Thailand Elephant Trek

March 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm

When reading guidebooks and planning our trip, I had decided against riding elephants in Thailand. Everybody talked about how horrible animal exploitation was, how poorly treated the elephants were, how the keepers kept them starving and worn down, and how westerners perpetuated this problem.

She had kind eyes.  And wanted bananas.

Evidently, since these guidebooks were written, some of the Elephant keepers in Thailand have wised up a bit. At least in the area we were visiting, “Elephant Eco-Tours” were advertised in all of the tourist shops. We decided to try one out that proclaimed the outfit was run by a village cooperative that treated the elephants like members of their own families. And we were glad we did.

The rider sat on the head, and we rode on the back

Videos and photos after the break…

Rockclimbing Railay, Part 3

March 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Ok, here’s my last post on to cover our climbing adventures in Thailand. If you missed the previous two parts, check out our rocky start, and Thailand’s redemption. I’m not sure why I’m having such a hard time blogging lately. I’ve had some health problems (more on that later, I’m sure), and for some reason, the idea of blogging makes me rather nauseous right now. Today, I want to bite the bullet and get these last two posts up.

The Thaiwand hovers over Railay West

On our last full day in Railay, we made the most of it. We ate a huge breakfast, lounged around until nearly 11, and then wandered up to the Thaiwand for one last go on those beautiful 6’s.

Fit To Be Thai’d (6a+, 10b) – Of course, most of the routes on the rock were full of groups of climbers, so we headed up the… interesting… ladder to the routes on the west side. Mark led up this long, lovely 10b, and I followed. It was one of the first tall routes in Thailand that I didn’t feel exposed and freaked out on. I loved every minute of it. The view was incredible, and the climbing was so much fun!

Rockclimbing in Thailand

After this route, we decided to camp out in line for Lord of the Thai’s (6a, 5.10a – 1st pitch). We lounged around in the orange dirt for probably an hour, watching a group of 4 people all climb the first pitch of this route. Of course, as soon as we get a chance to hop on it, the first weather we’ve seen in two weeks in Thailand seems to move in.

The wind picked up and started swirling orange dirt everywhere. Thunder rumbled constantly in the distance. Mark led the climb quickly and carefully, and I climbed and cleaned it. It was a long, fun route. And from the top, I could see out over all of Railay and towards Krabi in the distance. The storms were kilometers away, and we were in no danger.

View of Railay from the middle of the Thaiwand

In all, I wish we’d had another two months to spend climbing in Thailand. The routes of the area were so much fun. Long, overhanging, well protected, gymnastic, bucket-hauls that I was finally getting a good taste for right when we left.

On our way out of town, we donated our 2-year old rope and nasty old climbing shoes to Wee’s climbing outfit. At least future deep water solo’ers will have the option of Mark’s size 11’s and my size 5’s. :) And our rope will no doubt live on as anchor tat or boat anchor line somewhere in Southeast Asia.

In-flight movie review

March 20, 2010 at 3:46 pm

While travelling to and from Thailand, you find yourself trapped in a metal tube a few thousand feet above the ground with not a lot to do. I had a book to read, but United Airlines did show some decent movies in the good ‘ol economy cabin. I’m not a movie critic, so I’ll just give a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Thumbs up. Fun movie. The added content over and above the original 6 page childrens book was done very well. Liked it. Thumbs Up.

Up In the Air
Good movie. Watching a movie about a person (Clooney) who flys all the time while flying may have enhanced the experience. Thumbs Up.

Whip It
This movie was just plain fun. Watch it. Ellen Paige is great. Double thumbs up.

Blind Side
Another great movie. I think it won awards. It’s worth it. Sandra Bullock does fantastic in her role which is NOT a romantic comedy. Fantastic. Double Thumbs Up.

Love Happens
Lame. Wish I spent the time reading my book. Thumbs Down.

Invention of Lying
Ricky Gervaise is just plain fun. He was a bit better in “Ghost Town”, but this was still fun. Thumbs Up.

Rockclimbing Railay, Part 2

March 7, 2010 at 10:59 pm

After a few not-so-fun climbs around Railay, we hit the jackpot when we wandered north to Tonsai for the day.

Kate follows the same way!

Fire Wall

We clambered up to the base of Fire Wall at just around 11:30a. The sun was gone, and the area was in deep shade, but a thick lingering heat still filled the jungle below the crag. You could feel the burn coming off of the rock. We were the only ones there, though. Amazing!

