Category: Guides

The Ultimate Climbing Guide for Cat Ba, Vietnam

The Ultimate Climbing Guide for Cat Ba, Vietnam

Guest blog by Sakari Cajanus

Why Come to Cat Ba

Cat Ba is the most developed sport climbing destination in Vietnam. Judging by the sheer amount of routes it pales in comparison to other popular climbing destinations in South-East Asia, but the quality of the rock as well as the variety of routes in the four crags on the island can be favourably compared to any destination.

Being less popular than many other destinations, the around 100 routes on the main island see less traffic and are for the most part not yet polished. Also out in the bay there are some bolted climbs accessible by boat. Check the current state of bolts before climbing! They are steel expansion bolts in seaside conditions. For a full day of adventure you can combine climbing with checking out some caves and lagoons — consult the guidebook, locals or Google Maps (use the satellite images!) for possibilities.

Apart from the sport climbing, there are possibilities for DWS, both on day trips with one of the companies (Asia Outdoors, Cat Ba Climbing)  on the island, or for the adventurous, by booking a boat on your own. If you decide to do it this way, knowing the locations of the crags and a bit of Vietnamese is helpful.

For rest day activities, you are the beautiful scenery  of Lan Ha and Ha Long bay, for kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and swimming. The proximity of the sea and the scenery sets it apart from other climbing locations of South East Asia, and with the multitude of islands there is more to explore than, for example, in Tonsai. The beaches on the main island can be crowded with Vietnamese, so it might be advisable to get off the island and explore the bay instead.

Cat Ba Climbing
Sunset on the way back to Ben Beo Harbour after a day of climbing

When to Go

The climbing is available year-round, with the best season for sport climbing being from late October to March. After that, the temperature start to rise, and for the summer months of June to August the rainy season might affect your climbing plans. The rain usually comes in showers and most of the walls are protected from the rain to an extent, but combined with the high temperatures, it is not the best time for sport climbing.

Conversely, the coldest months of the year from December to March might be less enjoyable for the deep water solo, but throughout the rest of the year warm temperatures make falling in something to look forward to! The deep water solo walls are for the most part overhanging enough that they stay dry during rain, though some tufas might be wet.

How to Get There

Most people reach Cat Ba by booking a combination of buses & ferries directly from Hanoi. This usually includes a pick-up in the Old Quarter in Hanoi, and drop-off at your accommodation on Cat Ba — the price of the full bus and ferry combination is not much more than paying for the bus and ferry separately, so for convenience that combination can’t usually be beat.

The other options include either flying or taking a train to  the nearest city in mainland Vietnam, Hai Phong, and then taking a ferry over to Cat Ba. The ferries leave from Ben Binh pier in Hai Phong. Depending on which ferry you take, you might end up directly at the main strip in Cat Ba town, or in Cai Vieng where you get on a bus to reach the Cat Ba town.

The new bridge from Hai Phong City to Cat Hai reduces the travel time from Hanoi to Cat Ba to around 3 hours, making it a good destination even for a weekend trip.

It is also possible to reach Cat Ba from the North through Ha Long City, by getting to the island of Tuan Chau first and getting a ferry to Giai Luan in northern Cat Ba.

How Good is the Climbing?

Cat ba climbing
Climber coming out of the cave on Enter The Dragon (8a+)

While Cat Ba can’t compete with other destinations in easy access or the number of routes, the routes are varied and on good quality rock. Most of the climbing is face climbing, and you have slightly different styles at different crags.

Most of the climbing on Cat Ba itself is 6A and up, so for very beginners there is a bit less to climb. If you decide to book a climbing trip or independent climbing on Moody Beach out in the bay, there are 5 routes from 4+ to 6A with a 6B+ thrown in the mix for beginner climbers.

Most climbers end up staying from a couple of days to a week, as there might not be that many climbs to do at your level. Combining sport climbing with deep water solo is a way to find more things to climb if you would like to stay longer.

For day-trip adventures, it is possible to go check out some of the climbs in the bay: For the multipitch on left side of Tiger Beach as well as Pirate’s Belly it’s best to go through Asia Outdoors both for status of the bolts and access, and for getting out to the Face it is often easiest to go through them as well.

Climbing Cat Ba
Sakari cleaning Nightrider (7a+) in the bay.

Are the Bolts Safe?

The bolts are both stainless steel expansion bolts as well as glue-ins. Butterfly Valley is maintained by Asia Outdoors, and the bolts there should be checked and safe to climb on. The climbs in the Cave and Ben Beo might see less traffic and maintenance, but should generally be fine. The Farm/Hidden valley is maintained by Cat Ba Climbing, and the state of the bolting can be checked with them. Not all the climbs in the Hidden Valley were necessarily all bolted with climbing-rated hardware to begin with.

Out in the Bay, Moody Beach is maintained by Asia Outdoors as they run their own trips on this beach. The rest of the climbs, such as the multi-pitch, Pirate’s Belly and the climbs on The Face might still have the original bolts, the quality of which is not guaranteed and should be checked before climbing.

Bolts can be found elsewhere in the bay as well, but as they were done by the original expeditions they should not be climbed before re-bolting.

In general, Cat Ba and Lan Ha bay doesn’t seem to have the same problem with stainless steel bolts as Tonsai in Thailand has, but there is an effort to switch from expansion bolts to glue-ins as the climbs are being re-bolted.

Accommodation

Most people stay in Cat Ba town, which has several reasonably priced hotels and hostels to choose from. In principle, 3 of the crags are within walking distance of the town (10 minutes to half an hour), but most people end up renting motorbikes and one is needed to reach the biggest crag of Butterfly Valley, anyway.

Chalk, Gear & Guides

Chalk and climbing gear is not available for sale on Cat Ba, and climbers are advised to stock up in Hanoi, Saigon or elsewhere before arriving. On the flipside, bring chalk and you are sure to make some new friends! Renting climbing gear is possible through Asia Outdoors, and possibly through Cat Ba climbing as well. Guidebooks are sold by Asia Outdoors. Almost all of the climbing can be done with a 60 meter rope, with only one or two of the harder climbs requiring a 70 meter one.

Power & Wi-Fi

Cat Ba town has very good Wi-Fi coverage, with most of the passwords being the usual ranging from 12345678 to 66668888. There can be occasional power outages, but usually quite short in duration.

At the crags themselves, there is no Wi-Fi but mobile data and mobile connections in general should work.

Food & Water

Water can be purchased in bottles in the shops and restaurants, but environmentally conscious can also find water refill available at Asia Outdoors shop and possibly elsewhere as well. Near Ben Beo harbour there are a few cafes and shops to buy water, coffee and snacks, but climbers heading to the Cave or Hidden Valley should stock up in advance.

In Butterly Valley, drinks are available for sale, and you can order a family-style lunch in advance and have it ready for you at agreed-upon time. Vegetarian option is available (  in Vietnamese), but vegans might have a hard time in avoiding eggs (không trứng, pronounced more or less khong chung, is how you would ask for no egg).

For early starters, you can hit the market on the west side of town after taking right turn off the seaside main strip, in 100 meters or so on the left. Things seem to be opening up at 5 AM, with sticky rice, sandwiches (bánh mì) and fruit available for sale.

Keo Lac, literally translating to peanut candy, and Vietnamese energy bar rectangles in vacuum plastic are most popular snacks in addition to fruit, as well as the ubiquitous Snickers from both supermarkets and from street vendors.

Things You Need to Know

– Many countries get around 15 days visa-free, but visa on arrival is also a possibility for 1 or 3 months. For these, you will need to get your visa approval letter beforehand! There are several reputable companies online.

