Where the cliffs meet the sea……Tonsai’s the place to be.

I had heard the rumours and the stories for years and never thought much of what I had heard. I had also heard that you had to stand in line and you had to get ill to be initiated into the fold. All of these things had put me off really jumping in the deep end and heading for one of Southeast Asia’s prime locations. However, I am here and it is now. I am standing on Tonsai Beach in Thailand preparing to do my first route in this tiny but very popular climbing spot.

DSCF6333
Tonsai Beach…………beautiful!

I have tied in and Jean-Christophe (JC) is on belay and I am heading up “Lal Bab” 7a+ (24). The route looked like fun and I like having fun. While I step up onto the limestone I realise that all the stories are true. The rock is incredibly polished, the heat is oppressive and the humidity and spooginess increases the grades ever so slightly, but I didn’t have to wait in line to get on the route. What a great way to start my time here.

DSCF6338
The author clipping some Titanium on “Lal Bab” 7a+ (24).
DSCF6356
Gordon Fraser post crux on “Lal Bab” 7a+ (24).

The day started with a great coffee at the Time To Chill Coffee House run by Kun and his mum and dad. Mama and Papa are ageless. No one knows how old they are, they just know they are ancient and truly “good humans”. Every morning I would walk in and be welcomed with a happy demeanour and the phrase “two coffee, no sugar, no milk…..same same! It always brought a smile to my face and made the day perfect.

IMG_4269
Kun smiling happily as he whips up a hot cocoa at Time To Chill Coffee House.

Nights consisted of a 7:30pm meet at Mama Chicken for a group meal and talk about our days and laugh incessantly about all our cultural differences. This was a treat for all of us as we tested each others limits with jibes and stabs at each others countries, cultures and beliefs. On average there were seven nations represented and although english was the spoken language, most of the group were bilingual, so it was always a delight to hear Spanish and French thrown about freely.

About 6pm every night the Reggae music started in all bars. Given all of the wonderful music available on this wondrous planet, I just happened to be in a place where every single bar played the same style of music. Probably because a lot of people were too stoned to realise they had heard it all the night before. I suppose short term memory loss from smoking pot helps venue owners with playlists. They just hit shuffle and everyone is none the wiser……I just simply don’t like Reggae.

IMG_4272
“On The Cans” with an Aussie climbing mate at Freedom Bar……….yep! Its right on the beach.

The climbing here is great, with a range of seriously good routes on offer. Unfortunately if you are not climbing 6a (18) the options are very limited for you. You can watch all the “rock stars” climbing on the beach, dangling their way up some of the classics of the area. “Tonsai Playboy” and “Lal Bab” both 7a+ (24) are always crowd favourites and “Tidal Wave” 7b+ (26) always has draws on it, so jump in line for a shot at the prize.

DSCF6383
Lucho pulling out of the crux on Cara Congreso 8b (31).

Tyrollean Wall offered some ok routes on average rock, however “Sit Spins” and “Missing Snow” at 6b+ (20) are fabulous routes and engaging from the start. Wild Kingdom has a heap of pretty fair climbing. I have to say “Freedom Safari” 7a (23) and “Overstay” 6b+ (20) are fantastic pumpy fun with super good movement. Karine also videoed an awesome send of “Cara Congreso” 8b (31) by our newfound friend and Chilean climbing powerhouse Lucho Birkner.

IMG_4294
What a great team! You will not have more fun with anyone else in Tonsai. (L to R) Pedro (On Belay) Borderas, Tony (I am with You) Beyer, Lucia (Up your Feet’s) Biro and Karine sitting.
IMG_4286
Sonja Schenkel after a successful send on the beach.

Unfortunately, due to a neck twinge and my darling’s back problem that took us out of the game (I am happy to say at the writing of this story she has recovered well). So climbing was limited to a few days and a lot of hanging out on the beach. I think we would both like to return to Tonsai and explore more, but we would definitely go earlier rather than later in the season.

