August 2, 2021
On the day that this article is published, sport climbing will be making its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games...
... Janja Garnbret will (most probably) be crushing everything, Adam Ondra will have stepped onto the mats armed with a wide variety of different shoes, types of chalk and portable electric fans.... While I personally think that competition climbing is awesome, I know a lot of climbers prefer to answer to the call of real rock. So, for those of you who have been inspired by the Olympics to plan a climbing trip to Asia, here’s our top recommendations.
The phrase ‘rock climbing in Asia’ most often brings to mind images of limestone tufas, lush jungles and pristine white beaches. However, this expansive continent is home to a huge variety of climbing areas, from world-class sandstone crack climbing, to bouldering in UNESCO World Heritage Sites, granite sport and trad, and, of course, many famous moutaineering routes. The list that follows is just a small selection of our favourite rock climbing areas in Asia. If this piqued your interest, we recommend you get your hands on a copy of the Climbing Travel Guide!
Where is the best rock climbing in Asia?
Liming, China - Incredible sandstone crack climbing
A small rural town situated in the remote Yunnan province, Liming is known as China’s sandstone crack-climbing capital. Over 260 routes have been established here since development began in 2010, most of which are trad climbs ascending the dramatic sandstone towers surrounding the village. However, more recently development has focused on sport climbing in the El Dorado sector, which now boasts over 50 routes from 5a to 7c+.
Liming is the place to head if you’re an adventurous trad climber interested in seeing a more authentic side of rural China. The town’s location in the LaoJunShan National Park means that stunning natural landscapes surround you on all sides. Western ameneties remain few and far between, but the local community is generally very accommodating to climbers. The combination of incredible routes and a unique setting makes a climbing trip here a truly special experience.
The best rock climbing areas in Liming
Start your trip at the Dinner Wall, a cliff boasting a number of classic single-pitch trad routes. This area is within walking distance of the Faraway Inn, Liming’s main guesthouse, where we recommend basing yourself. Censored and Uncensored are also accessible by foot from the guesthouse, and offer a good range of mixed and trad routes. For some sport climbing in the area, head to the Wifi and SciFi walls which offer around 25 routes 7a up.
Sport climbers must visit up to El Dorado, an 800m long sandstone wall situated near the village of Liguang. The climbing here is characterized by vertical to overhanging routes with steep bouldery sections, and plenty of features. At present, you’ll find routes between 5a to 7c+, but it’s likely that the area will see significantly more development in the coming years.
When to visit: October and November or March to June. Avoid the summer due to rain.
Where to find out more information: Michael Dobie, one of the main developers of the area and author of the Liming guidebook, is a good point of reference. We recommend buying the most up-to-date version of the guidebook on Rakkup and downloading it before entering China (due to firewalls).
India - A huge diversity of climbing styles and many beginner-friendly options
The phrase ‘climbing in India’ normally inspires visions of the grand Himalayas. These majestic mountains are a go-to destination for climbers, whether you’re looking for high altitude mountaineering routes, bouldering or ice climbing. However, climbing in India encapsulates much more than just the Himalayas: the country’s vast terrain varies widely and offers swathes of different rock formations. From the granite bouldering in Hampi to sport climbing at Badami, countless opportunities exist whether you’re a beginner or climbing at the cutting edge.
Subhash S. climbing the classic line Badami Deluxe (6c), a typical fiery red sandstone pillar in the Deluxe area, Badami, Northern Karnataka, India © Abhijeet Singh
The best rock climbing areas in India
Boulderers must visit the Southern city of Hampi. The hillside surrounding the town is home to one of the biggest boulder fields in the world, interspersed with ancient ruins holding UNESCO World Heritage Site Status. Fancy climbing in front of the ruins of an ancient temple? Here’s the place to do it! Thousands of boulder problems and a few trad routes can be found at Hampi, on rounded granite blocs full of slopers and some extremely sharp crimps.
The town of Badami, also located in the state of Karnataka, is the place to head for some superb quality sandstone sport climbing. You can find hundreds of routes here ranging from 4+ to 8b+, and, unknown to most, some spectacular bouldering too. Must visit crags include the popular Temple Area, home to some hard projects, and the more isolated Ganesh Plateau.
