Red Mud Quarry

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Chiang Mai is one of my favourite places in Asia so I was very excited to go back there in June. Apart from tropical beaches, you can have an entire Asian holiday experience in and around Chiang Mai. It’s the kind of place where one day you can be volunteering with elephants near forested mountains or exploring villages and ruins and the next you can be sitting in a swanky coffee shop waiting for your Thai cooking class before heading to the night markets. The very next day you can be exploring the most amazing mountain top temple before going for a swim in a waterfall, visiting the zoo and finishing the day off with dinner at the markets by the moat. I’m not sure I could live in Chiang Mai but as a holiday destination or a stop for a few months it’s fabulous.

One of the highlights of my recent visit was swimming with friends in an old quarry just south of the city. I’d never heard of Red Mud Quarry before but friends, the Van Loens, who were staying in Chiang Mai on their round the world trip had been before and were keen to go back. When they suggested that we visited the quarry as a way to cool off after visiting Wat Umong and the nearby handicraft “villages” it sounded like a great idea.

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Thirty minutes south of downtown, the quarry isn’t well known. Our songthaew driver had no idea where it was but it wasn’t too hard to find. You head south along the canal road (Highway 121) past Hang Dong and look for the petrol station with a small bridge next to it near the Hang Dong golf course sign. Take right onto the bridge and follow the road until it forks. Take the left fork and the quarry is right down here.

Apart from a small access ramp, the quarry is surrounded by cliffs. At the base of the ramp is a small section where you can touch the bottom but the rest of the quarry is extremely deep.

The easiest way in is of course to jump! Near the ramp are several small ledges ranging in height from 1-10ft.

Normally I’d take one look at the edge of anything higher than 2 feet and walk down the ramp, test the water and inch my way in instead! I’ll roll off the  back of a boat in scuba gear but willingly jump into potentially cold water from anything higher than the edge of a pool … no way! But after a few back to back ski seasons I’m braver than I used to be. My friends kids were already in assuring me it was warm … so what the heck! A 3 foot jump … the top layer of sun warmed water made it feel like you were launching yourself into a bright blue bath. This was fun! I gave a 6 foot jump a go and felt pretty good about myself!

Then the Van Loen kids and their Dad started showing us how this how cliff jumping was really done …

Like a backflip off this cliff …

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And some stylish jumps from this …

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Finally finishing with a series of nail biting jumps from a 40+ ft cliff …

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… while those of us that can’t help but picture worst case scenarios of 40+ft cliff jumps (otherwise known as mums) looked on cheering and quietly freaking with fingers in front of their eyes.

Before we left I finally worked up the courage to try a higher cliff jump. It was only 12-15 ft but I’ve never jumped off anything that high so I was happy.

Even if throwing yourself off cliffs isn’t your thing, if was a lovely spot to visit. It’s a nice place to just swim around in. There’s plenty of soft clay rocks for kids to smash up into paint and lots of areas to explore. With the depth of the lake it’s definitely best suited for children who are strong swimmers.

Bring water, snacks and plenty of sun protection. This mud doesn’t wash out easily so if your kids are the type to want to explore the area or sit and crush rocks rather than just swim bring old clothing. It’s a bit slippery getting out of the water and your feet will get muddy. It’s not a bad idea to bring shoes that can get wet so you can put them on just before you get out of the water.

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