Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where Stone Meets Ocean

When I think about rock-climbing destinations in Asia, Taiwan does not readily spring to mind, but there I was, on a spur-of-the-moment trip... and having the time of my life!
Rock-Climbing, Long Dong, Taiwan. Copyright © Kenneth Koh 2014

Long Dong (龍洞 lóng dòng), which means Dragon's Cave is the name of the stretch of sea cliffs along Taiwan's North East coast.  About an hour's drive from Taipei, the climbs range from 5.4 to 5.14a and comprise of both sport and trad routes, mostly single pitch with a few multi-pitch routes.

Where Stone Meets Ocean from Kenneth Koh on Vimeo.

Quality of the routes is generally very high, and old bolts are being replaced with new stainless steel ones.  There are some areas with loose rock and it's best to get information about the area you intend to climb from locals or and the latest guidebook available here.

This is probably the most dramatic location I've climbed at.  The waves are incredibly powerful, and must be respected at all times.  No less than six people were swept out to sea the weekend I was there.  Making your way to and from the climb is probably more hazardous than the actual climbing!

Along with the waves, weather can be an issue.  The climbing season is year round, although it can get very hot and humid in Summer, and Winter can be wet.  Your best bet is late Fall, after the Typhoon season (October-November).
Sunset, Long Dong, Taiwan. Copyright © Kenneth Koh 2014

Although I can speak a little Mandarin, I can't read or write.  I got QX (qxadventures.com) to arrange transport and accommodation for me in Long Dong, which turned out be a simple, but comfortable guest house in Long Dong Village.  Frankly, there isn't much to do outside of climbing in Long Dong.  Fortunately, QX shuttled us out for breakfast and dinner everyday.  If you need a guide, or just someone to make arrangements for your climbing in Long Dong, check out qxadventures.com.

Tech notes:  I used my new Panasonic GH4 for most of the video, GoPro on a DJI Phantom for the aerials, and iPhone 4s for the night opera, and the last sequence of Clare climbing was contributed by QX.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Switzerland Mountain Biking

My wife, Laura, and I were supposed to go mountain biking in Switzerland last year.  Our goal was to ride the complete Swiss Alpine One Mountain Bike Trail, which at 666km, is the longest signposted mountain biking trail in the world.  However, we could not get our heads around how expensive things were in Switzerland and how much that trip would eventually cost us.  So that plan was axed.
Refuel stop at 'Le Cafe', somewhere along the trail... Taken with an iPhone 4s
This year, when we found out that Scott Roberts and a bunch of Malaysian riders were going, we wangled our way into the trip.   Scott's our Swiss bike guru, having made trips out there at least once a year for the last decade.  He knows the ins and outs of the place, and how to keep costs down.  This year, he planned to bike the Haute Route from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland.  Sounded like fun, but what we did not realize, was that he planned us on the hiking route, not the bike route.  Check out the video below and you'll see what I mean!

Switzerland Mountain Biking from Kenneth Koh on Vimeo.

Thankfully, the weather turned on us, and the high passes that we would have to cross had a lot of fresh snowfall on them, and we would not be able to cross them to make our way to Zermatt.  We changed our plans, took a train down to the southern town of Lugano, where the sun was at least shining, and it was warm.
Taking a break along Bike Trail 329 out of Klosters, Switzerland.  Taken with an iPhone 4s.
When the guys left, Laura and I still had another week in Switzerland, which we spent at her sister's place in Klosters.  The weather cleared up, and as you can see in the video below, we had a great time there as well.

Switzerland Mountain Biking: Part Deux from Kenneth Koh on Vimeo.

We learned a lot from this trip, but the main thing was that Switzerland IS expensive, and there is no getting away from that.  But what you get for your money are great biking trails, awesome mountain scenery, and renown efficient Swiss trains for getting around the country with your bike.  And yes, in case you are wondering, we will be heading back to complete the Swiss Alpine One Mountain Bike Trail!
Goodbye Switzerland... But we'll be back!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mae Hong Son Circuit

I love January in Northern Thailand.  The weather is just about perfect, and feels a bit like Southern California - dry, cool in the shade and warm in the sun.  The holiday crowds have mostly gone, and there is a nice, laid-back atmosphere. 

My wife Laura, and I set off to ride our road bikes on the Mae Hong Son Circuit, which starts out of Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, and loops to the north.  It can be done clockwise or anticlockwise, but if you are going by bicycle, I would suggest doing it anticlockwise.  That saves the option of going over Doi Inthanon, Thailand's biggest peak, for last.