– There are ATMs on Cat Ba (two, actually), but they might sometimes run out of money. Supposedly you can take money out at the bank as well (bring passport!)

Favourite Climbs

Butterfly Valley:

6A+ Mother Butterfly. A long, scenic climb: A bit harder for some due to exposure, but all the more beautiful for the same reason!

6B+ Elephant Man. Good climbing in juggy pockets, surprisingly challenging balancy crux, and a few powerful moves at the top. Classic.

6C+ Miyagi Box Maker. Bouldery start, but the real challenge comes after, moving on the face with decent pockets and sloping feet.

7C+ Monarch.

Ben Beo:

7A+ Egyptian Submission Position. Committing and balancy slab on minimal holds in the start, and the end is no joke either!

7B Animal. Face climbing. As good as it gets.

Deep Water Solo:

6C+ Vairghy Bootifol in Three Brothers.

7A+ in the Pyramid Cave.

7C+ Streak of Lightning.

Cat Ba Climbing
DWS route
Out in the bay:

License to Climb (7A+) and Nightrider (7B) on the Face.

What to Do on Rest Days

Getting out of town is advisable — on the main island you can hit one of the beaches, or for more active recovery you can do one of the hikes in the National Park or a guided one in Butterfly valley. The main attraction of Cat Ba (for non-climbers anyway) is the Lan Ha Bay, and it is definitely worth seeing for climbers as well. To see the most, it is a good idea to book a trip of kayaking or stand up paddle boarding. It is possible to rent out a kayak out from Ben Beo harbour as well, but booking a trip means taking a boat out first, and you get to see more, and perhaps more interesting locations, further out in the bay.

Maybe name the two major companies for trips, tips and guides here or elsewhere in a separate paragraph

It’s beautiful scenery might not be an asset compared to other destinations in SEA but could be mentioned not only for the rest days

Sakari Cajanus

Sakari first left Finland to work on Cat Ba as a kayaking and climbing guide, and since then has travelled back to South East Asia through Sweden, Israel, Azerbaijan and Iran. His last job in Finland was working with data analysis and software development, and it remains to be seen what he does next.

Guide to Highlining in Tonsai, Thailand

Guide to Highlining in Tonsai, Thailand

Guide to Highlining in Tonsai 

by Chris Wallace

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Intro

Welcome to Tonsai Bay, from first glance to last day (always tomorrow), this place will enchant you. The idyllic beaches, relaxed vibe and strong community will make any visit feel like coming home. Over the last few decades, climbers have flocked here for the incredibly featured limestone that shields it from the world, it’s become well known destination for anyone looking to escape the cold (it averages 28 degrees +) or reality with its abundance of otherworldly substance 😉

All types of vertical adventure are possible so if you’re ready for some serious bush bashing, you can enjoy to tranquil moments of peace soaring above dense jungle and blue ocean, then descend back down, walk 100m to the closest bar and enjoy a cheap meal and a beer while picking cactus out of your hair.

Disclaimer / Expected Skills

If you wish to enjoy a long pleasant life, free from injury or misfortune, it is NOT recommended that you highline, or even slackline for that matter. If however you completely choose to ignore this advice and slackline regardless, there are some things you should know…

Tonsai Bay, although a sport climbing paradise, is unfortunately not the same for highlines. Although the amount of gaps and epic lines available could fill a lifetime, it would be a very dangerous life indeed. Rigging highlines here is far from easy, it is expected that anyone who wishes to do so has extensive experience in their home country on expedition style trips where rational decision making, teamwork and suffering are all part of the package. It is expected that climbing, especially ropeless scrambling are very familiar concepts and that self rescue is using limited gear practiced thoroughly. There has never been a helicopter rescue in Tonsai and it is not expected that one would be brought in for a poor highliner, no matter how good your insurance. If self rescuing is beyond your capabilities, only other international sport climbers can save you, the local thai guides are skilled, but they are by no means a capable rescue service.

Highlines in Tonsai are a far far way away from the simple “Drive in, walk around” access of the  Fruit Bowl, creative taglining, exposed hanging belays and independent on-the-fly decision making are all qualities needed to stay alive here.

At the end of the day, once you’ve battled, bleed, swore and sweated profusely under the harsh sun, the memories created and friendships formed will be so much more worth it.

If the information before makes you scared but ALSO a little bit excited, tonasi will be every bit as good as you imagine.

Getting there

Fly into Krabi international Airport.

From here you must make your way to Ao Nang, there are a couple options. The bus/shuttle service leaves direct from the airport regularly (less than 1 hr between service). It is the cheapest option (besides hitch hiking, a difficult endeavour) and the recommended way for the dirtbag slacker.
Alternatively private taxi’s can be taken at a premium (about 500bht), this is the fastest and easiest. These are also available to take directly from the airport.

Tickets for either must be bought inside the terminal (it has signs for railay peninsula and photos of the idyllic beaches)

From Ao Nang, there is a longtail boat service that runs whenever there are enough people to fill a boat (100-200 bht each), or each person pays enough to make a full fare. In high season, the spots fill up quick and wait times are small, but late at night or in low season, expect to hang around for a while, or fork out the extra bhart.

Accommodation

There is a whole range of options available here from super budget to super luxury. Rates vary greatly between seasons too, in high season (Nov – Feb) prices are usually 3x the low season rates what is quoted here is for high season.

It’s possible to book online now for some places, however within 20min of getting off the boat, you can almost always find a place to stay.

  • Most expensive in Tonsai are around 1500bht per night however for the same price even better accommodation is available in railay, the beach next door, these units are generally airtight and free from bugs and mozzies and mostly come with aircon, wifi and 24hr power.
  • The next step down still comes with private room and bathroom, but usually only a small fan and mozzie net over the bed. Power is also only available from late afternoon to early morning. Green valley is an expensive example of this option and goes for around 800 bht per night but walking further up the hill into the jungle you can find the same options for about 500bht per night at Passok, Jungle Hut, Andaman and more. Most of these have spotty wifi and queen mattresses.
  • To reduce the rate again by another couple hundred bht, shared bathrooms and/or share rooms are available.
  •  The cheapest accommodation that will enable access to a shower and power outlets is sleeping above Saubi Bar for 50Bht per night, this is noisey and byo mat/hammock and mozzie netting. There is also nowhere secure to keep possessions, although they are unlikely to be taken, bungalows are robbed every now and again, so above the bar is even more at risk!
  • It is definitely possible to spend the night on the beach or in the trees just behind it, however it is not advised to do for any longer than it takes to find available accommodation (only 1-2 days max). Locals are not a fan of human waste being buried, nor would you be of the cats that also bury theirs all over the beach. Tonsai is a small community with an economy that depends on the climbers, the accommodation is generally really great quality for a comparatively small fee, Help them out and help Tonasi stay the paradise it is!

Recommended Gear

The style of rigging here is mostly natural with the odd bolted anchor around. It’s worth consulting the lines bellow and planning accordingly. At the end of the day it’s using minimal gear creatively that will get lines rigged.

