Northwest - Around Chiang Mai Rock Climbing
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|Shared By:||Tony B on Dec 7, 2006|
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Getting weather forecast...
If you are not going to read this whole thing, please skip ahead now and read the DRINKING WATER section and then return and read until you give up on this long intro. If you are going to read all of this, they you have the best information I can offer after several trips here and will likely have a blast.
Conditions and even facts change over time. Please leave updates here in comments and they'll be appreciated by others and perhaps integrated into the main body text by myself or an admin.
Chiang Mai is a medium sized but rather developed city in Northern Thailand, up towards the border with Burma and Laos. It is considered Thailand's 'Second City,' second of course to Bangkok. This perhaps owing to it's population, and perhaps to it's feel and nature. Although there are certainly metropolitan areas much larger than Chiang Mai with it's population of perhaps a quarter-million, such as Korat (2 Million people). These larger metro areas are actually clusters of smaller cities. Chiang Mai, as such retains it's title to second largest despite a relatively small-town feel, size wise.
Chiang Mai does however have a large town feel in other ways.
It is similar to Bangkok in it's large markets, including the night market there which is one of the worlds largest; I could compare it to the famed Street Bazaar of Cairo. Thailand is famous for it's markets, and this is one of the big ones.
It is similar to Bangkok in it's Ex-Pat presence. Expect to see many 'fahrangs' (foreigners) in Chiang Mai. The closer to the markets and bars you get, the more you will see. Some are fully resident, some are long term visitors, and others simply tourists.
And like in Bangkok, due to the large presence of Expats and tourists, there are all kinds of bars and nightclubs... and when I say all kinds, I mean all kinds, which as you know brings us to the other similarity...
For those who were unaware, AIDS is running rampant in S.E. Asia. If you want to get a massage, get a legit one. It will be $10 or less and will be relaxing too...
There are hotels and guest houses galore in town. If you want 4-5 star accommodations, stay at a major hotel, if you want a lower price place and like large hotels, search a travel website on line for a bargain. If you prefer a guesthouse, then choose more carefully. Typically you choose by environment and neighborhood. The East end of town by the old city walls is where all the nightlife is and might be a little 'seedy' for some people's standards, whereas the west central area inside the old walls is relatively quiet. Within a block of the climbing shop there are more than 1/2 dozen guesthouses with rates from $10-20 per night. The ones I recall are the TK guesthouse, the Same Same guesthouse, the J&J guesthouse and the Julie Guesthouse. I stayed at the J&J in an AC room for $15 per night and it was clean and comfortable. The Same Same had the best fast and cheap breakfast on the block, and there were convenience stores and very cheap internet places all over. The Julie was definitely the popular place... but it had a bit of a crowded, noisy, ehhh... hippie feel to it. If dreads and drum circles are your thing, then that's your place.
My most recent stay was at the TK Guest House was pleasant and I found the owner/manager to be honest and pretty helpful. They will also help you arrange tours without gouging. Try to use cash here not a credit card, or expect to pay the extra 3% that they loose to the banks.
In the last few years, the place called Jira Homestay has become popular. It is only about 150m away from the turnoff to Crazy Horse, and has been well reviewed. If you intend to spend more time at the crag than in town, perhaps this option is the best and you can save the time and money otherwise spent on transportation.
Hawkers are in many places. Watch how food is prepared before ordering something. If it is well cooked and does not mix a lot of sauces (IE: marinades) in after cooking, or add suspect 'fresh' ingredients, it is probably fine. Most Thais are aware of how to cook hygienically and make excellent tasting and reasonably healthy food. In a few months of working there and eating from street stands, I was never sick.
Restaurants are everywhere and again, mostly safe. Order well cooked food and of course, bottled water. Better yet, bring your own safe water from a sustainable water source (refer to later note on sustainable water).
Snacks are generally available too. Perhaps one of the reasons that Thais are not fat like Westerners, is that agriculture is cheap and processed foods are expensive. A whole cut pineapple or an entire bunch of bananas will likely cost 1/2 as much as the bag of Doritos you are thinking about. Go with the healthy food for a change...