Getting a flight into Chiang Mai is easy, but getting the bike boxes to the hotel may be a bit of a challenge if you are new to Thailand.  The easiest way is to arrange transport with your hotel and let them know you have bike boxes.  We just flagged down a 'Song Thiew' at the airport.  Technically, they are not supposed to pick up passengers, but security guards can be understanding when they see you've got oversized bags that won't fit in the standard transport options from the airport.
Baan Rai Laana Resort, Mae Taeng, at the end of Day1. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

We like to stay in 'Old Chiang Mai', within the moat of the old city.  There are numerous hotels there.  We like using the 'Old Canal Road' as an option to stay off the highway getting out and coming back into Chiang Mai.  We try to stay off the main roads, using backroads as much as possible.  I planned the route on 'RidewithGPS' and transfered the route onto my iPhone, using Gaia GPS to navigate enroute.
Breakfast in Pai. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

Our anticlockwise route took us from Chiang Mai to Mae Taeng, Pai, Mae Hong Son, Khun Yuam, and Mae Sariang.  From Mae Sariang, we wanted to proceed to Mae Chaem, and over Doi Inthanon to get back to Chiang Mai, but we took an easier option to ride via Hot back to Chiang Mai.  You can find the planning for this trip on RidewithGPS.
Morning mist over Chong Kham Lake, Mae Hong Son. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

It's good to do a little research before the ride so you can plan out where to take your rest days and what you might like to do.  I like Pai and Mae Sariang as good places to break the journey.

We used regular road bikes with Revelate Designs bags.  I find this setup ideal for light and fast tours.  Now that Laura and I no longer have plans to do long distance touring, we have sold our Surly LHTs and panniers setup.  The only change we would advise is to use a cassette with larger cogs.  We used a compact crankset (50-34) with an 11-28 cassette and had to push up a few steep bits.  The next time we take our road bikes out on tour, we'll fit them out with 11-32 cassettes.

You'll be stopping in places where they don't see many foreign tourists, so its good to learn a few words and numbers in Thai:
Hello - Sawadee Krup (Ka, feminine)
Room - Hong
Water - Nam
Toilet - Hong Nam
Not spicy - My Pet
Ice Coffee - Cafe Yen
One - Neng
Two - Song
Three - Sam
The Old City Gates of Chiang Mai. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

The Mae Hong Son Circuit is a good one for more experienced and fit riders.  We suffered our fair share of mechanicals, food poisoning, lack of fitness. We'll probably go back and do it again;)  Distances are about 100km with about 2000m of climbing each day.  The roads get busy near Chiang Mai and Pai, and there isn't much of a shoulder to ride on.   For an easier road tour ride in Thailand, check out my blog post on riding bike touring Phuket.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The North Face Singapore Speaker Series 22 Jan 2014

If you're in Singapore next Wednesday night, 22nd January 2014 at 7:30pm with an hour or so to spare, and want to hear my wife, Laura and I, talk for a bit, please sign up at tnfmarketing@outdoor-venture.com and get a free gift from The North Face as well!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rock-Climbing Northern Thailand

Entrance to Windy Cave
Crazy Horse Buttress is the 'other' Sport Climbing area in Thailand.  It's near Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, located about 700km north of Bangkok.  It's less well known than Krabi to the South, but no less in quality.  In fact, if you are a moderate or beginner climber, this may be the better destination.  There are about 90 routes from grade 5 to 6c (the French system of grading is used here), and only one at 8a.  The remaining 25 or so routes are in the 7s.

Making our way in to the crag.  Groomed trails, nice huts to rest. leveled and clean belay areas.... All thanks to the CMRCA and it's volunteers!
The main driving force behind climbing at Crazy Horse is the Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures on Ratpakinai Rd in Old Chiang Mai.  The climbing guide book, transport to and from the crag, bolting, climbing club and other services are set up by them.  It's your first stop if you are new to climbing here.
A class doing a Tyrolean Traverse across Windy Cave.  Brave kids.  It's a long way down!
The best time to go is during the cool and dry season from October til February.  It starts to warm up in March, but remains dry til about May, and is still ok for climbing.  A 60m rope will get you up and down most of the climbs, but a 70m rope is best and you will be able to link up one or two climbs with a short second pitch.   All routes are sport, and a rack of about 14 - 16 medium to long quickdraws should suffice.  Bring mosquito repellant.
68-year-old 'Doc' Kung making his way up the 6a Chimney at Tamarind Village
Best climbs to start off with?  I recommend making your way up to 'The Rooftop'.  There are three climbs there: a 5b, 5c and a 6a.  It's a great introduction to the area and the view from up there is great!
Kai Li starting up a 6b on Buddha Buttress
If you are staying in Chiang Mai and you don't have your own transport to the crag, you'll need to book a seat on the CMRCA shuttles.  CMRCA uses three songthaews, which are pick-ups with a cab for passengers.  A songthaew can take up to 10 passengers, so if you are concerned about getting a seat, book a place the evening before.  It costs 250 Bhat and comes with lunch.  Pick up is in front of the CMRCA at 0830 and leaves the crag at 1630 in the afternoon.  Transport takes about 45 minutes each way.
The strange and the wonderful... I have no idea what this is, but there are a lot of mosquitoes and bees in the area
 Where to stay?  There are a couple of guesthouses close to the crag, but options are somewhat limited.  Most people stay in Chiang Mai and shuttle up to the crag.  There are lots of places to stay in old Chiang Mai, depending on your budget.  Most will be walking distance to the CMRCA and lots of places to eat.
Kai and Doc having dinner at the night market in Old Chiang Mai