  • Up to 70m of webbing with sewn ends
  • A couple weblocks and leash (Alu or Ti rings)
  • 1, 2 and 3m spansets,  worth bringing doubles, especially of the 2m
  • 20-30m of static rap/jug rope
  • Sections of 8mm static rope,  6, 8, 10 and 12m are good
  • Sections of beefier 10mm static rope, 8 and 10m (more the better)
  • A couple of stainless bow shackles
  • A 50-60m dynamic rope and draws, can double as a backup line.
  • Alpine draws for trad access
  • Tagline about 60m long
  • Rope protection, the rock is knife blade sharp, bring lots of this!
  • Aluminum biners (for backups), try avoid steel, it will start rusting within a week
  • Personal highline gear, E.g. harness,  roller, tensioning system
  • Gri Gri, ascender, prussics, other self rescue/ basic access items

If you’re going as a team or as two people,  it’s worth bringing a few extra items

  • Backup webbing, as some spots are quite low and a rope backup is not very effective
  • More spansets / anchor material, inc rope pro
  • Another 20-30m static rap/jug line
  • Another tagline (it’s easy to get it caught and lost in the dense jungle)
  • 11mm static to add/replace fixed lines

Map

This is a rough map of where spots are, until this guide is properly updated, consult the climbing guidebook for much more detailed info on how to get to particular spots that are mentioned in here. Climbing guides can be found by asking a climber to look at theirs or sometimes there is one at Mamas Coffee Shop.

Tonasi Map

The details of the bars and accommodation in this map are NOT accurate, most of them have moved!

(1) Railay Peninsula

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Grischa Rulle on Perseverance Jun/Jul 2011. Photo by Preston Bruce Alden

Perseverance – 35m Long, 40ish m High, 70 ish m Exposure

Who/When: Grischa Rulle (95%), Preston Bruce Alden (5%), 2011

FA: Grischa Rulle, Jun/Jul 2011

Anchors: Tonsai Side – Main – Natural horns/ rock features to sling, 2-3m Spansets

– Backup – Same as main, more 2-3m Spansets

Thaiwand Tower – Main – 2x Ti Ring Bolts

– Backup – Natural slings / threads in the rock? Maybe no backup?

Home to the first Highline of the Tonasi area and also home to a couple run ins with tourists and authority, Beautiful rigs and stunning exposure, but also not the place to leave a line up for many days anymore. There is a 35ish meter here and a longer one done by the gibbon team apparently?
This is the story and beta for the 35m, a well worth read and epic especially considering the slackline gear of the day… http://slacklineproject.blogspot.com.au/2011/07/thailine.html

Also a video provides good beta; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXQh7PJy4X4&feature=youtu.be

(2) Dums Kitchen

See main cover image on page one for a photo of this line

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself – 32m Long, 40m High, 110m + Exposure

Who/When: Chris Wallace, Marvin Bruns, Sam Stiegemeier, Feb 2016

FA: Chris Wallace, March 2017

Anchors:

RHS (Ocean Side) – Main – Short sharp horn, needs 2m spanset

– Backup – Same as main or use small tree or another horn/sling

LHS (Climb Side) – Main – Tall sharp horn, needs 1m spanset

– Backup – Same as main or use the tyrollean/rap anchor

Remarks: The highest exposure highline in Tonsai/Railay with awesome aproach (don’t all of them though) and El natural. Annoyingly about 1.5m off level but not that noticeable on the 32m length.

Access: Make your way to Dums Kitchen and up the BASE trail, the difficulty of the “trail” is up to 5b free solo with death a very real consequence if you fall. Surprisingly it is actually one of the easier approaches to a highline in tonsai, requiring no belaying. Climbing times from freedom bar to summit vary depending on how hot/cold it is and how quickly you free solo with a highline rig but is generally around 35-45min. Has been done in sub 16min by BASE jumpers with a 10+kg rig!

CAUTION: DO NOT climb if it has rained and is not yet dry, the “track” leads up a water course and becomes extremely slippery and dangerous in the wet.

To access Climb Side anchor

At the notch in the “trail” (about 30m from the summit) climb the RHS spur, leading diagonally up and to the right (about 5C climbing with threads slingable for protection), after about 15m of cleanish rock, the cliff becomes more slabby and full of cactus, crawl your way to the top and find the tyrollean/rap anchor. As of March 2017 there was a 3mm cord left linking the two summits and it was possible to pull a 70m rope around through the tyrollean anchor to be able to roll across to the other side, this avoided the need to climb, do not however rely on this being there.

To access Ocean Side anchor

Continue following the yellowed rock on the BASE “trail” up the LHS spur and about 3m (vertically) from the summit, turn around and you will see the highline gap.

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(3) Monkey World

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Luke Sarantos on Sung Lao – Photo credit to Sarah Gmeiner

Sung Lao – 37m Long, 40m+ High, 80m Exposure

Who/When: Luke Sarantos, Gino Laginzo, Maxi Montree, Sarah Gmeiner, 2016

FA: Luke Sarantos? Jan 2017

Anchors: Bong Cave – Main – Big pillar wrap, about 4-6m of spanset needed

– Backup – Same as main (or other smaller pillars possible to equalise)

The Nest – Main – 2 Ti Bolts in pullout (needs about 6m of static)

– Backup – 2 Ti Bolts in pullout about 1/2m above

Remarks: Very nice direct height and all round beautifully scary line. The 6a-b approach makes for a nice all round adventure while still remaining relatively easy to get to from the ground. It is in the shade from around 2-3:00pm onwards.

Approach: From Passok / Jungle Hut Head to the corner of the street and uphill into the jungle.

Bong Cave: Keep heading up and left for Monkey World approach. There are two climbs to pick from here, a 6a or a 6b (Chunky Monkey or Curious George), both excellent 2 pitch routes that end at the bong cave. Once inside, there is a 10m unprotected airy traverse to a small hole, crawl though this slinging the huge pillar on the right for your anchor.

The Nest / Wild Kingdom Side: From the street head up the same as bong cave approach, but veer to the right from about 3/4 of the way up the approach. The route here is Bubble Boy (6b+) With 5-6m of even harder unprotected climbing after the lower offs to get to the highline bolts. As of 2017 there is a fixed line to help aid this section, remain on belay when jugging this though!

(4) Catwall

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Maxi Montree on Catwall Midline – Unknown photographer

Catwall Midline – 15m Long, 10m High

Who/When: Luke Sarantos, Shane Yates, 2012/13?

FA:

Anchors: Ledge Side – Main – Using at least 30m of static equalise the two glue in U bolts

closest to the ocean

– Backup – Equalise the remainder of the bolts (about 30m static also)

Pillar Side – Main – Wrap the huge pillar with 6m worth of spanset

– Backup – Either, wrap same pillar, go of bolts up to to the right or sling

thread above bolts

Remarks: Take loads of rope pro, especially for the ledge side. Be respectful of climbers, as the bolts are there for them, Since this rig involves cross loading almost every bolt it is important to use lots of them and a nylon webbing is a must. Watch out for the no fall zone too!
All round cool beginner line, and probably the quickest and easiest to access, worth rigging as a warm up to other lines here as it is also the easiest to rig too. In summer it goes into sun around 9:00am and back into shade around 3:00pm. Be there on time to rig (not tonsai time) otherwise the climbers will claim all the bolts first.

Approach: From the Legacy side of the beach, walk less than 100m up the concrete path and take a left at the first major tree. Follow the fixed lines up the steep dirt path, at the clearing head left (facing cliff) for the tensioning side, and right to the static pillar side. Both sides require dangerous climbing on old fixed lines (about 10m high). 14947471 1327152477315102 1090663026296156834 n

(5) Fire – Melting Wall

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Benny on Burnt Offerings and Chris Wallace on “SWWTB” – Photo Credit to Claire Xian, 2017

Smoking Weed With The Bees – 58m Long, 20-30m High, 60m Exposure

Who/When: Chris Wallace, Chiko Shah, Pyn Chin, French Dude, March 2017

FA: Chris Wallace, March 2017

Anchors: Stalactite  – Main – Girth hitch the pillar on top of the stalactite, 3-4m spanset

– Backup – Same bomber pillar.

