Chong Phli Village
“This post goes back to 2015 when I was hitchhiking through Southeast Asia to meet up with my friend Bond in Chong Phli Village to go rock climbing for a few weeks. After almost four years of working on pieces of a novel I have finally figured out what I want to write about and how I will incorporate all the blog posts into a book. I am saving all my hitchhiking short stories from Asia for a second novel. My first book will cover the Adventures of Brian Cray hitchhiking, bicycle touring and train hopping across America. I am thinking of calling it: The Nectar of Life.”
I am up to 127,000 words in my book and this is a small excerpt from one of the chapters. I have almost completed my rough draft of “Jungle: Wanderin’ West” and just need to edit it before I start sending it out to publishers. Wish me luck. I am hoping it turns out to be a great read for all of you who have been interested in my stories and whereabouts over the past few years.”
For the first time in a month I stopped hitchhiking to enjoy a few weeks of climbing with my buddy Bond from the States, meeting up in Chong Phli Village. Somehow we always found a way to meet up with each other regardless of location. I met up with him countless times before, particularly on my bicycle tour in Indiana and Colorado, so meeting up with him in Thailand felt no different.
We climbed Spirit Mountain in Chong Phli Village and in the tranquil islands of Koh Yao Noi, Thailand, off the coast of Krabi. Fine limestone tufas, cavernous rock and an array of climbs spanning all difficulties filled the region. I was not an avid climber by any means, not compared to Bond anyway, who spent numerous hours at the rock gym, training daily, climbing all across the United States and the world. He pushed me in many aspects of the sport, sometimes to the point of frustration, climbing routes I had no business on. But, I enjoyed the views, the physical and mental exhaustion with sending a route, or just the feeling of the outdoors. There was nothing quite like dangling from rope 300 feet off the ground with my best friend, looking down at the clear turquoise ocean beneath our feet, knowing we scaled the side of a limestone tower in one of the most beautiful paradises, a getaway from reality.
Our first few days in Krabi we climbed the dusty tufas of Spirit Mountain in Chong Phli Village, breaking free of the routes for random exploration. Bond brought a 2-person tent along with all his heavy gear. We wanted to camp, but the owner of the bungalows disappeared. So we trekked through the unknown following the perimeter of the mountain through the lush jungle looking for a place to setup camp. We bushwhacked through palm trees, crouching through cavernous limestone holes, descending steep, slippery grades until stumbling upon an overhanging cliff face freeing us from one important element, the rain! Dry leaves rustled under our feet as we set up the poles to the neon orange tent, stashing our gear inside to continue exploring the vast terrain surrounding us.
We roamed around unsure of our direction or what we were looking for, wandering around the perimeter of Spirit Mountain, and free climbing slabs of limestone. My fingers pained as I positioned them on the rough rock, callousing over and forming blisters from my lack of climbing. I only climbed outdoors with Bond. This was the first time I set my hands on rock in almost a year and it hurt.
It was not your typical climbing with rope, proper shoes, quick-draws and a grigri (belay device). We climbed free of gear, bouldering small 20-foot sections of limestone, traversing steep pitches covered in dirt, and hanging onto bare shrubbery as we planted our feet. Bond stopped as we scaled half of the mountain, reaching a point of no return. I peered behind me up a small grade of mountainside and saw a pitch black hole in the shape of a cave. We slid across the rubble, dirt and rock falling off the cliff face, as we neared the dark orifice. What was inside? Everything looked black. It looked like an ice cream scoop chunk of rock the size of a dome shelter removed from the limestone. But, why was it black and not sandy brown? I neared closer, tiptoeing into the cave. A cold breeze bellowed from the mouth of the cave chilling my skin as I inched closer. Bond stood back, waiting for approval to enter. “HOLY SHIT MAN, I whispered loudly!” The wall moved with small flutters of black wings lined up like an army of soldiers prepared for war. “What, Bond uttered whimsically?”
“The wall is covered with fuckin’ bats dude. They’re everywhere. I thought the wall was black, but it’s not…just the whole fuckin’ wall is covered in them, come look. I whispered afraid to wake them and get covered in guano or worse bitten.”
“No shit man…sweet as,” said Bond chuckling under his breath.
He turned on his video camera to capture the footage as I slowly paced around the cave, finding an opening with a beam of sunlight protruding through. I wondered what was on the other side…maybe another cave perhaps. Placing my feet in two footholds I reached up, crimping limestone in one hand and reaching into an open hole above me with the other. I fell back losing my footing as a buzzing sound echoed from one of the many holes of limestone.
“What the fuck was that,” I yelled, as Bond stood there circling about the cave with his camera.
“Looked like a huge ass bee…or somethin’,” he said confusedly.
I shuddered backwards stumbling over my feet until bursting out into sudden shooting pain.
“FUCK…my ass…my ass…What the hell just stung my ass,” I rumbled?
I pulled down my pants in a non-homosexual manner.
