Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Thailand - Getting our Tan (and Climb) on in Tonsai

At the end of March, Kyle and I ventured overseas (our first trip abroad together) for two weeks of fun and exploration in Thailand. Neither of us had been to Asia before and we didn't have much time so it was a blur of sight seeing, activities and trying to squeeze in a bit of R&R. Although we wanted to do some climbing in Thailand, that wasn't totally the focus of the trip. It was really nice to spend some time being tourists for once, mixed in with a bit of recreation too. For this blog entry, I have focused mostly on the climbing, since covering the whole trip couldn't possibly do it justice. We met so many amazing people, checked out some fantastic places and only just scratched the surface of what Thailand has to offer. It would be really hard to put all of those experiences into words, but hopefully I can pass on some useful info for anyone interested in heading over to check it out for themselves.
Within hours of arrival, we had determined that Chang was our beer of choice
We flew into Bangkok, 24 hours of travel from Calgary. We had two days in the city to get our bearings and sort out our jet lag. The first morning we must have looked like easy targets for the TukTuk drivers because they would follow us asking "tuktuk?" and one even got out and drew all over our map within minutes of us leaving the guest house, pointing out all the places he could take us for only 40 baht! By the afternoon, we were veterans and knew just to avoid eye contact and don't trust anyone who asked if we needed help, they were all part of the scam! We had a few places that we wanted to visit and managed to get to all of them plus more. Just walking around Bangkok and taking public transit (boats on the canal and the skytrain) allowed us to see so much more of the city than we could have by taking a cab. I highly recommend that method of transportation! 
Buddha images were everywhere in the temples, but as we learned, "Buddha is not for decoration or tattoo" so don't buy Buddha!
Kyle showing off his hips
Day two was more of a temple day. There are special rules about girls covering their legs and shoulders in religious buildings. This was not an easy thing to do when it was 35 degrees and super humid! We were sweating constantly, then would watch a local walk by in jeans and a long sleeve. Crazy! We had our first thai massage at Wat Pho, the traditional thai massage school. I left feeling like I had just had a workout, but it was amazing. We made sure to try some of the street food that you can find on every spare piece of sidewalk that doesn't have a tree growing out of it. They would cook the food right there for you and it was delicious!
We ate so much delicious street food while we were in Bangkok
Two days was a perfect amount of time in Bangkok. We left for the south, flying to Krabi Town then taking a bus to Ao Nang, where we then took a longtail boat to Tonsai. It was nice and peaceful after the sensory overload of Bangkok. For those of you who have been to Tonsai in the past, it is in the middle of a big change. A large developing company in Bangkok recently bought all the beachfront and didn't renew the leases of the businesses that used to be there. All the accommodations, bars and restaurants have moved up the hill into the jungle and a concrete wall was being constructed around the purchased area while we were there. It was pretty surreal and the locals were not very happy about it. 
Our first day at the beach, loading the longtail to Tonsai
We hadn't made many plans for this trip, which was a good thing because once we arrived in Tonsai, we didn't want to leave! We ended up spending a full week at Krabi Mountain View Bungalows, which were cheap and clean. Tonsai may not have the amenities that nearby Railay does (power from 6pm to 6am only) but it was a vibrant place full of Rastafarian's, dirtbag climbers and backpackers, unlike the families and honeymooners of Railay. Both Railay and Tonsai had unlimited climbing though and we actually spent more of our time over at Railay climbing as there was a higher concentration of easier routes.
Kyle scoping out some of the climbs that start right on the beach (the hard ones!)
Before we did any real climbing, we went out on a Deep Water Soloing Tour with Basecamp Tonsai. We got about 4 hours of solid climbing, with lunch at the beach and crazy guides who showed us all up, climbing hard route in barefeet then jumping at least 20 metres into the water. The tour was a great way to meet some other people who were staying in Tonsai and get a feel for the rock and the grades in the area.
Deep water soloing on Poda Island with Tonsai Basecamp
Kyle moving up the corner above the water (7a)
Climbing stalactites 
The one bar that is still on the beach, Freedom Bar, has a big rock face looming above that they illuminate with floodlights at night. We had dinner at their restaurant on the beach one night and watched the climbers in awe.
Climbing area above the Freedom Bar
It was nice to spend a decent amount of time in Tonsai. Since it is such a small place, we were able to get to know some of the other travelers that were also finding it hard to leave. We were able to check out all the bars, most of which were equipped with slacklines that got more fun as the night went on. Also many of the bars would have fire spinning shows and live music. There was never a dull moment!
Sunset Pirate Bar on the Jungle Path
Unfortunately, both Kyle and I experienced the Tonsai cleanse and each spent a full day out of commission with GI issues. Kyle was kind enough to give me a belay on his sick day, while I just spent mine passed out in the shade on the beach. I guess there are worse places to spend a sick day.
Belay stance on Monkey World 
Climbing the first pitch of Monkeying Around (6a)
New wall in Tonsai, separating the climbers from the new development
Hiking over to Railay for a day of climbing, looking back at Tonsai Beach
Climbing at Muay Thai Wall - Take it Easy (5)
Kyle leading King Cobra (5) on One, Two, Three Wall in Railay
Waiting to climb on the beach at Railay East
There was more to do in Railay than just climb, and the two of us spent a good deal of time exploring some of the caves in the area, walking the jungle path between Tonsai and Railay, hiking to the lagoon (a crater in the middle of the island filled with seawater) and up to a viewpoint. We also ate a lot of curry, seafood, pad thai and fruit shakes. The food was unbelievable!
Naughty monkeys on the path
Hiking into the lagoon at Railay
Caves in the lagoon
Cave exploring - good thing we brought headlamps
Phra Nang beach, which had lots of climbing, lots of monkeys and lots of bats!
Money Maker (6a) on Phra Nang Beach. At sunset as we were climbing, bats were pouring out of the cave
Phra Nang beach at Railay was the most beautiful beach I have ever been too. It was also home to an interesting shrine. The "fertility cave" found beside the beach was full of many wooden offerings to the fertility goddess, as seen below.
Fertility cave at Phra Nang Beach
Although we didn't spend a huge amount of time climbing on our trip, we were very happy that we had brought all our own gear. Renting a rope was about $40 CAD per day, plus more if you wanted to rent harnesses, shoes, draws and anchor gear! It was much different climbing the Thai limestone than the limestone in the Rockies. It was very sharp from where the seawater had eroded it and the routes were full of pockets and stalactites, making the climbing very three dimensional. It was also super solid and the feet were amazingly grippy. Some people complained that the more popular routes were polished but once you were off the ground it was back to being sharp. Another interesting thing was that many of the routes were protected with slings instead of bolts (they need expensive titanium bolts as steed corrodes from the humidity, temperature and an acid produced by the tree roots!). Also all of the routes had rope anchors with a large ring which was much cheaper than a titanium chain! It took some getting used to, but clipping slings wasn't so bad! Another factor that we were not expecting was how difficult it is to climb a route that is in the direct sun. Kyle tried to lead a route at 10 am that was in the sun and he had to come down after two bolts because he was too sweaty to climb anymore. Planning your day to stay in the shade is really important!
Ramazon (6a) on One, Two, Three Wall at Railay East
Kyle working out the start on We Sad (6a+) on One, Two, Three Wall at Railay East
Cave exploration - making our way from Phra Nang Beach to Railay West
Kyle rappelling out of the cave with Railay West below
Great day for a rappel!
Longtails on the beach
As our stay in Tonsai closed in on a week, we decided that it was time to leave. If we come back it would be amazing to spend more time in Tonsai and do loads more climbing. It had been nice to do some other stuff as well as climbing though, we did a snorkeling tour and got to snorkel in the luminescence, took out kayaks to explore the shoreline and actually spent a bit of time on the beach!
Sunset kayak trip marked an end to our stay in Tonsai

