Why, hello there. I write to you now from Bangkok, Thailand. This is the 5th time I have returned to this city. Rumour has it they’re going to name a street after me; I’ll keep you posted. A bunch of exciting stuff has happened in the last week and a half in the islands and beaches of Thailand. If you are interested, read on…
When we last talked, I was half-way through the Open Water SCUBA diving certification course. I successfully completed it. I even had to take a test. Man, it has been a long time since I have done that. On my last dive, I had a staring competition with a ridiculous neon-purple fish (with a few other colours mixed in). I thought to myself: “What a silly-looking creature”. Now, I’m not a fish psychologist, but I caught a look in its eye, as it was staring at me, which I think may have been saying: “What a silly-looking creature”.
I moved to Krabi, which is the rock climbing epi-centre of Thailand. I’m told there are hundreds of climbing routes in the area. The routes go up the ubiquitous limestone cliffs in the area. I’m not a rock climber per se, but I have climbed a few times and I love it. It is a great sport. I signed up for a half-day climbing trip where a Swiss guy and I climbed 4 sport routes.
Trying my hand at the Krabi limestone
A 200m hike yields this beautiful view of the Rai Leh Peninsula near Krabi
Not only does Krabi have world-class climb, it’s beaches aren’t too bad either
I had so much fun I signed for a Deep Water Solo (DWS) climbing trip. This is the craziest climbing I have ever done. This is how it works: You use a boat to drive up to the cliff faces that rise up from the sea. You climb them with no harness, helmet, anchor, carabiners, quick-draws, bolts, or rope — nothing. I think of it as an extremely pure form of climbing. When you fall, you fall into the sea. The area around Krabi has huge stalactites (rock formations that drop from the roof of a piece of rock like candle wax-dripping) which hang from the cliffs and are a blast to climb.
Climbing without a rope is scary! Holy shit! You are so focused on climbing up that you don’t look down. Next thing you know you are WAY up there. And the water is WAY down there. You know it is water, but the height and fear of falling really gets into your head. It’s really hard to explain until you try it one time.
At one point, I am clinging to the main wall. I look over to the stalactite (the tear-drop shape rock dropping from the roof of the wall) I want to get over to, but it is at least 4 feet away. How the hell do I get over there? Then I look down. The water looms 25 metres (80 feet) below. Shit. I think about letting go and falling, but I am facing the rock and I would have to jump backwards and fall blind. My brain tells me this is a bad idea. I’m not sure how to get out of this one.
Another climber (a real one) is behind me. He says: “Just stem over to it.”
Me: “What’s a stem?”. I don’t speak “climber”.
Real Climber: “Just step out with your left foot”. Ah, he wants to do the splits over to the stalactite! Is this guy nuts? No way!
Me: “That’s crazy!”
Real Climber: “There’s a good foot-hold. It’s closer than you think. You can do it.”
Well, I’m too scared to fall in my current position, and I feel my hands getting sweaty and start to lose their grip on the wall. Half-committing, I reach out with my left foot… not far enough. Damn it. Stuck between a rock and a hard place (literally), I take the plunge, lean out, and place my left toe on the stalactite. I’m now doing the splits 25m above the water — one foot on the main face, one on the stalactite.
If anybody had a picture of me in this position, I would pay huge sums a of money to get my hands on it. The adrenalin of the situation was amazing. Somehow I pulled myself over to the stalactite. I climbed a bit higher then spent several minutes mustering up the courage to jump. Whoa!
This was probably one of the most fun days of my trip so far. There were a lot of people on that trip that were also scared out of their tree but who climbed and jumped anyway. One girl was stuck up there for over an hour before she jumped. But, eventually she did. We followed up the climbing with dinner and beers. A day to remember. If you want to see what Deep Water Solo’ing looks like when pro climbers do it, you should check out this video on youtube.
A Deep Water Solo’er considers his options
These were the only rental climbing shoes in my size. My exposed right toe got cut by the rock and bled the whole time. Don’t try this at home :)
Tomorrow I leave Thailand (the Western “halfway” house) for the last time. It has been a blast. As usual, I have put up an album of the “best of” pics for Thailand, which you can find here. Armed with a new passport, I fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Talk to you there!
The classic Thailand picture. A long-tail boat cruising past a sunset. This was taken near Koh Phi Phi
PS: In episode #3 of my “How To” series on the unique art of world travel, my Burmese trekking partner Guillaume and I ride a cattle cart. The road is extremely rough. Just before I started shooting the video, the cart hit a very bad bump and I almost fell off the back of it. I wish I had caught that on video. Enjoy.