The Groove Tube (5.10a) – We had at least 5 people ask us if we had done The Groove Tube before the end of our first week in Railay. Evidently this climb is at the top of the super-mega-ultra-must-do climbs list for the area. I’m giving the route a grade of 10a, which is the closest YDS grade to the book’s given 6a grade. But Mark and I both agreed, this route was barely more than 5.8, in all likelihood. And it was fun!

Climbing the Groove Tube

There are a few lovely, unique things about this climb. One is it’s obviously interesting morphology – you start by squirming through a tight chimney (really a giant pocket in the limestone) and then stem your way up through a cool tube formation, covered in giant pockets. The other is the protection. The bolts in Thailand are not always great, and this climb is protected entirely by bits of climbing rope threaded through the rock and tied off.

As we were climbing, the inevitable crowds descended upon us. But this time, we met up with a bunch of fun climbers. We met a couple from California, Kyle and Briana, who are starting a 2-year long around-the-world trip. We hung out with everybody for the afternoon, swapped stories and belays, and had a really great time.

The jungle around Tonsai

Boob Tube (5.10c) – After our go on the Groove Tube, Mark led up this climb just to the left. It was lots of fun too. It starts with a cruxy overhanging section where you climb up giant stalactites, and then transitions into a long vertical pockety funness. Another crux comes further up where you have to stem up to below a chimney and then make a committing lunge for what turns out to be a good jug. Highly recommend this route as well.

View from Fire Wall - gorgious!

Kochel Rock

We were looking for a couple of fun routes to tick off before heading to cooking lessons later, so we wandered down towards 1,2,3 Wall again, hoping to find some of the low-tide climbs. Amazingly, we ran into Kyle and Briana again, and ended up following them to a little out-of-the-way crag called Kochel Rock.

With You, Liebelein (5.10b/c) – There were four routes on this little wall, and nobody around when the four of us showed up. Mark led up the righthand climb, while Briana led the lefthand one. All of the routes on this wall had recently had bad bolts replaced with shiny new ones, and the guidebooks were still out of date. So, the area had not seen much traffic, and we got a good dose of Limestone sharpness on these routes. They were covered in knife-like texture, but lots of fun!

One for you, one for me (5.10c) – We TR’d this route from the anchors just left of With You, Liebelein. It started with a 20ft long overhanging finger/hand crack, and finished with thin, sharp moves on a gently overhanging face. Mark whizzed up this one, feeling super-strong and made it look beautiful and easy. I got about halfway up and decided to give up before I was bleeding too much on the route. Briana worked it out and said she enjoyed it as well.

Unknown 6a (5.10a) -The route on the far left of the rock, that Briana put up in the morning, was more fun for me. I started massively off route, but rearranged myself and finished strong, it was a fun one. Mark enjoyed it as well, but felt this was one of the harder routes of the day for him. I disagree completely. With more vertical, balancy moves, it definitely played more to my strengths than any of the other climbs on the wall.

Climbing sharp limestone in Thailand!

Rockclimbing Railay, Part 1

March 6, 2010 at 11:17 am

So Mark and I traveled half way around the world to hang out on beaches and climb huge limestone cliffs in Thailand. Unfortunately, our first few climbs were a little… ahem… rocky.

Kate climbing in Thailand

During our two weeks on the peninsula, we managed to visit most of the main areas of climbing, and tick off a couple classic routes. We stuck to single pitch climbs, and only did about 2 pitches a day before deciding to move on to a pool, bar, or boat.

So, we can’t provide an impressive ticklist from our trip, but I can give a brief overview of each area we went to, and the few climbs we did.

1,2,3 Wall

This was our first stop for the trip because it was easy to find, and covered in moderates. Weeks rented a harness and shoes and we took him climbing for the first time in two years!

Weeks tying in for his first climb in two (?) years

We arrived at about 1p, and the wall was shady and quiet. Within 20 minutes though, the guided groups arrived. The wall was instantly swamped with European tourists and Thai guides, shouting instructions and encouragement to each other at the top of their lungs. If you’ve never been climbing before, this seemed like a fun, party-like environment in which to start. If you’re used to long, quiet days of trad at Vedauwoo, 1,2,3 Wall was a bit of culture shock.

Giggering for Climbing (5.9-) – Our first route in Thailand was a bit of a disappointment. Short, weird, loud, and smooth as glass, this climb has seen so much traffic that there was no friction left on it anywhere.