DSCF6360
JC on “Second Home Tonsai” 7a+ (24)

Before leaving this wonderful place we donated our rope to the Base Camp Climbing Shop It will be used to make replacement slings for anchors and some of the routes require them as they are not all bolted. We also bought Thaitanium Project T-shirt each and the proceeds go to the purchase and replacement of bolts in the area. Its important that we contribute to the maintenance of the places we love. For more information check out The Thaitanium Project on Youtube.

IMG_4308
Our last day was only made better as the owners requested a photo with us.

However, what pleased us most about coming to Tonsai was the people. We were catching up with a group of friends who we had met and accumulated over the course of our time in Southeast Asia this time around. This wasn’t organised at all, people were simply on the Thai climbing season trail and we all just happened to be heading in the same direction. We were super excited about catching up again. The team was definitely back together and some new members were also added. You all know who you are………”Good Human’s”.

Advertisements

Modern diversity and cultural encounters…….welcome to Kuala Lumpur.

Well, I have to say that four days of rest and relaxation in Kuala Lumpur was worth every second. It was a chance to recover from the outrageous heat of the Mae On District in Thailand and let my body recover from thrashing about in the vertical world for a few weeks. Sometimes you need to rest and there was no time like the present. It was also an opportunity to check out a city that I had heard great things about, but had never visited.

Arriving at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and finding our way to baggage was an adventure, you have to walk about 1.5 kilometres from the plane to the customs officers counters . You just keep walking until you see a sign (or not in our case). We ran out of building because we went the wrong way. Someone decided to go to the toilet so everyone followed them.

After an hour and a half of baggage claim, organising a taxi and sitting in it of the 58 kilometres we arrived at our destination. Happy to be in the lap of luxury for the few short days. We settled into our nice 17th floor room in the Renaissance KL Hotel, overlooking the famous and truly marvellous Petronas Twin Towers. These majestic spires rise 452 metres above street level and are the centrepiece of the KL skyline.

IMG_4164
What a sensational way to start our stay in KL. Our view was sublime.

Wandering through the streets of Kampong Bharu in downtown Kuala Lumpur was a real Surprise. These beautiful colonial houses are the remnants of the Malay culture that is rapidly developing and some would say fading. Ownership is a little vague it would seem, as the original Malay families did not keep wills. The houses are owned by multiple family members and inheritance is even more vague, making selling to developers a very complex and convoluted process.

IMG_4188
Such contrast between old and new….beauty and the beasts……..
IMG_4202
This place was just so incredibly quaint and lovely.

In the evening after a fantastic tour of the Petronas Twin Towers we met up with a friend we had met in Chiang Mai a year ago. He was taking us to one of his favourite little back street eateries. Hidden in the bustling basement of an old building off the main drag was this bustling and bristly Chinese restaurant. It was a typical street food place, with red plastic chairs and bright yellow table clothes. Welcome to Ong Lai Restaurant.

IMG_4227
the beauty and imagination of a visionary brought to life…..
IMG_4232
The glistening towers and sky bridge……..I love this place.

Sitting down and catching up worth Yeo was great. Not much had change for him over the course of the year, but I could tell he was pleased to see us and also very excited to show us around. He was proud of the food that KL had to offer and was ordering for us, which to be perfectly honest was great. Saved us the drama of obscure outcomes. The food was good and flavoursome. I must admit the Hokkien noodle dish is still a mystery but all in all ok.

IMG_4235
Fish noodles, sweet and sour pork spare rib and hokkien noodles with chilli vegetables at Ong Lai.

The next morning we were off again to eat in another part of town. It was about 11am and time for an early lunch. Yeo had taken time off work for this experience as it was “the place” to eat pork stomach soup. He also ordered three plates of Ipoh Horfan (flat white noodles from Ipoh) and for dessert we tried out Hum Jeem Peng (deep fired pastry with red bean paste inside it). I guess it was the Malay version of a jam and cream donut. Again an enjoyable meal with great company.

IMG_4237
The boss preparing our lunch in the Pork Stomach Restaurant…..love the name.
IMG_4240
Artery Hardening Fun for dessert.

Finishing up with a coffee at VCR Coffee and Cakes was a treat. The coffee was fantastic and the atmosphere perfect. Nestled away in a little street filled with colonial terrace houses , this bastion of brewed bliss made me smile as we discussed the culture, politics and people of this ever changing place that is Kuala Lumpur.

