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Clairesj's Travel Blog

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The Arc of Asia 2009-2010. Bring on the climbing!

the finale of an awesome adventure

Maidenhead, United Kingdom

New Years was good fun. we went to an expensive restaurant (well compared to the trip- i paid 10 pounds for a meal!) which was called a tapas bar but didnt seem to do any tapas! i had nice spagghetti meat balls though! we then went to an Irish bar thaqt played really bad music, until just before midnight when we went outside. there was a vague countdown then the bar produced a big box of fireworks that they put in the middle of the road with a quick warning of 'fire, move back'. the fireworks were pretty good- especially at the end when they exploded outwards towards us, only a few metres away and i thought i was gonig to get hit! we then moved down the road to see some bigger fireworks at a distance.
the final day was spent meandering around the area and packing. in the evening we went and saw Avator but not 3D as that was sold out. it was still good though.
the following day i said goodbye to everyone as they left for BiRT and to the next campsite. it was sad when i started thinking if i would see some of the group again. but i have found out from old hotrockers that there is no escaping fellow hotrockers, because you will bump into them back in England or in various countries when you least expect it! there are always more climbing trips planned- amazing trad climbing in Jordon, sun-drenched sport climbing in Kalymnos or a boldering festival in Holland, and thats just for this year!
so i put on a barve face as the hotrockers left the hotel and me behind. i then gathered by stuff and went to find a taxi. the taxi took me straight to the skybus, which then took me to the airport fairly stress free. the next worry was when i had to check my bags in- would they be within the 30kg allowance i had bought? they came up as 33.5kg so i held my breath waiting for the check-in lady to notice. luckily she seemed to overlook it and i walked away with the ticket relieved.
the flight was 14 hours and had no TVs on the plane- it was one long journey! i did get the window seat and the seat next to me was free. about 5 hours in i started to feel a bit claustrophobic as it was dark in the plane and i still had so long to go. i looked around and all i couyld see were strangers faces. it was a very strange feeling- for 8 months i havent been away from other hotrockers for a couple of hours at a time, and even then, if for example i walked around Tonsai on my own, i would bump into someone at a restaurant, sitting on the beach or at the internet. suddenly i didnt know anyone. it was bizarre!
i met my parents at Stansted airport at 10pm and was immediately met by freezing cold air and so many English accents! the drive home was great- gliding along the motorway at normal speeds!
what a great trip! im still trying to get used to being back home. it definately feels a bit strange when everything is so familiar but i hasve been away long enough that it has become unfamiliar! i drove my car yesterday which was scary to start with but i quickly remembered how to drive (few!!). some clothes shopping was very exciting and much needed, as is usibng the washing machine a novelty! and the food is great! roast dinner and lasagne, pizza, all the things ive been missing!

i dont know how to conclude such a long and diverse trip. i had my favourite climbing areas- bouldering in Chattru, in the Indian Himalayas, and sport climbing in Yangshuo, in South East China, hiking around Mount Kailash in Tibet. Laos was beautiful with rolling jungle hills, Pakistan was beautiful with huge intimidating mountains and glaciers, Tibet was unique in its endless deserts with only sand to see for miles, Thailand had idilic sandy beaches and crystal blue water. then there was the dirt, filth and poverty we discovered in India, the scary altitude sickness in Tibet, and the government supression in Kashgar, China. driving in BiRT, cook duties, truck jobs, camping under the largest amount of stars i have ever seen, getting the first shower after 10 days, eating endless rice and veg. seeing mountains and sea, climbing to an altitude of 5600m, being in freezing temperatures, to rock climbing in 46 degrees C, getting stomach bugs and skin infections, having christmas on a beach, getting a tatoo. all the Hotrockers i have lived with and shared so many adventures with, from England, Scotland, Germany, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, America, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.
just to name a few!!
Im going to have stories to tell for a long time!
thanks for reading my blog, i have really enjoyed writing it.

