The Cliffs Men


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, February 05, 2005 was originally posted on February 11, 2005.

DAY 476:  “Don’t you want to get good at [rock climbing]?” Blogreader/friend Cheryl once asked me in a New Jersey rock gym a couple of months before The Global Trip 2004 began. 

“No.  If I got any good at it, it wouldn’t be funny [to write about],” was my answer.

That was then, this is now.  Sixteen months later, I really wanted to embrace rock climbing and get really into shape.  Finally, an activity that works out your abdominals in a cool-looking, adventurous way instead of the ridiculous use of an Ab-Roller.  Really, using the Ab-Roller just looks silly, like dry humping the carpet, don’t you think?

THE KRABI PROVINCE, more specifically Railay Beach, is known around the world as southeast Asia’s rock climbing capital.  It is the place climbers dream of, the stage for international competition.  It was in Krabi that Chinese Spider-Man (Yangshou, China) worked out away from home; it was where “Team Portland” warmed up before scaling up Mount Ama Dablam in Nepal.  But you don’t have to be a pro to climb in Krabi; there are several rock climbing outfitters that can take anyone with little to no experience up the rock faces of Krabi’s signature limestone peaks.  Although I’d been rock climbing in the indoor gyms in the States and again in China, I really wanted to “learn the ropes” (pun intended) for real this time, and signed up for a day with the Cliffs Man company, whose slogan was “Nothing Impossible.”

Learning rock climbing “for real” meant to learn more technical aspects of rock climbing, from with the all-important creation of the double figure-8 knot (which keeps yourself from plummeting to your death, a pretty good thing) to the proper procedure for belaying.  Those are actually the easier aspects of rock climbing; the hard part involves actual climbing.

“You’re going to use muscles you didn’t know you had,” I told my co-climbers Budi and Shwita when we rode a longboat to Railay Beach from Ao Nang.  The young Indonesian couple was on a package holiday from their home in Singapore, a long weekend promotion by a tour agency trying to get more tourists back into Thailand.  The two had no rock climbing experience whatsoever, and it was evident when Shwita couldn’t exactly get the figure-8 knot on first try.

“No, that’s not it,” said our instructor Tik.

“It’s a pretzel,” I said.

“Yeah, a pretzel,” Budi seconded.

Eventually she got it and the three of us joined the twenty or so other rock climbers of different skill levels scaling the limestone rock faces or rappelling down — the pros were climbing barefoot or without a safety rope, and I saw one guys fingers start to bleed.  We however, started easy with a 5.5 to practice, before moving over to some 5.7s and 5.8s — not that I know anything about the rating systems of rock faces.

“Okay, my life is in your hands,” I told Budi, who belayed me on one climb.

“Yeah, hang in there,” he said with a pun I’m not sure was intended or not.  He kept the tension in my safety rope nice and tight in the event that I might slip and fall.

I really enjoyed real outdoor climbing as opposed to the indoor kind.  Indoors, you are suppose to stick to your designated color-coded trail, even if it’s easier to use a hold from another color’s trail.  In the real world, anything goes — whatever hold works, works — as long as your rope (picture above) doesn’t snap.  My body muscles were already sore from rowing and swimming the days before, which was a good thing because they were primed for strenuous activity instead of pulsating from a period of inactivity.  With that said, climbing came easy to me that day, and I kept my momentum up to prevent myself from falling in a slump.

Speaking of falling, one big guy fell at one point with too much slack in his safety rope.  He plummeted about ten feet before the rope caught him; it was a case where “giving you some slack” could be harmful to your health.

Shwita belayed me for my ascent up a 5.9.  “Okay, don’t kill me,” I told her.

“Okay.”  I started my climb like Spider-Man when Toby, one of the other guides at Cliffs Man, pointed out that Shwita was actually giving me slack on the rope instead of tension.

“Uh, that’s how you kill me,” I said.

She corrected her ways.  “You ready?”

“Yeah.”  Please don’t kill me.

The 5.9 was harder but doable and I kept myself motivated with inspiration from none other than Spider-Man.  In the trailer for the first movie, Toby McGuire’s voiceover says all dramatically, “Who am I?  I’m Spider-Man” (right before E.S. Posthumus’ “Pompeii” song kicks in, the same music I used in The DAY 503 Trailer.)  It was this quote I said over and over to myself at each reach and it eventually got me up to the top.  C’mon, you can do it.  Don’t look down.  Oops, I just did.  C’mon!  Who am I?  I’m Spider-Man!  I eventually made it, tired but satisfied with a rush of natural endorphins.

“Okay, look at the view!  Look at the view!” reminded Toby from below. 

Oh right.  The view.  That’s what we do this for. 

We continued to go take turns climbing, rappelling, and belaying that morning under the shadows of the cliff, taking in the view at the end of each climb.  Budi got the hang of it, but Shwita not so much; on her ascent up the 5.9, she could barely make it, hiding in a little nook so that others could pass her by.  She gave up and eventually decided to downgrade from a full-day payment to a half-day one, but tagged along to watch the two of us and take our photos.

“IT’S A LOT HARDER THAN IT LOOKS,” Budi said as we sat at the dining table of the restaurant adjacent to the Cliffs Man office for our included lunch of Thai fried rice and Pad Thai.  There was a silence at the table, but it wasn’t exactly uncomfortable for obvious reasons.  “We’re so tired, nobody’s talking.”  My muscles were starting to get more sore, which was bad because they were getting sore, but a good thing in a way because I knew they were getting a work out, especially my abs — and without the silly use of an Ab-Roller.

The guys at Cliffs Man conveniently chose another site for the afternoon in accordance with the position of the sun; again we’d be in the shadows of the cliff instead of directly under the pounding heat rays.  The afternoon site attracted a different set of climbers from the morning crowd, ones with a bit more experience for the 5.10s and 5.10A’s.