IMG_4245
VCR Coffee and Cakes……..great place indeed.
IMG_4246
The baristas making it all happen at VCR. Industrial Funk at its finest.

A return trip to KL must be planned as the flow of this place is moving forward rapidly and will not remain the way it is for very much longer.

Crazy Horse Buttress and climbing in Northern Thailand:- Part 2…. I think?!

Sitting in my little teak bungalow waiting for the coffee to brew and its 6:30am. The sounds of a Mae On district Sunday morning continue as the loud speaker pray seems to echo on through the valley. This unknown little area is where the best milk in Thailand is produced, where some of the best coffee in the country is grown and it is where a small band of enthusiasts come in the Northern winter to spend some time in the sun, rock climbing and living minimally.

Welcome to Crazy Horse Buttress. This beautiful outcrop of limestone offers some stunning lines in the 5’s and 7’s (14 to 28)…oh yeah theres one 8a (29) or something, but the bee’s normally rule that out pretty quickly. There is nothing harder than that, so if you want to climb harder go to Tonsai and hangout on the beach. Oh we are spoilt for choices here in Southeast Asia aren’t we?!

IMG_4069
Karine flashing an unknown 6b (19/20) at Aircon Wall Sector.

But, if you want to experience a great time on great rock and meet a bunch of really cool people who wanna climb and enjoy the experience, this could be the place for you. I have met a lot of people during my three stays here and only met one person who was really not enjoyable to be around. It’s not bad given the amount of traffic that rolls through the place.

Anyway, on to more important things. There are eighteen sectors to extoll your vertical virtues on, with varying styles and funky movement. You have the beautiful vertical face of The Furnace to cook yourself on after 10:30am every morning. The sun hits it hard everyday from then on until sunset. “Balance of Power” 7a+ and “Black Hole Sun” 6b+ are the choice routes here and well worth the effort of an early start.

DSCF6167
Robert delicately clipping the draw below the crux on “Balance of Power” 7a+ (24). The Furnace Sector.
DSCF6161
Derek working his way through “Black Hole Sun” 6b+ (20). The Furnace Sector.

Another favourite of mine is Gate Keeper Buttress. This is a pretty cool experience, as you are belaying at one of the opening’s into the Anxiety State Crisis cave. The opening is about 45 metres from the bottom of the cave and you can feel the abyss calling you to peer down. “All’s Quite on the Eastern Front” 7a (23) is the stellar technical classic of this sector. It really doesn’t get much better at the grade and the finish of the route puts you right out there on the edge……..literally.

Frame-30-03-2017-10-22-29
The author midway through the crux on “All’s Quiet on the Eastern Front” 7a (23). Gate Keeper Buttress.
DSCF6245
The abyss calls from the belay station at Gate Keeper Buttress.

Rooftop Sector only has a few routes, however “Skyscraper” 6a (18) is the pick of the bunch. A stunning line to open up the Mae On Valley view at the top. I could go on for hours about the different sectors, but there would be no real point. You need to go there and climb yourself.

Josh Morris and the team at Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (CMRCA) are continuing to do a fabulous job in the area and be sure to go into town and check out the shop.

My only disappointment is the guide book is ancient and I really like having a guide book. There is an app available through iTunes, but I really like books because I can draw in them and have them on my shelf as a constant reminder of wonderful adventures with “good humans”.

Nothing but praise for the family at Jira Homestay.

This is my third trip to Chiang Mai in about 12 months and this time instead of staying in the same place, I decided to stay at “the popular spot” for climbers. My partner and I had eaten many meals in the restaurant here at Jira Homestay, but never contemplated the accommodation as an option. We are what bookings.com call a “Mature Couple” and to be perfectly honest, we are not interested in the late nights and continual chatter about what piece of rock someone couldn’t hold on their project every day.

However, its all about Jira Homestay for now and they deserve to be advertised in a very positive way. Nung Yao and husband Om are an absolute delight. They are incredibly friendly and they work super hard every day to give you the best possible experience when you stay with them.

IMG_4157
The Restaurant looks like an “Outback Aussie Pub”……but it ain’t.

