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[TR] Tonsai, Thailand - Various 1/1/2007

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Trip: Tonsai, Thailand - Various


Date: 1/1/2007


Trip Report:

With the weather beginning to show signs of improving here in the NW, and the hope of another outdoor season approaching, here is some climbing porn from the happiest place on earth, along with some info to help get you out there next winter. I was in Thailand for 3 weeks this last December and spent a week climbing at Tonsai/Railey. See also the Khao Jiin Lae TR in this same forum. This is part of some web pages that I put up about the area. See:




for more hot air.




Ao Nang Tower. Note the longtail boat at the base of the tower waiting for climbers. In the high-res version of this photo, you can see the actual climbers, but they're pretty hard to spot in this low res one.




Tonsai Bay is accessible only by long tail boat, usually taken from the town of Ao Nang. The big block on the right is Tonsai Wall, home of some pretty hard routes. The Tonsai Bay resort is just to the left of it.




The rock in Thailand is pretty featured, and climbing is definitely three dimensional. Here is Fire Wall home of the mandatory Groove Tube (6a).




There are a lot of guides for the area and a lot of people engage them to hang top ropes. One of the most popular areas for guided groups is the 123 and Muay Thai walls. There are a lot of moderate routes here (5-6a+) and there is a bunch of traffic. But, if you show up before 9 am, the air is cool and no one else is around.




Here a guide is leading a 6b at 123. I had climbed this same route earlier in the day, working really hard. The guide walked it.




123 can be a real zoo by the late morning.




Many of the routes start with a V1/V2 boulder problem. This one required two or three campus moves, and a hand from a guide for some.




In the distance is the Thaiwand, a massive formation that sports several multipitch bolted routes. There is excellent single pitch climbing on both sides of it.




Much of the climbing is rather overhung, but Tonsai Wall has some of the steepest around. Thaiwand in the distance.







There are some very powerful climbers that show up in the area, and they seem to congregate at Tonsai Wall and Dum's Kitchen.




I watched this guy work this route for about 15 minutes, never falling, never hanging on the rope.




What was really amazing wasn't his strength, but rather his foot work.




He was really slow and methodical, never seeming rushed or hurried or frantic.




At one point stopped climbing, feet wedged into the rock, and was able to rest while almost completely horizontal.




Here he is almost at the chains, about 15 minutes after starting.




Next to Tonsai Wall is Dum's Kitchen, which is less overhung but has stupidly hard, long routes on it.




The rock is slightly less featured and some of the easier routes on it are getting a little polished lower down. This one is, I think, a 6c+ or something like that. It follows the flake up, then blanks out for a while. The climber in the photo is almost to the chains.





From the Thaiwand, looking back toward Tonsai. The big wall is part of Tiger Wall, hard enough that we didn't even ponder trying routes there.




On the list of things to do, but not done, was an excellent 6 pitch bolted route called Humanality. It runs at 6b+ and comes directly out of the Tonsai Bay resort. It gets morning sun, so you need to be on it well before sunrise.




Tucked back away from Tonsai Bay is The Nest, where I found it appropriate to leave my initials in blood.




Some of my favorite climbing is on the Phra Nang side of the Thaiwand at a place called Escher World. You can climb here through the early afternoon, but after that the place gets hit with a lot of sun. Fun stuff, including an actual crack, a rarity for Thailand.




After climbing at Escher World, you can climb up through a cave into the Thaiwand and come out on the other side. Then, just rappel down. Several routes come right up to and around the cave, so be careful.




After 5 days of climbing, I needed something of a rest, so we went on a snorkelling trip to the local islands. You can hire boats to take you out to try to solo these limestone haystacks.




It was hard to imagine the rain and cold of a Washington winter at this moment.






You can also learn to dive in the area and there are plenty of places to rent kayaks as well.




There are a few objective hazards in the area. The monkeys are mostly well behaved, but keep your stuff close together, don't leave food out, and don't get too close.