We returned to Ao Nang, which seemed busy after the leisurely pace of Tonsai. From Ao Nang, we took a tour bus and longtail to see the James Bond Island as well as some other local attractions such as the Monkey Temple, a floating Muslim village with a big market and a waterfall in the jungle. This was the first time we had got caught out in the rain, just as we arrived at the non-existent waterfall (it hadn't rained in 3 months), the skies unleashed so we went for a swim in the river then joined the group for some coca-cola and pineapple cookies under a picnic shelter. When it rains in Thailand, it pours!
Cool cave at the James Bond Island
James Bond Island!
Waiting for our longtail

Mystery food at the market, I think its all very spicy
Dried seafood - squid, fish, shrimp
Ao Nang also made a great jumping off point for a scuba diving day. Ironically, we had decided to skip going to Ko Phi Phi so that we could stay at Tonsai longer, but our dive boat took us out there for the day so we could dive in the area! Everything seems to have a way of working out!
Awesome dive at Ko Phi Phi. We both saw a sea turtle, octopus and cuttlefish and Kyle got to see a black tipped reef shark
Afternoon boat cruise with a trusty Chang
The final few days of our trip involved heading to Krabi Town for a day and doing a bit of exploring around there. Then it was back to Bangkok and back to reality (after a healthy dose of shopping!)
Songthaew (truck taxi) with ALL our luggage en route to Krabi Town
Morning market in Krabi Town - lots of chilies!
Tiger Cave Temple
Shop-a-holic at Jatuchak Market in Bangkok
Amazing what you can find on the streets in Bangkok
Fish massage


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