January 28, 2020
When most people think of climbing in Thailand, they picture vertical limestone walls over a white beach and turquoise sea, with a lush jungle on the horizon. Yes, this climbing paradise exists and it attracts A LOT of climbers from all over the world, for a good reason. But Thailand is a country full of surprise, where nature is still the protagonist and, if you explore off-the-beaten-track, you can still find yourself alone on perfect cliffs, climbing with the locals some brand new sectors. There are routes for any levels, including total beginners, and the rock ranges from limestone tufas for sport climbing and deep water soloing, to granite slabs, to sandstone boulders. And Thailand is not only about climbing: colorful coral reefs, white sand, monkeys, Thai curries and coconuts, crazy tuk-tuks, longtail boats, and the smiles of the locals await you!
The most famous climbing spots are around Krabi, in the southwest. The vertical limestone walls on the Andaman Sea are not only a playground for climbers but also a wonder of Nature. Here you find Railay, Tonsai Beach, and Ao Nang climbing areas, a paradise with more than 700 beautiful single pitch sport routes and some multi-pitch routes, often right off the beach in a glorious setting. It is also a hotspot for Deep Water Solo. The climbing here is on pocketed vertical limestone rock, with many stalactites and tufas formations. The best season is November to March, but beware that it is quite touristy, especially over the holidays, when many tour companies offer beginner courses in the area. To escape the crowds, check out the small island of Koh Yao Noi, or move a bit north to discover lesser-known climbing areas like Koh Tao.
Located in the Gulf of Thailand, off the east coast, Koh Tao is an island of divers and island hoppers surrounded by jungle and granite. The granite is comparable to that of Joshua Tree, California, and can be rough on the fingertips, especially when paired with the excellent snorkeling that exists on the island. The best way to experience Koh Tao climbing, its ambient nightlife, and excellent food, is to rent a motorbike. For sport climbing, ride up to Mek’s Mountain: the De-Vine Wall and Eagle Wall have routes for every level. Alternatively, Golden View has a great assortment of routes with some of the most difficult lines on the island up to 7b. Make also an exploratory trip to Lang Khai, which is one of the less-visited but most beautiful and unique crags, and Jansom Bay, right on the water with amazing snorkeling. If you are dedicated enough to bring a rack for trad climbing, check out Mao Rock and Tanote Bay for a truly off-the-beaten-track adventure.
Rachel Fagan in Lang Khai, Koh Tao. © Kelsey Gray
Continue north, and, 2-hour drive from Bangkok you will a true gem, away from the crowds: Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp. Located in the heart of the authentic Thai countryside, this eco-camping is run by one of our favorite local climbers. Joy Sirilak bolted herself, with some volunteers, most of the 80+ stunning routes in front of the camping and is creating a real climbers’ paradise with her sustainable garden, the cozy bungalows, the treehouse, and the awesome organic food. Here we find again the limestone rock that made Thailand famous, with amazing natural sculptures, forming routes of rare quality. Routes go from very easy to extreme levels, with a wide variety of shapes and styles (wall, slab, overhang, steep overhang, chimney and crack). And the approach? A zipline flying over the river!!!
Local climber Joy Sirilak in Nan Pha Pa Yai. © Sandman Project
Move further north, 6 hours for Bangkok, and reach Khon Kaen. Here you find a boulder area with more than 500 sandstone blocks. There are so many mind-blowing things about this place! First, the boulders are in a Zoo (!!!). Second, it is called (we are not joking) Zoolander #bluesteel. Third, the area is managed by a community of climbers, not a company. It is a group of local and foreign climbers, who volunteer there and are keen on showing you the place. The development was started by Gavriel Jecan 7 years ago and there is a yearly bouldering festival in Jan-Feb which is a great way to discover the place. I hope we got you at bouldering in a zoo: truly an exotic destination for those looking for something new!
Micheal Larin in Jansom Bay, Koh Tao. © Kelsey Gray
There are many other stunning climbing spots in Thailand. Some noteworthy areas that have incredible lines, good rock, but unfortunately at the time of writing have some restrictions for practicing this sport are Phi Phi Island, not far from Krabi, where there are scenic single and multi-pitch routes overlooking one of the best scenery in the world, and Chiang Mai in the far north. Here the go-to-spot is Crazy Horse Buttress. It used to be very popular and it has enough bolted routes (around 150) to please both the beginners and extreme pros, with legendary rock quality. While Crazy Horse is currently closed, some areas may be accessible: ask the locals from CMRCA (Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures)!
This article was originally printed in the Climbing Travel Guide, available from the Mapo Tapo shop. 50 of the world's best off-the-beaten-track climbing destinations, 1000+ crags, and photos from all around the world.