Meals are delivered daily to the crag by the driver of the bus from the climbing shop to the wall. You can arrange for them to bring you a hot meal that is filling, tasty, and safely cooked. The price is very reasonable and you are supporting the local community businesses as well as strongly associating your money spent with climbing- which makes the entire community all the more happy to have the climbers visit.
There are many ways to use the phone in that area. If you will be there for a while, consider getting an international cell phone, with prepaid minutes. This can be done at any number of stores.
Local internet shops also sell phone time.
Speaking of internet shops, there are such "cafe's" all around, with fees being pretty cheap- on the order of a dollar an hour. This can include video chat, and if you go to such a shop, amuse yourself by watching the 'send-away-sweetie" type girls next to you chat up middle aged men from Europe and the USA.
Rental Cars are available, like many other places in the world, but for a short visit not very cost effective and worrisome. You have to not only find your way, but adapt to local driving habits, find parking, etc... It is not really recommended when cabs and Tuktuks are so cheap!
Scooters are a somewhat viable alternative. If you are at the point were you are going to be there long enough to know your way around, a scooter can be rented for a few dollars per day, plus extra for insurance. These are more easily parked, but you may be taking your life into your hands riding one in traffic. The local car drivers will presume that you 'know how to drive' in local traffic. If you don't, that will be your loss. I saw a lot of bump-and-wipe-outs in Thailand. Drivers hit and run since the Thai law puts medical treatment costs on the offending driver. Also be aware that they will try to have you taken to the cheapest possible public hospital- which is not a good deal for you. Forewarned is forearmed.
Drinking Water: (SUSTAINABLE Water).
A few notes on that. The world has more than enough plastic bottles in dumps, but the developing world does not have safe drinkable water. This is a problem for which there ARE some solutions. Josh and the crew at the climbing shop run a sustainable water program. You can fill water bottles at the shop for a small donation of a few Baht per liter. Their suggested donation is considerably cheaper than buying a bottle of water anyway! So consider taking a few bottles or saving a few from your first purchases that are big enough to last a day, then last a night. You can go into the shop and fill up daily, or fill up at the trail head of the Crazy Horse Buttress main trail. Please do leave a donation at the shop and keep this program going.
There are primitive flush toilets at the crags. Please read the directions carefully and use them properly. Take hand sanitizer for yourself if you can, as these are not exactly western toilets. Do NOT use the forest. The man who runs the trucks from the climbing shop to shuttle climbers in and out built these and maintains them. Please consider giving him a tip worthy of his efforts to keep the climbing nice there.
Getting ThereChaing Mai has an airport. Thai air travel is cheap. Combined, these two facts mean that you will probably be flying into Chaing Mai. You can take an overnight bus, or a train, but this will be a sleepless night in perhaps less than ideal quarters, and not be as safe and secure for you or your belongings. Although Thailand is not a dangerous place by most standards, it is a developing nation, and caution or at least awareness of your situation is necessary when traveling there. As well, you are unlikely to save much money by going overland compared to flying. Presently you can book a flight round trip from Bangkok to Chain Mai on Air Asia (www.airasia.com) for well under a ninety dollars if you have some flexibility on your travel dates and times. The flight is under two hours and Air Asia is a pretty new fleet with good services. Expect to pay $3-5 extra to check a large bag if you can't carry on what you have.
Once in Chaing Mai, there will be cabs a plenty at the airport. They are tightly regulated and on the level. They will not scam you if you know where you are going. It is a flat rate into town, at present exchange rates, about $10US. Do not expect your driver to know your destination in English unless it is a major hotel (I.E. Sheraton or Meridian) or the most popular guesthouse in town (Julie Guesthouse). Have your destination name and address ready when you touch down. A phone number would also be handy- the driver will have a cell phone and can call for directions.
Maps are marginally useful in Thailand. They might be good for you, but the locals don't use them. Orienting by map for them, even written in Thai, is a foreign concept and practice. They don't get the 'North' thing, nor will they recognize what anything represents. I have not yet figured out if the problem is illiteracy or the entire concept, but every time I've tried to show a driver something on the map, I gave up after 15 or more minutes of them flipping the map around and driving 1/2 block only to do it again. They will not, in fact, tell you that they do not know where you are going. This may be to try to make you happy, and may be to be sure not to miss out on a fare. The point is, make sure that you know where you want to go and make sure that the driver knows the place- use facial expressions and other social cues to be sure, or have a phone number.