permalink written by  Clairesj on January 5, 2010 from Maidenhead, United Kingdom
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Muesli, thermometers and fireworks

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

after a good finish in Tonsai- i hit my toe on a rock (it was a big rock) when walking along the beach and got a painful bruise so couldnt put it in a climbing shoe for the last couple of days! its a silly injury that stops you doing quite a lot! anyway we moved on on the 27th, getting one last muesli with fresh pineapple, mango, watermelon and banana and yogurt on top for breakfast and headed for the boat back to AoNang. feeling increadably unstable we motored back to the town and went and found BiRT. a laid back drive day took us across the border into Malaysia. although i had a brief panic when i started feeling a bit feverish about an hour before we reached the border and remembered that almost every country had taken my temperature on the border to clear us of any diseases before entering their soil. luckily Malaysia was laid back enough not to bother with any of that! few!
i was sorry to leave Thailand as the people had been friendly there but also efficient!! but i discovered Malaysians are equally friendly. we stopped close to the border in a town called Bukit Keteri where we parked near a Mosque. the climbing area was a mound of limestone on the otherside of the road and we camped in between two families houses on a small patch of grass. both families were very friendly and some members spoke good English. the kids got very excited and kept trying to talk to us without us understanding! as we arrived at about 8pm, we asked restaurant next door if they could cook us some food and they rustled up some noodles. these were good and cheap so we stuck with their cooking for our evening meals making it nice and easy for the cook dutys (if a bit spicy! apparently 'no spice' means about my limit of spicyness!). the climbing itself was fairly dirty as its not climbed that often but not bad. i wasnt able to climb much becasue of the fore mentioned temperature that seems to be some kind of stomach virus which im still fighting and not feeling quite right.
we have now moved on to Kuala Lumpur today- my last drive day on BiRT today (and last night in my tent last night). i have lugged all my bags and stuff to the hotel to try and sort into some sort of order to get to the airport on saturday! it seems like a big city and of course the most modern and expensive city we have visited on the trip. Malaysia is also the first country on the trip that uses the roman alphabet for its language, which is refreshing to see. there is also a lot of English on signs everywhere and people seem to know English so far.
New Years tonight will involve going for a meal then to a bar then hopefully to see the fireworks at KLCC. then one more day tomorrow which we want to go and see the new film Avatar in 3D if its not sold out.
finally, i will soon me flying home! i am very excited as it feels like i have been away a long time. i will have to remember how to stand still for longer than a few days though!

permalink written by  Clairesj on December 31, 2009 from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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happy christmas

Tonsai, Thailand

Happy Christmas everyone!
i am having a strange christmas becasue it may as well not really be christmas! santa hasnt found his way to my little bamboo hut, but there is the occational bit of tinsle around and we are having a party tonight with a barbeque.
we are here for one more day then on to Malaysia and 3 days of climbing before hitting [[Malaysia/Kuala-Lumpur]] for new year.

permalink written by  Clairesj on December 25, 2009 from Tonsai, Thailand
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deep water soloing

Tonsai, Thailand

i am now getting excited about going home in 2 weeks!! however, it has still been enjoyable here. i went deep water soloing, well i didnt actually do much- it was at low tide so everything was very high and quite hard. i wasnt about to do a 6b at 15 metres! but there were a few confident/crazy guys who were happy to get up high and fall off or jump, so this was good entertainment in itself! we stopped at an island for lunch where our boat men showed us they were actually awesome climbers. they did some bouldering on the beach in bare feet and were climbing 7c problems, if not harder. then our guys tried a hard roof problem- considering Danny can climb 7bs, he made it just out of the roof, then one of the Thai guys went and campused it- he used no feet!! it was like watching a real life climbing film! we climbed on the same rock as has the route thats in First Ascent? with David Lama doing the dyno on the 8a- it looked pretty hard!
ive had a couple of bad climbing days- they have to happen occasionally! but resting today, then climbing again for the next couple of days.
we have been watching films at the local restaurant which has made a nice change. and a bit of sitting on the beach and swimming in the sea.
i have uploaded 7 photos- i had about 20 to upload but after an hour thats all that has uploaded, so they are from back in Laos im afraid. in 2 weeks i can upload lots!

