A very Thai Thanksgiving

Who said you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving all the way on the other side of the world? When you make American friends in Thailand, you make the magic happen.

Last Thursday it was Thanksgiving in America, and we decided there was nothing stopping us from having a family style celebration over in Thailand. Luckily, the homestay we were staying at was incredibly accomodating and got on board with our need for all the food to arrive at the same time, sharing style.

Over the couple of weeks we had spent climbing at Crazy Horse and living at Jira Homestay, Clay and I had made friends with an American, Canadian and a kiwi couple. The Canadians unfortunately left before Thanksgiving, but another American couple arrived a few of days beforehand, so on the special day we were eight. And we made sure we ordered enough for eight to feast on!

The honourable place of the turkey was taken by a deep fried fish in sweet and sour sauce. It was delightful! We also had some deep fried chicken wings, which were probably some of tastiest ones I’ve ever had (quite a statement, I know!).

Most of the friends we had made at Crazy Horse are vegetarians, which made us take the step to eating more vegetarian food, something we have been planning on doing for a while. I was worried the lack of meat would make me feel lethargic or lack energy, or affect me in some other negative way, but I have honestly felt a whole load better for choosing the vegetarian options 90% of the time over the past few weeks.

So the rest of our feast consisted of vegetarian dishes: fried rice, green curry with veggies, yellow curry, a Northern style chilli dip with vegetables and French fries.

And for dessert: the ultimate winner. Thai pancakes. I had no idea they were so good!! Think deep fried circles of dough, doused in condensed milk, that just melt in your mouth. We paired them with tons of ice cream and tropical fruit – dragon fruit and passion fruit.

It felt exactly like Thanksgiving should – too much food, way too much dessert, great company, and a wonderful homely atmosphere.

Staying at Jira’s was such an amazing start to our climbing adventure that we stayed there for three weeks instead of the one that we had planned, but eventually it was time to leave. And I swear, that was the hardest thing we’ve had to deal with on our travels to far, even though we were mega excited about moving on to Laos.

Wewill really miss that place, and our Thai Thanksgiving family!

Climbing in Thailand: Longing for rain

I’ve never longed for rain this much in my life. A few days ago, temperatures reached a toasty 34 degrees Celsius, with Google telling me it “feels like 37”, and I could feel every single damn degree of it. My head was pounding, my body refused to move, I was starting to get pretty irritable. The weather forecast promised a 60% chance of rain, and I could sense it hanging heavy in the air (even heavier that the usual humidity in Thailand), but it just wasn’t coming.

After two or three days of this, the humidity reached such astronomical levels that I was sweating so much I couldn’t hold onto my makeshift walking stick (manufactured out of a clip-stick, so as not to waste a good piece of equipment while not in use) on the approach to the crag. It was slipping out of my hand.

Then, finally, that day, when the 20 minute approach up a steep hill nearly made me vomit, the rain finally came. Not a massive, satisfying downpour, like you get during the tropical monsoon season; but still a huge relief after the days of building tension.

The rain in Thailand seems so much more serious about its job than the rains we often get back in the UK. Every drop is more substantial and heavy, and it only last for a short period of time, instead of dragging on for long, exhausting hours.

It’s amazing how quickly one gets used to his or her current situation and begins complaining about the very same things they wanted desperately only a short while before. A month ago, I couldn’t wait for the heat of South East Asia. I wanted desperately to escape the drizzly, damp and miserable British winter. Now look at me, complaining about how hot I am!

I remind myself of this on a regular basis, then promptly feel ashamed about complaining and focus instead on looking forward to a cold shower.

That’s another thing that has been rather novel in my life here – the joy I get from a cold shower. To the point that, despite the existence of slightly temperamental, but functional hot showers, for well over a week now we have chosen to wash ourselves in the shower we luckily have in our room, despite it being cold. Partly for convenience, but to a large extent because it just feels so good to let the cold water wash over you after a day of slithering our sweaty way up rock faces and perspiring profusely after accidentally putting that little bit too much chilli on our food.