Once in town, Cabs will be harder to find, but the three-wheeled Tuk-Tuks are omnipresent. They are not metered, but do have standard fares to go about anywhere. Around old town the fee will be 40 Baht, maybe 60 to the airport (it is presently 33Baht/$US) but they may ask for more. It is up to you to decide if you will shake your head politely and let them see that you know the real going rate, or to pay the extra and make them entirely happy for $.30 extra. Personally, I let them know that I am aware of the going rate, but I'll give them the extra in a tip if they are gracious and friendly or get there trouble-free.
To go to and from the climbing area, arrange to ride on the bus from the climbing shop or rent a scooter (unpreferred if you are only here for a short time), but more on that later...
Even if you do not take the bus, bear in mind that the driver does a lot for the climbing community (refer to the mention of toilets and meals) and tip him like you care. Even if you can afford only a small amount, or even nothing, a heart-felt thanks will go a ways. Without him, we'd have a mess instead of a nice crag, and we'd be wasting money time and fuel all commuting back and forth in separate taxi's. At the end of every trip there I split my "remaining" cash in the water project donation jar, the bolt replacement jar, and with the truck driver. It is paying it back.
Guide Services and Climbing Equipment:
I have no real experience with The Peak, so I can not comment on them. However, I have dealt extensively with CMRCA and based on my VERY positive dealings with them choose to continue to support them and their contributions to the crags and community in the area.
Things to do
- The Chiang Mai Zoo has a nice evening tour or program, if you prefer to do something after climbing all day. Paying a few bucks extra for the 'tour' is probably worth it if you want to know more about the animals and environment. The laser show and 'performance' are pretty cheesy though, so find something to go back and see more of at the time that those are happening.
- Visit the Museums and the large, world-class Chiang Mai Night Market
- Consider an overland and River Tours - the white water rafting there is excellent, well run, and the Thais are a hoot to go with on the river. The lunch it comes with on most packages is just so-so, but it picks up quickly after lunch and the river is great. The jungle scenery around it will have you smiling the whole way down.
- I have not personally been to the Tiger Kingdom but it generally gets good reviews, so if big cats are your thing, it is probably worth seeing.
- Mountain Biking trips are rentals are available, but you'll have to get details on that from someone else.
- There is a Bar Scene - which is... a bar scene. I preferred walking down the street and stopping at a rickshaw bar. The drinks were good, reasonable cheap, and served with a smile. It's also less of a hooker and expat deal than some of the "real" bars in town.
- If you have more time and are staying there for weeks, consider a cooking class. A few mentioned as good by another contributor are Thai Cookery School and Smart Cook
- Some of the Elephant places are cool... (IE Patara Elephant Farm) and I and some friends enjoyed this activity and felt OK about it. But some of the places are less interesting, or even reported to be exploitative of the animals. This is not an area to scrip on - just spend the money to go to a nice place and do it, not an imitation place. Odds are you need to book weeks in advance. I went middle-of-the road and wish I'd gone upper end.
Edit to add... I was asked by a poster to include the following consideration on the elephants, and am adding it in respect of the awareness and do not necessarily endorse the idea wholly:
"One thought I hope you'll take in to consideration- more and more information has come to light on elephant riding and how it's actual a pretty brutal process to train the elephants to allow humans to get on them (chains, beating, you get the idea...). The newer guide books for Thailand recommend against riding for that reason. There are some good alternatives (e.g. elephantnaturepark.org/). Maybe consider editing that part? Thanks for the effort put in to writing this. It's been really helpful on our stay here."
Well, yes, which is why I mentioned exploitation. Some places do this. Others are at least ostensibly NOT exploiting elephants much, but taking retired working elephants (IE from the loggers) or formerly exploited animals on and running a center funded by relatively benign rides. I will endorse the idea that one should at least carefully consider their choices and do their research on all of this before creating demand for the service.
I submit for you:
Some (more) 'ethical' elephant places...
Classic Climbing Routes at Northwest - Around Chiang Mai
Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
Days w Precip
Prime Climbing Season