Climbing in Thailand
This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to rock climbing in Thailand, as I know only a little and have done even less. Rather it is my attempt to put some resources on the web that others might find of some use. There are other resources available online, most much more comprehensive, but this seems to be a natural addition to the other pages that I've put up on Thailand. Be aware that these are my own personal opinions, based on limited experience. Take them with a grain of salt.
There are two guidebooks available for rock climbing, and I would encourage anyone heading to Thailand for such an activity to pick up both of them. Both are quality, but differ occasionally and it is good to know that the 6a, according to one book, you just fell off is a 6b+ according to the other.
- Thailand: A Climbing Guide, by Sam Lightner Jr..
- Rock Climbing in Thailand, by Wee Changrua and Elke Schmitz.
Lightner's book is published by the Mountaineers and is available from places like Amazon. Lightner has been climbing in Thailand for many years and his book contains many excellent maps, route descriptions, and anecdotes. He seems to be more negative in some ratings and descriptions than the also excellent book by Changrua. Wee Changrua runs one of the highest profile climbing schools in Tonsai and has been developing routes there for many years. The maps in his book are, perhaps, even better than then ones in Lightner's book. Indeed, when Mike and I planned a day's work, we used both books, but during the day tended only to carry Wee's text.
The center of climbing in Thailand is the Krabi area in the southern part of the country. The climbing in the Krabi area takes place not in Krabi town, but rather in the Tonsai - Railey (East and West)- Phra Nang area, which is not accessible by road, but is a short long tail ride from Ao Nang, which is where most taxi's will take you from Krabi town. Tonsai is the main climbers hangout, sporting the best atmosphere and cheapest digs, at least for now. The rumor in December of 2006 was that most of the cheap land was going to be reclaimed by a company and developed along the lines of Railey and Phra Nang, bringing families and vacationing couples to the area currently held by dirt bag climbers. Railey East and West have more non-climbing tourists and more posh resorts. Phra Nang is most posh, with fewest climbers.
The next largest climbing area is in the far north, near Chiang Mai. I haven't climbed there, but it is rumored to be nice. If you get to Chiang Mai, it won't be hard to find a guiding service to drive you to the crags and back, which are located outside of the city. There are several other climbing spots in Thailand, including near Lopburi, north of Bangkok, and near Kanchaburi, west of Bangkok. There is other development near Trang and in isolated spots throughout the country.
There is no reason to hire a guide to get you around Thailand. If you want to climb, but don't want to haul gear, then a guide service local to the area makes sense. Moreover, if you don't have a lot of experience and only want to top rope, this is a good option: The guides will hang the ropes for you, and then you can climb all you like. Guide services are cheap, the guides strong and friendly, and make an excellent option if you are not up to leading above 5.8.
Grading in Thailand
The Thai use the French system for grading the difficulty of climbs, and this can cause a little confusion for climbers used to the Yosemite decimal system. Moreover, the style of climbing, dictated by the rock, means more confusion. Here is a rough approximation for a conversion between the two:
If you're climbing at higher grades, you already know how to convert. These are rough guides only, and, as with any area, grading isn't always consistent between climbs. Moreover, the nature of the rock in Thailand is such that a 6a can be within the reach of a gym climber who can only pull 5.8s outdoors in the States. The climbing is athletic and much closer to gym climbing than anything in my local area, like Vantage, Leavenworth, or Exit 38.
Logistics for Khao Jiin Lae (Lopburi)
Khao Jiin Lae is about two hours north of Bangkok by car, near the town of Lopburi. There isn't any public transit there, though you might be able to pay a driver in Lopburi to take you to the wat, and yet more baht for him to pick you up again. There is only one good webpage giving directions to the peak and route descriptions for it. Regardless of what you climb, you'll need to fill out a short form with the monks. Leaving a donation will help keep relations good. 100 baht per group is appropriate.
There are plenty of single pitch, or two pitch, climbs on Khao Jiin Lae, varying in difficulty from 5 to 7 on the French scale. There are three six pitch climbs to the top: Waltz for a Lovely Wife (what we climbed, 5+), Corcovado (6a+), and Nok khao mai chai nok rao (6b+). All descend via the Corcovado route. Do not try to rappel Waltz for a Lovely Wife unless you want to get a rope stuck. I got a close up look at Corcovado on the rappel down and would definitely like to climb it the next time I'm in Thailand.
Here is a breakdown of the pitches with my own, subjective ratings.
