After the first day of snorkeling/kayaking at Hong island, I took it easy for almost a week with new friends at the Pak-up Hostel. This hostel is amazing; think college dorm on steroids. A living space with comfortable beds, powerful showers, even trendy minimalist decor, populated by hordes of beautiful young (mostly western) travelers, and not one but two bars built right in to the hostel. Oh, and beds were $7/night. It’s not the kind of place that would justify a trip around the world on it’s own, but at the time it was a very welcome change from isolation in Sumatra. Activities for the week included soccer games with the locals, listening to an amazing Thai guitarist, and lots of masaman curry.
The hostel was great, but I had my sights set on one more big-ticket activity before leaving: deep water solo rock climbing. ‘Solo’ rock climbing is climbing without protective gear like ropes and harnesses. Normally this is indisputably insane, but when performed over deep water the activity becomes acceptable territory for run-of-the-mill adrenaline junkies. I may not be a true card-carrying member of that group, but I had to try deep water soloing because it’s so unique. There aren’t too many places in the world that have the right conditions.
Just to spice things up, I decided to start my deep water solo day with a dawn climb up the 1237 steps to Tiger Temple. I set out on my bike for the 5 mile ride at 4:30am, and after a few wrong turns in the dark found my way to the stairs. The really serious stairs; we’re talking significantly better than a 45 degree angle most of the way up. I was befriended by a stray dog at the bottom of the stairs who followed me all the way up, braving roving bands of malicious monkeys to reach the incredible view on top. Since I was alone, I made it a workout (17 minutes, 1.2 stairs/second, oh yeah!) and ended up at the top with a huge sweat.
On the way down the mountain, I ran into four girls I knew from Pak-up hostel. I met two of them near the top. Looking harried, they said that the other two girls with them had turned back after monkeys attacked, stealing all the food they’d brought with them. I didn’t witness the battle, but I can imagine it was terrifying. The monkeys are seriously scary. On the way up, I’d passed two groups of about 20 monkeys. They just sit on the railings of the narrow stairs watching as you pass, close enough to reach out and touch them on both sides, sometimes baring their teeth and sometimes running along behind you for a few yards. I met the other girls near the bottom and they confirmed the story. Kudos to the others for carrying on in the face(s) of scores of angry monkeys.
Originally deep water solo climbing had sounded to me like a fun, safe way to try climbing without the restrictive ropes. In reality, all but the lowest routes here are are high enough that water doesn’t look so safe anymore. A height that would be fine to jump from is not fine to fall from after missing a grip on the wall and tumbling into an awkward bell-side flop. This place would really be better appreciated by certain of my other family members (just about all of them, honestly), but at least David was there taking full advantage. I took it easy and didn’t try any difficult climbing moves except low down by the water. I did take some of the easier routes up to jump a couple of times.