Rock climbing is much more than an activity on Railay beach, it is a passion. Climbers flock to this renowned site for the stunning limestone cliffs on both land and sea. Professional climbers from Europe and North America come here toting cameras seeking sponsorship and fame while the less individualistic Thai (and Malaysian) locals simply climb for the love of the sport. A visitor to Railay can sign up for many different climbing courses and excursions. Full-day, Half-day, 3 day, full belay, soloing and more.
There are also numerous places to climb without using a guide. My friends and I chose to do some very adventurous hiking/climbing when wendecided to seek out a secluded lagoon that we spotted on map of the area the day before. We took a short walk from our hotel to the vertical trailhead and began our ascent. Barefoot and shirtless, we were thinking this would be a quick 30 minute round trip. Thailand is notorious for a lack of signage or warnings (Dad you would be furious). Helmets? Waivers? Warning signs? Never. In Thailand common sense and luck determine your fate.
Despite not having a guide or harnesses, there are many spots where ropes have been secured for assistance to free climbers, however, the maintenance and slickness of these ropes are tricky variables. Danger be damned, we would not be thwarted, so up we went, using dirt, tree, root, rope and rock to pull ourselves to the top.
We came upon the first waypoint, a cliffside view of the entire Railay beach area…stunning.
But our quest was for the lagoon, so we continued. We walked along the rim of the precipice before we reached an obvious area for descent into what appeared to be our lagoon crater. There were no ropes here but the grade wasn’t quite vertical so down we went. We descended about 300 vertical feet into thick jungle only to find that at the bottom was nothing but swamp. “maybe it’s just low-tide for the lagoon”, we reasoned, and back up we went.
Upon reaching the top, I was feeling quite accomplished and worn out from renewing my climbing skills (Climbax of Asheville would be proud). As we took the trail back I chanced to take a small detour trail which upon further exploration, led to another giant yet deeper crater in the limestone and jungle. Peering down over the edge, I could see the blue-green waters of a lagoon! I called the boys over for a look at the more technical and treacherous climb down. Our egos would not be denied this lagoon, despite bare feet, slick mud and tired muscles.
What followed were about 10 adrenaline packed brushes with near death as we climbed down 3 vertical-plus overhangs with only our hands and bare feet and the occasional slippery knotted rope between life and a bone crushing fall. This descent was also about 300 feet, but much more rocky and vertical. I was the first down to gaze upon one of the most gorgeous sights I’ve ever seen, a blue lagoon, surrounded by caves and stalactites. It was circular and completely enclosed with a diameter of about 100 feet.
The more professional climbing experience I chose was deep water soloing with an outfit named Hot Rock Climbers. Deep water soloing involves climbing without harnesses (like we did the day before) however you are given proper climbing footwear, a guide and taken out to the limestone towers out in the deep waters of the Andaman sea.
There were a total of 6 of us that day, Travis, John and I and a couple from Portland as well as our guide, an Australian named Michael who has been living and climbing in Railay for years. Our long-tail boat took us out to several different island rock formations where we attached a short bamboo ladder to access some great climbing spots. (see Michael attaching one of the more challenging ladders).
We were ferried around to several of the rocky islands in the area, including, Poda, Chicken, Hong, and James Bond islands. At each stop we attached the ladder and started climbing. Once you made it to the top (or lost your grip) you fell into the deep waters below. Climbing and cliff jumping? This is soooo my bag baby! Below is a quick video of a fun traverse I tried, until I lost my grip and took a unexpected plunge.
We stopped for a fried rice lunch at a picturesque island beach and explored some inland caves which contained hoards of bats and guano (thank you Ace Ventura for introducing the word Guano into the vernacular of everyone in my generation). One of our group members from Portland (Bryan) explained that the acid rain reacts with the limestone to form the massive stalactites in an almost wax-like manner, that appear everywhere in this part of Thailand.
After lunch was more climbing and some snorkeling until we were dead tired. We all escaped the day without injury, aside from sore feet, hands and a small cut on my forehead that i received from bumping into a stalactite. We sipped cold Singha and Chang and reflected on the literal heights we reached that day as the long-tail boat ferried us back to Railay.
Here is a video of the highest and most exhilarating free climb/cliff jump ive ever done ( I was the only one of the group to do it).
I hope you all enjoy reading about this as much as I had fun doing it. I can imagine spending a good amount of time in Railay but alas I must move on to new adventures. As always, your comments and feedback are greatly appreciated. Hopefully I will make it to a larger city area sometime soon so that I can post longer videos as many have requested!