Ton Sai Beaches in Thailand. It was beyond bliss.
After years of idle talk, I was finally preparing to return to Railay, this time with my girlfriend of many years, Susan.
Then disaster stuck.
When the ocean receded it was evident that Railay and Ton Sai had been mostly spared. There were tragic deaths at sea, but Railay/Ton Sai didnt suffer the same the devastation as the Phi Phi Islands and parts of Phuket.
But thats when the real questions began. Should we go anyway? Could we find a way to be of service that was real
practical? What were the ethics in visiting a place that had tasted tragedy?
My selfish heart couldnt take the giant leap and join the great souls helping in truly devastated areas risking disease amid political upheaval. Even if I could make such a sacrifice, I couldnt ask Susan to leap with me. (Although I knew she would probably leap first and Id be dragged behind screaming)
Besides, I wanted to help the place that I know. That one place: Railay/Ton Sai, where I met wonderful folks and climbed. What do THEY need?
I thought of clever ways I might channel some direct funds to the widows of the boatman lost. I emailed climbers and business folks living in the area, and researched local websites. It turns out that the Thai government has the situation well in hand and that the worst affected are getting help. The real problem is that the tourist cancellations are killing the economy for everyone in general.
I discovered that there are dozens of hotel staff, waiters, boatman, and other locals who are going to be economically devastated by this disaster, and no fund that you can send money to will help them at all. Not that I have yet found, and Ive asked and Ive looked.
Even the hotel owners, who have been supporting charitable efforts as pillars of their community, are fearful of their own viability, due to massive cancellations. Naturally, theyll be forced to lay off help or reduce hours. They hope the crowds will spring right back. They havent fully grasped impact that the spectacle will have on their lifeblood. Susan and I received calls for many of our relatives suggesting that we cancel our trip.
No, my friends, the rest of the world will be afraid to return to Railay and Ton Sai this season. Only climbers have the guts to be their foul weather friends. The only way we can save the day for this special place where so many of us played, is by going there.
Its Railay Reunion time!
Everything is back to normal except nobodys there. The French government says there is no risk of disease escalating. Ive talked to a lot of folks and heres the bottom line: What is needed is for tourism to come back without delay. Thats everybodys lifeline; The tourist economy. Even the price of fish for the poorest fisherman is part of it.
Unfortunately, the tourists focused on the worst hit areas, cancelled their plans, opened their checkbooks to the Red Cross, and called it good.
That is good, and its needed.
But that wont help Railay. Only one thing can.
YOUR VISIT! THIS SEASON!
Im told its safe. Its better than great. For one time in our lives, our choice of vacation can have a real, tangible, beneficial effect. It sounds a little twisted, but its a REAL solution to one LOCAL problem. Its a place that had been local to many of us, so pack your bags. I believe whatever fears you have will prove unfounded after youve done your homework. (I encourage you to research for yourself since, if the stock market is any indication, I may be gullible and prone to optimism. I will provide helpful links below. It's bound to be safer than trad climbing!)
The Climbing community has had great times at Railay/Ton Sai. They are a part of us. There is only one way for us to help them during a tough time. We just have to go BE there.
If you dont feel like partying, dont. It might be that a party is needed. It might be that a more quiet and respectful gathering is in order. Lets get there and find out what feels right.
Shouldnt be a problem at all should it? If a trip to paradise were the worst sacrifice you ever had to make, youd be blessed. There will be nobody but us climbers moving back in where the beach crowd scattered. You just have to stretch your mind and reconfigure your priorities and plans.
Can you swing it somehow? This year instead of sometime in the future? This season when its needed? Ill bet your boss would be understanding. Ill bet your coworkers would work around your vacation requests. Ill bet the usual penalties for last minute flights will be avoidable. Make sure you can repay those credit cards but theres never been a better excuse to splurge on a road trip.
Its Railay Reunion time! Good for them, good for you. Share the love. Bring the healing home.
There will never a time when a visit would mean as much.
If youve never been before, dont let that stop you. There are palaces of extreme luxury and bungalows cheaper than campgrounds, and they all need friends. Im told the main Railay area has experienced much development since my first trip. I will provide links below where you could book a place at one of the more luxurious spots, or just show up and stay at one of the many places at Ton Sai where many cost conscious climbers have popularized. Prices are in flux due to so many cancellations.
This is not about capitalizing on someones misfortune, and it is not about trying to give handouts to the proud Thai people. It is about trying to be there for friends.
If you cant make it, stay tuned. Ill try to gather more information below on ways you can focus help directly to the area.
Lets make 2005 be the year that climbers rescued Railay. I dont want to schedule a reunion event because that would just lead to a concentration of visitation. The idea is just come to Railay/Ton Sai, as soon as you can manage it. The later in March/April that it gets, the hotter the weather will be, but Ive talked to friends that had a great time then as well. Bring an open heart, and take it from there.
Tsunami clean-up Updates
Note that there is another "Ton Sai" in the Phi Phi Islands that suffered severe damage.
Good info on climbing in Thailand
Donate to the Red Cross
The Local Relief Money Situation is not desperate, but for those desiring to contribute locally:
Link to wire money to directly help the worst hit Phuket Area.
Link to wire money for Krabi area
Good sources for last minute cheap airfares
www.priceline.com (name your own price)
We paid $700 per person from San Francisco direct from Japan Air. (800-525-3663) You can take a bus from Bangkok to Krabi and a short boat to Railay, or fly directly from Bangkok to Krabi on Thai Air or Bangkok Air ($50 to $65 one way)
Karl's Trip report about Railay 1998
Back to Karl's photo site