Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pics from Tonsai and Pranang Beach

More Images from Tonsai and its Neighbor Pranang Beach

I am completing day 2 in hospital in Ao Nang up the coast from Tonsai after getting seriously ill with some nasty tropical bug. Tonsai is accessible only by boat and only during the daytime (6am to 6pm). I had to self evacuate from my bungalow up in the jungle to the beach and then make the trip to Ao Nang which has the closest medical facilities. Given I was having a hard time not passing out and trying very hard just to keep standing, the trip was, let's just say interesting. One of the pitfalls of traveling solo I guess. Once I got on the long-tail boat to Ao Nang, I was helped by some very kind tourists who gave me water, helped me out of the boat and into a taxi for the hospital.

That is all part of a longer story and I'll write about it later once I've been discharged (hopefully tomorrow). Now that I am recovered enough to be somewhat coherent, I wanted to post some more pictures of the Tonsai and Pranang Beach areas. I have so many shots I love and it takes a long time to upload from here so I may keep doing these posts til I get enough out. I hope you enjoy.

Tonsai Food Court - home of Mama's Kitchen and other eateries...

Tiny little crabs dig their homes in the sand making wonderful patterns that stretch almost endlessly
More Munkees..

Hard to see but beautiful lit lanterns floating into the night sky for Buddhist Loi Krathong Festival. Like souls journeying to the next world. Totally ethereal.
That's all for now, but hopefully will publish more pics from this gorgeous area. I will publish a short story on my hospital stay and how I ended up here as soon as I'm discharged which will be tomorrow with luck. As soon as I'm out and feeling strong enough, I have to go back to Tonsai and retrieve my backpack before it disappears. The longer I wait, the less chance… well you know.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Climbing in Tonsai - Part 3

Still Climbing,  Sweating and Swimming...

I am mostly just going to publish some more pics with this post rather than write a lot. No Internet and spotty electricity where I am at in Tonsai so taking a rest day in Ao Nang to use the ATM, Internet and hopefully cool off a bit. Coffee in a place with AC fits the bill. Getting here from Tonsai is a 100 Baht, 15 minute ride via Long-Tail boat so not onerous at all.
During the day, I mostly sweat constantly just standing around, so you can imagine how hot it gets climbing up some of the very steep rock here - even in the shade.  It's a good workout. The ocean is too hot to cool you off either, so the best you can do is stand under the shower in your bungalow. Of course there is no power during the day so you're in the dark with the cooler water running. I still can't get over how beautiful the beaches are here and every day I turn the corner in some new area and come across more magnificence. The color of the ocean is just incredible. Pictures can't do it justice at all.
 One of the islands off Pranang Beach. The giant Pranang Cave is behind me.
 This is Pranang Cave which not only has some nice climbs off to the side, but a spectacular beach that seems to be pretty popular with more affluent tourists just looking to sunbathe and play in the very warm water of the Andaman Sea.

The picture above is a little hard to see, but what I am doing here is jumping up to grab the first holds on a giant stalagmite hanging over the sandy beach. Bit of a reach for me and then no footholds for a couple of pumpy pull-up type moves. It's not technically hard, but pretty burly. I asked one of the guys I was climbing with to take some pics with my iPhone, but he wasn't familiar with it and ended up taking several videos in the vertical format so most of my original ascent imagery is not really useful. Not sure if you can fix a vertical video like that, but highly doubtful. If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear em… :-)
The image above is another sunset pic from one of my favorite spots to sit and drink coffee or a fesh fruit smoothie at the end of the day. It's where the long-tail boats mostly come in and where the small coterie of cafes and food carts set up for dinner. Most people staying in Tonsai proper (as opposed to Railay) are climbers so we all tend to congregate here in the early morning and evening to talk and find climbing partners. People come and go so you are always meeting new people and sharing conversations as well as climbing.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Climbing at Tonsai S. Thailand - Part 2

Tonsai - South Thailand. Climbing Mecca!!

Deep Water Soloing on the Islands Off Tonsai
Just seeing pictures of this place or hearing tales about how great the climbing and beaches are, cannot possibly prepare you for the reality.  It’s almost as if Hollywood cooked it up for the perfect Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Beach movie and then built the set.  I came in by air to the Krabi  airport, which seems to be one of those catch-all monikers a collection of distinct places sometimes get as an easy to digest label. It strikes me that Ao Nang on the actual water is the bigger part of town and crawling with tourists as well as the business that usually come with a lot of them.

