In August this year we headed off for a girlcrushrock trip to Ton Sai, Thailand. We’d saved up all our holiday allowance to give us a full 3 weeks climbing. It was hard working every day without a break from January to August – but in comparison others less fortunate than us, there really isn’t anything to complain about.
Why Thailand? We’ve got some sort of unconscious obsession with the place between us, we’ve been there six times in as many years! And why Ton Sai? Because we knew that it is one of the most magical places to climb on this planet – where the jungle meets the ocean and the mountains are so beautiful, its almost too painful to look!
Back in 2006 Maddie had stumbled across Ton Sai on a 3 month trip to Thailand. She, like many others that preceded and followed her got ‘stuck there’ for longer than planned. It was in Ton Sai that she pulled on her first pair of old, smelly, climbing school boots and under the supervision of one of Ton Sai’s living legends Wee Changrua scrambled up her first route.
We were taking a risk going there in August as it’s the end of the monsoon season, but anywhere is better than staying in Dubai during the 50 degree burning summer heat. I personally was dying to feel the rain on my skin.
We flew into Bangkok Airport and straight onto Krabi – we’d both seen the sights of Bangkok before and had tunnel vision for Ton Sai. Landing in Krabi, we took a bus to Ao Nang. A couple of Spanish guys were also heading over to Ton Sai, which is only accessible by boat, they were keen to boat-share to save a few baht so we grabbed our first over-sized bottle of Chang beer whilst we waited…and waited….and waited for the long tail boat. When it arrived, we had to wade out to above waist height (for me – for Maddie I don’t think it was even up to her knees!) carrying our backpacks , hand luggage, guitar and half empty (or full!) Chang bottles. (Yes, of course we’d over packed – we are girls after all!)
The waves were huge! We got soaked and we laughed for the entire 10 minute journey. I felt alive and so far departed from my life in the desert. The tide was out when we got there so we had to REPEAT the same in reverse. Off we hopped, with our bags balanced on our heads pulling through the breaking waves to the shore. It was at this point my arms got pumped for the first time and I hadn’t even touched the rock yet! I was over-gripping so hard I thought I was going to pull a muscle. There was NO WAY that I was going to let my brand new, neon pink rope anywhere near the salty sea!
We stopped in at a bar called Small World Bar and ordered another Chang! After a few hours we realized we hadn’t even got anywhere to stay. We rolled into the first place we came across – Green Valley Resort and into a bamboo hut. It was disgusting! There was no mosquito net, the fan didn’t work, and when I saw the colour of one of the pillows, poking out from one of the cases I think I threw up a little in my mouth! Ha ha, but it was late and we were tipsy and we thought we’d worry about moving somewhere decent in the morning.
About an hour later we both woke up by some fornicating neighbors. At this point we realized we were getting eaten alive and we were so hot it was unbearable. I think I had 6 showers throughout the night and had to pull on a full-length top and trousers to stop the little critters from biting me anymore! 20 bites and an hour’s sleep later we packed up and moved to Krabi Mountain View Resort. It was like 5* luxury in comparison – we were happy to settle there for the long haul.
The only ‘unwanted’ guest, infact the ONLY guest to join us in our little hut was a spider the size of a man hand! Eeeek! We managed to sweep it out the door – I’m a lover not a fighter (or insect killer!) Our intentions were good, but the next day we realized that when we had closed to door in a rush to make sure the little guy didn’t crawl back in, we’d squashed him like a pancake. A sad day. For the next few days we watched as the ants had a feast and tidied up the mess. Ah, the circle of ‘jungle life’.
Whilst we were figuring everything out, we came across a little crag just a 3 minute walk from our hut. It was called The Nest/Wild Kingdom. We had a lot of fun at this crag. In particular there is a super-cool climb called Banana Hammock (F6a+). It was quite a different climbing experience to what either of us had had before, you literally had to hump your way on the outside of a stalactite – it felt fun, yet exposed. Neither of us got it the first time, it was a puzzling little climb. We went back a different day and finished it off. Lots of people talked about this climb, it’s a definite ‘one to do’ and I recommend doing it early on, if feature climbing isn’t your regular style – it gets you in the zone. I spotted a cute little F6b on the same crag called ‘Technobug’. This was later to be my project, which I sent on the last day.
Back to the subject of jungle life – on one of our very few rest days we were chilling at a bar having some food and a beer. There were a couple of cats playing around us. Neither of us thought anything of it when we saw one of the cats up on its haunches about to pounce. Seconds later, I realized that it was chasing a snake across the platform. No joke, the snake was hurtling towards my head in desperation to get away. I just had time to literally wind my neck in before the snake slithered across my chest, over my plate and around my beer, before doing a suicide leap off the platform onto the beach! It all happened so fast I didn’t have time to be scared. What a cool and unique experience!
Another super-cool day was when we joined 3 guys on a trip over to Escher Wall. Didn’t anticipate the 2 hour trek to get there, but we cracked on in good spirits. (As a side note, you get so fit walking around Ton Sai, some of the crags are a good hour or more away. With the walk there and back, you clock up the miles – great for the thighs!) In order to get to Escher Wall you had to climb a 20m F5. Grant and Dan soloed it in their flip-flops! No thanks! We roped up and climbed into a cave. It was pitch black and we needed our headlamps. We went deeper and deeper, descending down on some makeshift bamboo ladders. Being quite a chicken, I had always imagined that I would be scared of being in a cave but yey – I wasn’t – it was really great fun!
