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.
Have you ever been rock climbing? Where did you do it? Tell me where to head next in the comments below!
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.
Check you out! Always up for kicking a challenge in its butt. I’ve only done indoor and rock wall climbing on cruise ships — it is a pretty nice view at the very top of the ship looking out over the endless sea. I feel all bad ass if I make it to the top, ha! It looks stunning up there, I’m sure you rocked those bruises proudly.
Ooooh! If I ever go on a cruise again I would be all over that! What a way to stay in shape at sea…
Wow looks fun! Except for the bruises…
Totally worth it for the Madonna-style arm muscles you get in exchange!
I did the 3-day course and I’m pretty sure it was the same place you did your course. I might head down there again when I go to Thailand in a month. Highly recommended!
I definitely wish I had done the 3 day course but oh well… something to return for!
– The best part of climbing is a free fall 🙂
– your legs look better underwater 🙂
– a cute video. cant beleive you’ve made it to the top 😉
Thank you and me neither! It was an amazing sense of accomplishment.
Looks like so much fun!!! If I ever go back to Railay, I’m going rock climbing. Just went climbing for the first time at Joshua Tree National Park a few weeks ago and loved it!
Amazing! I would love to try out more climbing when I’m stateside as well. I need to do more exploring in my own backyard!
Yeah, the arm muscles are really impressive! Looks like so much fun!
I can definitely see how this has becoming such a fitness craze in NYC. I felt so buff after a week of climbing!
OMG your beautiful legs!!!!!!!! Your arms are amazing btw.
Thanks! Now… if only they stayed that way! Muscles are just so hard won but so easy to fade away.
It’s so nice to hear the voice of the person behind the blog! 🙂 You should do more videos!
I’ve been rock-climbing twice, or so, but it’s been years and the only thing I really remember from the last time is thinking that I’m really not meant to climb. I think I just lack the physical stamina and coordination… I do love the idea of climbing, though, and admire people who actually have the strength to do it – both physically and mentally. So kudos on making that final climb! 🙂
Ha well like most of the population I hate hearing my voice on film! This particular clip just makes me laugh though because I can hear the adrenaline running through my voice! And thanks for the kudos… I definitely stopped to rest pretty frequently, but I was bursting with pride to make it in the end.
Love love love this post – I have always climbed a fair bit and there are a lot of sport routes where I love in the UK
I did a little climbing whilst in Thailand and have to agree the scenery at Railay was absolutely amazing 🙂
Oooh, I wouldn’t think of the UK as a climbing destination! I might be heading there in the fall for a little visit, I’ll have to look into it then!
Hahah, cutest video ever – you’re so excited! I can imagine trusting that rope must be like learning to trust your dive gear 🙂
That’s the perfect comparison Rika! And yes, I was feeling pretty darn proud of myself up there 🙂
What a great accomplishment, but your poor legs so bruised. Suppose it gets easier with practice.
And let’s face it… my general klutziness does not help! I’m sure others could achieve the same with much more elegance 🙂
No matter how much I climb, I still always bang up my knees.
What great views! I can’t wait–we arrive in Tonsai in a week. I’m stoked to get on those walls!
Climbing is a great sport and you can find it everywhere! This trip we’ve climbed in Chiang Mai, Nong Khiaw (Laos), and Cat Ba Island (Vietnam). There’s tons in the US as well. If you’re ever heading to western Canada, let me know and definitely climb in Squamish, right outside Vancouver!
Look at you Heather! I didn’t know you were such a climber. One of these days I am going to go back to Northern Vietnam… so I’ll have to add that to my to do list there.
I highly recommend Asia Outdoors on Cat Ba Island–very professional and friendly guides, great service, and very high safety standards. Climb on!
One question–can you tell me the name of the climb with the cave? I want to make sure we find it while we’re there. Thanks!
Hey Heather, I’m like 90% sure that it was 123 Wall! Enjoy!
Thanks! Looking forward to it!
This time it was really amazing to see you excited in Your video and so glad to see you in Video as have been just seeing and feeling your excitement in your pictures…I would appreciate if you put one such video in every blog of yours….!
Well, normally I’m too lazy to film videos. But they do make an occasional appearance 🙂
Awesome, you are in amazing shape!! For me, 40 years ago, yes….now, no. Nice earrings, too.
