Time passes quickly in Thailand. We realise that thanks to so many of you complaining that we didn’t update our web-page recently but also because we had to extend our visas and actually had to leave the country after three months, three months that passed way too fast. But let’s get back to mid March when we entered Thailand in Mae Sot at a late afternoon. After having separated from our friends with whom we had crossed Myanmar we decided to continue a bit into Thailand, if the roads permit at night maybe even into Lansang National Park. And here came the first surprise after months on bad roads in Pakistan, India and Myanmar - even in this remote area the roads are 4-lane highways in perfect condition, well indicated and with almost no traffic, what a change! Due to that fact we decided to continue to the national park arriving at the barrier after 22:00. We were a little bit afraid as signs made it clear that we are not allowed to enter with pets but the guards simply welcomed us and opened the barrier. We found a beautiful place next to some water falls, got free coffee in the morning and everyone was excited to play with Mutlu while we filled our water tanks. We slowly moved southwards, indulging fresh mangos, lichees and water melons being sold everywhere next to the road, towards our next stop, Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp, 2 hours north of Bangkok at the Pasak river. This small camp is next to a climbing spot that you reach using zip-lines across the river.
We spent a few days there, and were joined by Jo & Anja (and their dog Bounty which made Mutlu especially happy) again while they were waiting for their Chinese visa. We climbed, barbecued and started to do some initial repairs on Rouletout in preparation of our next stop at the Mercedes workshop (Asia trucks) in Bangkok where we arrived on a Tuesday morning. We spent a little more than three days in the workshop where we were also allowed to stay overnight at the outskirts of Bangkok. Berna used the motorbike to go into the city, shopped, got (expensively) escorted by the police as she entered a highway forbidden for motorbikes while I stayed at the workshop to surveil the work and do some long-waiting enhancements on my own.
After a certain initial latency the mechanics at Asia trucks really got going and showed their creativity, especially when fixing the cabin lifting mechanism so that we were able to leave Bangkok on Friday afternoon with all major things fixed. Heading south along the eastern coast brought us to some beautiful places and we really enjoyed travelling at our own pace again. Another big surprise and change for us was the abundance of super markets, fast food restaurants and the complete coverage of all areas we visited with 3G or even 4G mobile networks. We don’t know if it is good or bad but we really enjoyed the big department stores where you can buy any tool and most spare parts, the super markets where you find any sort of food we hadn’t seen in months and the fact that you can get a local SIM card in 5 minutes without any documents (compared to India where you can easily spend a day even if you have all the documents required which is almost impossible).
All this and especially when you are surrounded by pimped pick-up trucks with darkened windows at a red-light it is hard to tell the difference between Thailand and the US. Having stocked up on all our personal needs we continued south and crossed over to the west coast at Ranong, a town also famous for illegal trafficking of all forms with Myanmar. We stopped at Laem Son national park with its huge and empty beach and reached Ao Nang on a mid afternoon end of March. For some people Ao Nang is the perfect example of a fisher village that became a tourist city with all its negative effects, for others it is a touristic town located in one of the most beautiful areas of Thailand and again for others it is the access point for Tonsai, one of the most famous climbing spots in the world and a magnet for thousands of climbers during high-season, the European winter. For us it is all of the three and the challenge was to find a place for Rouletout far away from the tourist center but close enough to enjoy the climbing and the beauty of the countryside.
Luckily we contacted Daling, a friend living in Phuket that we had met in India and we were surprised to hear that she was actually in Ao Nang. A few minutes later we met and were already on the way to a “camp site” for Rouletout that she had organised in minutes. It is located in Chong Pli, just 8km from Ao Nang’s waterfront and actually a climbing spot but completely off the tourist track. We parked Rouletout directly at the cliff between palm trees and thanks to Mike (who is also the route setter for most mainland crags in the area) and Jan got even access to power and water (thanks to both of them!). Daling showed us around, made us discover the best local food places where you can still find lunch for 50 Baht (about € 1.50), hidden beaches and nice climbs in Chong Pli. Our daily routine changed quite dramatically.
While Mutlu was happy chasing monkeys in Chong Pli, we used our motorbike to head off for the boat to Tonsai or to chill at a nice beach, we had coconut and mango sticky rice for breakfast, thai curry, fish or pad thai for dinner and climbed and climbed. Our rhythm of two days climbing and one day rest was just interrupted by visiting friends and family, Jojo and Steffi passed on their way south to Malaysia, Daling and Sam joined us for two weeks and Berna’s parents came for almost two weeks to Ao Nang. Even though it was low season and the cliffs were rather empty we met a few foreign climbers and got to know the “local foreign” climbers that were always happy to make our rest days more interesting with their hints and suggestions and helped us to understand the many weird ways of the very closed Thai society that go far beyond the always smiling faces and that are so hard to discover on your own. On rest days we explored the wider area with our motorbike, took one or the other boat trip and worked on the planning for our upcoming visit to China. We enjoyed Songkran festival, the Thai new year, and made it safely into the year 2558 in the biggest water battle we ever experienced.
Extending our customs exemption for Rouletout and our motorbike were also on the list as well as the visa extension that allowed us to stay for three months in Thailand of which we spent almost two in Chong Pli without ever moving our Rouletout - the stickiest place so far on our trip.
Just in time before we had to leave the country my nephew Hansi came to visit us. He will join us for almost two months. Soon after his arrival we started heading south, first along the coast and then through Thale Ban national park into Malaysia, for a long time the southernmost country on our trip. But more on that in one of our next blog entries - it will not take as long as last time, promised…