On the Edge in Krabi (Krabi, Thailand)

Wind whipped my face as my fingers struggled to get a better hold on the steep rock face.  I was thirty-five feet up a giant stalactite holding on with everything I had while my feet slipped beneath me.   Fear gripped my heart, constantly reminding me that I was wearing no safety harnesses.  The slightest slip up would abruptly end my day.

How the hell did I get here?  What possessed me to go rock climbing without any safety harnesses?  The only time I had ever been rock climbing was at my friend’s 6th grade birthday party, back when everyone got trophies for participation – how does that qualify me for this?

I spotted a rock up to my right and reached for it, but it was too far.

My foot slipped further and sent a spray of pebbles into the air below me.  I knew I couldn’t make it, but I didn’t have any other options.  No harness means no easy way down.

My heart was pounding, shooting adrenaline throughout my body.  I had to make it.  Besides, I was lying to myself: more than one of my friends threw their birthday parties at rock-climbing gyms, and I even got the Rock Climbing Merit Badge!

Change of attitude: I can do it.  I must do it.  I will do it.

I repositioned my feet, reached beyond my comfort level, gripped the rock and pulled myself up onto the top of the ledge.  I made it to the top.

Although I have always said that nothing feels better than doing something you have always wanted to do, I will now make one exception: doing something you never thought you could do.

Ten minutes earlier I had been staring up the vertical slope sick with trepidation as I watched seasoned climbers crawl up the cliff like monkeys.  Then it was my turn.  At many points I thought I was going to fall onto the rocks below, but I overcame my fears and made it all the way to the top.

I patted myself on the back, smiled to Jay some 35 feet below me, looked over the edge, and jumped off into the air…

…and into the cerulean water of the Thailand’s Adaman Coast.

I sunk below the waves and breathed out a sigh of relief.  Life is good.

I am at Tom Sai Beach in Krabi, Thailand, home of some of the world’s best rock-climbing.  We had hired a boat out to the nearby islands to try my new favorite sport, Deep Water Solo Climbing – harness free-rock climbing on huge stalactites that dangle over the ocean.  You climb as far as you can before taking a massive cliff jump into the welcoming ocean.

The rock climbing here is insane – we are staying on a beach that is surrounded by a vertical line of prodigious eruptions of limestone, all towering hundreds of feet above the ocean.  This series of monoliths jut into the ocean and form a peninsula that resembles the jaw of a tiger, each rocky tooth rising higher than the previous.

Ah, but how to describe these sights to all of my readers in cyberspace?   To use the words “picturesque”, “sublime” or “postcard-perfect” would be as cliché as getting a tribal tattoo during my trip to Thailand.

Ok, so try to follow me on this description:

Have you ever seen that famous hotel in Dubai, the Burj al-Arab, the one that resembles a massive sail?  Well, imagine if that hotel was made entirely of multicolored limestone that dripped downward in stalactites, making the entire thing appear to be a giant jungle-covered limestone candle.  These cliffs are so huge you have to be a mile off shore to capture their size on camera.  That is what we are climbing on.

So on Valentine’s Day, 2009 I found my new love – rock climbing.  Jay and I spent the entire day scaling stalactites and jumping off them into the ocean.  Rock climbing gives you Zen-like clarity as you decide where to make your next move.  Your mind is focused on the here and now: your goals are clear, your accomplishments tangible.  It was my first day, but I gradually improved until I was ready to tackle this beastly monstrosity – The Spiderman Wall.

My guides were two Thai Rastafarians (or as Jay calls them, Rastafar-Thais), complete with dreadlocks, red-green-and-yellow boats, kayaks, and t-shirts, reggae vibes and Trenchtown English.

Despite their Rasta attire, these guys were all business when it came to climbing.  They were even first aid-trained, though watching them apply band-aids was comically entertaining.  But hey, they helped me push beyond my comfort level and accomplish what I thought impossible.

Rock climbing is something I never would have done back home, precisely why it is a perfect example of how traveling broadens one’s horizons and makes one a more whole person.  Though I live not half a mile from a rock-climbing gym, it required a trip to paradise for me to give it a shot.  But with such stunning climbing terrain, how can one not fall in love with the sport?

We came here to Krabi on accident.  Well, in traveling there are no accidental destinations – just unexpected changes of plan.

Our journey from Ko Phangan was case in point.  In a single day, our plans changed five times: Ko Samui? Ko Tao?  Ko Tarutao?  No – Krabi it is!

And what a great destination it has been.

Everything in Krabi revolves around climbing.  The bars are positioned at the foot of one of the gnarliest climbs I have ever seen.  Within fifty feet of the bar climbers are hanging upside-down while crowds of spectators sit in the sand and watch with rapt attention.

The tempo of life here is a welcome change from party-crazy Ko Phangan.  In contrast to the insomnia of the Full Moon Party, people here simply relax with a beer or two after a tiring day of climbing.

As luck would have it, Jay and I stumbled across a live music show on our first night – Job2Do, Thailand’s premiere reggae artist was playing town.   We asked Jah for strength and chanted down Babylon well into the morning before hiking back into the jungle to sleep.

Into the jungle?  Well, not quite.  Unlike my night in the leech-infested jungles of Malaysia, in Thailand I have been typically staying in 2-person bungalows.  While Europe does hostels with dorm-rooms, Thailand does individual bungalows with beach-front views.  A stay in one of these will set you back anywhere between 5-10 bucks a night.

The food here has been exceptional as well.  Tom Sai Beach is home to a handful of street vendors who whip up north-eastern Thai dishes for cheap.  I breakfast with a plate of sticky rice, splashed in coconut milk and topped with fresh mango slices.  For lunch, I sample the local fruits or I grab a plate of pad thai – stir-fried noodles with chicken, beef or seafood.  And for dinner I feast on BBQ chicken with sweet-sour sauce and steamed rice.  Perfection.

Such perfection draws climbers here for weeks at a time.  Krabi is definitely a rock-climbing scene, and after three days my limited time frame pushed me inevitably onwards.  Though half of the guys here had scaled Mount Everest with no climbing-shoes, my one day of climbing had been a personal success.  Encouraged and ready for what life threw at me, Jay and I packed our bags and pointed our compass to sea.

Next stop: Ko Phi Phi – one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, made famous as the filming location of The Beach…so keep watching for a new post, and watch The Beach in the meantime!

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