Cave Side – Main – Sling 2 pillars with rope or spanset, (3m spanset)

– Backup – Sling 1-2 more pillars (2m rope for close, 8m rope for far pillar)

Remarks: The masterpoint on the cave side must be extended far beyond just slinging the pillars, save a 2-3m spanset for this as it must rub on the rock every time someone enters/exits/whippers on the line. Its possible to rig the line more level by moving the cave anchor about 10m higher onto a small stubby stalactite (7a climb) and moving the melting wall anchor up another few meters, in this case, the easiest anchor to access becomes the melting wall (big stalactite) side. If rigged from the cave, the easiest access to the line is via the 6b+ climb. It can be worth fixing a static line to the bolts on this and using it as a via ferrata. It is an unpopular climb and does not see much traffic, however, be mindful of climbers wishing to climb there and don’t leave it too long.

Access: Probably one of the easiest/fastest lines in tonsai to access, perfect for early morning or cruisy afternoon practice. It takes about 3min to walk from the beach to the base of the climbs.

Cave Side: Walk to fire wall (where Burnt Offerings is) and climb the hard 6b+ (hard start, easy middle, hard end) and after clipping the anchors, traverse 5m right on easy but exposed climbing into the cave.

Stalactite Side: Walk further on the track through the jungle to melting wall and climb the slick 6a or 6b (both 2 pitches). From the anchors traverse left into the dirty slippery underneath of the stalactite with possible thread protection and mantle up onto the top. Fix a rope to rap/jug on.23698468 1743995195630826 1269489923 o

(6) Shadow Wall

Sinner Team – 15m Long, 10m High

Who/When: Originally rigged by the Sinner Team and top roped with hooks though the back as the safety “leash” in 2014/15.

FA: Does it really matter when the first falls involved hooks though your skin?

Anchors: RHS (FV) – Main – Dodgy but sizable tree (at least you’re slinging the base of it) (2m)

– Backup – Threads in rock behind tree

LHS (FV) – Main – 2m up thinner but healthy tree (1m spanset)

– Backup – Same as main

Remarks: Probably the easiest to rig midline in tonsai, and the perfect way to introduce someone into slacklining at heights. The rigging is straightforward and simple but still has its dangers. Rock fall does happen here, a bucket size chunk fell 50m and narrowly missed someone’s head in 2017. Also inspect both trees very thoroughly before trusting them, just because it was fine last time doesn’t mean it always will be!
If you’re not feeling tonsai tummy, this should help you out 😉 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6usNLseyzMA

Forbidden spots

  • Any of the islands, they are national parks, climbing or adventuring of any kind is banned and now enforced there.
  • The small clearing with a hut on it that is found by turning off the Tonsai-Railay jungle track, is private property and is also not allowed, a rope jump was rigged here in 2016 and resulting in $1000’s worth of equipment taken, until the generous help of toffee helped get it back.

Waterlines

There are some waterlines in the area, at least one is bolted. Be aware of tides however as some spots can only be rigged at high tide, the rock is very sharp here and waterlining is not usually an easy affair. Renting a kayak is usually the best option to gain access to the rocks.

Longlines

The beach is home to many hidden deadman anchors, good luck finding them, the best is probably to dig your own and build an a frame. There is a long beachline option that doesn’t require deadman anchors, it goes at about 130m long, from the most seaward point of rock (the bit that you have to wade past to get to dums kitchen when the tide is high) over to a huge boulder at the staircase leading to Railay.

The easier option for rigging longlines is in between the palm trees just in from the beach, make sure to clean up the ground really really well though, there is lots of broken glass!

Additional Notes

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In 2012 Hayley Ashburn did this naked free solo in a spot called Mai Leung

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Another unknown Thai Line

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Hayley Ashburn on another unknown thai line.

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Hayley Ashburn, Stalactite line in Koh Yao Noi, Phuket

The Ultimate Climbing Guide for Crazy Horse, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Ultimate Climbing Guide for Crazy Horse, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We’ve created this Crazy Horse climbing guide to give you an idea of what to expect:

Content

  1. Why Come to Crazy Horse Buttress
  2. When to Go
  3. How to Get to Crazy Horse
  4. Accommodation
  5. How Good is the Climbing?
  6. Are the Bolts Safe?
  7. Things You Need to Know
  8. Chalk, Gear & Guides
  9. Power & Wifi
  10. Food & Water
  11. Our Favourite Climbs
  12. What to Do on Rest Days
  13. Chiang Dao Climbing – The Newest Crag near Chiang Mai
Crazy Horse Buttress Sign

Why Come to Crazy Horse Buttress

Crazy Horse is a multitude of beautiful limestone crags with over 200 routes spread around a small area, 35 km out of Chiang Mai. There are two awesome caves with unique entrances and routes up to the skylights. The crags are clean with well-maintained paths connecting all the crags. It only really gets very busy at the weekend so often you have the whole area to yourself.

There are many multipitches with some into the ‘horses head’ iconic structure with great views across the surrounding farmland and others within the caves itself. Some friendly crag dogs live on the crag and are always happy to see anybody.

Got to love the crag dogs

When to Go

The weather is best between November to February, it’s cool and often has light breezes. From February, it will start to get hotter and by April you’ll be chasing the shade, expect anything up to 40C until May. June to October is considered the monsoon season so heavy rain for a few hours at a time.

During the dry season there has been an increasing amount of haze created by the local burning of farmlands to clear the fields. This can be smelly and unpleasant but won’t stop you climbing. It usually lasts for a few weeks.

How to Get to Crazy Horse

There are many ways to get to Chiang Mai with good road links from all surrounding areas. The airport has direct domestic and international flights coming in.

From Chiang Mai town there are several ways to get to Crazy Horse, some are better than others depending whether you are staying at the crag.

  • Hot Spring Bus, the cheapest way to get to the crag. A 45 Baht bus going from the outskirts of Chiang Mai. Just tell the driver to drop you off at Jira Guest House opposite the crag. GPS co-ordinates of the bus stop are 18.790866, 99.001645 or click here.
    Bus Leaving Chiang Mai at 07:30, 11:30, 15:30, 18:30
    Bus Leaving Jira Guest House at 06:00, 10:00, 14:00 and 17:00 – you can either stand at the side of the road outside Jira or order a drink and ask the lady at Jira to call the bus driver to ensure he stops.
    Look for this bus.
The cheapest way to get to Crazy Horse
  • Rent a motorbike, there are plenty of motorbike rental shops in Chiang Mai with prices starting from 150 Baht per day if you look hard enough. No licence is required but they will keep your passport until you return. Click here for the crag location, or just type Crazy Horse into Maps.Me or Google Maps
  • Uber, is very popular in Thailand and costs about 400 baht one way. Probably the quickest and easiest way to get to the crag.
  • Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Association (CMRCA) have a return, daily service from their shop that starts at 395 Baht click here to book. *This only runs when there are enough people.

The entrance to the crag has a big sign post (see picture below) and is on the left hand side of the road, 150m after Jira Guest House which is on the right if you are coming from Chiang Mai.

The entrance to the crag from the main road.

Accommodation

There is plenty of accommodation in and around Chiang Mai if you are planning to do daily trips or just go there for one day.

If you are planning to stay near the crag, Jira Home Stay is the best option.

