Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thailand: BETA

Josh Levin and I co-authored this post to help climbers visiting Tonsai and Railay sort out the details of their trip and show up more prepared to enjoy the best beach climbing in the world. To anyone not visiting, it will be a pretty boring read. You have been warned.


We spent almost all of our time on the single-pitch sport climbs on Tonsai. These are right on the beach, so the convenience was unbeatable- plus, most of them are safely bolted (see "safety" below). I don't know how strong you're feeling right now, but you should have a month's worth of great options if you're in the 5.11 to 5.13+ range. You should definitely get a guide book to find the climbs. You can get one online or at a climbing shop on West Railay. Also bring a sixty meter dry-treated rope, 15 draws, a GriGri, and lockers, ATC's and slings if you plan to try out the multi-pitch. Here is a cross-section of my favorite sport climbs:
  • Lars & Lars 5.11d- one of my all time favorite technical climbs.
Emily Andrews on Lars & Lars
  • Reminiscence 5.12a- I loved it, Josh didn't. Wet start, but improves rapidly.
  • Bhet Mak Mak 5.13a- stiffer and more interesting than some of the other climbs on the beach.
  • Tantrum 5.13c- probably the only climb you will ever need to do a figure-four on outdoors. lots of campusing out the roof leads to an easy-ish finish. Fun 13c right by the tonsai bar.
  • Asia's Shadow Play 5.13c- amazing crimps, great movement, beautiful climb- probably the most photogenic route on the beach. If you have 3+ people, have someone climb the 10d crack just to the right of this and anchor themselves about halfway up to take pictures. It's a bit of work but the photos are well worth the effort. 
Josh Levin on Asia's Shadow Play. Photo: Emily Andrews
  • Cara Congresso 5.13d- really fun moves. A four-clip boulder problem culminating in a lunge to a bucket jug, with some rewardingly easy pulling at the top- except if it has rained recently- like it did before Josh and I sent- in which case, good luck!
  • Jai Dum 5.13d- stellar climb that follows an overhanging line of crimps on the right side of tonsai beach wall. lots of big throws and an exciting final mantle at the anchors.
  • Heart of darkness: 5 pitches, 5.11d- on the Cat Wall. Bring lots of food and water, and review what "back-clipping" is with the locals. Be fully prepared to downclimb most of the route, and plan a whole day for it. Probably one of the coolest climbs I've ever done in my whole life. (there's a section in which you climb THROUGH a tufa)
Definitely go deepwater soloing at some point during your trip. There are multiple guide services on Tonsai that you can talk to about this, but basically you sign up the day before and show up at around 9am to see if it's cancelled for the day. It often is, but keep trying. You'll need to sign up with like five other people to optimize the cost (and the experience- it's very social), so be sure to plan ahead and make friends. That said, even paying full price (I think the equivalent of like 30 bucks) is totally worth it. Ask to go to the Spider Man wall, it's the most famous. Also, pay attention to tides because if they're too low in the morning they will probably cancel.
A note on the multi-pitch: if you go during the Monsoon season like we did (the summer months), then you have to expect huge thunderstorms at virtually any moment. They roll in remarkably fast. Thus, the multi-pitch experience is much different, and you'll have to stick to the overhanging, slightly sketchier (since it gets less traffic and hasn't been rebolted), less classic climbs like we did. Our experience was still awesome, and it actually rained most of the day, so the Cat Wall is definitely a good option- the Thaiwand, on the other hand, would be a lightning trap in those conditions.
If you go during peak season, you should have somewhat predictable weather. Still be wary of anything resembling rain clouds, but definitely make an effort to get on the classic multi-pitch over past West Railay. Again, bring tons of food and water.

Living in Railay- "the life"

Where to eat: find Mama's Chicken on Tonsai behind the Midnight Bar (or was it the Pirate Bar?) for the best fried rice you've ever had (also great curry, pad thai, and other stuff). This is super convenient for lunch and dinner because it's a two minute walk from the climbing. There's also a smoothie bar right next to it, and although we were worried at first, we had many smoothies by the end of the trip and did not get sick.

Sadly, the big pancakes are not so good. Everything else is.

Elise Sethna, in particular, lived on these. 100x better than Jamba Juice.