Make a Way (5.10c) – We found this gem had just been vacated by a couple of Americans. I should note, I’m giving ratings here in YDS, but in Thailand, it’s all French. The guidebook said this was rated 6b. The guys at the base refused to call anything by it’s YDS rating, and the resulting conversation went something like this:

Mark: “Hey guys, is this a fun 10?”
Climber: “This climb is a long 6b.”
Mark: “It doesn’t look like a 5.6.”
Climber: “No, just a 6b. Maybe 6b-.”
Mark: “6b-, what kind of grade is that? What are you talking about?”

Longer routes cover 1,2,3 Wall

Mark put up a great attempt at this long, overhanging, VERY FUN route. He flashed it to the last bolt, but a bad sequence problem left him hanging from a deep one-finger pocket, and then *pop* suddenly he lost all feeling in that finger. He rested a bit on the last bolt, and finished the route strong, even without knowing the state of his finger.

The injury ended up sticking with him. Mark still doesn’t have all of the feeling back in his right middle finger. But he’s gotten used to it, and it didn’t interfere with his climbing on the rest of the trip.

The Thaiwand

View of Railay West and Tonsai from the base of the Thaiwand

After the 1,2,3 Wall incident, we had the hike with Weeks, and the deep water solo’ing day. So, it was probably 4 or 5 days before we were back on the rocks around Railay. And our next stop was the Thaiwand wall – a huge overhanging monolith that hovers over the south end of Railay West.

Primal Scream (5.10b) – There are about 5 climbs on the lower tier of the Thaiwand that are in the 10 range (and worth climbing), and when we arrived around 11a on this morning, there were groups of climbers on all of them. At the far left end of the rock are two 10-ish climbs that two girls had hung a top-rope on, and were running laps over and over on.

Mark and I tried to make friends with the Norwegian girl who was belaying, but she really did not like the idea of us horning in her climbing plans. No, she would not relinquish the climbs any time soon. No, she did not want to let us to lead one while they were climbing on the other. No, she really didn’t want us to hang out and wait for them to get done.

This girl was not nice.

Eventually, we convinced her to let us lead the left climb while her partner worked on the right one. It was a fun route, but nothing too spectacular. They pulled their rope eventually, and Mark and I TR’d Solution 41 (5.10d R) after they left. I thought this one was more fun, but both routes were so close together as to be rather contrived. The cruxy top section of Solution 41 was great fun, pulling on shallow pockets and balancing on little limestone divots.

So, after our first week on Railay, we had climbed four routes at two areas. We had been screamed at by guides, overrun with tourists, frowned at by an unhappy Norwegian and only had one great climb to show for it. So far, Thailand was not living up to expectations.

Sunset Snorkel

March 5, 2010 at 8:53 pm

After the first taste of snorkeling from the Deep Water Solo’ing trip, Mark and I wanted to do more. So, we signed up for a “Sunset Tour” with a local dive shop. This worked out great for us. The boat didn’t leave until 2p, so we could climb in the morning and snorkel in the evening!

Looking for Nemo

Electric blue fish

There’s a lot of fun pics in the gallery for this one too! Videos after the break…

Deep Water Solo’ing

March 4, 2010 at 5:45 pm

After returning from our trip, Mark and I have been asked several times “Why go all the way to Thailand for a vacation?” And our answer is pretty simple. There are not many places in the world where you can do something like this…

Mark Deep Water Solo'ing

To be honest, deep water solo’ing was not on our list of “must-do”s as we made our plans. But at a reasonable price of 800 Baht (US$24) a person through Wee’s outfit, which covered a full day of cruising around islands, a nice lunch, the option to snorkel and play on remote and deserted beaches, well, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. And it was worth every Baht.

John heading for the drink!

I highly recommend checking out all of the photos for this one in the gallery.

Hiking Railay

March 3, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Railay peninsula is a pretty small place. You can walk from the west beach to the east side in about 10 minutes, it’s probably less than half a kilometer wide, and no more than a kilometer long. Despite it’s small area, there are some really fun hikes to be had in the area. You may not travel far longitudinally, but vertically, there’s plenty of distance to gain.

The view of Railay Peninsula, incredible.

At the start of our trip, Mark and I wandered the peninsula, scouting the best beaches, talking to people at climbing shops, and trying to figure out the lay of the land. By the time Weeks joined us on the third day of our trip, we had a good idea of exactly what we wanted to do.

We wanted to hike to the Hidden Lagoon.

Mark doing his Indiana Jones impression