Climbing in S.E. Asia - Part II

 
 After crossing the border we were greeted by tall and steep limestone karst formations. We knew we were in for a good time.

After crossing the border we were greeted by tall and steep limestone karst formations. We knew we were in for a good time.

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!

 Believe it or not, there is a 5.10b route in the cave. It is called Saugeburt (German for Pig’s Birth). You have to climb through a two-metre long, narrow horizontal hole in the middle of the route – hence the name. You can have a long nap while you are lying in the hole, but the crux is getting turned around and escaping back to the steepness! One of my favourites.

Believe it or not, there is a 5.10b route in the cave. It is called Saugeburt (German for Pig’s Birth). You have to climb through a two-metre long, narrow horizontal hole in the middle of the route – hence the name. You can have a long nap while you are lying in the hole, but the crux is getting turned around and escaping back to the steepness! One of my favourites.

 This climb was harder, but it still had ridiculously big holds. Not big enough, though – I couldn’t hang on!

This climb was harder, but it still had ridiculously big holds. Not big enough, though – I couldn’t hang on!

 Each route at the Green Climbers Home is an adventure; a journey; a game of Twister.

Each route at the Green Climbers Home is an adventure; a journey; a game of Twister.

 Even the 5.9 routes are wildly overhanging!

Even the 5.9 routes are wildly overhanging!

 There are a handful of fun four-pitch routes that lead to a summit with great views.

There are a handful of fun four-pitch routes that lead to a summit with great views.

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!!

 Cabin life.

Cabin life.


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.

 There is a lot of logging going on in parts of Laos – both legal and illegal. Even the illegal loggers seem to mostly leave these massive and beautiful white-barked trees alone. I haven’t been able to find the name of this tree – does anyone know?

There is a lot of logging going on in parts of Laos – both legal and illegal. Even the illegal loggers seem to mostly leave these massive and beautiful white-barked trees alone. I haven’t been able to find the name of this tree – does anyone know?

 Not everyone will consider this specimen beautiful, but you have to admit that it is impressive! It is a Huntsman spider and it is the largest in the world by leg span. This species was only discovered a few years ago at the Green Climbers Home. We saw at least 30 of them in this cave. We were happy they stay in the caves!

Not everyone will consider this specimen beautiful, but you have to admit that it is impressive! It is a Huntsman spider and it is the largest in the world by leg span. This species was only discovered a few years ago at the Green Climbers Home. We saw at least 30 of them in this cave. We were happy they stay in the caves!

 Rural Laos is very poor. But like most places, rich or poor, the kids are full of joy.

Rural Laos is very poor. But like most places, rich or poor, the kids are full of joy.


Some travelling

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 Bolvean Plateau is famous for waterfalls, rainforest and coffee plantations. We only had a day, but you could easily spend three or four days hiking and sightseeing.

The Bolvean Plateau is famous for waterfalls, rainforest and coffee plantations. We only had a day, but you could easily spend three or four days hiking and sightseeing.

 Mmmm… coffee! There is quite a bit of coffee grown in Thailand and Laos. It’s very good, but strangely we had to work hard to find the real thing – the supermarkets only sell instant coffee.

Mmmm… coffee! There is quite a bit of coffee grown in Thailand and Laos. It’s very good, but strangely we had to work hard to find the real thing – the supermarkets only sell instant coffee.


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.

 The Cambodians, despite their lack of money, have done an amazing job of preserving a depressing but important part of their history. Phnom Penh is the place to learn about what Cambodians have been through over the last many decades.

The Cambodians, despite their lack of money, have done an amazing job of preserving a depressing but important part of their history. Phnom Penh is the place to learn about what Cambodians have been through over the last many decades.

 I was pretty proud to see this! Cambodia and many other countries are heavily affected by landmines years after the conflict is over. Canadians took the initiative in 1996 to get the world together and agree to ban landmines. To date, 162 countries have signed on. 34 U.N. countries have not, including the U.S.A, China and Russia.

I was pretty proud to see this! Cambodia and many other countries are heavily affected by landmines years after the conflict is over. Canadians took the initiative in 1996 to get the world together and agree to ban landmines. To date, 162 countries have signed on. 34 U.N. countries have not, including the U.S.A, China and Russia.


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.

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The Food

We found some surprising food options in Laos and Cambodia. Most of them we declined, but were happy to take pictures.

 Plate of cockroaches to go, anyone?

Plate of cockroaches to go, anyone?

 How about deep fried tarantula? This local man was eating them like potato chips.

How about deep fried tarantula? This local man was eating them like potato chips.

 Yup, it’s a rat. Apparently they are delicious.

Yup, it’s a rat. Apparently they are delicious.

 This lady offered a buffet – cockroaches, tarantulas and eels-on-a-stick. I don’t know what is on the left side, but it probably isn’t for vegetarians.

This lady offered a buffet – cockroaches, tarantulas and eels-on-a-stick. I don’t know what is on the left side, but it probably isn’t for vegetarians.

 This was our sense of food adventure!

This was our sense of food adventure!

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 climbed several FUN multi-pitch routes above the sea and its lovely breeze.

We climbed several FUN multi-pitch routes above the sea and its lovely breeze.

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 Climbers rarely go to Koh Yao Noi because the approach to the climbs involves a one-hour “four wheel drive” scooter ride and a half hour walk. It’s completely worth it.

Climbers rarely go to Koh Yao Noi because the approach to the climbs involves a one-hour “four wheel drive” scooter ride and a half hour walk. It’s completely worth it.


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!!!!

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The end

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.