Rock climbing in Thailand – Patong

One type of adventure I do want to find however is Rock climbing in Thailand. Most of the numerous brochures on Thailand I had previously amassed show pictures of muscle striped guys topless in tight shorts and ballet shoes fearlessly powdering overhanging cliffs with chalk as the sapphire ocean laps at the rocks below. I want to be that guy.

Early the next morning Om my climbing guide picks me up at the hotel and leads me to his beaten up old Land Cruiser. Om is short and dark without one ounce of his weight wasted, despite being friendly and patient he is the kind of guy who makes you feel like a fat, uncoordinated goof. On the way to our climbing site Om stops to show me a Buddhist temple cut into a mountainside. During my time in Nepal I had seen many Buddhist temples perched on windy mountain passes and had developed something of a fascination with this set of beliefs. The whole religion is based on ‘Do unto others‘ and is littered with reminders that material belongings and power are both temporary and unimportant.

Having just offloaded most of my material belongings I am currently finding these beliefs most agreeable. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and Karma; if you are a prick to people you will come back as a disabled ant and have a rotten time, if you are a decent guy you will return with a leg opening smile and have a lovely old time. Previously I simply did not have the time to think about such obscure subjects as religion and what might happen when I check out. I always had a suspicion that Ricky Gervais was right when he said that Christianity is simply one woman’s lie to hide an affair which got out of control. No point worrying too much though, we will all find out one day as my friend Kathy says, ‘Don’t stress too much about life, nobody gets out alive.’

The temple which Om shows me is vastly different to those I had seen in Nepal. There are similarities such as the reclining Buddha and familiar artwork but it is set in a cave and less well tended. The temple is open to the air and as such nearby monkeys have made a home inside and incessantly harass visitors for bags of peanuts sold just outside the gate. The combined smell of bird and monkey faeces melting in the tropical heat is oppressive, maybe my nostrils are paying off some karmic debt for what I said to Mrs Bonney on my last day. I stay inside for as long as the stench will allow then vacate this holy area turned simian toilet to find Om drinking coffee in the sun with one of his friends.

A long-tail boat takes us and our climbing gear through mangrove swamps to the floating village where Om spent his childhood. Wooden huts perch on bamboo platforms over the water and are linked by rickety walkways, the whole village is moored to sheer cliffs behind. Looking around at locals peacefully fishing, cooking and selling handmade crafts I think that this is more like the type of adventure I am hunting, however I am yet to see a penis sheathed tribe member to speak with earnestly.

With Om leading we make our way towards the increasingly oppressive cliffs and onto the island proper. Om immediately scampers off into dense shrub leaving me to wallow in his wake, my ears strain for his movements to follow. The ground becomes increasingly steep and soon I burst out next to Om on a small ledge overlooking the village. Perched halfway up a fifty metre high cliff the view is expansive, a cool wind playing through the shrub make the leaves hiss. I can see the entire village and beyond to a swampy forest where long-tail boats patrol unofficial waterways.

Om has spent a large chunk of his earnings bolting new routes nearby his village, the man’s deep connection with this area is firmly entrenched in his warm smile. We tighten our harnesses which are like a heavy G-string minus the ‘Gee’, and Om asks if I have belayed a climber before I tell him ‘Yes.’ Without any preamble he checks my knots and scampers up the cliff to leave me on the ledge with a pile of rope.

I struggle to feed him rope such is his upward speed. Once efficiently at the top of the route he down climbs and tells me to have a try. I switch my boots for the grippy ballet shoes provided and hesitantly shuffle onto the cliff. I can see the rope securely attached at the top and have easy handholds but the sucking void behind keeps playing on my mind. I furiously try to push plummeting thoughts out of my head as sweat fills my brow but become increasingly shaky and nervous as my height, and exposure grows. At one point I look down and freeze. The sight of Om leaning casually on a tired little tree over the edge combined with the yawning drop below my feet make me freeze. I clutch at the rocks desperately, my arms burn and my calves shake. Om senses my nerves and yells up to me,

‘You OK Ben? Stay calm my friend, I have you.’

‘Getting a bit nervous up here Om, I want to come down now mate.’

Back on the ledge the rocks lose their ominous glow and the climb no longer looks so difficult. A second abortive climb sees us moving lower on the same cliff to climb. The second route which Om has bolted is much more technical but far less exposed and less of a mind game. I thoroughly enjoy working out where to place my hands and feet and trying to reach resting spots before my arms tire. Once I can no longer climb, Om takes me to his friend’s restaurant where we gorge on extremely local fish caught from right beneath our feet. I feel somewhat embarrassed with my inability to trust the rope properly but am glad to have had the opportunity to try out this exhilarating sport in a splendid location.

On the drive back to my hotel we are chatting aimlessly and I rub my stiffening arms when we spot a number of police cars further along the road. Om turns to me and says earnestly,

‘Passport check, have you got passport?’

‘No, did I need it? I had no idea…’

He pulls over and stops the truck, wearing a very concerned look he asks me why I left it behind. Om silently sits there with the same concerned look on his face for a few minutes before starting the car, laughing and saying,

‘It is only a vehicle inspection my friend, I love playing that trick on tourists.’

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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