Trip Report
The Thailand Trip Report Thread
Thursday January 13, 2005 9:25pm
In an effort to inspire folks to visit Thailand's rockclimbing as soon as possible, I'm posting my trip report about my 1998 visit. It's best to see it with pictures on my site at.

My appeal for visitation is at

Please write and post your own experiences of Thailand in this thread



Railay Beach Retro Trip Report.

What could be better than a long trip to the far side of the world with two of your best friends?

It was the epic road trip made possible by the floods of 1997. We were all working in Yosemite when unprecedented floods ravaged the tourist infrastructure and my job was permanently downsized. My job had been to hire those two friends as waiters, and their services wouldn’t be required that winter either…Freedom called.

We were all climbers but only I had been through Thailand before, and then just as a warm stopover while returning from Himalayan trekking. We were starting to hear talk of warm winter climbing in the tropical paradise of Railay and Ton Sai beaches in Thailand. We planned to check it out and then head from there to India and Nepal.

I’ll spare you the travel adventure stories that took three low budget guys from our arrival in Bangkok to a longboat arriving in Railay Bay, but when we hit the beach, we had way more luggage than anyone had ever seen. Yes, we had climbing gear. Yeah, we also were prepared to trek the Himalaya in winter, but we also had a guitar and two big drums. I’m not talking about bongos either, we had a Djembe and a Yashiko.

We managed to find scarce accommodations at Railay Bay Bungalows. I agreed to pay extra to have my own bed as my compatriots were forced to sleep together on the other bed. Their cohabitation was fodder for endless humor at their expense. It was money well spent.

The moment we had our wits about us, we took stock of our situation, and we kicked ourselves that we hadn’t allowed more time in this paradise on the way to more austere destinations. The climbing was wild beyond imagination, the food was delicious, exotic, and beyond cheap, and the ocean was so warm you could hardly cool off in it. We would go on midnight swims with bioluminescent plankton outlining our bodies in ethereal auras.

Out of politeness, I won’t dwell too long on the bonus factor. I’ve never, ever, seen so many beautiful women in one place. Not even in my dreams. For me it was a curse, as I had just agreed to “tie a string” around the finger of a love that agreed to wait for me at home. She was a keeper, but for a lover of beauty such as myself, it required plenty of restraint.

I was lamenting about it, waist deep in warm ocean, surveying a beach filled with the women of many continents, and my friend Jeff, the crow-faced wizard boy, assured me. “Sure, there are women everywhere but everybody is busy traveling. Nothing could really happen. You couldn’t meet somebody like this.” Today Jeff is married to a Swedish woman he met later on the trip on a pass in Nepal. He proposed to her on that very trip!!! Isn’t that a trip? Quite an accomplishment for the true romantic!

Jeff is a complicated enough character that you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say that somehow “Crow-Faced Wizard Boy” is an apt nickname. He has endless boyish energy and enthusiasm, while at the same time, possesses the wisdom of an old man. He’s a fabulous player on many stringed instruments, and has an astounding ability to make up amazing and often humorous songs off the top of his head in real time.

My other buddy, Mark, the “Great and Powerful Lummox”, is at least 6’4”. He learned the word for “Tall” in at least three languages on our trip. He’s also an amazing drummer who has since appeared on Cds of music ranging from Folk Rock to Brazilian. I like making music but God gave me other talents instead. Fortunately, I could keep up on the other drum just enough to add to the party.

I was also expected to be the rope gun. I had brought Jeff into climbing and taken Mark on his first multi-pitch. I knew trad climbing from decades of climbing; so many decades of climbing, in fact, that both of these young bucks were much stronger. Jeff was a wiry monkey and could have been left among his brethren in the Thai Jungle if he had enough fur. Lummox was also lean and had the stretch to go for those buckets that ended the crux sections. We called the giant holds “Those Lummox Jugs” and Jeff composed a rousing song about “Lummox Jugs.” In the end, we all shared the leads equally depending on our moods and the need for heroism/shame avoidance. It’s sport climbing; you run out of excuses; we all had spankings.