“Dude no homo, check my ass cheek, I think I have a stinger in it…it fuckin’ hurts,” I squealed.
Bond chuckled in a girlish giggle, snickering and laughing uncontrollably with his video camera capturing every moment of my bare-naked ass.
“Dude seriously, am I gonna be alright? Are Thai bees poisonous? What should I do?”
“Hahahahah…I think you’ll live,” he said in a dry tone, with the camera lens pointed at the enflamed, red bulb forming on my ass.
I pulled my pants back up. “Thanks dick…”
I was not allergic to bees, but damn did my ass cheek feel like an erupting volcano. The burning sensation mildly subsided as we walked back to camp, removing the stinger from my tender rump carefully, calling it a day to remember on Spirit Mountain.
The routes at Chong Phli Village scarcely ranged from a few dusty, low-grade, tufa climbs, to steeper pitches with waiting times on the routes. We shortly realized after a day of climbing we needed a wider spectrum of routes and we would not find it on Spirit Mountain. Whole walls were in the process of being drilled and bolted so where would we go next? Certainly not our spider infested camp along the mountainside, but another free night of camping seemed to suffice for the time being.
In the morning we hit the road for Ao Nang, hearing about islands off the coast of Krabi, a climber’s paradise. Tourists clung to the sidewalks of Krabi shuffling between their luggage bags, waiting for taxis and boats to arrive to take them to their hotels. Our Jeepney arrived taking us on a short ride to the dock where we waited for our speed boat to depart. Long tail boats swung around near the coast boarding passengers for private rides to the islands surrounding the coastline. They resembled oversized canoes with large propellers sunk a few feet into the ocean causing them to look bottom heavy with a slight upward slant. They skipped through the water like rocks, their antique wooden frame catching the true feeling of island life in Thailand. We boarded our speed boat sitting in one of the back rows on school bus seats. I looked out the back watching the huge wake we left behind between all the unfamiliar faces of tourists flashing pictures and videos with their cameras. Bond took out his video camera and started taping with a goofy, commentator voice trying to capture scenes of our island life. He pushed the camera in my face acting like a clown as I shifted my eyes through the shaded windows trying to catch a view of islands in the distance. The motion of the ocean lulled us to sleep and after a half hour we reached the island. I opened my eyes and picked the sleepy dirt from its crevices as we lined up behind the rest of the passengers waiting to hop off the boat. Bond packed a backpack full of clothes and a duffel bag the size of two full suitcases. It weighed at least 50 lbs. making walking long distances unreasonable.
We stepped off the boat onto a dock full of vans ready to transport tourists into town. I wanted to walk, but knew with Bond’s luggage he might die of exhaustion and never make it. We took a van with no destination in mind, having no prior arrangements. The driver suggested the rock climbing bungalows. We nodded in agreement, having no idea where that would take us, our eyes peering out the back of the truck as we cruised around the winding roads of the island.
For us, we wanted to go where the climbers stayed to meet people with similar interests and possibly get boats coordinated to climb Grateful Wall a little north of Paradise Resort off the northern part of the island. We had heard about it from some local climbers in Chong Phli Village, a shady paradise, free of the sun 24-hours a day.
We arrived at Namtok Bungalows where Bond booked a room and we split the cost of an automatic scooter at 150 baht per person per day. I slept outside in a hammock on the porch, not wanting to share the small bed with him, enjoying the cool ocean night breeze with each peaceful night of sleep. I lay there suspended in the air between the wooden frames of the bungalow.
Namtok attracted all kinds of people across the world. We met people from the United Kingdom, Thailand and Sweden. It was like a Swedish ghetto there. All of them came out on vacation for a few weeks of climbing between their jobs. The women did not shave their pits, but they all could climb, and well at that.
We met a couple from the United Kingdom who traveled around the world for the past year climbing in different countries, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Europe to name a few. There was a different breed of people on the island, and I experienced my first hostel without having to sneak into it or fear getting laid by an ugly German chick with a pitted face and manly voice. I liked it. I felt like I fit in despite my limited climbing and lack of gear. It felt like family. We all ate breakfast together and sometimes dinner, climbing different portions of the island during the day, alternating routes and ropes between different groups of climbers.
The majority of our day we spent grinding it out on the wall for spectacular climbing. We dug into multi-pitch climbing for the first time in our lives experiencing some of the longest climbs in my life. I remember the feeling of limestone rock rubbing up against the bottom of my climbing shoes while I dangled 300+ feet off the ground, just feet away from the final anchor on a four pitch climb. I looked out at the scenery surrounding me. Silhouettes of small islands looked off in the distance. A cloudless, endless blue sky blended into the ocean like as if an artist painted a canvass of blues before my eyes. Sweat filled every inch of my body, but nothing compared to it, not in the slightest. We stood there with our feet planted against the limestone towers like gods looking out at the sea. What an immaculate feeling it was and the routes never got old even after 15 days of intense, non-stop climbing.