Some Logistical Help


Getting there:

Fly into Bangkok and spend a couple of days getting over jet lag and seeing the mandatory tourist stuff. Catch a flight from Bangkok (book online, for example on 12Go airlines, about $40) to Krabi. From Krabi hire a taxi at the taxi stand in the airport (no choice) to Ao Nang (about $20). The taxi will drop you off at the long tail ticket shack, where you can catch a long tail to Tonsai, Railey, or Phra Nang for about $2.


Alternatively, you can fly directly to Phuket from Europe and then fly Phuket to Krabi. Or, you can take a bus to Krabi. Or, you can train part of the way and bus the rest of the way.


Where to Stay:

There is a lot of accomodation. You can stay at Tonsai (mostly dirt bag climbers), Railey East or West (more families, more posh, more money), or Phra Nang (pretty high end). Tonsai is pretty central and I'd stay there again for sure. It isn't a bad idea to make reservations and you can do this online. We stayed at the Tonsai Bay Resort, the poshest place in Tonsai. Cost was something like 2200 baht a night (about $60), including breakfast. There are cheaper places to stay, but I liked the air con, satellite TV, shower, etc, etc, that the place provided. The rumor was that a lot of the cheap places to stay were going to be taken down and a big, family resort put up.



There are two main ones:


Thailand: A Climbing Guide, by Sam Lightner Jr.


Rock Climbing in Thailand, by Wee Changrua and Elke Schmitz.


Both will get you around the area just fine. They disagree occasionally on route quality and difficulty and I would bring both of them. We tended to plan a day's climbing using the Lightner book, but carry the Changrua book during the day itself. For general transit and information about Thailand, I've found the Lonely Planet guide to be mostly accurate and helpful over my two trips to Thailand.



There are hundreds of routes and something for everyone. However, there are a lot of higher grade routes and the easier ones tend to get filled quickly by guides and their clients. Routes are on the French scale. I think there is a 4 somewhere. The easy routes (French 5 and 5+) and moderates (6a/a+/b) can get busy. But so can the higher end 7s. Here are some suggestions. The books have much, much more.


Diamond Cave - Lots of good 5 and 5+ routes. A good warm up place. Inland, so you can't see the water and away from food. Busy with guides and clients, but if you hit it before 9 am you'll have plenty of space. Keep the Jam, Man (6a, 20m) and No Name (6a+, 20 m) were fun.


Muay Thai and 123 - Tons of routes, but 123 can get especially zoo like. 123 is on the beach with Muay Thai in the forest next to it. Valentine (Muay Thai, 6a+, 17 m) and Samiboy (123, 6a+, 10m) were nice. But Make a Way (123, 6b, 25 m) and Massage Secrets (123, 6a+, 30 m) are not to be missed.


Thaiwand - Some day I'd like to give the Lord of the Thais (6 pitches, 7b) a run, but I'm nowhere close to being able to climb it. However, there are some excellent single pitch moderates at the base of the Thaiwand. These are frequently the first pitches of longer routes, so don't clog them, especially in the morning. The 5s here are harder than in other places. Monkey Love (6b, 25m) was especially fun, but long and pumpy (for me).


Fire and Cobra Walls - Excellent climbing here. Everyone says you can't leave without climbing the Groove Tube (6a, 30 m). This makes it a busy place where you might have a line. Instead, head out at 7 am and climb it without a line. The bouldery start looks harder than it actually is. After that, you're in a tube, stemming the whole way up, with a minor overhang to get around before the chains. It really is fun, but maybe a bit soft for its rating. Snake Whiskey (Cobra, 6a+, 25 m) is another stunner.


Not to be missed is Mai Pen Rae (The Defile, 6a+, 25m), which features a very un-Thailand like blank start. This might have been my favorite climb in the area and it doesn't seem to get a whole lot of traffic.


Another favorite was As Far as Sim (Escher World, 6a+, 15m), which combined some athleticism with technical world.


