Climbing in S.E. Asia - Part I
When my boyfriend Ralf suggested we go on a two-month climbing trip to Thailand and Laos, I cringed, thinking of all the bad reviews I’d heard. Thailand has the reputation of being a beautiful country with really nice people and great food. But I had heard many say that climbing there was way too hot and humid, the rock was polished to a glassy finish and it was overrun with gazillions of tourists. Luckily, before I said no, my usual life philosophy kicked in. “How bad can it be?” 55 days of the trip were nothing but fantastic!
With the exception of the last five days, we climbed only at newly developed and/or lesser known areas in Thailand and Laos. There were countless excellent routes at all the grades we wanted. Southeast Asia's solid and highly featured limestone is characterized by tufas, face climbing, roofs, caves, pockets, cracks, tufas and more tufas. Everywhere we climbed, we found unpolished rock, lower temperatures, lower humidity, and fewer tourists than in the famous Krabi/Tonsai area where we spent our last few days. Only occasionally did we sweat out a litre of water in the course of a single route, or find a warm-up that had seen a bit too much traffic. Early starts, shade and liquid chalk were key to the climbing joy we consistently found.
The cultural experiences, wildlife sightings and rest-day activities in this part of the world are unique, memorable and abundant. We visited dozens of Wats (Buddhist temples), petted elephants, had our feet chewed on by hungry fish, hiked around beautiful waterfalls, shopped at vibrant markets, explored caves, swam in clear blue rivers, observed the plentiful wildlife, talked to monks, participated in a spectacular lantern festival, rode in tuk tuks, and generally found some kind of new adventure everyday.
Below are photos and videos from the first half of our trip.
The climbing was varied and fun on good limestone. There are only a few dozen routes at Nam Pha Pa Yai, but the unique experience it offers makes it well worth a stop for three or four days.
While driving to the Crazy Horse climbing area near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, we stopped to check out many temples, Buddhas and random beautiful statues.
We saw a lot of wildlife in Northern Thailand and were really surprised that we only had a single incident of finding a creature inside a pocket on a rock climb (a bat). We did get stung by bees a few times...
This is a water monitor. We saw many of them! Adults are normally two metres long. Shortly after I took this photo, two dogs raced up to "attack" the lizard. The lizard stood its ground and lashed out with its tail. When the dust settled (literally), we realized that the dogs did not even come within two metres of the lizard. I suspect this was a daily game between the three.
Bees were probably our biggest objective hazard while climbing. Not all the nests were this big and obvious. We both got stung and/or had to retreat quickly when we realized the route passed by a bees nest. We heard stories of climbers getting too close to large nests like these ones and receiving hundreds of stings, resulting in a fast trip to the hospital. Bring your EpiPen!!
There are many of these large, but harmless millipedes cruising around. Ralf woke up one night with a smaller one keeping him company on his side of the bed.
Luckily, most snakes in Thailand are not poisonous. We certainly kept our eyes open for the poisonous ones - King Cobras and vipers.
There is a good reason there are Thai restaurants all over the world. Their food is delicious! Many restaurants offer Thai cooking classes. We tried to eat as many different dishes as we could.
This is Kôw Soy - a dish found only in Northern Thailand. It was amazingly good. If it were more widely available I think it would be as popular as Pad Thai.
We were often served by friendly and colourful locals. We found Thailand to be one of the friendliest places either of us has ever visited.
We had to be cautious when eating in the locals-only restaurants. Here is Ralf, "enjoying" an extraordinarily spicy soup. An occasional meal was so hot that my mouth swelled up and I could no longer speak because of the pain!
We spent 12 days climbing at Crazy Horse near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. It is a perfect destination for a couple of weeks of climbing and sightseeing. The shortest approach was two minutes and the longest was 20. You can climb on any solar aspect and even climb completely inside big caves.
Are you confused by this picture? Don't worry - this route was also confusing to climb! The rock demands all kinds of technique and three dimensional moves and thoughts. We eventually climbed way up inside the dark cave in the roof.
Many of the climbs require a lot of power!
The Lantern Festival
Ralf and I were really lucky to be in Chiang Mai during their spectacular Loi Krathong festival. It is celebrated on the 12th full moon of each year. It is considered good luck to either float a beautiful candle lantern down the river or float a large, lighted lantern up into the sky. There were tens of thousands of people from all over the world participating in this colourful festival.
In summary, a climbing trip to Thailand is much, much more than just a great climbing trip. The rest day activities are really hard to beat!
- We rented a car at the Bangkok airport, having booked it online ahead of time. The driving is left-hand, but it was only rarely insane - usually when we were trying to find rock-star parking near one of the markets. The road systems, especially in Bangkok are excellent and the drivers are good.
- We purchased a cheap SIM card for my unlocked iPhone at the airport. This allowed us to use Google Maps for navigation. The cell coverage in Thailand is much better than in Canada or Germany!
- We used online hotel booking sites when we were travelling and just needed a night or two. This was a bit hit and miss, but it worked. We booked our tent and treehouse accommodation at Nam Pha Pa Yai camp through their website. For the climbing at Crazy Horse, we stayed in the village of Mae On 30 km east of Chiang Mai. We drove around the tiny village looking at accommodation options and found a nice little apartment for 500 Thai Bhat per night ($18 CAD).
- Our trip was from November 11 until January 10.