permalink written by  Clairesj on December 19, 2009 from Tonsai, Thailand
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fear of falling, rusty bolts, and dying flip flops

Tonsai, Thailand

The climbing in Tonsai is perhaps what i expected- good but polished and a little overhyped. when you open up the guide book and flick through all the pages, it looks like there is so many good areas, however, you then start looking at the quality of the bolts and half the climbs you want to do are now unclimbable, or at your own risk. all the rock at Tonsai has some kind of gas within it that erodes around metal. this means that when the areas were first bolted with expansion bolts, it was within a couple of years that the bolts started falling out. they would look cosmetically fine on the outside, but inside the rock they may not be touching any rock anymore. so it is an ongoing project to replace all the bolts with glue-ins or titanium bolts as these seem not to react with the rock. it does add a certain scary factor to the climbing, although the guide book tells you when everything was bolted and with what materials.
polished, shiny holds are also a problem on easier routes, so we have been trying to go to areas further away from the easily accesible to find less climbed routes. as Pete put it- the quality of climbing is better in Chiang Mai but here you have the whole package- climbing, beach, sea, and relaxed cafes.
having said all that, i have had a couple of good climbing days. yesterday was very successful because i fell off! i was leading a 6b and half way up there were a couple of horrible slopers to move up to the next clip. i wasnt far above the last bolt, and when trying to find a better hold (that wasnt there) i lost balance and fell. Danny had given me some slack for a softer fall which meant i fell 3 or so metres. it was enough to think- why am i not stopping. the last time i had taken a fall like that was when i had hit the ground, so it scared me, but off course this time i did stop. i knew it was important to finish the climb after having a decent fall, because then the fall would be no big deal, rather than something to be afraid of. i was shaking when i came down!
i should have taken a good fall a long time ago, but hopefully this will help, and my leading confidence will keep improving.
today is a rest day and im struggling to find things to do. im useless at sitting on a beach sunbathing! we had a nice buffet breakfast this morning. it is a sad day though as not only are my flip flops on their last legs, soon to be going to a better place, but i just found a big crack in the sole of my sandals. i may soon be shoe less with only a few weeks of the trip to go.

permalink written by  Clairesj on December 11, 2009 from Tonsai, Thailand
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fish massage, monasteries, and beautiful beaches

Tonsai, Thailand

the last day in Bangkok i meandered for most of it. i did get a fish massage out of curiosity! these special fish swim in a pool and you put your feet in there- they feed of dead skin and bacteria so they then come and sit on your feet and nibble your dead skin- sounds a bit weird when i write it down! it tickles especially when they go between your toes. but my feet were very soft afterwards!
we were woken up at 4.30am to leave Bangkok, some people decided to just stay up partying instead of catching a small amount of sleep! we escaped the rush hour traffic and drove 150 km north to Lopburi, a small climbing area. we camped in a Buddhist monastery which was really nice appart from the barking dogs. it was a combination of monastery dogs and stray dogs tha lked to fight over their areas. so if anyone went to the toilet in the middle of the night we would all be woken up. likewise when the gong was struck around 5am, the dogs were set off again! but to be honest, it didnt bother me too mu8ch as the campsite was nice and with a small group of 11 people, it was chilled out, especially for our cook duty. we left people in Bangkok and som people flew ahead to Tonsai.
the climbing in Lopburi was really nice- crimpy, vertical limestone. the bolts were run out- usually at least 2 metres between them- one route had a 4 metre run out in it.
3 days was enough to climb the best, then a very long drive day to Tonsai, or the mainlnd near it. from 5.30 am- 7pm, we drove with 2 toilet stops/lunch break. we stayed one night in the town with the name i cant remember, before getting the boat across to Tonsai the following morning.
the boat was a small wooden one with a huge engine mounted on the back but with a small propeller! it got us to Tonsai in half an hour and we were immediately greeted with picturesque beach and sea- golden sand, clear blue sea etc.
the first day of climbing has been good. an awesome multiptich gave us a clear view of the beaches and sea as far as we could see. i cant wait for tomorrow and more climbing!

permalink written by  Clairesj on December 10, 2009 from Tonsai, Thailand
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christmas songs, smoking monks and scary haircuts!

