A blog with no name

notes and observations on my travels

Paddling the Mae Taeng

clock December 16, 2012 17:04 by author Phil

For two months now, Val and I have been traveling through SE Asia. We quit our jobs, sold most of our stuff and put the rest in storage. Starting in the Philippines, we’ve been working our way north, through Malaysia, Singapore and now into Thailand. We’re currently staying in Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand.

We decided to try paddling on the Mae Taeng River, which is about 75 km north of the city. After looking around, SiamRiver Expeditions won our money. On Sunday, December 16, their van came to our guesthouse and picked us up for the 2 hour ride to the river. We stopped twice along the way to pick up some folks who were doing the rafting portion.

Once we got to the put-in spot, the rafters went on a short elephant ride while Val and I went to scout the Class IV rapids.  Here’s a pic of the rapids map from their brochure:

 

After elephant rides and scouting, it was time for lunch! We got a yummy Thai buffet. Then it was time to get our kayaks outfitted. We didn’t bring any gear with us from the States, as it is really hard to schlep that stuff across the world, so we got to use what they had there. I would’ve preferred my own pfd and paddle, but the gear was mostly serviceable.

 

I fit into my boat, a Bliss-Stick Mystic, with no problems. Seems that the guy who had it before me was about the same size. I didn’t even have to move the bulkhead.

Val, on the other hand, had more problems. They had a pretty big boat for her and she was swimming in it. We put her into a Bliss-Stick Scud and managed to put enough foam into the front so that her feet had something to push against. The loose feel and other equipment that didn’t fit led to a not so psyched for whitewater feeling in her, which was only exacerbated on the water. Val isn’t the most daring paddler in the best of times and the wonky gear was giving her some serious misgivings.

On the river, I had a great time, working the easy rapids at the beginning of our run to get a feel for the boat. I could roll it easily on both sides and it held a line, especially when I put it on edge.

At one of the Class III drops, our guide, Sok, gave us a simple direction and showed the line. Val hesitated because she couldn’t see the bottom of the rapid. After I ran it without problem, she dropped in and did just fine. When we got to the Class IV drops though, she decided to hop in a raft and let one of the guides take her boat through. She’d been wondering how the rafts fit down such a narrow and technical drop. Once out of the kayak, it became pretty obvious: the rafts just bounce and slide over the rocks.

 

Mostly the guide just told the raft passengers to get into the middle and hold on. Val couldn’t do that though and tried to help out. With all its momentum, the raft still hit rocks and bounced its way down.

My line was a little different:

 

After running Dragon (IV), I had to empty water out of the boat. Didn’t matter though, as I was having a great time. Super psyched, we dropped Near the Wall and Khao Boy. Woot! The last IV was Standing Wave and it was pretty fun too. Not too hard in a kayak, but the rafts all hit the sides.

 

Val even managed to smile on this rapid

 

After Standing Wave, Val got back into the kayak and paddled the rest of the river, except for Swimmers Chute. She wasn’t really trusting the guides because they kept saying one more, then one more.

All in all, I had a great time on the Mae Taeng. Siam Rivers was the best outfitter we could find here and if you have your own gear, they’re happy to shuttle you up to the river. If you’re a Class IV paddler, you should have no problem on this run. I hadn’t paddled for about 3 months before this and I know I was a bit rusty. However, the warm water made it easy to loosen up. I was happy to use a bigger boat for my first time down too, as it would’ve been pretty challenging in a play boat.

As a tentative Class III paddler, Val made a wise choice and rafted the Class IV rapids. At this low level, they were very technical and rocky. At higher flows, you wouldn’t have to worry about hitting rocks as much. Higher flows could also mean higher hydraulics and holes that are sticky. I won’t know until I come back in the wet season (July-August). I do know that I’d like to paddle this river again.

After a little searching, I found this video of the river at higher flows. Looks less technical, but still fun!

 



Railay and Tonsai

clock December 4, 2012 19:41 by author Phil

After spending a few days sick in bed, it was time to get on to why we were in Thailand in the first place: rock climbing!

There are a few major crags at Railay. We spent most of our time at Phra Nang, Tonsai and Diamond Cave. Diamond Cave is at the end of the orange line N of 82 on this map. 

Val and I were still staying in Ao Nang, the beach town nearby so we took a long tail boat out there to see what was up. Our first day, we went to Phra Nang beach and did some bouldering. I had spent a half hour or so here in 1996, trying to get off the ground on a stalactite problem. With a stool, it was doable, but still really hard 

I got off the ground, but that was about it. On my second try, I fell off and almost impaled myself on the stool. No more stalactite climbing for me! We bouldered around and watched some people climb moderates and some hard stuff. Besides, after climbing for a while, I got super tired and sweaty. After hanging out in the water for a while, I almost cooled off. It's hard to get cool when the water temp is 30C. Yeah, I know, first world problems. 

