A Rock Climbing Guide for the novice and experienced climber
Okay! I may not be the world's most seasoned rock climber around, so I guess that would place me at the bottom of the rope ladder in this category. Well, as long as it's not at the bottom of the food chain.
The message I'm trying to pass on here is even as an amateur climber with little or no experience, you can enjoy this adventure activity while scaling new heights for unbeatable views on some of the most spectacular limestone karsts that pepper the landscape around the Andaman coastline in southern Thailand.
Just to let you know, that although rock climbing has really taken off in a big way in the last decade in Thailand, cliff jumping is a newer and far bigger attraction. There are several tour operators offering all who are interested, the opportunity to take the plunge off a Don Phi Phi cliff and you can jump from up to 18 metres.
Phi Phi's topography is also a rock climber's dream with the main climbing area at a small beach just to the west of Ao Ton Sai. One such climb is at the 15-metre Ton Sai Tower and another one is a 30-metre climb called The Drinking Wall.
Are you a novice to rock climbing and in dire need of instructions as well as gear! No problem! There are several places in the village offering climbing coaching and equipment rentals. A two-hour beginners course will cost you around 500 baht and a full-day one with instructions and equipment, will cost around 1,300 baht.
Some of the very best rock climbing locations are centred around the beaches of East Railay on Laem Phra Nang in the Krabi province. Because of the type of topography, the area is host to seven hundred bolted sports climbing routes on the cape that range in difficulty from a beginners 5a according to the French grading system, right up to the extreme 8c for the most experienced of climbers.
There is also a huge potential for abseiling at Krabi should you be interested. Access to this sport can be achieved via a cave entrance on the west side of Hat Tham Phra Nang Beach. You will be required to ascend through the cave on some rather rickety bamboo ladders.
At the top of the cave in the cliff wall on the other side facing Hat Rai Leh, you'll see an opening. It's an excellent observation post. You can then abseil down onto a ledge half way up the cliff and from there you can practice your rock climbing skills. I recommend that you take an efficient torch with you as it can get pretty dark in the cave.
A good suggestion would be to start from Phuket and then head out by boat from there. The honeycombed limestone stacks around the Phra Nang headland close to Krabi offer ideal and challenging conditions which attract rock climbing enthusiasts from all over the world. Both Krabi and Koh Phi Phi are the only places in this region where suitable and organised rock-sports takes place.
There are a few additional sports climbing areas around Thailand including one at Koh Tao Island near Koh Samui Island. Koh Tao is a great locality for a type of rock climbing called bouldering which is generally for the experienced climber but if you are a novice and want to give this one a try, there are a few courses available on the island starting from around 800 baht for half a day instructions.
Just be aware that no ropes are used and the climbs can be a lot more difficult. The reason for this is that the hard granite rock found here is quite different from the softer limestone outcrops found elsewhere in Thailand. This could also be the ideal place to begin training as more emphasis is placed on footwork rather than body strength. Also, you are not usually required to climb very high up the rock.
Another rock climbing area is on Koh Yao Noi Island, only an hour boat ride from Ton Sai. Apparently, there is a new climbing area which recently opened at Lao Liang Island, about a two-hour speed boat ride south of Railay. If you want to avoid the high season craziness of Ton Sai, consider this the perfect escape.
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