Thailand, that steamy jungle of riotous fun, with its bleeding sunsets, delicious beaches, provocative nightlife and aggressively delectable cuisine, is also a land of stellar rock climbing. People started heading to Thailand to climb in the eighties, and word got around quickly. But the real spike in interest came a few years ago when Chris Sharma, a climbing and vagabonding bad ass, was featured in numerous videos that brought the crags of Thailand to the climbing limelight. Videos of deep-water soloing circulated the Internet. Traverses required the shooing away of monkeys and starting holds were gripped from the decks of small boats. Between the quality of the climbing and the lusciousness of the destination, everyone adrenaline juices came streaming out their pores, we all started pining, yearning, obsessing, saying, “I have to climb there!”
What to Expect
Expect pure bliss. Mornings with noodle soup and fresh fruit, awesome people doing awesome things, warm moist weather with refreshing ocean waters, physical exercise and adrenaline fixes that make you feel like you earned the vacation, steep limestone walls that tower above both beaches and open ocean. Solid bouldering. Hidden crags. Secret islands.
Suggestion: Rope up at the beaches, but go solo over the water. The falls will be as exhilarating as the climbs, but not necessarily damaging at all. All grades are represented in Thailand. So even you’re a terrible climber, you’ll find routes suited to you.
Where to Go
The most popular spots are arguably Railay Beach and Tonsai Beach, in Krabi. Tonsai is where you’ll find “the famous, the wanna-be famous, and lost hippies,” according to Railay.com, a site that regularly posts updates and radical photos of climbing in the area. There’s hundreds of steep, bolted climbs ranging from 6a+ and above. The open-water soloing adventures leave from Railay and Tonsai where you can put up new routes all day over pristine tropical waters. All you need for that is some climbing shoes, chalk, and a hefty dose of “I’m-not-afraid-of-anything-especially-not-some-sissy-30-meter-drop-into-water-that-could-easily-feel-like-concrete-if-I-screw-this-up” gut-check courage. You can also head up to Chaing Mai, well, the outskirts of Chaing Mai, which is a sweet city in the north. And other spots are opening up all the time. Recently the islands of Koh Yao Noi and Loa Liang have been getting rave reviews. Idyllic settings, few people, rustic but nice accommodation, all that good stuff we love so much. Those spots require a bit more umpphh to get to, which makes them perfect for those wishing to get off the obscenely beaten traveler’s trail the most visited of orient nations.
What to Bring
You don’t need much. Bring climbing shoes, chalk, a chalk bag and a bathing suit if you’re a minimalist. If you plan on doing your own climbing, bring a rope and some protection, and you’re good to go. A healthy appetite for a lot of fun is also mandatory. Oh, you may also want sunscreen, that orient sun is a serious punisher of the soft-skinned.
Basically, Rock climbing in Thailand combines two things that kick tons of ass. It’s reason enough to venture halfway around the world for, even if you were to ignore everything “The Land of Smiles” has to offer.
By Bryan Schatz