Up in the Himalayas, you’ll find the remote village of Sethan, sitting around 3000m a.s.l. This area has been repeatedly compared to Magic Wood, thanks to the dreamy forests, hundreds of high-quality granite boulders and technical climbing. The valley cliffs are also home to some good sport, trad and multi-pitch climbs. If you’re still looking for more boulders, head to Chhatru via the Hamata Pass trek.
When to visit: Hampi and Badami are hot year round, but the best climbing season is between November and February. April to June and September to November are the best times to visit Sethan and Chhatru, although weather conditions can be unpredictable. Pack for all eventualities!
Where to find out more information: BoulderBox New Delhi have put together a free guide to climbing areas in India , and helped provide the information for this piece. Make sure you pay a visit to the centre if passing through the area!
Adarsh Singh Bouldering on an easy slabbish V2 Boulder right outside Sree Virupaksha temple, a Unesco World Heritage site in Hampi, karnataka, India © Abhijeet Singh
Japan - World-class climbing with a peek into rural Japan
Anyone who follows the IFSC World Cup circuit knows that the Japanese team absolutely dominates. For this reason, rock climbing in Japan often brings to mind images of flashy gyms and complex coordination problems. However, head out of the cities and you’ll soon uncover a wealth of truly world-class climbing spots. A climbing trip to Japan gives you the opportunity to experience many different styles of climbing and rock types, while offering a peek into the country’s rural life with it’s beautiful scenery and cultural wealth. A welcoming climbing community, delicious local food and hot springs after a hard day at the crag only add to this special experience.
The best rock climbing areas in Japan
To get a better sense of the history of rock climbing in Japan you should visit Mizugaki and Ogawayama. These two vast expanses of granite are located in the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park, just 45 minutes from one another, and contain the highest concentration of single and multi-pitch trad and sport routes in the country (as well as boulders). The trademark style at Ogawayama is slabby to vertical walls, making for technical climbing where every route is an adventure. Mizugaki, in turn, is known for having the most scenic multi-pitches in the country, surrounded by countless quality single-pitch routes and boulders.
Futagoyama and Bichu are the first two places that spring to mind when thinking about limestone sport climbing in Japan. Located just a few hours from Tokyo, Futagoyama was a fulcrum of hard sport climbing back in the 1990s, and continues to see development thanks to the efforts of Yuji Hirayama. Head here for some excellent, long overhanging routes in the higher grades. Bichu is located just over an hour’s drive from Okayama, and boasts the highest concentration of limestone sport climbing in Japan amidst a quaint rural setting.
When to visit: Spring and Autumn are the best times to visit, but it’s possible to climb most of the year. Avoid the rainy season in early June and late July.
Where to get more information: Naito Naoya, a local developer, owner of the successful Pump climbing gyms and author of the Mizugaki guidebook is a good point of reference.
Philippines - Limestone, limestone, limestone, with a laid back vibe
An archipelago made up of roughly 7640 islands, the Philippines boasts a rich mix of culture, food and people, sprinkled with countless beaches and a dash of limestone cliffs. Rock climbing here flies off the radar for most, but is starting to become more popular thanks to recent crag developments and social media. The archipelago’ islands are divided into three groups—Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao—meaning that getting to the crag usually requires a few hops and jumps, often ending in a motorcycle or tricycle ride. Get ready for an adventure!
Climbing in the Phillipines inevitably means limestone: the archipelago boasts no other type of climbeable rock! However, a trip here will show just how versatile this rock type is. You’ll come across both young soft limestone and bullet hard rock, sharp crimps and slippery slopers, delicate slabs and powerful overhangs. Throw pristine sandy beaches, a laid-back vibe, welcoming climbing community and excellent food into the mix and you’ve got the perfect holiday.
The best rock climbing areas in the Philippines
Starting in the North of the archipelago on the island of Luzon, you’ll find Montalban, about an hour’s drive away from the capital, Manila. This was the first area to be developed for sport climbing in the Philippines and boasts some rich history to it! If you’re more of a boulderer than a sport climber, then head to the Benguet Province about a 5-hour drive from Manila, where you’ll find an abundance of boulder gardens located in (mostly) dried-up riverbeds. Contact the climbers of the Benguet Rock Climbing Community who have set up camping areas for visitors before heading out.