Bangkok, Thailand

climbing in Chaing MAi continued well, and i did a total of 40 routes there. we drove on to Bangkok in one long day. as it was the 1st December, we discovered that Rich had some christmas tunes on his ipod, so put them on in the truck and sang along to all the old classics! i cant say it felt even slightly christmassy, sitting on BiRT, watching the palm trees go past, and the sun pour in through the window! the 3 or 4 lane road with rest stops all the way made the driving pretty pleasant. Alice and i had fun watching 2 coach loads of Monks have a break at one rest stop. we were shocked to see them using an ATM, talking on their mobile, and even smoking!! monks are becoming modernised! Bangkok immediately had a feeling like london about it- 3 or 4 lane traffic, with endless traffic lights and traffic jams, with a '7 Eleven' store on every street and grand hospital and university buildings everywhere. we stopped at the main tourist street- Khao San Road, which has souvineer stalls all the way down, and hostels everywhere. we bought the local 'Pad Thai Curry' from a street stall. its tasty but not actually a curry, its not spicy, and its not rice, its more of a noodle stir fry!
we had a good night out in the city, as it was Alices,and Matts last night. i will miss Alice as she became my room mate, locker mate and climbing partner. Matt and Ed had gone ahead of hotrock for the last few weeks, and as predicted, they got into trouble- Ed got bitten on the hand by a crocodile that lived in a bar- apparently he tried to pet it between the eyes so obviously it went for him! he was lucky to get 11 stitches but has got full movement back in his hand!
yesterday a few of us went to a shopping mall across town. it was huge- 5 floors tall, with hundreds of shops and stalls and a cinema and foodcourt. i found a harddrive to copy everyones photos onto. i then found some frameless glasses for much cheaper than i could get in England. they made them with my prescription in a few hours. i also got my hair cut- which was scary! it was the quickest hair cut i have ever had, and the hairdresser brushed some of my hair, then just started cutting (or i should say hacking!). i asked for layers, and about 2 inches off. it came out a bit shorter but is actually a success!
today i decided to do all my washing (in the sink using bodywash!!) and made sure to not wash my shorts so i had something to wear. unfortunately i didnt do the same with a top, so after standing on the bed, holding up a top to the fan desperately trying to dry it out, i gave up and am currently wearing a damp top!
i have booked my flight home for 10 days before the trip actually ends, so i will be flying back from Kuala Lumpur on the 4th Jan. its exciting to have an end date for the trip. i now have one month left.

permalink written by  Clairesj on December 2, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand
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elephants, oxs and bamboo rafting

Chiang Mai, Thailand

i have just ridden on an elephant! the day started with seeing the elephants and having your photo taken with them, before watching them washing in the river. i was surprisingly intimidated by them! they were so big! we then had an elephant show which was very touristy and quite cringy. the elephants did various tricks- including kicking a football into a net, painting a picture of a tree on canvus which they did well, moving logs onto a raised pile, and other things. the elephants would bow after doing any of these in time with their master. next we got an ox cart ride, which was bumpy and not very exciting! they are ugly creatures! then we got on an elephant. i sat in the basket with Yvonne; Dan and Claudia went on an elephant infront. we went along a little track through a jungle area and into the river. the elephant tipped forward down the muddy banks to get into the river, and i thought i was going to fall out! but i got used to it and it was quite good fun! i think we had a slightly rebellious elephant as it wanted to go down different tracks than the others, and at one point it raised its head in arguement so the Thai guy had to kick it behind the ears to behave!
we ate a really nice buffet, which we all got carried away with, then onto bamboo rafting down the river. this was relaxing, but the river was low so there were no rapids. we ended with a look at an orchid and butterfly farm as part of the day package, but it was disapointing as i have seen far better butterflys just sitting outside the hostel in Laos or at the crag.
back to the campsite now by taxi and 3 more days of climbing before we hit Bangkok.

