Welcome to Chiang Rai, a city where a spontaneous adventure is rewarded with a sanctuary of rocks, caves, and good company.
Where to go
Boomerang Adventure Park, NW of Chiang Rai
What to bring
rock climbing shoes // if you want to seriously climb, sneakers work but not as well
water // I wouldn't be able to survive Thailand with out it
bug spray // those pesky mosquitos love me
trekking shoes // for exploring the overgrown paths through the forests to the caves (although my Birkenstocks did survive)
What to do
climb the beautiful but tough limestone karst walls
explore the nearby buddha cave
love life in the beautiful mountains of Chiang Rai!
I am so happy my housemate is down to explore. Rachael found this amazing rock climbing/zip line/adventure park last week and told me how incredible it was. This weekend, I grabbed my climbing shoes and we were off!
The park is absolutely stunning. Nestled in the side of the lush Chiang Rai mountains, the space is wide and open, filled with ropes and swings hanging off of trees and spectacularly intricate rock faces for people to climb. I had the pleasure of meeting Ken, who owns the park, a man in his early 60's. Every wrinkle on his tanned face held a story you were dying to hear, and his crass humor just added to his appeal.
Ken's employee, Vito, is a spunky and limber Slovakian man with a big smile and his hair naturally coiffed to resemble a Disney character. His friend, Devin, is another English teacher from the states. He reminded me of my brother, particularly in demeanor. All Devin wanted to do was climb, explore, climb, and occasionally take a breather. But then start climbing immediately after. These two climbed with Rachael and I on our first outdoor climbing experience.
I'm definitely used to bouldering in Tacoma's indoor gym with temperature control. This was extremely evident as I looked up the limestone karst wall and realized you can't plan out a route as easy with no holds or colored tape, and my hands were soaking wet from sweat already. I managed to lug myself up the rock face with multiple groans and scratches, and met some new bug friends on the way. The limestone was more of a jaggedy, sharp sandpaper that made my hands pulse with every grab.
Vito and Devin about to climb one of the many rock faces.
We took a break when Rachael and I were covered in sweat and our red hands were too sore to continue. Two routes were enough for the each of us. I sat and Rachael made jasmine tea for the group in the sticky outdoor kitchen with no running water. We chatted with each other, and I cherished the eloquent conversation with two new friends who spoke perfect English. It sometimes get very lonely when you aren't able to strike up conversation with just anyone.
A very young girl appeared behind us on her bike and we watched her fall over. She popped right up like nothing happened, but we made sure she was okay. We noticed she already had a significant cut on her face from a previous adventure, and it didn't seem to phase her in the least.
Hill Tribe girl.
Rachael and I both agreed that more climbing probably wasn't going to happen today, but Ken's talk of a nearby cave peaked our interest. We asked if he would be willing to show us, he agreed and we hopped in his well-loved Volvo down the street. He parked at a small cave entrance and we ducked under the overhang to look inside. A carved stone Buddha watched us in the corner. Ken hollered at us to follow him down the road, we were headed to the "Mama" cave.
Ken, the owner of Boomerang Adventure Park.
Entrance to the small cave.
Buddha watching from the shadows.
Walk to the Mama cave.
Of course I didn't bring any hiking shoes/sneakers with me, being the graceful organized person I am. I had my trusty Birkenstock sandals that miraculously made it through an epic forest trek that I sometimes doubted my ability on. All that was missing was a machete to cut down the vines and leaves that were bigger than me. Ken said he cleared a path a few weeks ago to the cave, but one month left untouched and it will look like there was no path to begin with. We pant and huff for about 15 minutes through the forest and over rocks, and eventually arrive in the big cave. I was at a complete loss for words.
::cue heavenly choir of angels singing::
Granted this is all normal for Ken, but Rachael and I were totally flabbergasted by the beauty of this cave. It was probably 100 feet tall to the highest point, and another corner had a lower opening had hundreds of bats casting giant shadows on the walls. Ken explained the bats get very irritated when you make a high pitched noise, and he squeaked to show me what he meant. The bats all started flying faster and chirping louder when Ken agitated them, then immediately went back to normal when he stopped. I truthfully never thought bats could be so beautiful.
Ken asked us if we wanted to go up the way we came or up the wall of rocks that laddered up to the light. Say yes to everything, right? Let's go the new way (where it looks like I can easily slip and fall and die and be eaten by bats....) Ken scaled these rocks like no other 62 year old man I've ever met. Rachael and I lumbered behind him, careful not to slip to our demise.
I'm sorry, we are climbing THAT?!
I emerged from the cave with a glow of accomplishment, I seriously can't believe I climbed into a spectacular, magical cave and then out of one via a shiesty rock ladder. We roamed through the forest for another 15 minutes, listening to the warning sounds of the monsoons lurking behind the mountains. Just as the road popped into view, the rain began. We found shelter in Ken's car and he kindly dropped us off in town. We were still buzzing from how incredibly amazing our adventure in the mountains and caves of Chiang Rai just was. Barely one month into this adventure and we are meeting the most wonderful people and doing things I never thought I would ever experience.
It was days like today that remind me why change and adventure is so good for the soul. You never know what you are capable of until you try something, and you never know the rush it can give you. I never thought of myself as an outdoorsy mountain trekker, but today proved me wrong. My hands are raw and sore, my skin is covered in bites, I haven't stopped sweating, and I smell worse than I thought my body was capable of. But I am absolutely buzzing with excitement and love for life. Another moment I will have forever.