Jira Homestay

It is on the opposite side of the road from the crag, about 20 minutes walk to Crazy Horse Buttress and run by Nongyao and her family. They are all super friendly and the numerous times we stay there it really feels like a homestay.

Prices are 150 Baht for the open air dorm beds, 300 Baht for a double room and 500 Baht for the bungalows, which can sleep four people.

The open air dorm beds at Jira

Here is the link to book as they can get full in busy times and also close for a short period during low season. Alternatively, their number is 0871 939 709.

They provide free drinking water, communal fridge facilities, WIFI and can provide old climbing guides that have been left behind. They even allow you to use their motorbikes for free to go to the local market, 2km away to stock up on snacks and fruits or visit the local hot springs. Do fill up the tank if it’s running low just out of common courtesy.

Their food is also the best we’ve sampled in the area, you will see a lot of locals turning up just for dinner. Just be warned the portions are huge, so order less at first.

A couple of things to note is that breakfast is either omelette and rice or rice/noodle soup, so no Western options. Furthermore, none of the rooms have aircon.

There is more accommodation locally but you will need a motorbike to commute as they will be further away and the local public transport is limited. Air BnB or the local guide book would best for searching.

Camping is not permitted on the crag or at Jira Guest House.

Silvia cruising up a 6a

How Good is the Climbing?

The limestone is still in excellent condition although the crag is over 15 years old now. Expect a small amount of polish on the most popular routes but no where near as much as in Tonsai. The majority of routes are in the 5’s and 6’s, with only about 40 routes at 7a and above including multipitches.

The cave climbing is unique for Thailand and the multipitches are not the longest but nice and still a bit sharp.

The routes are a mixture of fingery, technical cruxes as well as pumpy pocket overhangs. Sometimes you will get routes that start slabby and balancy and then finish into a juggy pump. Heart wall has a nice selection of iconic tufa and stalactite routes.

There are a few crags protected from the rain and generally the crags will dry off pretty quickly.

Are the Bolts Safe?

The bolts are safe at Crazy Horse. Generally all the routes are well protected, sometimes with gym-style steel carabiners at the top. Bolt counts on the route do not include the anchor and are not always accurate so try and take a couple more draws than you think you will need. All the anchors are backed up.

Things You Need to Know

  • Crazy Horse is not the easiest place to come as a solo climber. You can have a look in the CMRCA bouldering gym to see who is advertising for a partner or try your luck and turn up at the crag or Jira to see if there is anybody climbing. Sometimes people just turn up at the Hot Springs Bus to see if anybody else is going in.
  • There are some religious structures and monks can sometimes be seen in the area. Please be respectful. Having your feet above a monk’s head is extremely disrespectful, so do not climb if they are going to below you.
  • There are two squat toilets in the car park.
  • Be careful of the local wildlife, there are mosquitos (bring mosquito coils) and often bees. There are two types of bees, the wax bees are cute and will eat your sweat while fanning you. The hive bees are vicious, don’t get closer than 3m and check your route before climbing.
  • CMRCA, the guys who built and maintain the crag, have a good resource on crag etiquette here.
Spot the bees nest and decide if you want to climb that route!

Chalk, Gear & Guides

The CMRCA shop in town is well stocked with all the gear you will need. They also sell the climbing guide in app and book form. The latest book is a few years old now so I would advise spending on the app as it is more up to date. If you have a book already you can go in and take pictures of the new routes as they are still bolting.

The gear is all imported and they stock Sterling ropes, Black Diamond and Mad Rock shoes. They can also provide rental gear, prices are here.

According to the guide book they also provide free helmet rental if you ask.

Jira also have gear that’s been left behind, you’ll see the old shoes hung up and Nonyao mentioned she had a rope as well. Beware of the condition of the gear as they don’t climb or understand the risks.

Of course it’s best to bring your own gear (and cheaper). A 70m rope is perfect and will allow you to link up a couple of pitches. All the climbs can be rappelled on one 60m rope. 16 quick draws should be enough but try and take a few long draws to deal with drag especially if you are linking pitches.

Power & Wifi

There is no Power or WIFI at the crags but mobile reception is adequate.

Jira Home Stay has 24/7 Power and good WIFI throughout their facilities.

Pyn pulling some sort of flag variation on 6c+ on Heart Wall

Food & Water

If CMRCA are running a trip from Chiang Mai they will usually bring a big water dispenser and leave it in the car park. Please donate if you use their water.

Otherwise there are no other shops or restaurants within walking distance except Jira Home Stay. If you are staying at Jira the water is free and they provide take away lunches in Tupperware.

The town is 2km away with a 7/11 and a fresh food market, so good for stocking up there or in Chiang Mai city.

Our Favourite Climbs

Slivia clipping on ‘Rooftop’

5c – ‘Out of the Trees Into the Sun’ on The Horse Shoe, very nice climb.

6a – ‘Skyscraper’ on Rooftop, the highest you can get at Crazy Horse, consistent all the way with some variation in rock along the way. Bring a camera for the top.

6a+ – ‘Ruam Jai (Together)’ on Heart Wall, 36 meters, starting on classic tufa limestone and changing into a juggy face climb.

6b+ – ‘Flushed’ on The Ant Hill, very consistent yet diverse route with a crux that gets surprisingly manageable with a sweet knee jam. Really nice moves and well protected at the crux.

6c – ‘Blood, Love, and Steel’ on Crazy Horse Area, a classic, starts very balancy and slabby then enters a mini Groove Tube with big jugs to finish.

7a – ‘All Quiet on the Eastern Front’ on Gatekeeper Buttress, super technical with a balancy crux early on, nice views at the top.

7a – ‘Earthquake’, Windy Cave, take the time to figure out where the route goes and bring a decent head torch. An awesome climb in a cave where it’s always cool! Tricky crux with an interesting traverse at the end.

7b – ‘Intensify’, on Ant Hill, super hard crux at about the 4th bolt, the crux is extremely technical, powerful and balancy (it’s really hard). Then turns into a sustained and pumpy finish, it will feel more like a 45m climb than a 30m when you finish.

What to Do on Rest Days

If you’re having a rest day at the crag for the purpose of this section, we will assume you are staying at Jira Home Stay or in the Mae On area.

  • There is one massage place in the town. From Jira turn left at the market and it’s about 300m on the left.
  • Tad Moei and Mae Gam Pong Waterfalls
  • Local hotsprings
  • Muang On Cave

Chiang Dao Climbing – The Newest Crag near Chiang Mai

Chiang Dao is the latest crag that CMRCA have been developing. It’s one and a half hours out of Chiang Mai and nowhere near Crazy Horse Buttress. We didn’t make it there but were considering it and found some reasonable accommodation nearby. We advise you to talk to the CMRCA shop about it and they should be happy to provide basic topos. If you need the directions email us and we can send you a screenshot of the first page.

 

Let us know what you think under Contact Us and if there are any other tips let us know so we can add it and help other climbers.

The Ultimate Climbing Guide for Thakhek, Laos

The Ultimate Climbing Guide for Thakhek, Laos

Simon on a 7c on the roof

Thakhek in the beautiful country of Laos is an absolute must for any sports climbing trips to South East Asia. We’ve created this Thakhek climbing guide to help climbers heading there:

  1. Why Come to Thakhek
  2. When to Go
  3. How to Get There
  4. How Good is the Climbing?
  5. Are the Bolts Safe?
  6. Accommodation
  7. Chalk, Gear & Guides
  8. Power & Wifi
  9. Food & Water
  10. Things You Need to Know
  11. Our Favourite Climbs
  12. What to Do on Rest Days

Why Come to Thakhek

Thakhek hosts a multitude of limestone crags with predominantly juggy and powerful routes. The crags are varied including a 30+ meter roof (with perma draws), a canyon, a cave and your standard Asian limestone tufa & stalactite crag.