Guiding Services:

There are guides o'plenty and they all seem fairly nice. We didn't hire a guide, but if you don't feel like leading or bringing a rope and draws to Thailand, they are a good bet. They don't charge a whole lot and you don't have to arrange things much more in advance than the night before. Guides will also outfit you with shoes, harnass, etc, and show you around the area (i.e, take you to Diamond Cave, Muay Thai, and 123).



The winter time is a good time to go as it is less hot and rains much less than between, say, April and August. The high season isn't all that high as far as these things go. Many of the locals said the low season (April through August) is a great time to climb as there are few people.


When to climb:

If you climb early, though, you won't see many people. Many of the locals were shocked and refused to believe that we had put in several hours of climbing before returning for breakfast at 9 am. Some routes/walls get especially busy and it is a good idea to hit them early. Different walls get sun at different times of the day, and you'll want to climb only when they are in the shade. Walls that get morning sun can be comfortably climbed up to about 9 am. Typically we'd finish climbing around 4 pm and then lounge around, watching much better climbers work hard routes, or float in the Andaman, or drink beer. Most people seemed to start climbing around 9 or 10 am, took a long lunch break, and then climbed from 3 pm on up to nightfall.



You don't need a permit. Visas are free for Americans, Canadians, Aussies, Kiwis, and most Euros. Some people have to pay, though, to get in. Once in, you pay only for food and lodging. You can get a bungalow for as little as 500 baht at Tonsai, which is about $15, but you don't get a whole lot. The poshest place in Tonsai (Tonsai Bay Resort) runs 2200 baht for two people and includes breakfast. Food is more expensive than elsewhere in Thailand, but still very cheap. The more beer you drink (I drank a lot of it), the more you'll pay. Bottled water is cheap, and you'll drink a lot of it.



Well, they speak Thai in Thailand. However, most people in the Tonsai area that are directly involved with tourists speak enough English that communication isn't tough. The guides seem to speak respectable English also, though their vocabulary seems to consist mostly of "Left foot up! Right foot up!" Knowing some Thai helps and people appreciate you speaking it, even if you butcher it (and you will). Pick up a phrase book to learn some common things, like "Hello" and "Thank you".


Gear Notes:

Rope, draws, belay stuff, and a cheater. I'd bring 12-18 draws. If you're going after some of the multipitch routes, you might consider a skid lid and prussiks. Despite sweating a lot, I rarely used chalk. Don't bother with sunscreen, you'll just sweat it off. Instead, climb in the shade as much as possible. You can buy some gear at Wee's, but I'd bring whatever you need from home.


Approach Notes:

Most walls can be reached by short walks, though some are further out than others, depending on where you stay. From where we were, Tonsai Wall and Dum's Kitchen were a 2 minute walk, whereas the Defile and Escher World were more like 25 minutes.

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Sweet, my wife and I are heading there next winter. Thanks for the stoke :tup:

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That is great info on Thailand. Thanks a lot. I like your recommendations of things to do and how much stuff is generally.



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That is great info on Thailand. Thanks a lot. I like your recommendations of things to do and how much stuff is generally.



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Damn. Given the current weather situation this is a BRUTAL post. My wife just went skiing in the rain with a trash bag over her coat. We both just sat here with our mouths agape at your pictures and thought, ahh Thailand....


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Yup, I thought this would be difficult for people. I spent Saturday and Sunday in the rain (14 straight hours on Sat!) at Snoqualmie Pass. Sweer Thai rock was thought about rather alot.

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Excellent! How were the crowds and beach parties? We were there in November and they were a bit out of control... made it hard to sleep at night.

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Our hut was set back from the beach, so at night it was pretty quiet. Around 8 or so there would be various fire swingers out and parties were ramping up, but by 11 I was generally asleep. There were some crowds on the various walls, but as we climbed a lot in the early morning, we had a lot of space to ourselves. By the afternoon, some areas were a bit zoo like, but even then it wasn't too bad, especially as we were at the end of our day and didn't mind laying around chatting with others as we waited for groups to get off of routes.

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