Where to stay: we stayed at the Tonsai Bay Resort (the only one with AC on Tonsai) and really enjoyed it. Free breakfast, electricity (only at night during Monsoon season), very clean rooms, and did I mention AC? If you're staying on West Railay you will get nicer accomodations but you will have a very steep 20minute hike to get to the climbing. Don't stay on East Railay if you can avoid it; it's needlessly far from the climbing and not as nice as the other beaches in my opinion. Check out for booking and more information.
Note: don't stay in Krabi if your trip's primary focus is the climbing. It's inconvenient. See Transportation below.

Rest Days: occasionally the bouldery style of the beach climbs will make you sore enough to take one. Head over to West Railay for some finer sand to relax and read. They have a little market if you feel like picking up souvenirs, a nicer climbing shop than those found on Tonsai, an ATM, and WiFi in the hotel lobbies. The networks are password protected, but that isn't a problem if you're creative.
I also highly recommend renting a kayak for a few hours if the weather looks good. If you rent one on Tonsai and head north (away from West Railay), just around the corner there is a spot for some small cliff-jumping, and fifteen minutes of paddling further there is actually some DWS on what's called the Ao Nang Tower. It's a great adventure. Not very restful, but very worthwhile.

Health and Safety
Don't stop reading; this is important. If you get the Lightner guide book you will get way more info on this- I highly recommend it actually. Thailand is a friendly place and you shouldn't feel threatened most of the time. However, a few things are very dangerous about it that you should be aware of.

1) The hospitals suck. Make sure you won't need to go to one. If you do, insist on going to the private hospital in Phuket, not the public one in Krabi. It's a little further but supposedly higher quality. I think it's 45 minutes via boat taxi instead of 25 minutes.

2) Do not trust the bolts unless they're titanium glue-ins. Even new looking D-ring steel bolts regularly pop out of the wall. Any guide book you buy will have pictures so you can learn how to tell the difference.

3) Don't drink the water. You should probably go see a travel doctor before you go to get antibiotics in case traveler's diarrhea occurs anyway, and to make sure your shots are up to date. Plastic water bottles are sold everywhere fairly cheaply and are definitely the way to go.

4) The animals carry diseases, and poop in the sand. You'll do plenty of walking around barefoot, which is fine, but try to wear sandals and avoid the monkeys and stray cats. You don't want to have to try out one of those hospitals.

Yes, you read that right- Tonsai is teeming with monkeys. Mostly they ignore you, but keep track of your stuff (it's amazing what they get a hold of...) and try not to show your teeth to them. It's a sign of aggression.

5)In one of the guidebooks, it severely warned against exploring caves that are not listed in the guidebook in your free time, since there are bird-hunters that will actually shoot you if you attempt to go near their caves. There are also land-mines, supposedly. Never had any problems with this at all, but just something to keep in mind and it makes a great story ("hey ____, we were climbing near an active mine-field!"). So just avoid hopping fences or trespassing at all costs.

Also, infections occur more frequently in the jungle environment. Bring plenty of first aid supplies and use them gratuitously. Antibiotic soap- liquid is better, since bars collect bacteria- is a must.


Though this may vary depending on the specifics of your trip, here are the basics. It's easy to find a bus from the Krabi airport to Ao Nang Mao. In fact, at the bus stand there are now signs for Railay; just buy a ticket there and keep telling the drivers, ticket sellers, and boat drivers that you're looking for Railay Beach. There are no roads that connect the Prah Nang peninsula (where Railay is) to the mainland, so you'll have to take a bus or taxi to a small coastal town and a boat taxi from there to Railay Beach. Get a few hundred dollars at the airport exchanged for Baht- Thailand is cheap, but not THAT cheap. Eating on Railay especially gets expensive. Thankfully, there's an ATM on West Railay.
Remember to bring/do before you go: (not a comprehensive list, but hopefully still useful)

  • Credit cards and an ATM card- call your bank before leaving to make sure you can withdraw cash from Thailand
  • Sunscreen and bug repellant
  • A sharp knife to trim your rope, since the ends wear down extremely quickly in Tonsai
  • A sense of adventure :)
Have an awesome trip. Trust me, you won't want to leave.

No comments:

Post a Comment