The crags are still sharp with most of the 320+ routes being less than four years old and can only be climbed nine months a year.

Apart from the other tourist caves in the area there isn’t much to do apart from climbing, so none of the distractions like in Tonsai.

There are only climbers in the crag area and there is a climbers camp on site so it’s very easy to find partners to climb with.

When to Go

October, November, April, May can be quite hot but less busy.

December, January, February, March are the best conditions for most climbers, as it’s a cooler, sometimes verging on the cold side.

June to August, the camp is closed as its rainy season and the whole area floods.

How to Get There

We found the best resource for information on how to get to Thakhek and Green Climbers by public transport is here. They cover the best way from China, Thailand, Vientiene etc.

The only thing they don’t mention is that it’s also very easy to hire motorbikes in Thakhek, if you’re staying in town it’s the most convenient method of transport. Its about a 20 minute drive from Thakhek to the crag.

Also if you are on a tight budget, there is a public truck/bus you can take from the main road. To get there exit the bus station nearest the ATM and turn left. Walk for about 15 minutes until you get to the cross roads and turn right. There may be a truck 100 meters from the cross roads on the right side of the road waiting for passengers or you can wait to flag one down. You want to be heading North East, away from town. The trucks are very similar to the Songthaew or red trucks in Thailand, but not red or as fancy. It should cost you 10,000 Kip and the driver should know where Green Climbers is or just mime a climbing action and someone will understand.

We advise taking a TukTuk if you can for the first journey to get your orientation. The cheapest we got was 70,000 Kip during the day but this can go up to 150,000 Kip after dark.

Hitch hiking is also possible but keep a look out for the Green Climbers Home sign (a big metal road sign) after about 12k from the cross roads. You may be asked to give some money so make sure the price is set before you enter.

6b Crack Climb on Partymeile

How Good is the Climbing?

The climbing is, in our opinion the best in South East Asia, better than Crazy Horse, Tonsai, Batu Caves or Penang. This is due to the number of routes, virtually no polish, the maintenance of the crags and the variety of climbing.

We’ve spent over a month here, never getting bored and finding lots of projects to work on, which is testement to the quality of rock and routes.

Are the Bolts Safe?

Green Climbers have been involved with the bolting from almost the very start and they put a tremendous amount of effort in cleaning routes after they have been bolted. This includes clearing the obligatory vegetation but also filing down any sharp edges which may cut your rope. Also the bolts are almost always less than 2 meters apart.

The majority of bolts are 10mm expansion bolts made of A4 quality stainless steel. They don’t need to be titanium as there is no exposure to sea air. The two anchor bolts are backed up with slings made of climbing rope.

The roof has permadraws throughout which is great because you can try anything and not have to worry about cleaning!

Accommodation

The only place to stay which is next to the crags is Green Climbers Home. They cater for different accommodation budgets including bungalows with ensuite and shared toilets, dorms and tents. Do book ahead, as it can get full. You can book here: http://www.greenclimbershome.com

Camp 1 Price List

Tania, Uli and Fia have created two camps and run them with friendly German efficiency. The camps are environmentally and socially responsible. The water is ground water and food sourced locally. They provide Tupperware for lunch and keep the use of plastic and polystyrene to a minimum.

If Green Climbers is full there is plenty of accommodation in Thakhek itself ranging from hotels to hostels. But try and book in advance as staying at Green Climbers ensures the best experience.

Although Green Climbers have a monopoly on accommodation at the crag, both times we’ve stayed there have been amazing. Always a really friendly, family atmosphere with all the facilities you need to climb.

Green Climbers Camp 1 Bungalows

Chalk, Gear & Guides

You can buy chalk, guidebooks and tape at Green Climbers Home.

There is only one guide book that we know about and that’s Rock Climbing Laos Thakhek, sold at Green Climbers Home. They also have a ‘house’ book at the restaurant to view.

Climbing gear can be rented and Green Climbers provide beginner and advanced climbing courses. They also let you borrow a helmet for free if you stay there.

There are many 30 + meter routes and ideally you would have a 70m rope. We brought along 16 quickdraws and found that ideal.

Power & Wifi

In Thakhek there is 24 hr electricity, aircon and WIFI available at almost all establishments.

At Green Climbers Home there is 24h electricity except for the tents (you can charge your electronics in the main hall). There is no WIFI or phone signal in Camp 1. You can buy a Lao Simcard from the restaurant but you will need to walk back towards the main road or stay in Camp 2 to get a signal. There is no aircon in the camps.

Food & Water

The water sold at Green Climbers Home is very, very cheap. It is filtered, ground water, meaning you get the minerals your body needs.

The food in Green Climbers Home 1 and 2 is on par with the rest of Laos. The quality of the food and ingredients is very high and generally good value for money. There are plenty of options for vegetarians and even a vegan menu.

There is a limited bar, with a small selection of local spirits and beer and only Pepsi, Sprite, Tonic and Soda.

Green Climbers Home has all the essential food you need. But for a snacks we recommend purchasing them in the bus station. The large rice crackers and soft sesame and peanut squares are our favourite.

Our favourite peanut and sesame snacks

 

Things You Need to Know

  • You most likely require a visa for Laos, but can get this directly at the border. Bring passport photos and passport copies otherwise you will be charged extra. They take payment at the border in $ USD.
  • ATM’s are only in Thakhek itself there isn’t one near the crag. If you stay at Green Climbers then everything you buy (food, drink, accommodation) is written in a book and totalled at the end. So stock up on lots of cash, before you get to the camp (there is one at the bus station) as they don’t take card. They accept USD, Lao Kip, Thai Bat and Euro.
  • Once you are at the crag or Green Climbers the snacks are quite limited, so if you see something you like in Thakhek do stock up.
  • Keep your passport, health insurance card and credit card with you all the time when climbing. If you are seriously injured you will have to be taken to a Thai hospital and they won’t let you pass even if you’re bleeding out, without your passport. Apart from the risk of climbing injuries, there are also venomous snakes in the area.
  • Expect to pay a nominal Government fee of less than $5 USD which covers the duration of your stay, this is collected by Green Climbers but given to the local area government to contribute to local schooling and projects.
  • Bring lots of mosquito spray and coils as there are plenty at the crags.
  • It can get cold. December to February can have very cold periods. We were wearing down jackets there during February.

 

Venomous Bamboo Viper

Our Favourite Climbs

5c – ‘Bonne Geburtstag Poffzi!’ on Hilton, nice long 3D climb.

6a – ‘Kim and Struppi’ on Canyon Left, amazing route in a unique – must go crack. Bring lunch (not for the route, but the crag, which is ideal to stay the whole day).

6b+ – ‘From Dusk till Dawn’ on Open all Hours, wonderful line testing your technique, route reading skills and stamina.

6c – ‘Mon General’ on Hilton, nice face crux, rewarding you with enjoyable 6b moves after work through the crux.

7a – ‘Schwitzerland’ on Hangover, very nice technical moves and loved by many climbers.

Silvia on Schwitzerland, 7a

7a+ – Mr Keo on Worldtrip, super long route, which feels like it never ends. Technical pumpy crux after the start. Great view from the top.

7b – ‘Jungle King’ at the Roof Centre, 34m, juggy, pumpy, heel hooks, toe hooks and big holds when you need it. Rest for as long as you can at the first anchor so you can enjoy the second half.