Rob, Dan and Grant were on a mission to climb ‘Best Route in Minessota’ a 25m F6c. It was nothing short of breath-taking. The picture below is of the route. Grant sent it and proceeded to shake for the next hour or so! Rob and Dan worked the moves and Maddie gave it a bash, just taking a rest about ¾ of the way up. I was official photographer this day, didn’t climb a damn thing!
One of my favorite places to hang out was at Tyrolean Wall. Here, there is a climb called ‘Missing Snow’ (F6b+). It is AMAZING! It was above my limit but I couldn’t get enough of the thing. Must have taken 30 lead falls on it, which was actually a really valuable learning experience to go through. Got my first rope burn, which has scarred nicely! It is one of the most popular climbs though, there was usually someone waiting in line to go next so I always felt like I couldn’t spend as much time as I wanted on it and it would have taken me a while longer to get it as I don’t train for climbing unlike Maddie the machine.
On the same crag was a vertical, balancey number called ‘Lars and Lars’ (F7a). Maddie sized it up and felt super-confident this was the climb for her to grab her first F7a. She worked the climb twice before blowing her bicep. At that point, we weren’t sure if she’d be able to climb at all for the rest of the trip, but with a couple of days rest it was ok-ish.
We were so lucky with the weather, it was clear skies for 2 ½ weeks, and then the rain came in. We were still managing to get half a day’s climbing in but time was ticking on. On our penultimate night we decided we’d both send our projects on the last day. We woke up and went straight to The Nest. I was to go first. Hmm, the pressure got to me a little. I down-climbed twice, got pumped, had to put the draws in (which I hadn’t done before), totally forgot the sequence, forgot to breathe, instead of doing a couple of drop knee’s to gain some height on the climb I resorted to burly strength, pulling up off a small pocket that I could just get three of my finger tips into. I swear at one point I had just one point of contact on the wall! Somehow I managed to make it clean to the anchors. I put the last draw in and put my head down to pull the rope up. It was only at this point I thought, yeah – I’ve got this! I grabbed the rope and was pleasantly surprised to see the draw right in front of my face – I didn’t have to stretch to clip in. And breathe! Done. But mission was only half accomplished as Miss Stocks had her first F7a to get! Needless to say she was quiet on the walk over!
I was always confident she could do it and I think so was she, but again the pressure got to her and she shook her way up to the second draw – and by the way, the first draw is at least 4m off the ground anyhow! Her legs were shaking so much she almost wobbled off the ample sized chicken head she was standing on. She had to sort herself out if she was going to make it as the rest of the climb was so delicate it needed complete precision. Elvis leg was going to have to go. She composed herself and pushed through. She’d rehearsed the moves over and over during her dreams the night before and she remembered every inch of the beta. Before I had time to even get belayer’s neck she was at the top. She let out a very strange noise in celebration. A couple of really cool Austrian girls who were climbing nearby, but out of view later said they had heard the noise and were not sure if it was a howl of sorry or joy. It was the latter. She was psyched and I was really proud of her. She wanted this more than anything and she got it. And then the rain came down – literally the second she finished. Phew – just in time!
We spent the night in Bangkok before returning to Dubai. We went for some food and on my way back from the loo, I noticed these little glass karaoke booths. We have a tradition of always getting a bit tipsy on the last night of a climbing trip, which we always regret whilst waiting to check in at the airport. We paid for a room and we blasted out some tunes. My personal favourite being Maddie’s excellent rendition of Bon Jovi’s ‘Bed of Roses’. Oh dear.
Its been a month to the day since we got back. We had an epic time. Aside from the climbing, we met some really cool people nameably:
Mark – who I don’t think showered or wore a t-shirt for the whole time we were there. Mark was great company at the crag. I wonder how long that beard is now? (His poor girlfriend!) And Mark – thanks so much for dressing your scooter induced wounds at the breakfast table with us – loved that!
Jitka and Sharkie – the sweetest climbing couple. And between them, these two did some spectacular climbing! Jitka – show us your long arm!! We’ve asked Jitka to join the girlcrushrock climbing team… and she said YES!
Rob and Grant – 2 cool dudes from Korea. Grant was a fountain of general knowledge! But he couldn’t get Peter Pan!
Erin – a girl on a mission to climb, climb, climb. She’d got out of the rat-race and had no plans to return. Inspiring.
Skylar – a super-chilled dude who builds climbing walls for a living. Did you read that book I gave you Skylar?
Hannah – I watched Hannah on a climb called The Lion King. It was so easy for her. She is one of the strongest female climbers I’ve ever seen.
The Austrian Girls – Hanna and Annika, didn’t chat to these ladies much, but they gave off such a cool crag vibe and were beautiful to watch on the rock.
All in all – an epic girlcrushrock trip to remember. Going to be hard to beat! Ton Sai is a beautiful place full of toned, tanned and happy climbers. I will post soon some useful hints and tips on how to get there, where to stay and where to climb in Ton Sai, but don’t delay, just get there. Go, go now! Book it. Go on!