Despite the product of happiness from climbing along with the adrenaline, there was an associated fear and risk with it. Climbing scared me deeply. It was not the fear of heights, but the fear of falling that made me queasy to my stomach. Lead climbing especially scared me due to the potential fall factor, but in order to see the views I needed to do it on the multi-pitch routes, so I did.
But ironically, lead climbing and experiencing my first multi-pitch routes did not scare me nearly as much as the sketchy dirt road to reach “Big Tree Wall” and “The Mitt” (a few names of the climbing walls on Koh Yao Noi). Each morning we awoke dreading the unsafe, 45-minute drive to the wall. Neither one of us knew how to drive a scooter. We literally handed over 300 baht each day and kept the set of keys along with two helmets for our time on the island. There was no paperwork or legal forms to sign, insurance required by law or permits required to drive a motor scooter. We just put the keys in, turned on the ignition and wobbled along the road. Most of the drive we putted along cement until turning off down a beaten path, following the power-lines to the northern part of the island, with a narrow dirt roadway taking us through the dense jungle. Small houses made of bamboo and wood stood off the roadway with happy smiles exploding off every native. Pot holes the size of small sinkholes encroached the road making it a doozy to avoid getting flung over the handlebars. Even with much practice of taking the same route daily we still crashed multiple times. We rode where the roadway looked most practical not to crash, which often times meant driving on both sides of the dirt path, into oncoming traffic. This was common practice in Thailand, especially on the island. But it also made for a dangerous drive along the path around steep curves and bends, up steep hills and around sandy banks. Several times we ate shit, swerving off the path into bushes, the scooter sliding out from underneath us as we skid through sand, yanking us over the handlebars, while we winced in pain. We practically started playing rock-paper-scissors shoot for who would drive, loathing it each day, in both the morning and night. If I did not drive, I held onto the back of the motorbike with my fingertips as my abs tightened, the huge backpack on my shoulders clanked over each bump, counting down the minutes to safety. It always surprised me when one of the most expensive resorts on the island resided near the climbing walls. Who in their right mind would drive that path every day to reach civilization? We walked away each day with scrapes, bruises, and gashes on our legs, forearms, knees and faces, not from climbing, but just from driving that damn scooter. And here sat a pristine hotel on the shores of a private beach, away from all the touristy areas, away from most of the island life. Just a death race to Paradise Resort Hotel and we drove it every day except when we climbed on “Grateful Wall” and split the cost of a speed boat with the other climbers at Namtok.
For three weeks we ate an assortment of meat from street vendors on Shish Kebabs, consisting of liver, lungs, and all other unknown organs hanging on a long toothpick-like stick. Few spoke English so we did not know the foods we ate, but they tasted delectable enough. The same little meat stand brought us back each day wanting more, even if the meat sat out for hours in the hot-baking sun, with flies buzzing around it and no food codes to hinder them from selling it. We set aside enough time each day to make our regular food stops. Every morning started off at the corner mart with rolls of sticky rice wrapped around jackfruit or mango. The sweet burst of energy gave us enough of a boost to hold out until dinner time for multiple rounds of food between the little meat stand. We left the wall before sun-down to reach it in time. This was just a snack though, a mere appetizer to the true amount of food we consumed on a daily basis. Climbing for eight hours plus, every day, put us in a calorific deficit. Both Bond and I were eaters. Bond more so than myself, whom once consumed 72 ounces of steak and a pound of mashed potatoes in 30 minutes when we were in college. We ate three main courses daily. Meals fit for kings for a mere few dollars consisting of rice dishes with beef, other meats and vegetables mixed with a spicy dressing. The Thai people liked their spices.
After long days on the wall, many nights we winded down, smoking bunk weed we scored from a Swedish climber named Hampus at the bungalows. He scored it from a local who probably grew it on the island. We did not ask. I did not want the death penalty for smoking herb or knowing about the dealer, but it got us high and made the pain from a long day of enduring blood-pumping forearms, stiff fingers, sore joints and achy muscles fade to limber, relaxing bliss. We also got the munchies hardcore. But unlike the States, dipping a few more dollars into my budget for the day actually put a meals-worth of food in my belly, a fresh meal at that. Multiple nights we set out on a munchie mission for lassie’s, shakes, fried rice, curry, cashew dishes, or anything that would satisfy our hunger and we found it.
Those three weeks I felt lucky to have a true friend with me, experiencing some of the best moments of my life in another country with a different culture, food and way-of-life. The hardest part of Thailand was saying my goodbyes to Bond, one of the people closest to me in my life, to go back to his normal life of nursing. That feeling put a lump in my throat, making me hold back tears. Although I knew we would meet down the road again. Goodbye always took a while to say, even without words.
When we made it to the mainland Bond’s taxi stopped to pick him up. After a brief man-hug, I watched him fade away and our time climbing in Thailand felt almost surreal.