By now I hope I’ve convinced you that the beauty of Railay alone is reason enough to visit. But in reality, most travelers come here for something a little more adrenaline-pumping.
Railay is the undisputed Southeast Asian mecca for rock climbing. With routes ranging from beginner to advanced and plenty of climbing schools and experienced climbing buddies milling around, it’s a great spot for those at any level. While MM had had some indoor climbing experience in the past, I had next to none. But as an increasingly active and outdoorsy person (the former city girl in me weeps) I was giddy with excitement over this new adventure.
Based on a guidebook recommendation and a gut feeling, we signed up for a full day climbing course with Basecamp Tonsai. Due to the exhausting nature of the sport we opted to split it into two half days so that we could have a morning session, rest in the afternoon and get back to it the next day. I had originally been planning on signing on for a more comprehensive three day course but my budget had a good laugh at that idea.
We met at Basecamp the morning of our lesson, in which we’d learn how to safely top-rope climb across Railay’s famous limestone cliffs. Lessons are held at alternating walls around Railay so that long-term students continue to be challenged. We started at 1-2-3 Wall, a classic for beginners. The ground was crowded as different schools each with a herd of students shared the routes, but there was a good energy in the air and everyone was encouraging and positive while waiting.
When I started on what is basically the bunny slope of walls, I had this immediate feeling of oh shit. As usual I had enthusiastically signed on for something without thinking it through, and was now realizing that — weird! — it was quite nerve-wracking to scale a vertical cliff using sheer muscle power and the will to not look down.
Soon I was on to the more intermediate walls, and this is when the best thing that could have happened to me occurred — I overestimated a step and lost my footing, and felt myself fall off the wall and back towards what was sure to be a graceless and painful death.
But then something magical happened — the harness worked. My belayer held me tight, and I was able to rediscover my footing and continue up the wall unharmed. Once I had that trust in the rope, that it would protect me, I climbed with much more confidence and passion.
My favorite part of the first day? Looking at these photos and seeing muscles I didn’t know existed! And man would those muscles burn. I was told by other climbers to use my legs instead of my arms but I must not have listened very well because my forearms were on fire for days.
At the end of the morning session I was walking wobbly. Four hours is quite long and while a lot of waiting and watching is involved, the time that you are vertical is intense. My iPhone ate my notes from this day — don’t worry, we’ve had a word about this insubordination — I believe I did a total of five climbs in this session that included one beginner, two medium and two longer routes.
The scenery didn’t hurt either. What did hurt was my legs, who’s beautiful bruises I decided to share with you so that I’m always been honest about the true glamor of travel. It’s not always pretty.
On our final day of climbing (we took a full day off inbetween) I was still sore but reenergized and ready to get back on the walls and solidify the skills I had learned the first morning. The afternoon was much less crowded which I was grateful for. I stared off with some medium length climbs and pushed myself with gradually longer ones, which obviously required more stamina.
Then came what would be my final challenge. The guide pointed up as he hooked in my harness, and I couldn’t even see the top. “More than 30 meters, then a cave” he assured me, which from my basic grasp of the metric system would be 100 feet in the air! I’ll go 100 feet underwater without thinking twice about it, but I definitely questioned if I’d have the strength to get myself that same distance above sea level. If I could do this, I’d have conquered the day, I though.
And so I climbed. Occasionally I stopped to rest on a particularly stable foothold, but mostly I tried to press onward even as I lost sight of my belayer and his voice was just a tiny noise in the wind.
When I reached the top and hoisted myself into that cave, I could not have been higher. My muscles were shaking and I was out of breathe, but I felt on top of the world, and well, I kind of was! I shot what might be my most spazzed-out video clip to date and squealed with joy and hugged myself a bit, and then finally decided it was time for the fun part — belaying down! Though it seemed like an eternity, it only took me about twenty minutes to reach the top.
I was on Cloud 9 when I came down, and even more so when a group of top ropers asked me how long I’d been climbing and were shocked when I responded one day! I think I found a new sport and I can’t wait to return to Railay and give that three day course a try, or pick up my new-found hobby in some other lovely location around the globe. Though I’ve got to admit, Railay will be hard to top.
A one day lesson with Basecamp Tonsai cost 1,500 baht (around $45). While I felt safe with them I did long for more comprehensive instruction. From speaking with other students, it seems that those who took a three day course got more what I had been looking for, so beware that the one day class will be extremely basic.
Have you ever been rock climbing? Where did you do it? Tell me where to head next in the comments below!