P1: 30 meters. A couple of 5.9+ moves close to the deck, the rest about 5.7-5.8. 12 draws. Big belay ledge at top.
P2: 25 meters. Sustained 5.7-5.8. 8 draws. Reasonable belay ledge at top.
P3: 35 meters. Awkward start, but the rest is 5.7-5.8. 9 draws.
P4-P5: 55 meters. Two pitches run together. Sustained 5.8. Long. There isn't a good belay ledge in between the two pitches, but the ledge at the top of pitch 5 is grand. Awesome climbing with tons of exposure and views. 17 draws
P6: 20 meters. The crux pitch. Blank (to me) face leads up to an overhanging section with something resembling a crack. More experienced climbers won't see a crack, though. Keep feet high. Several 5.10a moves gets you through it. Don't be stupid and don't deadpoint anything. 6 draws.
If you add up the distances, you get something less than the stated 200 meters. I'm not sure why, but the route list from the above web page comes closer, with a total distance of 186 meters. Getting down on a single rope is a bit problematic, but we made it. Using a double rope rappel would keep you from hanging in the air on a single chain, but increases the chances of getting your rope stuck and having to rope solo a 5.10a pitch to unstick it. Bring lots of draws (at least 17 would be good) to run pitches 4 and 5 together. They make up the best climbing on the route, in my opinion. Bring a helmet for sure. This is a new route on mostly clean rock, but there is a lot of opportunity for rock fall. Be aware that there are cacti on the route and try not to use them for hand holds. Remember that this is the tropics and that it will be hot. However, the climb is almost entirely in the shade, though you'll still sweat buckets. I brought 2.5 liters of water and I drank most of it. We spent 4 hours climbing and 2 hours rappelling.
Climbs in Tonsai
Here is a breakdown of some of the routes we did in the Tonsai area, along with a few comments. The data is pulled from the guidebooks, which sometimes differ on name, grading, length, and quality. Ratings are French and distances in meters. Climbs in the area have some stiff grades, but there are a lot of moderate climbs as well. If you can gym climb around the 5.10a-c level, there is easily a week of climbing for you here. If you're gym climbing in the 5.9 or lower range, hire a guide and have fun.
Muay Thai and 1-2-3 Walls
These are, perhaps, the most popular spots in the Tonsai area, as there are many moderate climbs and the guides flock here. However, if you arrive before 9 am, you probably won't find any one here. The walls are shaded throughout the day. The walls are located near Railey East, by the big mega resort. Muay Thai is in the woods, 1-2-3 on the beach.
- Tamada (Muay Thai). 5. 10 meters. Treelike, not super exciting.
- Hello Christine (Muay Thai). 6a. 17 meters. Long and fun.
- Valentine (Muay Thai). 6a+. 17 meters. Hard, but fun. Located next to the above route.
- Take it Easy (Muay Thai). 5. 10 meters. Easy route to the top.
- Selee (1-2-3). 6a (1-2-3). 10 m. Athletic, bouldery start (V0+/V1), then cruisy and fun.
- Samiboy (1-2-3). 6a+. 12 m. Another athletic start, but super fun.
- Make a Way (1-2-3). 6b. 25 m. Awesome, fantastic route. Another athletic start, then many varied moves. Balancey sections, power sections. Long. Highly recommended.
- Giggery for Climbing (1-2-3). 5. 12 m. Yet another V0+/V1 start, but short.
- Massage Secrets (1-2-3). 6a+. 30 m. Fantastic climb, long and varied. Lower section runs about 5+, then gets stiffer. Highly recommended.
- King Cobra (1-2-3). 5. 12 m. Big, juggy holds to the top.
Duncan's boot is down the beach from 1-2-3 and sees fewer climbers. We were the only ones there one afternoon, while 1-2-3 was jam packed. Completely in the shade. I was pretty pumped before we started climbing there and only attempted one route.
- Karaoke. 6b. 12 m. A thuggish climb. Mostly overhanging.
The Thaiwand is the big, prominent tower at the end of Railey West. Home to some of the most exciting multipitch routes in Thailand, the climbs are generally pretty stiff and the area is popular. However, the climbs are also excellent. Note that you can access the Thaiwand from the Phra Nang side by climbing up through a cave at Escher World (see below) and rapelling down the other side. You'll want a headlamp to do this.
- Continental Drifter. 5. 15 m. Hard, athletic start, then much fun. More technical than most 5s. First pitch of a multipitch route.
