Sparkling, aquamarine-colored water under a big blue sky slowly erodes at the island’s cliff side. Above, stalagmite castles cling to the edge of sharply rising bluffs. White, wispy sparrows dive in and out of tiny caves hidden in the vast and jagged surface of the rock.
Dozens of Longtail Boats deliver camera-bearing eager explorers to white sand beaches. The exotic islands are filled with native plant species, colorful flowers and bright green bamboo shoots poking into small sandy paths.
Underwater, yellow angel fish play with a ball of bright purple sea anemone and Needle fish careen their way through rougher waters at the surface. The water is refreshingly cool and helps to break the spell of hot Thai weather. The return boat ride even yields goose-bumped skin for the first time since my arrival to Asia.
At Koh Phi Phi, the journey continues scaling the rock wall overlooking Andaman Bay. Our rock-climbing guide is a retired monk and novice climber. I notice as he pauses to remember the climbing knots and naturally I take an even longer pause to determine if it’s safe to climb with him. Thankfully, his mentor, an experienced climber from Nepal, arrives to help ensure our safe ascent.
I don my safety helmets, chalk my hands, and squeeze into super tight climbing shoes meant not to strangle your feet but to provide optimal grip and connection to the rock crevices. I go first anticipating only a solid try. As I start my climb up I think, “no big deal…nothing to it”, “Right hand, left foot, left hand, right foot” until I realize I’ve used too much arms and fatigue has caused them to ache.
After a few attempts to summit a protruding rock (at which point I was clinging below), my guides and belay partner encouraged me to take a rest. Hugh?? This meant I would let go of the rock and simply sit mid-air attached to a rope, hanging from a rock I had yet to fully trust. Exhale. One hand, two hands slowly released from the rock.
Both legs freed and I took a breath and I turned to see where I was. I was “hanging out” overlooking two serene majestic-blue bays of Koh Phi Phi. “Phew, I’m ok”, I thought and enjoyed the moment, letting go of my fear. I took a few minutes to let the blood return to my arms, my heart rate to slow and to enjoy the view. I finished the climb exhausted and excited from the experience.
The second climb was more technical and while 20 meters high with winds picking up and storm clouds rolling in, I spotted lightening on the opposite coast. A loud thunderclap and I made the call. “Honey, I’m coming down”. Safely at the bottom, I felt accomplished and filled with a renewed sense of adventure.
Back at the mainland of Phuket, my 6 day Muay Thai kickboxing course commenced. Double session training and daily running filled each day. “Jab”, “Uppercut”, “Front kick”, and “Punch” became my new language and hand wrapping, bowing, and working out in intense humidity became my new skills.
Everyday I hit the bags, practiced my precision punch and kicked the pads until the redness at my ankle had swelled to a black and blue.
Our trainers drilled the basic moves until we advanced into the ring to practice sparring. Let the fun begin! This was very exciting. With boxing gloves and shin pads in place, I slipped into the ring to meet my trainer. His English was limited to boxing commands and a few words of encouragement but his intention was clear: to push me to my limit.
We went 5 rounds of combination punches and kicks, each round a full 3 minutes with 1-minute break for push-ups, crunches, and a swig of water. The sweat poured off of me, my shirt already drenched, and at the last whistle my whole body was spent.
The final day was circuit training at the beach. With the humidity at full force, we ran uphill in deep sand, punching, kicking, and performing jumping elbow moves I had never seen before. At the end, we darted into the sea happy to be weightless and buoyant.
With muscles tight and body tired, I melted onto the massage table while strong, skilled hands of a Thai masseuse gently restored fluidity to my joints and nourishment to my muscles.
Thailand offered new sights, experiences and challenges. It helped me to reach new heights and explore new limits. I’d love to continue with the boxing and training, but for now I will turn in my gloves and head to the highlands of Southern India to engross myself in the study of Ayurveda and the practice of Yoga.