Most climbing here is pretty steep

Lunch Break Deep Water Soloing

Bouldery start to an otherwise moderate climb

Rope Ladder Start to gain big Stalactite roof while Deep Water Soloing
Anyway, I stayed a couple of nights just outside Ao Nang proper at a small, super bare bones place with large bathroom towels for bedspreads and monkeys or some other critter trying to get in through the roof for good portions of the night. Given how thin and flimsy the roof seemed to be, I was surprised I didn’t end up fighting something for control of the room before dawn.  Lest you think I am complaining or that I was miserable there; think again. The owner Rick and his uber charming family more than made up for any downside. I loved this family and their owner operated bungalows. Rick would happily ferry you into town proper with no notice, no complaints and no extra charge. He’d pick you up same way and the little Bakery across the street was heaven for breakfast and the restaurant next door served wonderful food. These were about the only businesses for quite a distance so it was perfect they served such terrific fare given the distance into town.

After picking up the climbing gear I had sent ahead to the Ao Nang post office care of Poste Restante, I went down to beach and caught a Long-Tail boat over to Tonsai for 100 Baht (about $3).  By the way, sending stuff to yourself via Poste Restante is a wonderful way of getting mail or packages when you are on the road. So if Mom wants to send you that yummy Christmas Cake or leftover turkey dinner (well, maybe not that) cause you’re still on the road and missing holidays with family, then this might be the way to do it. Hint, hint Mom…. It’s not the fastest way to send stuff, but it does get there and much cheaper than FredEx or DHL etc.

Tonsai, Railay West and Railay East are all little beach communities in very close proximity but separated by the giant cliffs that gird each one. You can hike from one to the other using a combination of beach and short hikes. Tonsai is where most of the climbers hang given its location and slightly cheaper accommodations and costs. However, there are plenty of climbs, climbers and climbing shops/guide services in all three. To me, Tonsai feels a little like a throwback to those hippy days of yesteryear and everyone is very friendly. It’s pretty easy to meet other climbers to partner with, but a lot of us have similar gear issues. Aka – I brought my harness, shoes, 15 quick-draws (slings with carabiners on each end) and chalk but no rope as these are very heavy, occupy a lot of space and quite frankly, I’m already over packed. So today we rented a rope, used my hard-wear and got some wonderful climbing in.

First climbs were moderate 5.10s for me to lead in order to get better feel for the rock, but they all had these pumpy starts on way overhanging rock. The rock can change from uber rough volcanic tuft stuff to overly polished smooth back and forth on a single pitch of climbing. Lots of variety and all good.

Yesterday I joined a Deepwater Soloing Tour where 9 people were taken out to some islands in order to climb out of a boat and then just fall or jump back into the water rather than use ropes. All you need is a pair of beat up old climbing shoes and a bathing suit.  When the tide is out, the base of these crags are very, very overhanging and usually encrusted with barnacles so for these, the climbing tour outfits have set up many rope ladders to get up onto the rock and actually  begin climbing or traversing. Shortest jump to the water is about 10 feet and some are between 50 and 60 feet given our crude estimates. That is long way up, even to land in water.  I did not partake in jumping off the highest ones. I did however get a nasty surprise on one of the longer rope ladders when it broke with me standing on the top rung beginning the transition onto rock. Bamboo rung snapped and smashed the heck out of my shin then caught my other leg in the remaining rungs on the way down so that I ended up partially submerged with my foot wrapped around it. No worries though, I managed to extricate myself okay.  The tour guided did manage to fix it so we continued to climb there.

Part way through the day, we steamed into this perfect little Hollywood cove with Blue Lagoon sand and isolation where they served us a hot lunch of rice and veggies. Then we got to snorkel and boulder in this immense cave at the end. So incredible.  After lunch we picked up climbing again and found this area with a huge Stalactite hanging down. I have pics as well as video so if I can get a decent Internet connection, I will include on the post so you can see one of the longer jumps my friend Ben made. We came back just before dark all happy, tired and sun tanned/burnt. Really a great day.

I really love it here and have just scratched the surface, but I have to confess that I wish it were possible to cool off a little more effectively here. Daytime temps can be over a 100 degrees and the humidity is off the charts. No AC here and electricity runs 6pm to 6am max and sometimes less or not at all depending on where you are staying. Gotta power nap with the fan blowing full tilt on you all night. Even a single sheet is too much most of the night. If you get up after 6am, you’ll be showering and brushing your tooths in however dark your bathroom is with no light. Mostly pretty dark. Shower water is the coolest option, but even that doesn’t fully do it and you’re sweating already before your towel even dries you. Swimming in the Andaman  Sea is wonderful, but the water is warmer than any bathtub I can remember being in so scratch that as a way to cool off too. So you climb, sleep, eat, joke and explore all while being sweaty.  No complaints though, I could be home freezing my nads off. The other cool thing is the almost clockwork lightning and thunderstorms with monsoon rain every night here, making for some very entertaining pyrotechnics.
Gotta run for now, but almost forgot to add a monkey photo or two. Guard your belongings well and don't leave food out. They are cute, but very aggressive and stronger than we are.  Til next time..

