Koh Tao, Thailand: A rock climbing guide
An in-depth guide to Koh Tao, one of Thailand's best off-the-beaten track rock climbing destinations.
Posted on Mon 29 Nov 2021 · Climbing destinations
THE PLACE : KOH TAO
Located roughly 300 miles from Bangkok, Koh Tao is an island of divers and island hoppers surrounded by jungle and granite. The primary industry comes from scuba diving but a small subset of rock climbers exist on this green island paradise. Rock climbing on Koh Tao can be traced back to the first divers who arrived and saw all the beautiful, and occasionally sharp, granite crags scattered across the jungle.
Zen Gecko was the first climbing shop on the island before it closed in 2005, Goodtimes Adventures opened in 2008 and has been the main contributor of climbing guides as well as new routes on nearly all corners of Koh Tao. They were followed by Evasion Koh Tao and the now defunct Koh Tao Bouldering Gym. While there may not be much in the way of climbing gyms on the island anymore (a small portion of the holds and wall can be used at Evasion Koh Tao) the majority of the routes are still accessible.
The rock on Koh Tao is 200-million-year-old granite that can range from relatively smooth to surgical blades. The majority of the well-traveled routes have solid stainless steel bolts and anchors, and offer high quality climbing on solid rock. 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 island. The best way to experience Koh Tao climbing, its ambient nightlife and excellent food, is to rent a motorbike at any of the numerous shops. If you are an inexperienced motorbike rider then it is possible to take truck taxis to many areas but they will also charge more than would be expected, leaving self transportation as easily the best option.
THE CRAGS AT KOH TAO
Koh Tao's climbing areas are varied in difficulty and aesthetic making it tough to describe a perfect climbing circuit to the island. There’s sport climbing as well as trad and a healthy selection of boulders scattered along the beach and throughout the jungle. The majority of climbers will arrive in Koh Tao with a rope and draws, leaving the trad climbing for only the most dedicated international travelers who carry a rack.
If sport climbing, consider these suggestions for a fun day climbing in Koh Tao. Wake up early (7am) to grab a quick bite to eat as it gets hot fast and getting started early can be the key to success. If you want to get your bearing on granite or a feel for Koh Tao in general then ride up to Mek’s Mountain and get a few climbs in on the De-Vine Wall or Eagle Wall. These areas can generally be climbed during any time of the day. Once the afternoon hits it's definitely lunch time, explore any of the wonderful restaurants that Koh Tao has to offer or rent a mask and fins for a cooling snorkel. After lunch make an exploratory trip to Lang Khai, which is one of the less often climbed but more beautiful and unique crags. Swooping Seabirds is a classic must-do of the area. The next day head to Jansom Bay, which is right on the water with amazing snorkeling. Climb until the sun turns the place into an oven around noon, then take a break before finishing the evening at Golden View watching the sun set over the horizon.
If you’ve come for the trad climbing then I congratulate you on your tenacity and dedication. Many of the trad climbs on the island require larger gear with some requiring cams to 6”. Start your day at Mao Rock, where a beautiful hike through the jungle on an old road leads you to the cliff. Bring plenty of water as it’s downhill there but uphill on the return. In the afternoon head to Tanote Bay after the sun has faded over the top of the island. Several exploration style multi-pitches give a unique jungle experience within view of resorts. Save some energy as the best pitch is the block on top of the hill. Finish the evening with a swim and a jump off the rock or just watch others sacrifice themselves while you sip your beverage of choice.
THE LOCAL COMMUNITY
Climbing Shops in Koh Tao
Koh Tao has a diverse history of guiding on the island with James March’s Zen Gecko being the first climbing guiding company on the island. Several other companies and even a climbing gym followed, now there are only two companies that guide rock climbing on Koh Tao.
Goodtime Adventures is the oldest guiding operation on the island, they are celebrating their 12th year of running rock climbing trips. They are also a driving force of the development on different crags around the island with their main crags being Mek’s Mountain and Jansom Bay. Goodtime is run by Tim and Charly Severino, who share duties of running the business and guiding both rock climbing and diving. Many of the first ascents on Koh Tao feature at least one of their names and the success of climbing on Koh Tao to its present can be contributed to their ongoing presence. Tim is an 8 year veteran Captain in the Australian Special Forces where he first learned climbing. Once out of the military he moved to Koh Tao where he began working as a climbing guide and instructor in 2007. Charly has her background in marine biology before she began climbing in the UK. She moved to Koh Tao to dive and has stayed ever since and is an integral part of the climbing and development on Koh Tao.
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