One of the main things that draws outdoor enthusiasts to Railay, Thailand is the rock climbing and beaches. After finishing the Great Himalaya Trail a few weeks ago, I really just wanted to keep traveling and relax… But not relax too much, since I pretty much have to be able to do some type of outdoor sport to be happy.
Upon arrival in Thailand, I spent two nights in Bangkok. I was expecting the country to be somewhat similar to Nepal in terms of infrastructure, but I was in for a pleasant surprise when I arrived. The roads I’ve experienced thus far are similar to the States, I can look up bus schedules online, Uber is a thing here, and the internet is actually reliable. It’s a stark contrast to what I became accustomed to in Nepal. Traveling around Thailand is far easier, although less adventurous.
Gearing up in Ao Nang
From Bangkok, I took a twelve hour bus ride to Ao Nang, a beach town in the Krabi district. All of my climbing gear is in the States, since I didn’t know I would be coming to Thailand after the Great Himalaya Trail. I decided to just suck it up and buy all of my personal gear. After doing the math, I figured out that if I climbed seven times before I went home I would break even on the cost of buying versus renting gear.
I went to Ao Nang’s climbing shop and school, Real Rocks, to gear up. They didn’t have a huge selection, but I managed to find shoes that fit. The total cost for all of my gear (harness, climbing shoes, ATC, and chalk bag) was about $150. Not a bad deal. Finally, I was ready to make my way to Railay Beach.
Railay is only accessible by boat. For 100 baht (about $3), I bought a ticket on a long tail boat and joined the group of fellow tourists who were headed there for the day. I didn’t know how bumpy and wet the ride would be, so I took a seat in the front row. The boat bounced over every wave, and I repeatedly got splashed. I was happy my Granite Gear pack I’m traveling with is waterproof.
Railay versus Tonsai
Railay is the main beach. Tonsai is technically a part of Railay. It is is a smaller town that can be reached via a fifteen minute hike through the jungle. However, after the other passengers hopped off in Railay, I had the boat driver take me to the Tonsai side. Tonsai is known as the more laid back and affordable of the two. Both sides have rock climbing.
Upon arrival in Tonsai, I waded through the water to reach the beach. It was a short walk to reach the village, and I claimed a hostel bed at Chill Out. After just a few hours in town, I was happy with my decision to stay on the Tonsai side. There were far fewer people than had been at Railay. Chill Out had a hangout area that was a good place to socialize, eat banana Nutella pancakes, and use the wifi.
After getting settled in, it was time to begin my search for rock climbing partners. I was visiting during off season, so I wasn’t sure how many climbers would be around or if rainy season would allow for much climbing.
Rock Climbing Railay
I did not have to search long for someone to climb with. I was having breakfast at the Green Restaurant with some girls from my hostel when another girl walked over. “Are any of you guys climbers?”
I said I was, and we began to iron out the details. Neither of us had a rope or quick draws, so we agreed to split the cost of rentals. I don’t lead climb, but my new friend Demi said that she would do it as long as I could lead belay. Unfortunately, it rained for most of the day. We had to delay our climbing plans.
The next morning, we went to the Rock Shop to rent a rope and draws. Then we made the walk through the jungle to get to the Railay side, where many of the easier rock climbing routes are. First we climbed at Diamond Cave. It was exciting to go rock climbing again after after so many months away. Demi led a few routes and I top roped. My arms were sore by the third climb after six months of no climbing. We took a smoothie break in the shade, then went to the other side of the beach to climb on the 1-2-3 wall. Eventually the rain came along and forced us to quit for the day.
Two days later, we spent an afternoon at Firewall on the Tonsai side. Firewall is home to a route called the Groove Tube. It’s 100 feet a climb through a semi-circle tube formation in the rock. It was so much fun and is now my favorite route in Railay.
Unfortunately, Demi was leaving Tonsai that day, thus ending our climbing partnership. However, we met two Aussie guys at Firewall, and they invited me to climb with them in the future.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
It rained for several days, and I didn’t get much opportunity to go rock climbing or enjoy the beach. That is the risk of visiting Thailand during rainy season. I decided to start making plans to head to Northern Thailand to the city of Chiang Mai. I had planned on taking the bus, but I found out it would be a 24 hour journey and cost $40. For $70 I could fly directly from the nearby Krabi airport and be there in two hours. I decided to fly and booked a ticket for the following week.
As if by magic, after I bought my plane ticket the sun came out and the weather was perfect for the rest of the week.
I began making afternoon trips to Railay beach. The Tonsai beach is nice and uncrowded, but there’s so many rocks in the water that swimming is unpleasant. Plus, I enjoyed making the short walk through the jungle to get to the nicer of the beaches.
I have never really been too enthusiastic to visit beaches and never understood why everyone else seems to like it so much. It’s in part because I’m bad at relaxing and doing nothing. I feel better after doing something productive. However, I was determined to figure out what all the hype was about and try to make myself relax by force.
With good weather on my side, I made a daily afternoon journey to the beach. I would spend some time floating in the Andaman Sea then lay on my towel and read Game of Thrones. By the end of the week, I actually looked forward to my afternoon relaxation ritual.
I also met up with one of the Aussie guys to get in one last rock climbing session before I left Tonsai. This time we did the Muay Thai wall at Railay. After so much sunshine and fun, I was kicking myself for buying a plane ticket to Chiang Mai.
Rock Climbing Railay Logistics
Railay has a reputation for having a lot of hard rock climbing routes, which can seem intimidating to beginners. While it’s true that there’s lots of higher level stuff, there’s also plenty of beginner stuff. One guide book said that Railay has over 500 routes, and a climbing guide told me there’s actually 1000 routes. Rock climbers of all levels will stay entertained and challenged here.
If you just want to go out for a day and you haven’t climbed much before, I would suggest going with a guide. There are several climbing schools to choose from who will set you up with everything you need. The cost is about $45 for a day. However, if you plan on climbing a lot, it will get expensive to climb with a guide every time.
Once you arrive in Tonsai, it’s easy to meet other rock climbers and make friends. If your intention is to befriend other climbers, stay on the Tonsai side. That’s where most of the climbers congregate.
As far as gear goes, there are a few shops in town that will rent stuff out. Get it from a Tonsai shop because rentals are priced lower than the Railay shops. They do half day and full day rentals. Check out the Rock Shop’s rental page for a full list of the prices you can expect to pay. If you are planning on climbing a lot, it might be worth it to buy your own personal gear in Ao Nang or Krabi.
Shout Out to my Best Gear
- My Kavu bag has been an awesome travel companion because of how versatile it is. I store my laptop and notebook in it when I go to the coffee shop to work. I bring it to the beach with my towel and Kindle. When I’m going rock climbing I carry my harness and chalk bag inside of it and clip my shoes to the strap. And it’s generally a cute bag to carry around.
- Having a Granite Gear pack has been key because it’s waterproof. None of my stuff got wet when I was riding long tail boats in the south and getting splashed. And it’s rainy season in Thailand right now, so I often get rained on when I’m moving between hostels and traveling between places.
I know I usually only blog about hiking, but I decided to branch out to talk about my Thailand travels. Leave me some comments to let me know what you think. More travel posts? Only hiking posts? What do y’all want to read?
***This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.