Rock climbing and Thailand may not be things that are linked in your mind, but Railay, near Krabi in southern Thailand, is a centre that attracts climbers from all over the world, from beginners to experts. Railay is an isthmus, reached by long-tail boat, with towering cliffs falling into the perfectly clear turquoise Andaman Sea. Mangroves and mud flats hug the coastline.
Rock Climbing Schools
There are several climbing schools offering a range of courses, from half-day to three-day or more, and prices normally include not only all equipment hire – ropes, harnesses, bolts, chocks and packs of chalk (to help hands grip slippery rocks) – but also climbing boots. The instructors are highly skilled; some are even recognised champions at the sport. Ribboning up the cliffs are more than 700 bolted rock-climbing routes, all put up since the 1980s, capable of providing practice and training to climbers at all levels of skill.
The cliffs vary in height, beginners being gently eased in on a cliff a mere 50 metres tall. No doubt about it, however, rock climbing is counter-intuitive and requires not only strength and agility but also gritty determination. Jamming your fingers into a small crack or clinging on to a tiny ledge and then taking pretty much your entire body weight on your hands is not something that comes naturally to most people. Fear of heights is another contra-indicator: if you're not happy on the top deck of a Channel ferry, it is possible you'll balk at being virtually self-supporting some metres off the ground.
Views Of A Mountaineer
It doesn't always follow, however. The late great Eric Shipton, who in the 1930s and 1940s was Britain's number one mountaineer, said that he felt uncomfortable looking over the viewing ledge of a skyscraper but thought nothing of teetering on the edge of a mountainside infinitely higher. Why might this be? He couldn't explain it. Perhaps it's because when you climb a rock or a mountain, you familiarise yourself with it; you make it, in a sense, your own; you know where its difficulties lie. Nothing of the sort with a building, especially if you have whizzed to the top in a high-speed lift.
Climb Or Watch
So, back to Thailand. With expert instructors and a perfect array of safety equipment, the worst that can happen to a wary beginner is being made to feel a bit inadequate. But if you do, you'll be in good company, because there are lots of people who go to this secluded haven not to climb but just to watch. And there are plenty of nice places to do it from – beach hut hotels and small restaurants on and around the beach.
You can get to Railay by flying non-stop from Heathrow to Bangkok and then take another flight to Krabi, from where it's a short and inexpensive ride on a longboat.