Rock Climbing in Paradise
A Look at Thailand’s World Class Rock Climbing Spots
For many athletes, Thailand is synonymous with some of the best rock climbing spots in the world. It’s the combination of incredible limestone walls and the stunning backdrop of an endlessly blue ocean that makes the Southern part of Thailand so attractive for passionate climbers. However, the extreme sport is not limited to this region, as we will also cover fantastic rock formations and bouldering spots in the Center and the North of the Kingdom.
All the places we are about to mention have routes that are suitable for both experienced climbers and curious newcomers. Regardless of your skill level, there are always professional climbers around who are more than willing to support you. You don’t have to be like Alex Honnold who climbs with nothing but a chalk bag, climbing shoes and a heavy set of Titanium balls. We will take it slowly, one step at a time.
“On belay?” – “Belay on!” Alright, then let’s do this!
Ao Nang, Tonsai, and Railay Beach
We are already cheating by putting these three together, but they are only a longtail boat ride away from each other, so we will let that pass. The vertical limestone walls next to the Andaman Sea are not only a playground for climbers but also a beautiful wonder of Nature. Railay beach is a good spot for beginners and most climbing schools will take you there to – literally and figuratively – show you the ropes. These schools offer a variety of packages, starting from simple half-day climbs to multiple day excursions.
Staying on Railay is becoming more and more expensive, so we recommend finding a lodge in Ao Nang. All of the courses include a free pickup anyway. If the easy 1-2-3 crag is too boring for you then you still have the choice between more than 700 bolted routes. The Spirit Mountain close to Ao Nang, for example, is one of the best according to the community.
Tonsai and Railay have numerous shops from where you can rent ropes, carabiners, harnesses and everything else you need. Unless you come to Thailand specifically for rock climbing, there is no need to bring your gear with you while traveling through the country.
It is true that the Krabi province is becoming touristy, but the rock climbing community here is still as strong and present as ever. When you come to the mountains and climb them for the first time, you will understand why.
Koh Phi Phi
Nowadays, Koh Phi Phi has the infamous reputation of being a party island and – let’s be honest – it’s well-earned. However in the 1980s – more so in the 90s – it was the go-to place for rock climbing. Phi Phi is thus considered the birthplace of the extreme sport in Thailand. The focal point for climbers is the Tonsai Tower, which provides roughly 30 routes. Beginners will have their fair share of fun with the easy walls there.
The pros, on the other hand, can test their prowess on a few of the best multi-pitches in the country. For those, however, you often have to rent a longtail boat. It shouldn’t be too expensive if you are in a larger group. Your reward will then be challenging routes such as ‘Happy Banana’ (6c) or ‘Four Beers of Singha’ (6a+), for example. The latter reaches a height of 35 meters (115 feet).
Speaking of beer, a sure-fire way to make friends in the community and find a belay partner is to bring a couple of brewskis. Rock climbing does demand all your strength and focus, but having a cold one after reaching the top of a route is just the best. #dontdrinkandclimb
We are slowly making our way up North, to the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Tao is renowned for Scuba diving, but rock climbers take the long boat ride to the small island as well. Just like Krabi and Koh Phi Phi, there are many rock formations and cliffs around the coast with both single- and multi-pitch routes. Lang Kai, Meks Mountain, and Golden View are the best and most frequented places. Once again, the scenery provides plenty of opportunities to snap a few pictures for your Instagram profile. If you feel comfortable with handling your camera while hanging roughly a hundred feet above the ground, that is.
What separates Koh Tao from the others, are the great bouldering places in the depths of the jungle. Getting there is already an adventure and the views you will have over the island and the Gulf is well worth the journey. One place you have to go to is the ‘Secret Garden’, located behind Sairee beach. Bouldering is a different beast altogether, so if you are new to it, then perhaps you want to practice beforehand on the indoor wall in The Climbing Project gym. The staff here is really helpful and they will teach you all the techniques you need to learn.
Whether you come here solely for the outdoor sports or for a post-Full Moon Party respite, Koh Tao has enough excitement in store to keep you occupied.
“Wait… what place? Where is this?” I’m glad you asked. It is in the province of Isan to the north-east of Bangkok. It is easy to reach either via bus from the Mo Chit Bus Terminal or independently with a car. For the latter, all you have to do is follow the Highway 2 for approximately six hours.
A small climbing community has established itself here recently. It’s, therefore, the perfect getaway from the busier rock climbing areas we mentioned thus far. The focus here lies mostly on bouldering, which takes place in Khon Kaen Zoo. It is another 45 minutes away from the city with an entrance fee of 150 Baht. We are not joking by saying that the area is called Zoolander #bluesteel. There are around 300 boulders found in the 12 sections such as the Eucalyptus and Bamboo forest, the Temple tower or the Meadow.
For proper sport climbing, you have to drive a little further Dong Lan forest. There are only eight routes established so far since, again, the whole area is a new addition to the climbing family. But the community there is very passionate, which is why we mention them. We could have given the spot to a more familiar place like Koh Lao Liang or Koh Yao Noi, but we also wanted to distinguish ourselves from other lists.
Last, but not least, we have Chiang Mai in the far North. Is there something this phenomenal city does not provide? It’s crazy! Speaking of crazy, climbing here mostly takes place at the Crazy Horse Buttress. Since it is so popular, it has enough bolted routes (around 150) to satisfy both the beginners and the Warren Hardings (extreme pros, is what I mean). There are also caves in the area to throw in some variety. You can explore them as a part of a rock climbing tour and we recommend giving it a try.
Besides the Crazy Horse, you can go to Chiang Dao, which is 1 ½ hours away from Chiang Mai. The climbing here is fantastic with 25 routes to boot. We recommend bringing a pair of hiking boots with you as well. The Doi Luang Chiang Dao Mountain is the third-highest of its kind in Thailand and you can reach the peak in a day or two. The entire national park is worth visiting, but the vista from the top (2,225 m or 7,300 feet in height) is truly stunning.
Bonus: Deep Water Soloing
We are not done yet! We mentioned that the great rock climbing spots at Railay and Tonsai, for example, are next to the Andaman Sea. However, have you considered climbing right above the sea? Introducing: Deep Water Soloing. A form of rock climbing where not a rope is saving you when you fall, but the ocean. As a part of a tour, you will be on a longtail boat that brings you to the best limestone walls for this kind of adventure.
First, you have to climb up a short rope ladder which already is a small challenge sometimes. Once you managed that you can scale the mountainside as far as you are comfortable with. The difficult part is not so much the climb up, but the jump down. Many people freeze at the sight below them. You wouldn’t be the first person to take a few minutes until your inevitable leap of faith. When you do finally jump and come out of the water, the feeling is so exhilarating that you surely find yourself on the ladder again.
The best places for DWS are Railay and Tonsai beach as well as Koh Yao Noi and Koh Lao Ling.
Rock climbing is a highly challenging and highly rewarding sport. It pushes your body to its limits, but technique and concentration play an equally important role. If you already find yourself traveling through Thailand, then we recommend giving it a shot. You won’t regret it. However, let us know in the comments if you already are an experienced climber and scaled a few rock formations here. Share a few of your impressive pictures as well to show off a little. It’s totally fine.
On a personal side note, the documentary Valley Uprising on Netflix is a great, little history lesson about the beginnings of rock climbing in Yosemite. Check it out!