The first time I ever went rock climbing was in Thailand. It was my 25th birthday, and my friend Nicole was visiting me on school break (I was an ESL teacher in Thailand at the time). We wanted to do something fun, adventurous, and unique. I knew that Krabi was a mecca for climbing on limestone, so we headed South and tried our luck.
It wasn’t love at first try.
I didn’t hate it, but I don’t think I understood all the challenges of it at the time. We’d rented a guide to take us out for the day, but it wasn’t really a lesson. They gave us gear, taught us how to wear it and then belayed us on several easy routes. It was fun.
But it wasn’t until years later, when I moved to Colorado that I really felt the thrill of climbing. To begin, there’s so much learning involved, from what kind of gear you need, to how to use it safely, to proper balance and technique. And that’s all for sport climbing. Then, learning to lead a route becomes a whole new head game. It’s the challenge that I love, and the meditational quality. For me, rock climbing is a struggle of mind over body and there are days when the mind takes over and prevents me from climbing a route I know I’m perfectly capable of. It’s the struggle to overcome that, to trust in my body, to trust in my gear, and my partner, that focuses all of my energy on the task at hand and leaves me feeling completely high. It’s scary and it’s exhilarating.
I returned to Thailand for most of November and December of last year, and I took my personal climbing gear with me, in hopes of meeting others to join. I lucked out, and was able to climb at the two most popular places for routes: Krabi and Chiang Mai.
Rock Climbing in Krabi
This is the best place to go if you’re new to climbing, want to experience free water soloing, or aren’t yet an 11a climber.
Rock climbing in Krabi is really rock climbing at one of two beaches — Railay Beach and Tonsai Beach. The two are right next to each other, but the only way to get between them is to walk around a large rock wall when the tide is low.
If you don’t want to travel with all of your gear, you can rent what you need at the local shops on Railay or Tonsai. The gear we rented was pretty well used and didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but after checking it over we decided it was safe enough. You can rent an entire stack (rope, quickdraws, personal gear, personal anchors, etc.) for around 1,000 THB ($30) for 24 hours.
Or you can rent a guide for the day for about the same money (which comes with all of the gear) and he/she can show you around to their favorite routes. In hindsight, I wish we’d done this so we didn’t waste so much time trying to figure out where we were going.
Local gear shops:
Real Rocks Climbing, Railay
The Rock Shop, Tonsai
*There are LOTS of shops on the two beaches so I recommend popping into a few after you arrive to check around for rates and quality of gear/guides.
Where to stay:
We stayed at Railay Beach Resort on Railay East but anywhere on Railay Beach or Tonsai Beach will be within walking distance to a guide shop and a crag. The entire area is walkable. Click here to see the best rates on available lodging in the area.
If you’re solo and looking to climb in Krabi, it’s easy enough just to walk around to the routes and ask people if they’ll let you join them for a route or two. You can also rent a guide for around $30 for the day and he’ll be your personal belayer and route guru.
Crazy Horse Rock at Chiang Mai
If you aren’t comfortable leading at least a 10d, you may opt to skip Crazy Horse until you are. Most of the good routes are 11 or above, though there are enough fun, easier routes to entertain you for a day or two.
The scene in Chiang Mai is much, much different from Krabi. For starters, there’s only one shop in town and the crag is about 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai. You don’t need a guide (but you can go out on guided trips from Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures — see below) though we found it super helpful to download the Crazy Horse app (put out by CMRCA) since it’s much more up-to-date than the guide book was, and it’s continuously being updated with new routes. The $20 download fee goes directly back to the crag, for clean up and new route set up.
Local gear shop:
Ratchapakhinai Rd, Tambon Phra Sing, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Where to stay:
If you want to stay within walking distance to Crazy Horse, Jira’s Homestay is your best and only option. It’s right across the street from the entrance and you can just show up to book a room, ranging from super basic dorm beds to cabin bungalow retreats. Jira and her husband operate a simple and lovely homestay operation with a full restaurant onsite. The prices are super fair and the food is delicious. They don’t have a website but you can reach out on Facebook here.
If you prefer to stay in Chiang Mai where there’s a little more happening, you’ll have no shortage of places to choose from. Staying in Old Town will be the closest to the crag. Click here for the best rates on lodging in Chiang Mai.
Since I was traveling solo and I feel guilty crashing a two-person climbing party, I shamelessly used Tinder to meet people who wanted to climb. I just met them for coffee to make sure they were somewhat trustworthy and then checked everything myself before getting on the wall. It worked out okay for me, but climbing with new partners always adds a little nervousness to my head game.
Jira’s Homestay is also a great place to meet other climbers. I found that most people were coupled up, but there were a few solo climbers looking to meet others, and some larger groups willing to let people join.
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