Today we are resting, which mostly involves hiding in our room with two fans on. Despite it being a much more overcast day than we have had recently, the humidity is still relentless, and the indoors is so inviting. I never thought I would choose to stay inside when it’s warm enough to lie around and read my book outdoors, but that’s precisely what we’re doing. And I’ve almost learnt not to feel guilty about it.

Tomorrow is a big climbing day. We are going to a crag called the Heart Wall – the furthest  one away from where we are staying (that’s the 20 minute approach I enjoyed so much a few days ago), but also the most impressive, and coincidentally the most energy intensive and tiring.

Tomorrow also happens to be Thanksgiving, and given we have made some lovely American friends over here, tomorrow will also be a big eating day, so we have to prepare our bodies for both!

The ten things I wish I’d known before climbing in Northern Thailand

No advice can really prepare you for rock climbing in a tropical country when you’re used to the mild European climate, but I wish I’d done a little more research about what it’s like to climb in Thailand.

We’ve been climbing at Crazy Horse for six days now (with a two-day break when we went back to Chiang Mai for the weekend).

To be honest, it’s been a whole lot better than I expected. The rock is beautiful and not too polished, the routes are interesting and incredibly well-bolted. The grades are maybe a little soft, but the heat and humidity makes everything seem so much harder.

There is a good variety of relatively burly, short routes, and long sweat-fests with technical cruxes interspersed with easier face climbing. And we haven’t even been to the Heart Wall yet, which is meant to be spectacular!

But it certainty takes a bit of research to have the best time here and to be comfortable at the crag. Here are a few things I wish I’d known before we came here.

1. It’s really easy to get to the crag on public transport. We only found this out when we spoke to other climbers at the homestay where we are living, and I only found one blog about this after a bit of searching. Most of the information online is produced by Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (CMRCA), which can organise return transfers to and from the crag, but these cost 525 baht per person (around £12, which I know doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is by Thai standards). Public transport costs 40 baht one way!

2. It is absolutely essential to bring a lighter and anti-mosquito coils to burn at the crag. It gets pretty mosquito-heavy among all the vegetation, and the coils seem to be the only thing they are afraid of. I had actually thought of bringing the coils, but stupidly we didn’t have a lighter for the first few days, and you kind of need both! We finally got one back in Chiang Mai.

3. Bring more quickdraws with you than you think you could ever use. Many routes are up to 30 metres long and extremely well-bolted. We had 18 with us, and we’ve used almost all of them on some routes, and there are apparently some longer ones that may even require more.

4. Chiang Mai is not worth spending a weekend in. It has become far too Westernised and touristy, and one day would have been plenty. It was worth going back to do some laundry and to get some Thai massages (which are amazing!!), and for the weekend food markets. But it isn’t a great rest day. It’s quite busy and more expensive, and it’s hard to find a nice room at short notice as there is so much demand.

5. The heat and humidity take a LOT of getting used to, so choose your crag wisely. Some of them get much hotter than others, and climbing in 30 degree heat and mad humidity is not for the faint of heart. Expect to sweat as much as you would in a hot yoga class, but all day long.

6. Bring a towel to the crag. Or two. For reasons see my point above…

7. Bring a lot of extra chalk. See point 5.

8. It’s worth buying some fruit back in Chiang Mai or at the market down the road from the homestay, because the place itself, though it does great food, doesn’t sell any fruit. And if you’re like me, you will want nothing but fruit and cold drinks in this heat!

9. It’s worth bringing head torches with you when going out to the crags. There are a lot of caves around, some of which have bolted routes inside them, but it’s quite dark in there.

10. November is a very busy time here, as it’s high season, but the longer you stay at the homestay the more likely you are to get a nice room, as one of the longer-term customers. We stayed in a tent for the first 4 nights, and then had to sleep in a dorm for a night when we returned from Chiang Mai. But the next day, someone left, so we got a huge double room, with a toilet, a (cold) shower and a fridge, for not much more money than we were paying for a tent!

Thailand: Climbing in Chiang Mai

After a few days of eating everything Thailand has to offer and accumulating some substantial podge around our mid areas, we finally made it to the climbing area in Chiang Mai.