Multipitch

It is nice to do one, just to get the top view. They are all nice, with Chinese New Year having a surprise on top. There is a high chance of getting your rope stuck on the way down so be aware.

What to Do on Rest Days

Enjoy Green Climbers Home facilites – The Camp 1 has a bocce field and a volleyball net, chess and a lot of board games. Camp 2 has some long slack lines.

Swim in the river/Slackline across the river – Silvia’s recommended must-do. To get there, from Green Climbers Home turn left at the main road and follow it around the bend for about 1km. Look for the dirt road towards the right, follow that for anther kilometre. It is wonderful clean and refreshing water. Even more fun, is to install a slackline across. Be careful with the slackline bolts and be aware of underwater rocks when mounting the line. Mind your belongings.

Caves – There are many caves to discover and you can hire bicycles from Green Climbers. Tham Xien Liab cave is directly behind Green Climbers Home 1 tent camping area. If you manage the boulder problem at the start, you stay dry while going all the way through the cave. If you don’t like bouldering, you can just swim through.

Go to town – For strong WIFI or the small town feeling, go into Thakhek town. Besides getting a Tuktuk, you can take a bus/truck, stay alert where exactly they go and when to hop off as some of them turn at the cross roads to the bus station. Inthira Hotel has good wifi, or theres a ‘Bistro’ near the Mekong which has aircon, WIFI and Nutella!

Watermelon Walk – You might not find the Watermelon walk in any guidebook yet because we just came up with the name. If you enjoy a 20km hike into non touristy areas, we recommend it. Access the dirt road that you cross to get to Partymeile and the Canyon crags and keep following that main dirt road. After around 8km, take the right turn and orientate yourself through the hills and your gut feeling. You should pass some small rubber tree plantations  and come to a village, head to the main street from there. You will finish at a roadside watermelon market, which you would most likely have seen on your way to the crag. Reward yourself with watermelon, before you take the bus back. Thakhek town is on your left.

Thakhek Motorbike loop – a 450km, 3 or 4 day loop through some stunning scenery and humongous caves. Highly recommended.

Our Thakhek climbing family by the river

Let us know if this has been useful and if you have any further information to add comment below. If you have any further questions send us a message here.

Check out our blog post here and video here of our time in Green Climbers.

The Ultimate Climbing Guide for Tonsai, Thailand

The Ultimate Climbing Guide for Tonsai, Thailand

Tonsai Bay

We’ve created this guide to help climbers coming to Tonsai get a feel for what to expect. Theres a few tips and tricks to save a $ here and there and guidance accumulated from multiple trips to Tonsai over the years.

1.     Why Come to Tonsai
2.     When to Go
3.     A Recent History Bit
4.     How to Get There
5.     How Good is the Climbing?
6.     Are the Bolts Safe?
7.     Things You Need to Know
8.     How to Get from Tonsai to Railey
9.     Chalk, Gear & Guides
10.     Deep Water Solo
11.     Accomodation
12.     Power & Wifi
13.     Food & Water
14.    Our Favourite Climbs
15.    What to Do on Rest Days

Why Come to Tonsai

Often referred to as the climbing mecca of South East Asia, Tonsai is what many consider to be a climbers paradise. Think sun, sea and amazing views of beaches and palm trees. Cheap accommodation, great food with plenty of opportunity to discuss your latest project over a beer in the evening.

It’s great for the solo climber as it’s very easy to find partners to climb with. Take note of high and low season, as it can get extremely busy in high season with queues for the most popular routes.

When to Go

The weather on Tonsai is pretty much split into two seasons, high (November to March) and low (April to October).

High Season weather is generally sunny, clear and less humid. Gen[rally it’s a bit cooler after late January. You will however find that Tonsai will be full of climbers and non climbers and the easier routes will be busy all day, so expect queues for the popular routes. Prices also reflect the season and are considerable more.

Low Season is still great for climbing, although it’s monsoon season due to the change in wind from the South West. If and when it does rain it’s generally heavy for a couple of hours and then sunny again. Most of the crags dry off quickly and can be climbed almost immediately. September and October are generally the wettest months.

A Recent History Bit

You may hear the odd person arriving and exclaiming that they were here 5/10/15 years ago and it has changed so much because all the bars and accommodation were on the beach. Yes this is true, some corporation bought all the land in the middle and walled off the grounds. Hence ‘the wall’ has become something of an art project, so feel free to bring along some paints and make your mark on the Tonsai wall. Now all but one of the bars are further back, away from the beach. One good thing that came out of it are that the gibbons are easier to spot, the bad thing is that there’s no sea view when you’re indulging in night time shenanigans at the bars.

Freedom Bar at Night

How To Get There­

Tonsai is not an island but has the feel of island life. You can reach it by long tail boat from Ao Nang. Boats leave regularly when full during daylight and cost THB 100 one way (April 2017 price). You can get busses to Ao Nang from Krabi Airport or Krabi Town. Occasionally you the boat may not stop at Tonsai and only at Railey. In this case you’ll have to walk about 40 mins to Tonsai, see further down on how to get from Tonsai to Railey.

How Good is the Climbing?

Great: There are hundreds of routes on Tonsai and as many on Railey next door. Routes varying from 5’s to 8c. The easiest routes on Tonsai start at 6a, so not so easy for a complete beginner, Railey has the 5’s.

Expect lots of fun routes with 3D climbing around stalactites and tufas but diverse enough to get your balancy climbs in. Many of the harder routes are pumpy and overhanging, especially on Tonsai beach.

Climbers have been coming here since the early 1990’s and as it’s limestone, a relatively soft rock many of the popular routes at most grades can be polished (adding to the challenge).

There are plenty of multi pitches starting at 6b and upwards, all providing stunning, panoramic views of the area. Humanality, Ao Nang Tower and Heart of Darkness are our favourites.

Look further down to see our favourite routes at the different grades.

Are the Bolts Safe?

Buy a book! You need it to know if the routes have been rebolted with Titanium. It is relatively simple to identify once you know and the books clearly describe what is safe. Routes not bolted with Titanium are not to be climbed on. Beware of slings, a lot of the routes have slings, some are protected by tubing, most are not. Check the sling and bear in mind the condition if you’re planning to send the crux with a mono pocket above it.

All the rebolted climbs have anchors with two ‘O’ rings on at least 2 titanium bolts.

There are two main books: King Climbers and ‘Rock climb in Thailand & Laos’. We used Rock Climbing in Thailand & Laos by Elke Schmitz and recommend it.

Things You Need to Know

  • Climbing on a beach looks great, but sand gets everywhere. Buy/bring a mat and even better bring a brush to clean the sand off your feet before you climb.
  • Tides, sun and rain can stop you climbing on the crags you want. The books will tell you what’s in the shade when. Plan your chosen crag with the tide (Google) as some can only be approached in low tide, more importantly plan your return so your gear doesn’t get wet and you don’t cut your feet on sharp rock. If it’s light rain a lot of the crags are slightly protected with overhangs, The Eagle Wall, Nest and Wild Kingdom are the safest bet.
  • If you’re rope is at the end of its life, or you just don’t want to lug it home, donate it to Base Camp who are the most active in rebolting. They use it for slings and rebolting efforts. They also have the Thaitanium Project which funds the rebolting of the routes in Titanium.
  • Mosquitos – they are everywhere and you’ll quickly learn the times that are worse. We recommend stocking up on mosquito coils in Ao Nang as they are cheaper there. We go through a pack every 3 days. All rooms have mosquito nets but we also light a new coil before we go to sleep which keeps us bite free until morning.
  • Open wounds/cuts are particularly susceptible to infection on Tonsai, particularly because it’s hard to keep it dry. Regularly treat it with Betadine and keep a close eye on even the smallest cut. Suggest checking into Tonsai Bay Resort if wounds aren’t closing, the aircon will aid the healing. Furthermore, open blisters or cuts on the feet might get you the Cutaneous Larva Migrans (an itchy, painfull but not dangerous hookworm).
  • There are no ATM’s on Tonsai but plenty on Railey. Take your ATM card with you when you’re climbing in Railey so you don’t have to go on your rest day. Or stock up in Ao Nang before you come. There is a money exchange but we’ve never used it. We doubt the rates are in your favour as there is not much competition and volume for the exchange.