permalink written by  Clairesj on November 27, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
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boy scouts, bad leads and being locked out of my room!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

one drive day to the border of Cambodia, and a sigh of relief when we got across (as we got there 2 days early and BiRT was permitted to enter and leave Cambodia on pre-decided dates) but luckily the Cambodians are laid back enough to let us through and into Thailand. we slept by the road again in Thailand before continuing another full drive day to reach Chiang Mai. we are camping about 30km outside the city, in a campsite- yes it is camping but with toilets and showers! however (because there is always a 'however'!) we were told to camp away from the nice grass,on the rocky ground instead, because the next day 300 boy scouts were arriving! and we definately noticed them! they came up to a roofed area near our tents to have an assembly. the guide used a microphone and got them all cheering. this was fine until we decided to go to bed. however it was worse when they all came back at 5am and the microphone got switched on. the whole of HotRock was woken up at that point. so people were not happy this morning!
the climbing is brilliant though. i have climbed so many routes already. the temperature here is much nicer- it is sunny but not too hot, so its possible to do 6 or more routes a day. i have done some really nice 6as and 6bs, some leads and some top ropes. i was somehow convinced to lead a 6c today, and before i had a chance to look at it and think aboutit, i got on it. i sat on the rope a fewtimes, and i got scared and backed down to the last bolt a couple of times, but i got to the top! its getting frustrating because my new habbit is to get to the next bolt, or one move from the next bolt and then realise how far below me my last bolt is. i then get scared and dont think i can hold on to clip the quickdrw when i pull up slack (and therefore can fall the furthest), so i start down climbing and then usually take a little fall onto the last bolt. whereas after i have done all that i could have just clipped the quickdraw and kept climbing! but logic doesnt work when you get worked up! im going to go back to the 6c and try to do it with less or ideally no takes. there is also a 6b i want to do the same with.
i am in Chiang Mai city tonight. i came in this evening to arrange an elephant trek for tomorrow. i then went to get a Thai massage which was really good, then lost the others who have the room key- so im stuck in the waiting area of the hostel until they come back and its 1am! luckily there is free internet!

permalink written by  Clairesj on November 26, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
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the ruins of Angkor Wat

Siem Reap, Cambodia

the next stop was Siem Reap which is home to Angkor Wat. we were told theseold ruins from about the 9th century (i think) were really impressive and needed at least 2 full days to look around them all. they cover 25 km. so we set of at 6.30 in the morning to make the most of the day, and it was expensive to get in! the first temple was very impressive, intricate carvings were still in tact, showing battles that happened and depicting religious myths. we got a tuk tuk for the day, which drove us around a standard circuit, visiting about 10 ruins. some were temples, there was a royal palace, and other buildings. to be honest, without a guide we were guessing! and unfortunately by the 4th building, they started to look the same, a collection of stones. there were so many tourists there that they took any magic away from it, and the touts were aweful, continuously trying to get us to buy drinks or clothes or scarfs. however one of the last buildings was really nice, as it was further into the trees, and had a pond infront of it. some trees were growing out of the rock in amazing positions, with their roots melting around the stones. it looked quite mystical.
we had finished by 3.30 and went back to get a late lunch at a local restaurant. a bit of shopping in the night bazarre was successful. the Cambodians are friendly people with more English than the Laos. I have also been surprised with how developed the country is, and have enjoyed our brief visit. next we are looking on to Thailand!

permalink written by  Clairesj on November 20, 2009 from Siem Reap, Cambodia
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