There are four accommodation options available depending on the level of comfort that you want to partake in. You can rent a bungalow, a room, a dormitory spot and there is camping available for the extremely budget conscious. Take into consideration that our bungalow is the most expensive option and it is 350 baht a night. Thats about 10 bucks/euros a night. The rooms are 250 baht and the dorm is about 120 baht. Do the math……this place is super cheap to stay at!

The bathrooms are clean and tidy and the showers work ok. The beds are comfortable and I have heard someone say the dorm beds are more comfy than the beds in the rooms. The dorm looks like a series of cake covers from your grandma’s kitchen. It’s all very cute and cosy. There are fans in the rooms and mosquito nets. 5G WiFi is available at no cost and it works really well most of the time. If you are looking for luxury go somewhere else.

IMG_4152
The rooms for rent are simple and comfortable.

There is no shortage of food as the menu caters for the locals here. It’s a local restaurant and very well respected. Its important to know the portions are huge and you can feed two people with one meal. The soups come in very large bowls as do the curries and the rice servings are big. They don’t make special orders, but they will accommodate you in the best way they can. Breakfast is from 8am and if you want a pre-made lunch they will do it the night before for you.

If you have special dietary requirements due to diagnosed allergies/intolerances or are a vegan or a vegetarian by choice, then be sure to be able to state this in Thai. If you don’t like spicy food “Mai Pet” should serve you well. Here spicy is very different to “Western Spicy”…….Google translate is a pretty good tool and there are other apps available you can choose to assist you in your search for understanding.

IMG_4154
Good clean amenities in a tropical setting…….

I found that it helped a lot, when I learn’t to say please and thank you in Thai. The Thai people are very polite and humble people and it shows respect (you’re not at home anymore and you are the guest here). It’s not a resort! I have observed that certain people forget their manners a lot and they sound like they are demanding their needs be met. Remember your manners here at all times.

IMG_4150
One of the free standing bungalows available.

Scooter hire here is not an option, but there are scooters you can borrow to run up to the convenience store or local supermarket (not at all like home) for supplies. By law in Thailand you are not supposed to ride motor scooters without an international licence. Especially if it is a borrowed scooter (totally illegal). Check out what the rules are before you go racing off on one, as the local police don’t take kindly to it at all. Also, be sure to have helmets on (You can use climbing helmets if one is not readily available).

Be aware that there are creatures here that roam freely around water sources and they have been known to scare even the toughest of British climbers in the middle of the night. There are frogs, geckos, scorpions and the occasional snake. Squirrels, lizards and mice are present as well.

All in all the experience here is wonderful. A dose of Thai culture and cuisine with a dash of seriously fun climbing thrown in for good measure. You will not regret staying here with this wonderful family and their fabulous humility. Gracious to the very end indeed.

Find them at: https://www.facebook.com/jira.homestay?fref=ts

Note** Prices subject to change without notification.

Heart Wall -The Jewel in the Crown of this Crazy Horse.

It’s been a week now since arriving here at Jira Homestay and we have been getting out climbing most days. The early start have been a true blessing. The heat has been out of this world. Totally  oppressive and unforgiving. Our favourite crag has been the large, beautiful and very shaded Heart Wall Sector.

IMG_4003
Karine resting almost peacefully on “Hot Headed” 6b (19/20) Heart Wall Upper.

It is full of varied vertical value and the difficulties are at best trying at times. No matter what your level you can find something there between 5 and 7a+ to torture yourself on and come away exhausted and smiling. This sector is truly the jewel in the crown of Crazy Horse Buttress in  Northern Thailand.

IMG_3936
Lucia putting the draws on “Intentions” 6a (18) Heart Wall Lower.

Two sectors, an upper and lower are the best way to describe the place. It is set in the bamboo jungle about a twenty minute walk from the car park at the main buttress. As you wander up through the bamboo you are transformed back to another time where monks slowly meandered up the same trail to the temple atop this large limestone peak. I always feel like I am in a scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

IMG_4017
The simple beauty of Bamboo…….

