What: Rock climbing centre for all levels
Where: Near Kaeng Khoi, Thailand; 140 km from Bangkok in the province of Saraburi.
How: Train from Bangkok, then mototaxi, taxi, or bus to the camp.
Budget: Free for rock climbing. Very cheap accommodation (tent or tree house), food and drinks.
2014 was an awesome year for us as we started to climb outside (frenetically) and ended the year with an amazing rock climbing trip to north of Thailand. We visited different places but the highlight of our trip is definitely Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp, a rock climbing centre 2 hours from Bangkok that opened officially about a year ago. Here’s a résumé of this beautiful discovery!
After spending 5 days in Bangkok for dental tourism purposes it was time to get into nature, far away from the mega-malls and the chaotic, buzzy, neon Bangkok nightlife. We took the train from Bangkok to the little town of Kaeng Khoi. From Kaeng Khoi we follow the directions provided on Nam Pha Pai Ya Camp website (they contained useful sentences in Thai that we were happy to have printed!) and took a ‘’taxi’’ for 400 baht after blindly asking around how the get there – showing our map and Thai sentences. We were happily surprised to discover that Kaeng Khoi is a small town with pretty much no tourists and few English speakers. Finally, at what appeared to be the bus station, a police officer showed signs of comprehension and asked a man to drive us to the camp. The man even interrupted his hairdresser appointment to drive us with his hair still dye-smeared and plastic-covered. About 20 minutes later, passed a bumpy road and an enormous hill in the bush, we arrived without problems.
The camp is relatively new. It opened a little more than a year ago and they seem to be very enthusiastic about getting bigger and constructing more huts for accommodation (one with a bathroom included is on the way). At the moment (December 2014) it is possible to bring your own tent, rent one of the fully equipped tents on platforms provided, or stay in the tree house. As we were not traveling on a super-tight budget we went for the tree house which cost us just 380฿/night (A$13). It moved around quite a bit up there in the trees especially at night with the high wind, but fortunately the house did not blow away as I was afraid it would….
We did not bother bringing anything else then snacks as the camp provides breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as snacks and drinks (including beer!) for very good prices. The food was actually amazing and they have a good selection of western and Thai dishes. The breakfast Thai soup (rice and pork soup with lots of ginger and garlic) is definitely my new favourite breakfast and just perfect for a long day of sports when you don’t want to go hungry.
We travelled with all of our equipment – 60m rope, harness, shoes, quickdraws, slings, helmets, etc. but the camp rents out pretty much everything you need for climbing. It’s an all-sport crag so leave your cams at home (and bring more than 10 quickdraws!)
The climbing was awesome! At the moment there are 3 climbing areas : The River Wall, the School Wall and Bat Cave. The 3 crags are well maintained and routes well described and indicated– we loved the democratic route grading system which fosters a community spirit… The River Wall was my personal favourite (nothing can beat the mandatory zip-line to access the wall!) despite the fact that there were few routes of my level. I have been climbing outdoors for a little over a year and I am just starting to be confident at leading. It was very intimidating to climb the first 2 days as we met incredible climbers and were obviously the weakest ones on the wall. But, I guess it’s part of the apprentissage to stay honest with yourself and climb what’s right for you. As they use French grading my impression was that if you can climb up to at least 6a you will have fun at the camp. There are also enough easier routes down to French grade 4 to learn and lots of crazy stuff up to 8b for stronger and adventurous climbers.
The great and beautiful limestone formations are absolutely amazing to climb on. I was surprised at the difference and needed a few days to adapt to the style as I am used to climbing exclusively on sandstone – not much else around Sydney. But it was incredibly instructive to experience a totally different type of climbing. My body, used to relying on upper body and finger strength, was quite clumsy for a while; it’s like learning to dance and balance your feet and body weight on a sometimes sharp, sometimes polished rock. Impossible to rely on friction only, you really have to think about where and how you are going to put your body.
We spent most of our time at the River Wall, but I think the Bat Cave is totally worth the detour. It’s a less frequented wall (even during the weekend when lots of Thai climbers come up from Bangkok to enjoy a weekend at the camp and of course everyone wants to zip to the River Wall) but far from other climber’s look. I felt much more relaxed to climb without amazing climbers around me! Not that Lover is not good… he of course is fantastic. There is some kind of fresh and mystic feeling around climbing at the entrance of an enormous cave inhabited by bats. As I was slowly increasing my level of fitness and confidence, I found the School Wall was great for practicing different techniques and for warming up. I quite enjoyed the group dinner at the end of the day, exchanging stories and opinions on general climbing stuff and listening to amazing people recount projects I could not even dream of. Dinner of fresh Thai food made with local products from their own garden and the surrounding area were served as a buffet style and eaten in group. The food was good and plentiful at Nam Pha Pai Ya Camp and there was always a vegetarian option which is great.
At the end of our stay we went for a little hike and headed up to the top of Khao Tham Phra the mountain at the foot of which the camp sits. It was an intense 20-30 minutes of hiking and scrambling to get to the top where we were rewarded with a 360° view of the camp and the surrounding area. It feels always good to do something different after days of climbing; it changes your perspective a little – ça change le mal de place as I would say… On top of that mountain we were looking at the immense area, the beauty of the limestone cliffs and realised how much potential this land has to offer.
The camp is very well organised and we were happy to enjoy it. Although best for autonomous climber there are also possibilities to take classes, guided tours and do more such as abseiling, hiking, guided multi-pitch, mountain bike, kayaking, etc.
Thanks to Joy for being such a good host:)