Climbing in S.E. Asia - Part II
This past winter, Ralf Dujmovits and I enjoyed a sport climbing and travelling trip to S.E. Asia for two months. With the exception of the last five days, we climbed only at lesser known and/or new areas and had a fantastic time! The climbing was fun, it was warm-but-not-too-warm, the food was amazing (and sometimes 'interesting') and the rest day adventures were hard to beat. In Part 1 of this blog, I wrote about our journey to Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp and Crazy Horse crag near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. In this post, I will describe our visit to the Green Climbers Home in Laos, our culture and travel trip to Cambodia, and our short visit to Tonsai and the relatively unknown island of Koh Yao Noi.
After returning our rental car at the airport in Bangkok without a single scratch on it (!), we flew to Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, on the border with Laos.
The Green Climbers Home, Laos
Our destination was the 'rock climbing resort' called the Green Climbers Home just a few kilometres inside the Laos-Thailand border, near Thakhek. In 2010, German climbers Tanja and Uli Weidner went to Laos to check out the potential for new rock climbing areas. They were so impressed that they quit their jobs back home and simply stayed. They built a camp for climbers in the centre of an amazing collection of crags. Thanks to their efforts and those of visiting friends, there are now more than 300 routes.
If you prefer slab climbing, don't go there. If you like highly featured, steep, 3D climbing, go there! The routes in the cave below were really confusing - we frequently called down to each other to ask which way we were supposed to go - left, right, backwards, forwards, sideways, etc. Every direction felt like "up", but it was really "out" (of the cave). Fun!
The Green Climbers Home offers a few accommodation options - you can rent a tent, dorm room or private bungalow. Tanja, Uli and their friendly foreign and Laotian staff serve three great meals a day for very reasonable prices. The approach to most crags takes between two and ten minutes. If you want to go really crazy (and be completely alone), you can walk 20 or 30 minutes. The temperatures and humidity were much lower than anywhere else we went on this trip - a couple of times we had long pants and Primaloft jackets on all day. I highly recommend a visit!!
The beauty of it all...
Ralf and I stayed at the Green Climbers Home for 16 days, but I wish it had been at least three weeks. With a longer visit, we would have (gladly) taken a 4-day break in the middle to do a popular round-trip motorcycle tour that sounds like a great adventure. Next time.
We headed to southern Laos and Cambodia for ten days of travelling that would take us through Christmas. Our first stop was Pakse where we rented a scooter to check out the Bolvean Plateau.
The heartbreak and the inspiration
Our next stop was Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. A friend who climbed and travelled for a year spent three non-climbing weeks in Cambodia. Since he said it was one of the very best parts of his whole trip, we had to go.
I had heard of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge and the genocide that took place in Cambodia in the 1970s. But that's about it. This is not the place to go into details, but let's just say these people suffered unimaginably. For decades. They were at war before Pol Pot, then 1/3 of their population was tortured and murdered by Pol Pot, and then they suffered more war for the next ten years during which hundreds of thousands of land mines were placed. It was a really emotional part of our trip. Ralf and I alternated between being completely disgusted by humanity and being completely amazed and inspired by the resilience of humanity.
Next stop: Siem Reap and the famous Angkor Wat
Exploring the expansive ancient ruins of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap in Cambodia had been on Ralf's bucket list for a long time. And I (unfortunately) had seen Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, so I knew enough to be intrigued. We spent four VERY full days exploring and photographing this amazing 200-hectare temple complex. We have about 4,000 more photographs if anyone wants to see them.
We found some surprising food options in Laos and Cambodia. Most of them we declined, but were happy to take pictures.
In retrospect, visiting Cambodia was my favourite part of the trip even though we did not climb. To know what Cambodians have been through, and to see them now - amazingly friendly people who are working their butts off to bring their standard of living up - was super inspiring and good for the soul.
Back to climbing
At the end of our truly exhausting ten days of travel, we spent 30 hours in taxis, on buses, in tuk tuks and on a longtail boat to get to the magical island of Koh Yao Noi, nearish to Tonsai.
We went to Tonsai beach for the last five days of our trip. Many single-pitch routes are polished, but the multi-pitch climbs are fantastic. I recommend that you don't go between mid December and mid January - the crowds are horrendous!!!!
Are you still awake? Sorry that was so long. But it was a really great trip with many, many adventures!
If you've still got the travel bug, you can always read Part 1 of our adventure here.