Unfortunately it doesn’t last! A few weeks away from the gym or physical activity and I’m back to mush. I miss those muscles right now!
I’ve gone indoor rock climbing a decent amount here in Richmond but nothing beats climbing outside! I was in Boquete, Panama two years ago and did some rock climbing there. It was really cool because the guy running the course is a world champion rock climber.
I remember my first time climbing and trying to use my arms to muscle up the route so I know how you must have been feeling the next day! Using legs is the way to go for sure.
As always, thanks for showcasing such fun things to do!
I kept hearing that “use your legs” advice, but its easier said than done! Will have to give it a try next time!
You are seriously inspiring me with all these amazing activities! I can’t wait to start looking out for more active things to do while I’m travelling next.
In fact I was in Sardinia over the weekend and saw some people stand up paddle boarding and so wanted to try it after reading about your experiences! Sadly they had their own boards so we couldn’t have a go…
p.s. I have only just begun commenting on other peoples blogs (I was a little shy!) and have just noticed that whenever I typed in my website URL I wasn’t putting a https:// in front of it! I am still so new to all this internet/blogging malarky!
You are too sweet Jade! And don’t sweat the blogging stuff… you’ll figure it out eventually 🙂
That’s awesome–nice job reaching the cave–that seems like quite the climb!! It looks like it was a lot of fun though. Would love to try it sometime. Railay looks like the perfect place for a first climb!
Thanks Jenna! It was the best place to start a rock climbing addiction…. add it to your list!
Yes I have! I will not call myself a climber though. I have tried indoor climbing and my first few tries of outdoor climbing is in Utah. I am from the Philippines and I’d say that this sport is still young here. I recently wrote about my experience as a beginner in rock climbing: https://bit.ly/1FU3JqM
Thanks for your blog!! I love looking at photos of women climbing, such an inspiration!
Thanks for this comment Odyssa… this inspires ME to get back into this at some point! I loved climbing, and it was such a good workout.
AMAZING!! I know I don’t “know” you so this may be weird to say, but I am so proud of you for that climb up to the cave!! Damn impressive girl!! Your posts are so inspiring, andddd Railay is officially on my travel list 🙂 Thanks for sharing!!
ps. – what camera did you use for photos/vid up in that cave?! I’m guessing you didn’t lug your dslr up the rocks??
Aw, thanks Emily! To be totally honest, I can’t remember what I did bring up there! I think it was my point and shoot, though, because yeah I can’t imagine I brought the dSLR up, ha!
Great article Alex and sorry I came to it so late. I spent a couple of weeks climbing in Tonsai later in 2013 and loved it. I’ve been fortunate to rock climb all over the globe and Railay/Tonsai is one of my fave places. It’s a pretty steep and intimidating place to start climbing though, so extra kudos.
Good choice of guides too. Elke and her crew at Basecamp Tonsai are awesome. She actually helped me get all my gear back after I had to leave on a medical emergency and spent 2 weeks in hospital (story here https://bit.ly/1PiV6ay ). Keep the stories and adventures coming. Thanks for sharing.
I’ve been itching to return to Tonsai ever since writing this post. It’s such a magical part of Thailand and I loved the climbing experience! I’ll never forget those views and what an exhilarating experience it all was.
Me too Alex!! After climbing there for a little over a week before I got sick, I felt like I was just starting to get in shape again. I just love that whole area and there’s many other fun things to do there too. If you’d like any suggestions on other places to climb and/or guides on your travels, let me know. I bet you would love climbing the Sugarloaf and the Corcovado when you’re in Rio next time. Climb up and take the tram down. Hang-gliding there too. So many amazing places out there!
Next time you are stateside go to Moab, UT. If you’ve ever been you know what the rock is like there and they have tons of climbing. 🙂
Utah is definitely on my list of states to go back to! Thanks for adding another reason to return!
Rock climbing looks like one great way to stay in shape. A little dangerous too, but I guess that adds to the thrill. Good pictures too.
I haven’t done it in ages but yes — you’d be crazy ripped if you did it regularly! Thanks for reading!
Just curious about pricing for the full day/ two half day climbing and if it makes a difference to buy ahead of time or just when you get there? Thanks!
Hey Donald! I’d check their website for current pricing since it’s now been quite some years since I was over there 🙂 Sorry I can’t be more helpful! Generally though, in Thailand, it’s better to book on arrival.