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Climbing in South Thailand

Rock Climbing in Railay, Tonsai and Ko Phi Phi

Just a few pics from today at Railay. Tomorrow I begin climbing….

More to come….

Hellfire and the Real Bridge on the River Kwai - Part 2

Hellfire Canyon and the Death Railway - Part 2

A couple of days ago, I posted some nice sunset pictures I took of the Bridge on the River Kwai (actually there are two) on the north end of Kanchanaburi in Thailand. The experience I had next day when I toured the Memorial Museum and Hellfire Pass about 80 Kms north just shook me to my core. I'm still trying to process it and will not go into complete detail here, but it was a profound and moving experience with some parts I can't really explain. I think it is fitting that this comes just a few days before Veteran's Day (USA) or Remembrance Day (Canada/UK).

As a recap - nearly 7,000 Allied POWs and almost 100,000 Asian " essentially slave" laborers toiled, suffered and ultimately died building the Thai/Burma Railway under Japanese occupation during World War II. This 415 kilometer long stretch of rail was carved out of the most inhospitable environment and appalling conditions I can imagine. It went from Ban Pong in Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Burma and was intended to ultimately link Singapore with Rangoon.
The tour starts with a visit to the beautifully done Memorial Museum up above the actual Hellfire Pass cut out of the rock and jungle down below using crude hand tools or none at all. Here's a picture above where you can see what it looks like. Anyway, you go down several long sets of stairs onto the rail bed and walk down it for as much as 4 km (but can be shortened). I took an audio cassette and listened to the narration and explanation at key points in the walk. There were very few people around and I was mostly alone.

I found the whole thing incredibly moving and tears flowed more than once as I saw, listened and imagined this horror. On the way back, I decided to take the more direct, but decidedly steeper and less traveling direct path to the museum.  The day was totally windless - in fact there really hasn't been much if any wind here for a long time. Part way up in a big Bamboo Grove, the wind just whipped up lie crazy and all the Bamboo trees started clacking and crashing together in kind of a roar. It felt very stingily to me that voices were shouting and communicating with me. I felt deep despair and anguish but also the sense of wanting to be heard. It was very intense and very insistent and I stayed until it just stopped. I still have goosebumps from it and trying to process. It was weird and powerful. I don't spook very easily either and if you know me well, you know that.

So take it for what you will, but it's hard to deny how terrible it must have been to be one of the unfortunates caught in that terrible situation. I am quite frankly amazed that anyone survived those conditions and that abuse. I am humbled, grateful and awed by the sacrifice and suffering experienced by those who survived and those who did not. Thank you to those people.
Enough for now. Catch you next post.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Waterfalls of Erewon in Thailand

7 Magnificent Waterfalls at Erewon in Thailand

Well thank God there remain a good number of old, fat and wrinkly dudes out there in public who still think it’s a good idea to wear tiny little banana hammocks as a fashion statement. I was so worried this breed of Fashionista was extinct, but no!!! My trip to the stunning Erewon Waterfalls yesterday just north of Kanchanaburi, Thailand put that misconception to rest. Micro marble holders abounded and with bright sturdy sneakers as a de rigeur utilitarian hiking accessory, so the designers in Milan and Paris can rest easy…

Seriously though, I can't say enough about how totally gorgeous these falls were and how much I loved diving in to the blue green water above and below several of them.  There are 7 waterfalls in total spanning a 4 kilometer hike up through a verdant jungle teaming with human and non-human wildlife. I understand that they filmed some of the scenes used in Leonardo de Caprio’s movie “The Beach” here, although I cannot remember which ones. I’d have to see it again or check in order to know for sure. I can say that each one was unique and they were all amazing. I made sure to hike to the top getting good and sweaty before swimming my way back down to cool off in the near 100 degree heat. Truth be told I didn’t actually swim in all of them for various reasons, but enough to satisfy my cravings to be in the water again. For those who don’t know me well; I could spend the entire day in the water and never want to come out. Definite water baby I am.

Some of the pools had full on schools of fish that nibbled any body part not actively paddling around. Nothing that hurt – just that same kind of tickling, electric current sensation you get when you rent time in those little feet cleaning ponds here in Asia. The difference here being that those fish are itty-bitty minnows and these suckers (literally) range between 6 inches and over a foot so you know they are there without a doubt. It’s just a weird feeling, but you do get used to it (sort of haha) after a while. That or you just get out of the water sooner I guess.

The above pic taken at Waterfall 5 and the first one I jumped into. Not great pops at 6 and 7 so this was the first good place to jump in. plenty of fish waiting to nibble on my bum…
Oh yeah baby - there they is…. waiting with hungry anticipation for snack time. Go ahead, I dare ya - just jump on in. The water is fine. :-)