Cebu, located in the country’s central Visayas region, is the Philippines’ oldest city and a popular destination for sport climbing. The Cantabaco and Poog crags are some of the most popular here, offering a good number of routes ranging from 5 to 8b+. The limestone at Poog is pocketed and mostly vertical, while Cantabaco boasts much more varied terrain, from slabby multi-pitches to overhanging hard routes. The annual ‘Lust for Lime’ rock trip by Filipinos is held here at the end of October, so be aware that the area can get very busy during this period.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, head to Panay Island. The Igbaras crag here is the most remote climbing area in the country, requiring quite an adventurous approach by jeepney and motorcycle. The area boasts mostly hard climbing on overhangs, with plenty of tufas and stalactites. If you’re climbing in the 8th grade, you must try ‘The Engagement’ (8a+), a sustained route full of crimps and pockets. While in Panay Island, you should also visit the Dingle crag, which offers very three-dimensional, sustained technical climbing navigating through stalactites. Bring camping gear and food as there’s no accommodation here.
When to visit: The cooler, drier months between November and February generally offer the best conditions.
Where to get more information: The ClimbPhilippines.com website has a lot of useful information on the crags. You can also just turn up at a local climbing gym and see if anyone is willing to head out with you.
Thailand - Some of the most unusual places you’ll ever climb
Contrary to popular opinion, rock climbing in Thailand is not just limestone cliffs on the beach overlooking the turquoise sea. Sure, you’ll find plenty of these, but stray a little further off-the-beaten track and a huge variety of climbing options for all levels become available, from deep water solo, to technical granite slabs and sandstone boulders. A trip to Thailand also inevitably includes spectacular beaches, beatiful coral reefs, delicious Thai curries and fresh fruit, crazy tuk-tuk rides, longtail boats and monkeys. Have we convinced you yet?
The best rock climbing areas in Thailand
The climbing sectors around Krabi are by far the most famous in Thailand. Here you’ll find the likes of Raila, Tonsai Beach and Ao Nang, offering over 700 limestone sport routes right on the beach, as well as some fantastic deep water solo spots. If you’re looking for something a little more off-the-beaten track, check out the climbing sectors on the small island of Ko Yao Noi nearby.
Koh Tao is an island located in the Gulf of Thailand, known for its scuba diving and snorkeling. The island is also home to some excellent sport and trad climbing on granite of a quality comparable to Joshua Tree. Sport climbers can choose between the more popular Mek’s Mountains crags, or more remote Lang Khai and Jansom Bay, which are well worth a visit for their beauty and uniqueness. If you’re keen on trad, Mao Rock and Tanote Bay are the areas to head for some really off-the-beaten track adventures.
Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp, located about a 2 hour drive from Bangkok, is an eco-camping right in the heart of the Thai countryside run by Joy Sirilak. Here you’ll find a true climber’s paradise: cozy bungalows, a sustainable garden, treehouse and limestone rock of an incredible quality. At present, 80 routes of all grades have been bolted by Joy herself and a team of volunteers, with a zipline approach!
Finally, Khon Kaen is a bouldering area home to over 500 sandstone blocs located—of all places—in a zoo! The area, aptly called Zoolander #bluesteel, is run by a group of local and foreign volunteers. There is an annual festival in January - February which is a great way to discover the place.
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Whew! You made it to the end of this whistle-stop tour of the best rock climbing areas in Asia. By now you’re probably aware that possibilities for climbing in Asia are as diverse as the continent itself—and we’ve only just scratched the surface. From the seriously off-the-beaten track crags in Myanmar, to the incredible limestone formations in Yangshuo, there’s still much more to discover. Grab your climbing shoes and let’s go there!
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A huge thanks to our contributors Michael Dobie (Liming), Yaduraj Bhageria (India), Francesco Bonvecchio (Japan), Nick Aguilos (Philippines) and Kelsey Gray (Thailand). The texts above are a shortened version of those you’ll find in the Climbing Travel Guide, available to buy now.
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Words by Faustine Wheeler
Photos © Abhijeet Singh