sign in a cave in Laos

19 August 2008

Krabi rock climbing - Star

Saturday, April 27, 2002
Getting high in Krabi

Liz Price

The surface of the cliff in front of me had dozens of ropes hanging from the rocky heights above, and attached to these ropes were human spiders. It was like a scene from a science fiction film — human spiders creating a giant-sized web to trap some unseen prey. These homo-arachnids were strung at various heights up the cliff, all with one goal — to reach the top.

The spectacular limestone towers of Phra Nang dominate the local landscape. High cliffs extend right down to the water’s edge, and the Andaman sea is dotted with numerous islands of different shapes and sizes. This limestone actually starts in Malaysia, on the islands of Langkawi, and extends north into Thailand, running through the Taratao islands and up the peninsula through Satun and Trang, right into Krabi and Phang Nga provinces.

Many climbers flock to the Krabi area to climb spectacular walls in one of the world’s most beautiful tropical beaches. The weather is ideal and there are climbs to suit all levels of skill. There are challenging 6b routes for the expert climber and, for a novice like me, there are short walls. It had been years since I did any climbing, so I wasn’t going to try anything too difficult. And I was aware of a large audience comfortably watching from below.

The beginner’s wall, Muay Thai, is 50m high. During the peak season, as many as 300 visitors climb this wall daily. That explains the abundance of ropes dangling down like colourful spaghetti. I watched in fascination as one farang (mat salleh) climber headed for the top of the cliff. He had to negotiate a very exposed overhang. The Thai instructor who was ahead of him shouted encouragement and advice. The view from those rocky heights must be truly spectacular. The Thai instructors are superb climbers. They walked up the rock surface as if it was a Sunday stroll. They must have developed their skills by climbing almost every day. For a novice, there is a shorter wall about 15m high.

Rock climbing is the growing sport of the decade. The appeal is immediate and the rewards are addictive. Safety techniques are widely practised. Men and women of all ages are responding to the thrills, psychological challenges and exhilaration that are part of every climb. For this sport, macho strength is not a necessity.

The Krabi climbing industry started to boom in the 1990s, when it started gaining recognition amongst the international climbing community. Stories about the spectacular limestone cliffs towering above golden sands and clear blue waters spread around, and Krabi soon became a mecca for climbing enthusiasts. The first trickle of European climbers arrived in the mid-80s. The Phi Phi islands drew most of the pioneer climbers, and numerous routes were soon established. Then climbers discovered Phra Nang on the mainland. Railay (Rai Leh) beach had long been a favourite destination for backpac-kers, offering cheap accomodation in the form of bamboo huts. I first went there in 1988 before the climbing business started booming.

A talented group of young Thais soon began climbing and established a local climbing club as well as a mountain rescue team. Although they started out as novices, they studied the skills from visiting climbers and became expert climbers themselves. They learnt the basic techniques and set out to conquer the walls. Soon they were setting up their own routes.

Although Phra Nang is part of the mainland, it is isolated from the outside world by the large cliffs and steep valleys. These great walls of Phra Nang provide a stunning backdrop to the beaches that are packed with European sunbathers. The most popular beaches are Ao Nang, Railay and Phra Nang, and can only be reached by boat. I was amazed at the number of sun worshippers on the beaches. There was hardly a spare metre of sand between the bronzed bodies. Enterprising Thais were seen walking around selling cold drinks, fresh fruits, sticky rice and even sarongs. Long-tailed boats were bobbing gently in the aquamarine water, well away from the area reserved for swimming. It was good to note that safety is a prime concern here and the boats are restricted to a certain area.

There are several climbing schools offering courses ranging from half a day to three-day packages. The packages include instructions, equipment and insurance. You can also just opt to rent equipment, or hire a private guide as a climbing partner. The main outfitters are Kings Climbers, Tex Rock Climbing, Krabi Climbers, and Cliffs Man. The latter has an artificial climbing wall. Most of them are located on Railay’s east beach.

There are more than 450 bolted climbs. The climbs range from easy, short pitches with relatively large hand holds and stalactites to pull up on, to desperate faces of extreme difficulty. The routes are all named, imaginatively — Massage Secrets, Beauty and the Beast, Getting to Know You, and Lord of the Thais. The climbing walls are generally shady, and easily accessible.

Certain rock walls are off-limits because they are part of the Hat Noppharat Thara Ko Phi Phi National Marine Parks. This includes the walls outside the Princess Cave. For those who are not die-hard climbers, there are a couple of caves that can be visited. Tham Phra Nang Nok (Outer Princess Cave) is said to be home to a mythical sea princess. Local legend says that during the 3rd century B.C., a passing royal barge carrying an Indian princess foundered in a storm. Her spirit came to inhabit the cave, and grants favours to all who pay their respects. Local fishermen place carved wooden phalli in the cave as offerings to the Holy Princess (Phra Nang). A steep climb leads up into the large chamber of the cave.

A larger cave was discovered more recently. It is at the north end of Rai Leh Beach and is called Tham Phra Nang Nai (Inner Princess Cave). It used to be called Diamond Cave. The National Park authorities have lighted up the cave and built a concrete walkway for the convenience of visitors. There is an admission fee of 20 Baht (RM2). The generator is switched on every other half hour, or when visitors show up. There is a beautiful golden flowstone in the cave, as well as some stunning stalagmites and stalactites. This cave is rumoured to be the grand palace of the princess, whilst the other cave is her summer palace. The cliffs outside the cave offer more climbing routes.

Inside the Phra Nang cliff is a hidden lagoon called Sa Phra Nang (Holy Princess Pool). This can be reached by following a sometimes slippery trail up the side of the mountain. Ropes are in place to guide hikers and there are warning notices telling visitors they must use the ropes. About 50m up the trial, you will reach a window in the cliff, which gives a good view of the beaches below. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the pool. The more adventurous hiker can climb to the top of the mountain and get an aerial view of the entire cape and the surrounding islands.

Visitors also can enjoy snorkelling off the beaches, although snorkelling is better at the nearby islands, which can be reached by boat. The boat taxis are frequent and prices are fixed. Sea kayaking is another option and canoes can be rented from various places.

This part of Krabi is really stunning in terms of scenery and offers a range of rock and water activities. Accom-modation is plentiful and caters to all budgets — from simple hut to luxury resorts. You can also find a variety of food — Thai, European and Muslim cuisines are found everywhere. Krabi is within driving distance from Malaysia, and the roads are good, with signboards in English. Public transport is also easy, cheap and frequent. There are flights to Krabi from Phuket and Bangkok. Motorbikes, jeeps and cars can be hired if you want to explore the surrounding countryside. It is certainly a great place to spend a holiday. E

No comments:

Post a Comment