At night, after a sunset dip, we would head off for a feast of Thai Food and a walk down to an undeveloped stretch of the beach to start our own special party. A couple candles in the sand and we would have a tropical campfire. Jeff would start making up songs, Lummox and I would play drums, and all kinds of folks would come hang out: Thai folks, climber folks, folks from around the world. Jeff, fortunately, has a heart of gold and was a great front man. It wasn’t too many days before we become minor celebrities around the area and played in a bar or two, not to mention a major fire show on the beach.

The music was a great way to share space with the Thais, as often it was the main language we shared.

We would wake up early to climb if the sun and guidebook demanded, or just wake up when the sun made it impossible to do otherwise. We made the rounds to many climbing venues that seemed like pure fantasy. One time, to approach a climb, we had to walk through a monkey infested jungle to traverse a white sand beach, to then tunnel through a limestone cave all the way through an entire mountain, to climb a few pitches on the wall on its far side. We would find ourselves clinging to stalactites. Lummox and I did one fantastic multi-pitch climb that started with a 5.9 tree climb and continued upwards and overhanging from there. When we got to the crux, the wall seemed blank and perplexing. The saving “Lummox Jugs” were far beyond dyno territory. Only after the most desperate hunt for a solution did the key reveal itself. A huge stalactite, so far behind us that we didn’t even notice it being within reach, was suddenly in stemming distance. Only in Thailand.

We had to improvise other solutions as well. On a rest day snorkeling trip to some tiny islands, a traveler girl stepped an urchin. Nobody was sure for certain, but word had it that urine had a enzyme that neutralized the urchin toxin. There wasn’t even a tree on this non-island we stopped at, just sand and undersea. I was volunteered to be the hero. I supplied the antidote discreetly in a paper cup so that no local sensibilities would be offended.

We made friends too numerous to list in this brief account. You are not forgotten. I remember one Dutch guy, Roald, who attained a minor enlightenment from the lyrics of one of Jeff’s classic songs. The hook of the song was “Why don’t you just, shut up and accept!” Roald had been traveling in Asia just long enough to be ripe for that wisdom. He sang it over and over with sometimes maniacal laughter. I managed to find out through a web of email contacts that Roald died not long afterwards in a tragic motorcycle accident. Climb High Roald!

There is no climatic moment to conclude my story with. They were all climactic moments. The epic continues.

Lummox is in demand as a drummer and custom house builder.

Jeff, the crow-faced wizard boy, married Petronella from Sweden (who was pronounced a troll owing to short stature, dread locks, and other troll like eccentricities) who he met later in Nepal. They just had a baby girl Elva, who, you guessed it, will inevitably be called an elf. Between a wizard boy, a Swedish troll and an elf, you have a typical alternative California family.

As for me, I’m living my long repressed dream of photographer, climber, and writer. The string remained tied. Susan and I have been together through thick and thin ever since I returned. For years, we talked about visiting Thailand. After finally surmounting every obstacle to visiting paradise together, we booked our tickets. Two days later, a tidal wave hit.

That’s not the end of the story. It’s just the beginning. Stay tuned, or. better yet, come along yourselves. The epic continues…

  Trip Report Views: 2,275
Karl Baba
About the Author
Karl Baba is a trad climber from Yosemite, Ca.

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Trad climber
  Jan 18, 2005 - 06:05pm PT
Part I: Dec. 8-25

It was finally time for things to come to an end. Justin and I had been traveling the world since September, forgoing the worldly vices of climbing, girls, and reality TV. It was great, but I'd been terribly sick, I was tired of epic 24-hour bus rides, and dammit, I wanted to speak English. On Dec. 8th we took a ferry across the Mekong from Lao, relieved to be starting the vacation part of our "vacation."

I think some people are just born epic; surely I am one of them. We arrived in Chang Rai to rendezvous with Justin's friend Sara, to whom we had mailed all of our climbing gear. Too bad that it had not arrived in Thailand yet! After bumming around the city for a few days, we split to Chang Mai, unable to resist the siren song of sending any longer. We rented the gear, and more importantly, we rented motorcycles. The pride that I felt seeing Justin kick-start his Honda Dream 100cc for the first time was no less than the pride that I felt when I taught my girlfriend to place pro in a Joshua Tree crack.

The climbing in Chang Mai that I experienced wasn't captivating, but the city made up for it. For the weekend, it was overtaken by farang biker gangs, mostly riding chopped Harelys. Also of critical importance was our introduction to SongSam (sp?) a speed-laced liquor that kicked the pants out of the watery swill that passed for beer in China. Concentrated swill of course being preferable in all circumstances.