How to Get from Tonsai to Railey

You’re going to be spending at least a few days on Railey and there are actually four ways to get from Tonsai to Railey by foot

  1. If the tide is super low you can walk directly from beach to beach without cutting through the jungle. Be very careful on the sharp and slippery rocks. This way only takes 10 minutes.
  2. If the tide is about shin deep while walking past Tonsai roof then you can take the lower jungle path, so turn right after Tyrolean wall. This way takes about 15 minutes.
  3. If the tide is above knee deep while walking past Tonsai roof then there will be a good chance that your gear/rope will get wet or you cut yourself on sharp rocks when exiting the jungle onto Railey West beach. In this case keep going straight up after Tyrolean wall. This way takes about 20 minutes.
  4. The path going past Mama’s Chicken and Country side Resort will eventually bring you out near Diamond Cave in Railey. We don’t recommend this path as you will get attacked by mosquitos and it takes at least 40 mins.

Tip : The best public toilet on Railey is on the left after the main street, just before the path splits, it’s opposite a bench which says no smoking. It’s actually the hotel toilet for the restaurant but nobody cares who uses it. It’s great for a last minute stop before you get to the crag.

Chalk, Gear & Guides

A 70 meter rope, 12 quick draws + 2 long draws, prussik, anchor chain and belay device should be all the gear you need.

There are two climbing shops on Tonsai, Base Camp and the Rock Shop and plenty more in Railey. Gear is generally more expensive to buy than in Europe and the US so try to bring everything yourself. Rope is about 400 Baht a day to rent. Remember you’re in Thailand so bargaining is allowed, especially for multiple days. It is also very easy and great to get a guide

You’re going to sweat like crazy so bring lots of chalk. Liquid chalk wouldn’t hurt either.

Deep Water Solo (DWS)

DWS is great here, climbing is not too difficult and a good 6a climber can easily get to 15 meters, 6b and above as high as you dare to fall from! If you are going to go with a guide we recommend Base Camp, who run half day trips.

It is easy and cheaper with enough people to just get a boat man to take you out. Tell them Deep Water Solo and they will know where to go. Just remember to go at high tide and also try and always have one person on the boat watching the jumper.

Plan ahead so your next day is a rest day, then your shoes can dry.

Accommodation

There are about 15 different places to stay on Tonsai starting at 100 THB in low season for a shared room at the top of the hill. Most of the places have similar style of accommodation

  • Basic bamboo hut
  • Wooden sealed hut
  • Concrete room

Best thing to do is walk around and have a look. Here is an example of the prices

Paasook Resort Prices

The main resort is Tonsai Bay Resort which has power, aircon, wifi 24/7 and breakfast included. It’s expensive and I’ve never stayed there but looks nice.

We have always stayed at Pasook as the staff are super friendly and it’s right next to a couple of crags, The Nest and Wild Kingdom.

Generally you can negotiate prices in the low season, in the high season prices are fixed and may be booked up quickly.

Alternatively there are several unofficial spots to camp either on the beach or further down behind the beach where the base jumpers entrance is. Eagle wall would also be a great camping spot. Beware thefts have occurred.

Power & Wifi

Most places only have power from 6pm – 6am and one plug socket. There are exceptions, especially further up the path and also at Tonsai Bay Resort.

Adequate Wifi is common at all the bars and restaurants, 24/7.

Food & Water

Water is not safe to drink. We recommend bringing your own 2 litre bottle and then buying the big 15 litre bottles. You’ll see them in the kitchens of most restaurants, if they aren’t selling them in the minimarts then ask around at the restaurants. It’s normal to ask for a deposit for the bottle itself. Expect to go through at least 3 litres a day

There are multiple restaurants around, you can’t miss them. Tonsai is a good place for vegetarians as most restaurants offer enough vegetarian options. Our favourites are

Sao Legacy – large portions and the banana chocolate pancakes are the best

Mama’s Chicken – infamous among climbers, always a great vibe here and has the best BBQ chicken

Sweet Monkey – a bit more expensive but expect the best homemade Italian food in Thailand

You’ll likely get an upset tummy at least once!

Illustration at Tonsai Wall

Our Favourite Climbs

5 – ‘Groove Tube’ on Fire Wall, yes we know it is graded as a 6a but it’s really easy and a classic that everybody should do. Make sure you go through the hole at the start.

6a – ‘Spiderman’ on Eagle Wall, paradise like approach and nice long climb.

6b – ‘Monkey Love’ on Thaiwand Wall, unique climbing through tufas and nice views.

6c – ‘Best route in Minnesota’ on Esher Wall, polished start but amazing line and great views from the top. Ideally with an additonal spotter, spot anyone towards the ground AND the rock behind if they second up/toprope.

7a+ – ‘Burnt Offerings’ on Fire Wall, get the classic Tonsai picture. Beautiful route through the cave into a tricky crux to get out onto a bouldery finish.

Pyn on ‘Burnt Offerings’ on Fire Wall

7b – ‘Cross eyed’ on Firewall, some of the best face climbing with great views as standard.

Multipitch

‘Heart Of Darkness’ on Cat Wall, pretty sure it’s the highest you can get on that side of Tonsai. 5 pitches of awesome overhanging pump with an cool bit where you thread through a group of stalagtites. Pain to rappel down as you have to back clip every pitch.

‘Humanality’ next to Freedom Bar, it’s a classic but really just for the 2nd to last pitch. Try not to talk to anyone about the crux before you go.

Thaiwand Wall, we haven’t done a multipitch here but I’ve heard the views are incredible.

‘Ao Nang Tower’, get a kayak and go for an adventure. Can be a bit noisy with all the boats going past and unfortunately ends with hanging belay. As of March 2017 some kind Germans put a fixed line on the last pitch so you don’t have to get your rope wet rappeling down the last pitch.

What to Do on Your Rest Day

Yoga – there is usually a yoga class in the morning and evening. Next to Pasook resort.

Railey Lagoon and View point – go during high tide otherwise all you’ll see is a muddy pool. Going in flip flops is possible, shoes would be better. If it’s been raining expect it to be very muddy!

The Lagoon on High Tide

Kayaking – We don’t like getting wet so I can’t really comment on this but a lot of people enjoy it.

Phra Nang Beach – Voted in the top ten best beaches in the world. Has a Penis Shrine (Princess Cave) and amazing views. Best to go super early or expect it to be very busy with annoying day trippers.

Cave and Rappel – There is a cave you can walk through between Escher Wall and Thaiwand Wall. Best to approach from Escher wall and then rappel onto Thaiwand Wall. You will need head torches, look for the ladders when you’re inside the cave.

Slack Lining & High Lining – There a few short lines in the bars to keep you occupied, otherwise the long lines and high lines are very much dependent on who is around.

Weed & Mushrooms – self explanatory

 

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