- Monkey Love. 6b. 25 m. Lengthy, requiring a lot of endurance on my part. Fantastic climb! Highly recommended.
- Live and let Thai. 5. 17 m. Fun route, more technical than most 5s. First pitch of a multipitch route.
Wee's Present is set back a little bit in the jungle and features sharp, good rock. I got wigged out by some Germans and so didn't climb much. Fun cave to explore at the base.
- Monkey Crying. 6b+. 20 m. Awesome climb, but a bit beyond what I could do comfortably. Features a sort of lie back crack for a few meters, which is unusual for the area. Couldn't finish the last 4 meters (crux part).
- Way to the Top. 5. 15 m. Forget it.
Diamond Cave Wall is set well inland and is near a cave called Diamond Cave. There are lots of very moderate routes, though none are terribly exciting. It is a good place to get yourself warmed up to climbing in the area and the routes are all solid. Be warned that the guiding services bring masses of clients here and between 9 am and about 4 pm it can be rather crowded. However, before 9 am you'll have lots of space to yourself.
- Kai Kad. 5. 10 m. I can't remember anything about this.
- No Name. 5. 20 m. Ditto.
- Run Away. 5. 10 m. Double ditto.
- Keep the Jam, Man. 6a. 20 m. I'm not sure where the jam was, but the climb was fun anyways. Tufa wrestling at the top. Couldn't quite finish on the first day in the area. Left some blood on the wall.
- No Name. 6a+. 20 m. Next to the above route. Fun, but also couldn't finish due to rather severe pump factor. Left a little more blood.
Fire and Cobra Walls and the Nest
These three climbing areas are at the far end of Tonsai and I wish that we could have spent a bit more time there. However, Fire and Cobra (and the close by Eagle) Walls get morning sun, which means you can't really climb there between about 8 am and 1 pm unless you're tougher than I am. These are popular areas, so if you're staying in Tonsai, it makes sense to spend early mornings there, knocking off a couple of climbs before breakfast and crowds. The Nest is a bit further inland and has rather stiff climbs.
- Groove Tube (Fire). 6a. 30 m. A Tonsai classic that everyone has to climb. Fortunately, it is a soft 6a and really is quite fun. The start is another athletic, boulder problem start, but it alot easier than it looks and you can rest just above it.
- For Helga (Fire). 6a+. 30 m. Got thrashed by the start, which featured a rather strange (for Thailand) blank, footy start. On the fifth day of climbing, the tendons in my arms revolted. Never got more than 4 meters off the ground, but this looked like the hardest part of the climb.
- Wacky Weed (Nest). 6a. 22m. Hard, athletic start, then cruisy for a while before it stiffens again. I left my initials in blood on the wall and my tendons ended climbing for the day.
- Snake Whiskey (Cobra). 6a+. 25 m. Great, fun climb. Never hard, perhaps a bit soft, but lots and lots of fun. Located next to two 6as at the far end of Cobra.
The Defile is a slot near Princess Cave. Apparently this was one of the first areas developed in Krabi. It is dark and musty in there, but it holds a really great moderate climb. Walk to the end of Phra Nang beach where you'll find Princess Cave. Gawk for a while, then pass to the right of the cave, most likely wading through the warm water to get to the slot.
- Mai Pen Rai. 6a+. 25 m. Maybe my favorite climb in the area. A blank (for Thailand) lower section requires balance and precision, with some lateral movement. After than, a great jug haul to the top, where you come out of the darkness and get a great view of Phra Nang and the Thaiwand. The climb starts on a ledge with a step out into open air with small hand and foot holds, but you might want to belay from the ground.
Escher World is a really sweet climbing area, but part of it gets late morning sun, so you'll want to hit it early. There some fantastic routes there, including some that are very sun protected. Escher World is located on the backside of the Thaiwand. You can access it from Phra Nang, ideally after hitting the Defile. To get to the other side of the Thaiwand, locate an obvious route into a cave (bring a headlamp) and climb up through it via ladders. Rapidly you'll reach another cave opening where you have a stunning view of Railey and Tonsai. If you're lucky, climbers will be coming up some of the big multipitch routes that run right by it and you can get some stunning photos. Rappel down to the base of the Thaiwand (bring your own rope).
- As Far as Sim. 6a+. 15 m. A athletic, technical climb. One of the very best, forcing you to use a variety of techniques. Some powerful sections. The bolt above the crux is a bit hard to clip, and I watched a young climber take several huge whippers when her feet blew on a smear with the rope in her teeth.