Situated in the North of the country, Chiang Mai has unfortunately become far more touristy than when I last visited Thailand a decade ago. The climbing has also now been discovered by more than just a handful of foreigners, but it is still nowhere near as popular as some of the more well known destinations, such as Krabi in the South of the country.

And as the first place to begin our rock climbing adventure, it is absolutely perfect, with a huge range of easier climbs, and a wonderful change from the hustle and bustle of the cities.

The climbing area, called Crazy Horse, sits around 45 mins drive outside of Chiang Mai. We couldn’t get our hands on a guidebook in England, so we bought it when we got here from a company called Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (CMRCA), which looks after the crags.

CMRCA shop
CMRCA shop

They run a gym in the city, through which people can book climbing courses or transport to and from the crag. We used their service to get out to Crazy Horse, though by Thai standards it’s pretty expensive – around £12 each (525 baht), return.

We were also recommended to stay at a place near the crag called Jira Homestay, but it turned out November is a busy month and they had run out of rooms. Instead, we were offered a tent, which was completely set up for us when we arrived and turned out to be a really nice place to spend the night. And we paid…just 250 baht per night for this. A whopping £6 for the two of us!

They also do amazing food. It comes at slightly  higher  prices  than some  of the food markets, but the portions  are huge! And they prepare  lunches  to take away to the crag  too, which is  awesome!

We’ve mostly done very easy climbing so far, but that is exactly the start we needed. Even the easy routes are very interesting, with lots of features, and extremely well bolted!

The heat and humidity have got to us though, and we have struggled a bit with stamina, and general breathing throughout the day. But apparently it’s actually pretty cool now, so we better acclimatise fast for when it gets hotter again…

Can’t wait to check out more areas over the next few days. We have recommendations from a few people for an easy multi-pitch with breathtaking views, so that’s definitely on the bucket list.

Thailand: The first day of the big adventure

After nearly a year of planning and saving, on Thursday 2 November 2017 we finally arrived in Bangkok to begin our year-long rock climbing-and-travelling adventure, and it feelt pretty surreal.

When you’ve been looking forward to something for so long and it finally happens, your brain refuses to believe it has become reality. So even though I know these are just the first few days of the three months which I am going to spend in South East Asia, I can’t help feeling like we are only here on a two-week holiday and fretting about not making the most of my time.

So on our first day, we managed to get through as much touristy stuff as you would if you were only here for a short break from the daily grind. We ate ALL the street food; we visited a temple in China Town; went to see the Grand Palace (though we actually intended to see the Wat Pho temple, which is next to it); we took a (free!) boat ride up and down the river in celebration of the River Festival; and we even found time for a fish foot spa (which was very tickly and not at all as freaky as it sounds).

Palace

We spent a good couple of hours in the Palace, which houses the famous reclining Buddha (a huge, gold statue, which sits inside a traditionally ornate worship building – we wondered if they built the Buddha inside the existing temple, or constructed the walls around him?).

Reclining Buddha

As it got dark, many food stalls opened up inside the Palace walls – not sure if this was in celebration of the Festival or simply the usual thing after sunset. We had amazing banana pancakes drizzled with condensed milk (respect to the Thais for serving pancakes the way they should be – with condensed milk, as anyone who grew up in Russia will agree).

Clay enjoying the yummy pancakes
Clay enjoying the yummy pancakes

I also discovered that I absolutely love Pad Thai in Thailand – it’s not much like what we get back home. It is made from sticky glass noodles, with tiny little fried shrimp which add a huge amount of flavour. Definitely going through a bit of a Pad Thai addiction.

As expected, by the end of the first day of our big adventure we were extremely tired and spent 11 hours straight sleeping. Luckily, the hostel we stayed at was really comfortable – we had a private room, but with no windows, making it even harder to wake up!

The place is situated in the middle of China Town and is called Our Secret Base. It is run by a young Thai couple – Ping and her boyfriend – who both speak perfect English and are absolutely lovely! Would recommend to anyone staying in Bangkok.