With us were North Americans Susan and Clark from California and Long Island, NY; Kelly from north of Toronto; and Jason, an Oregonian living in Korea to teach English.  They all made climbing up the rock face fairly easy, particularly Jason, who had been climbing before and had the physique of an Olympian — and all without the use of an Ab-Roller I assumed. 

“He’s so fast.  I was hoping to rest some more,” Budi said, knowing that he was up next.

For Budi and I, the climbing only got harder and harder as our muscles weakened and weakened.  Perhaps it was because the terrain was harder, popping the blisters on my fingers and tearing holes into my climbing shoes.  The words from the Cliffs Man instructors below made it seem easier than it was:  “Okay, put your right foot where your right knee is.”  “Reach up your left hand and pull up.”  And our favorite, “Okay, just go up.”  Easy for them to say; Toby made belaying look easy too.

Not even my Spider-Man motivational monologue was helping me as I tried to clear this one hump on the 5.10A.  It got to the point where my muscles started shaking again, and I totally depended on the tension in the rope to pull myself higher.  I fell a couple of times, cursed and almost gave up, but hung in there.  Who am I?  I’m Spider-Man.  Budi kept with it too and made it up the 5.10A, our last climb of the day.  Ultimately we were rewarded with complimentary Cliffs Man hats of our choice since they ran out of the usual t-shirts.

“So what are you up to tonight?” Budi asked me on the way back to Ao Nang on a longboat ferry from Railay Beach.

“I don’t know.  Did you want to meet up?”


NOELLE HAD NO PLANS FOR THE EVENING and tagged along for dinner with me and the Indonesian couple from Singapore.  Shwita was actually half-Indonesian/half-Thai and was fluent in the Thai language, which was convenient when we went out for seafood at a fairly swanky place.

“Do people ask if you’re Thai?” Noelle asked Budi.  She figured someone that looked like him would have the same problem as me.

“No, they just start talking to me in Thai,” he answered.  “Don’t talk to me, talk to her.”

“Its like she has superpowers,” I said.  “You can hear what people are saying about you.”


We dined that night on a yummy seafood basket of prawns, lobster, fish, and crabs, all over a bottle of red wine and the musical accompaniment of a musical trio that sang to the melodies of an acoustic guitar.  We pretty much had the place all to ourselves since the restaurant was secluded from the main strip, and we stayed until we got the hint that they were closing and wanted to go home. 

“If you’re in Singapore, give me a call,” Budi told me.  It was their last night in Krabi.

“I’ll definitely be in Singapore, so I will.”

We closed the night off at another bar for a nightcap and a couple of rounds of the Connect Four game that was on the table.  It was the end of a night of working out the stomach region from the inside — and all without an Ab-Roller too.  Really, using those things are just silly, don’t you think?


Next entry: Hit And Miss

Previous entry: A New Homebase

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Comments for “The Cliffs Men”

  • GREETINGS FROM PENANG, MALAYSIA!  Here’s two more for you.  More to come within the next 24 hours…

    GREETINGS to all new former SBRs!

    More to come as the countdown to DAY 503 continues…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/11  at  01:53 AM

  • DAD:  Happy birthday!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/11  at  01:56 AM

  • It’s confirmed - you’re insane. I can’t believe you looked down - would have made me go a little bonkers… but I guess that’s why I went diving and you went climbing! Yeay for you!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/11  at  02:03 AM

  • five oh three en why see just might be right for me.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/11  at  02:17 AM

  • BILL:  Ahoy, matey!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/11  at  09:45 AM

  • BILL:  Are ye other silent pirates comin’ ashore to the isle of Manhattan too?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/11  at  11:55 AM

  • HA HA HA. you did NOT take pictures while climbing!!! I love it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/11  at  12:58 PM

  • I’m a SBR who has to confess that I’ve been reading since Mongolia. Just saw your day 503 trailer. It looks awesome and is certainly an inspiration to go see the world. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come up from DC to NY on day 503, but I will let you know.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/11  at  03:22 PM

  • Its amazing there. The scenery is too beautiful.

    Safety tip: keep BOTH hands on the climbing surface—to hell with taking photos! No need to put your life at risk for our benefit. Especially with a rookie holding the rope!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/11  at  11:17 PM

  • AMYBOO:  D.C. is just a short ride away…  I can do it in 4 hours…  See if you can pool with any of the DC folk, if they’re up to it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/12  at  12:55 AM

  • AMYBOO: I’m coming up from D.C. catching the “china Town buses” up on a lazy day, if your interested you can leave the driving to them ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/13  at  12:59 PM

  • i would hate to fall down about 10 ft until the rope caught!

    sucks for that guy…  slackers need not apply to rock climbing….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/13  at  02:33 PM

  • I don’t move until my rope is taught… I need that feeling of security, expecially if I’m doing a move which usually results in a fall.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/13  at  07:06 PM

  • I don’t move unless my rope is taught… I need that feeling of security, expecially if I’m doing a move which usually results in a fall.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/13  at  07:08 PM

  • hey erik.  i’m behind on the entries.  just read this climing one.  so jealous.  we’ll definitely take you climbing when you get back.  question: how did they set up the top roping there? was it sport climbing (bolts in the rock) or traditional climbing (placing cams and nuts in the cracks)?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/15  at  12:40 PM

  • CHERYL T:  Cams and nuts?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/15  at  12:43 PM

  • what kind of protection was used when setting up the top ropes? or were they set up already?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/15  at  12:59 PM

  • CHERYL T:  Protection?  The guides went up friggin’ BAREFOOT to set up the top ropes…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  11:00 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
Hit And Miss

Previous entry:
A New Homebase


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