Despite the heavy breathing on the walk in (The incline is quite steep and a little slippery in places). It definitely helps warm you up for the day and you lose weight while you go. I know I have become fitter just doing the 45 minute walk every morning from our accommodation.

IMG_3924
Derek on the red-point send of “Conscious” 6c (21) Heart Wall Upper.

Really there is something truly amazing about Heart Wall. I cannot begin to describe the sereneness of the place or the beauty that I see every time I go up there, whether it be to climb or just go for the walk. It is a timeless place, where the sun dapples through teak trees and tall bamboo onto incredible orange and white rock. Where monkeys and owls co-habit and occasionally a small viper will scurry away from the base of the cliff to avoid detection.

IMG_3978
Karine cruising up “Intentions” 6a (18) at Heart Wall Lower.

The tranquillity is in high supply and you can at times hear the monks praying if the wind is blowing in the right direction. The pray flags a loft up on high above the top of “Spaced Out” are gently swaying in the breeze and the rustle of leaves is a permanent fixture. There is something truly special about this place, it should be respected, cherished and enjoyed not only for the climbing, but also for the peace of mind it brings to all who wander its trails.

IMG_3897
The author on the red-point send of “Spaced Out” 7a+ (24) Heart Wall Upper.

Capturing the perfect moment seems to be the ultimate goal right now.

Moving away from the coast has proven to be a little less satisfying than first thought. The temperatures are soaring in the Mae On district this week and we are experiencing some very hot days indeed. After settling into to our traditional Thai bungalow at Jira Homestay (friend them on Facebook for more info), we have started to settle into our rather well. It makes us feel a little more at home having a routine and some consistency around us, even though we love travelling.

img_5038
Hangin’ with Damo and Miss K on Tonsai Beach.

It was great to catch up with my mate Damien in Tonsai for a short time and spend sometime just relaxing around Railay, Tonsai and Ao Nang for a few days. We stayed at a great new place called Best Western Hula Hula resort and Spa. This was our little bit of luxury on the way up here. Sometimes you need to be a little spoilt.

There is  a really nice vibe around Jira, with quite a wide range of ages and cultures represented. The young-en’s enjoy the nights sitting around and singing along to a lone ukulele. Bob Marley and Sam Cook sung in slightly slurred voices ring out in the evenings and the words are not relevant: it’s the amount of fun and laughs they are having that counts. Great and very social young bunch of travellers in Southeast Asia for the first time.

img_3884
The reason we left Tonsai a little earlier than expected.

I have to say the food here is sensational. Nong Yow is the owner here and she knows how to cook! The meals are tasty, spicy if you like and the portion sizes are astronomical. Karine and I tend to share our main meal and a bowl of rice and that suits us fine. Favourites would have to be the deep fried chicken wings and the fried chicken with black pepper sauce: extremely tasty and very much a staple in our diets. The soups are great and the beer is cold.

Our British friend Derek arrived the day after us and its nice to see he is looking and feeling fitter for his time in Thakhek, Laos. He is enjoying his days here so far and sometimes just retires to his room and reads. He politely gives Karine and I a fair bit of space as well. We appreciate this and take the opportunity to spend our time doing yoga, playing scrabble and enjoying each others company.

img_3911
Derek looking decidedly delirious on the last bolt of Dtang Jai (Conscious) 6c (21) Heart Wall.

So far we’ve had two good climbing days and enjoyed Heart Wall at Crazy Horse Buttress all to ourselves. We have both had slight injuries, so we have been taking it easy coming back into it. Karine’s wrist has been a little sore and I strained my back bouldering on Koh Lao Liang. All seems to be healing well and we are ready to work on our projects now for the next couple of weeks.

img_3898
Pulling into the roof on “Spaced Out” 7a+ (24) at Heart Wall…….my first project here. Doing well so far.

We are enjoying very early starts so as to not overheat on the walk-in’s and climbing the shade is essential. The great thing about the early mornings is the sunrises here are truly beautiful. I am yet to see a sunset, but I am up early everyday sitting on our terrace waiting for that big glowing orange ball of life to bring in the new day. It is stunning. Capturing the perfect moment seems to be the ultimate goal right now.

img_3915
The moment when all is good with the world……..