The highlight of climbing in Chang Mai was the bolted crack. But hear me out before you speed-dial the American Chopper. Things were desparate--I hadn't jammed since summer, and I would have slotted a jam between the thighs of a statue of the Virgin Mary at that point, just to hang off of it. At the time, we were cragging with an Israeli sport climber who just couldn't fathom what to do with the overhanging crevice. And there's nothing like a good sandbag to bring a smile to my face.

The next week we recovered our gear in Chang Rai and took the 24-hour odeyssy that is the bus ride to Krabi. I've done walls in a push, and I've had some shite bivies, but world travel has conviced me that we climbers are, on the whole, pretty light. At least when you're on a wall you can take a leak any time you want to. Numb-butted, sleep-deprived, and cramped, we were finally ready to do some climbing.

On our first day, at our first wall, I ran into my old college friend Megan. Mad props, she had gone from bouldering to leading cracks, and was now taking the sharp end on the Tyrolean Wall. I immediately received a heaping dose of humility, served with a side of lactic acid, when lobbed off the first 7a I tried. Soft ratings in Thailand? Perhaps, but I was softer! Justin learned to climb through the eyes of a beginner, as his on-sight level dropped from 7b to 6a. He took it in stride, as I visually monitored his pulse by watching his forearms twitch. We were happy to meet Megan's friends Nina and Mark, ensuring that we'd have climbing partners for the rest of our stay.

Night-time brought a host of new experiences. We learn about Ton Sai insomnia, a chronic condition caused by the bars blasting techno until 3a.m. Luckily the practice only carried on every other night, or we'd probably have gone loony. The water in the bay can be phosphorent when you swim in it at night, and the stars are clear overhead. Bars serve drinks right on the beach, and we watched pair of headlamps progress up the multi-pitch route Humanity. Justin nursed sore muscled while I desparately tried to grow back missing skin. I learned to sleep still for the first time in my life as we shared a single mattress on the bungalow floor.

We enjoyed over a week of perfect weather in Ton Sai. I was amazed at you much you could use your trad skills in the highly-featured limestone of the local crags. Probably the most fulfilling was chimneying off of tufas, and I learned respect for the tufa, which I now see as a sort of crack, just turned inside-out. Climbing beyond the 1-2-3 Wall with David, we found a stout vine leading to the anchors of a nearby route. It turned out you could sling the vine for pro, and David promptly dispatched it in his bare feet. Sure I missed granite, but was it fun? We often skipped lunch, and always came home after dark. In the end, my favorite crags were Wild Kingdom, the Candlestick, and the Ampitheater.

Christmas Day came before I knew it. I was caught off-guard, with all the Euros telling me "Merry Christmas" on Christmas Eve. I told them not to open their presents til the next day. Justin and I shared a table with the Wyoming crew for dinner, and as I walked home in the jungle darkness, I overheard music from the bar, "Walking in a Winter Wonderland." I wiped the sweat off my face and smiled. Justin left that morning to head for the full moon party, the first time we'd split since April, when we lived together in the Valley. I spent the day moving my gear to a cheaper room up the hill, near Eva, Meil, and Neil. I think I climbed; I don't even remember. I had mango sticky rice for my holiday dinner.

The damage? I spent about $15/day, and it was the high life. In the end: Rope--retired, already chopped but back by popular demand, finally finished by half-way point core shots. Harness--I didn't know you could get core shots in a harness! It too was retired. Belay biner--the groove in this thing is now big enough to lay your middle finger in. I'm calling it cashed. ATC--When you are on a double-rope rappel with two biners in your device and it's still a little fast, give it up already. Granted, all damage is cumulative, but that trip really cleaned out my gear! The only thing that came back unscathed was the pig.

I stayed in Thailand for two more weeks after that, but it's a story I'll have to tell another day...

Boulder climber
Back in the mix
  Jan 19, 2005 - 12:02am PT
Karl, when in '97 were you and the boys in Railay?
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Author's Reply  Jan 19, 2005 - 02:17am PT
It was January of 1998.

PS Nice Trip Report Dirk, can't wait for part two.

Note: Dirk and I emailed a bit while he was over there. I owe him thanks for lots of insight and information


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