In Thailand, they use the French difficulty scale so we had to convert them to something we understood. In the US, most places use the Yosemite Decimal system. Luckily for me, the grades are a bit "soft" here, meaning that I can climb things harder than I normally would be able to climb at home. Ego boost win! I was leading 6a pretty regularly and could hang my way up 6b and was looking for a 6c. We watched some people work their projects and we got jealous. When one woman was psyched to get Andaman Cafe (7b), she was stoked and said she could drink beer again. Hm, I like to climb, but that seems a bit extreme, doesn't it?

We took a break and Val completed her Advanced Open Water diving course. Now she can do the deep dives with me when we return to Coron. 

Back to climbing. Our next stop was Diamond Cave. We went there because we wanted to see how hard the rope climbing was. We were both really rusty. We hadn't climbed that hard when we were in Arcata and the "easy" routes here were at the limit of my leading ability. We were hoping to climb some 5's, but the local climbing schools take up all the easy routes all day. They got to be pretty irritating too, calling out super detailed beta to people who were in a 1 or 2 day class:
     "Right foot up!" "Right hand!" "Right hand!"
Ugh, it was too much for me, but that was the way the local schools were running the show. It kept us off of the 1,2,3 crag entirely. 

Another downer about the easy routes is that lots of people who don't have good footwork climb them, polishing the rock to a smooth finish. Thus, you have to be very careful where you place your feet or they will grease right off the rock. 

I spent a lot of time hanging here. I was doing OK for most of this route and then I got tired and lost my nerve. Part of the problem was that I had to climb past 7 or so bee nests in the rock. They were apparent from the waxy tubes coming out from the rock. We didn't know how easily the local bees got angry, so I was very careful not to smash the tubes. Of course the nests were situated in perfect hand and foot placements.

After two routes, we were totally wasted. Val was being eaten alive by mosquitoes and the heat was affecting her ability to think. I think her attention wandered at times

 

Then the sky opened up and we were done climbing for the day. Luckily there was a coffee shop right next to the crag. And, even better, the guy knew how to make totally awesome coffee. Without electricity!! We were wondering what to get when he put these on the counter

Wow, he made the frothed milk using a french press. And they tasted as good as they looked.

 

But we were here to climb, so we headed back to Ao Nang, packed a couple of small bags and had our guesthouse store the others for a few days so we could go work our forearms to death.

We picked Tonsai as a place to stay. It was a wonderful choice. There are no vehicles on Railay because there is no road from Ao Nang out onto the peninsula. It's wonderfully quiet, except for the diesel generators that run at night. We found a guest house a little ways from the beach, grabbed our ropes and set off in search of something to climb. 

Yikes! Stuff was really hard at the first place we went. After watching people project 7b, we wandered down the beach to find the only 6's. I got the first one just fine, but had trouble on the second until I found the secret holds. After that, it went pretty well.

Next day, we jumped onto a climb called Groove Tube (6a). I liked it quite a bit, but the sun was out and it was f'ing hot! Val nearly died trying to belay me. We found a 6a+ in the shade, but it was too overhanging and pumpy for her. She finally got it, but tweaked her forearms a bit. Too bad the only cure for tennis elbow is rest. 

To combat the heat, we signed up to go deep water soloing. This is climbing at its purest form: no ropes or partner. You climb up the rock and when you finish, you jump into the ocean. If you fall, you get wet. Everyone gets wet. You want to get wet because it's Thailand and hot if you're not wet.

We jumped onto a long tail boat with 10 other folks. Everyone was way younger than me, but that was OK. This wasn't a competition. We went to two sites, both very close to each other. The first site had about 6 routes and I tried 3 of them. I got up the 5 and 6a and fell off of the 6b. Here's me jumping off of the top of the 6a. 

Ha, it looked scary from the top of this one. I deal with the fear by turning off a switch in my head and not thinking about it. Just jump.

My main problem is remembering to bring my arms in before I hit the water. More than one time, I slapped the water with my forearms. That was better than one of the guys, who fell sideways and got a really good mark from his back flop.

Val got into it too and worked her way up. Here she is midway up the 5:

After climbing here, we had lunch on a nice little beach and did a little snorkeling. Val and I also played king of the kayak. I don't know how we kept our teeth.

The second location was just around the corner and the routes were harder and higher. I only did the 6a and didn't go all the way to the top. It was probably close to 20m. A guide for another group did a back flip off the high tufa. He over rotated a bit though. Here's some people who aren't me and Val climbing there.

 

Val's got a cold now so we're back in Ao Nang. We'll be back, but probably not before 2013 starts, hopefully with James.



About the author

After working at the same company for 21 years, I've decided to quit and spend some time traveling. I'm going to try and share some of the trials and tribulations of my journey.

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