Our chartered longtail left Koh Mook at 12 noon and headed south over a calm tranquil turquoise sea. We passed countless rocky limestone spires and the large island of Ko Libong, which contains no resorts, just a few fishing villages and a few bungalows for the odd traveller who ends up there looking to escape the crowded resorts of Ko Lanta, Krabi and Phuket.
After a few hours a large rock mass began to loom out of the horizon, vertical or overhanging on all sides, topped with jungle and surrounded on all sides by azure blue waters. As we came alongside we could see a beach running for half of the eastern side of the island, maybe 400 metres long with mangroves and palms just behind dotted with tents and temporary wooden structures. Home for the next few days.
Ko Lao Liang is part of a national park, they manage the island, the accommodation and the kitchen for the 4 months that the island is open for visitors. A climbing company has an arrangement with the national park and brings visitors here to test their metal against the overhanging limestone cliffs and drink cold beer in the evening at the beach shack. Everything is chilled and informal, after paying for your tent and all meals on arrival (about £24 a night per person) everything else is run on an honesty system which you pay for at the end of your trip, drinks, climbing equipment rental, instruction, kayak hire etc.
There were a mixture of visitors, majority European – British, German, French, Scandinavian – most of whom were on a climbing tour of Thailand and had brought all their gear and trained hard for these few weeks of climbing paradise. We on the other hand cruised up with all the air of amateurs out for a jolly and as we surveyed the routes on offer, all well protected but all pretty hard, I started to wonder if maybe this was a good idea!
Our tents were spacious and clean, with mattresses (the obligatory hard as reinforced concrete), pillows, sheets and blankets and even a fan and power point for when there was electricity in the evening.
That first afternoon we searched for the easiest routes we could find, generally around French 5+ but quite often with a 6c boulder problem to start!! There were plenty of bolts and sling runners and good quality ring anchors at the top and we spent a pleasant first evening climbing a few easy routes, belaying on the sand watching the waves roll gently in.
That evening we met Kitty and Niall, Kitty was living and working in Bangkok and Myamar and Niall was living in St Albans and skiing a lot in Chamonix – sounds familiar.
They were great company and the 5 of us climbed and socialized together for the next few days, pushing each other on the rock and at the bar! At night the stars blazed in the sky and when the moon rose it illuminated the cliffs and the beach which rendered what electric light there was useless. The island was fantastic but limited, the snorkeling was good but we had 3 days of strong winds and big waves, which meant visibility was poor. The kayaks also were swamped in the swell, so any thoughts of kayaking around the island were put on the back burner. As we were on the east side of the island with a narrow beach backed by the giant cliffs we had come here to climb, it meant we lost the sun by about 1pm, which was great for climbing as it made it more bearable and less sweaty but not so good for sunbathing and beach fun.
After 3 days we had all completed some great climbs, with noticeable improvements, even leading French 6a+ and attempting 6c with hilarious consequences. So with egos boosted and arms trashed we were all ready for a change of scene. On the 23 December we waved the island and our friends goodbye and took a longtail boat to the mainland and a minibus back to Trang.
Departing Koh Mook - looking back at Sawadee Resort
Ko Lao Liang looms on the horizon
The eastern beach of Ko Lao Liang dotted with green tents
Nearly full moon party!
Testing our metal on 6a+, top rope first of course
Fraser tackling the stalactites
The beach shack bar in perfect surroundings