Scale the Limestone Cliffs of South East Asia!
The unique landscape of South East Asia with its jagged limestone cliffs makes it a haven for rock climbing enthusiasts all over the world. Dating back to around 250 million years ago, the karst landscape of South East Asia is believed to have derived from an ancient coral reef system that stretched all across the region from China to Papua New Guinea. You can witness this spectacular topography in areas such as Guillin in China, Halong Bay in Vietnam, Vang Vieng in Northern Laos, Phang Nga Bay and of course Krabi in Southern Thailand. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, the opportunities for rock climbing are superb. There are some great rock climbing schools who can show you the ropes and give you advice on the best routes to climb in the area. In almost every region, be it Thailand, Laos or Vietnam, you will be rewarded with amazing views and friendly and professional instructors.
Where are the best places to rock climb in South East Asia?
One of the most popular locations to rock climb has to be Railay and Ton Sai in Krabi, on the East Coast of Southern Thailand. With bright white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters surrounded by towering limestone cliffs on all sides – rock climbing addicts will think they have died and gone to heaven here!
From first time climbers to hard-core experts, there are many different routes to suit all skill types. The scenery is incredible and the atmosphere is friendly as climbers spend days on the rocks and nights at many of the chilled out bars that play Reggae tunes into the night air.
There are enough routes to keep you busy for years – including beginner grade 5a’s up to the extremely challenging 8c’s.(Grading here by French System.) Beginners will likely start of on the walls ABC, Taiwand Wall and Diamond Cave and more experienced climbers will take on the likes of Generator Wall and Tyrolean Wall. One of the best things about Railay and Ton Sai is that you don’t have to be an expert climber to be rewarded with spectacular views!
Spectacular views of Railay Beach, Krabi
There are many excellent and professional rock climbing schools in the area, such as Sea Cliffs Rock Climbing, based in East Railaywho will take you out for a half day or full day climb. Suitable for beginners these types of courses will give you an introduction to rock climbing and you will be supervised at all times by a professional instructor. Most rock climbing schools offer either half day or full day courses and you will tackle around 3-4 climbs per half day with a partner.
There is also the opportunity to take longer courses that will teach you how to use your equipment safely and effectively, learn how to lead climb and multi-pitch. Some schools also offer Deep Water Soloing which is rock climbing without the safety of a rope! When you have completed your climb (presuming you don’t fall off before hand) you leap from the cliff and plunge into the deep sea below for an exhilarating finale!
Best Seasons to Rock Climb in Krabi:
December – March is the dry season and the most popular time to climb, being the safest season to go to guarantee the best weather. The months of November and April are pretty popular too and there is less chance of rain than the summer months. July-September is the official rainy season, with June and October being temperamental. However, prices for accommodation can be lower during June-October and often it only rains in the afternoons leaving the mornings free to climb!
An Idea of Prices:
- Half day rock climbing costs between 800-1000 baht
- Full day rock climbing costs 1,500-1,800 baht
- 3-day rock climbing course to learn all rope skills costs around 6,000 baht
- 5-day rock climbing course to learn how to lead climb costs around 8,000 baht
- Deep water soloing full day course costs between 800-1000 baht
Rock Climbing Schools in Krabi:
- Sea Cliffs Rock Climbing School, based in East Railay offers all different types of courses for beginners to more experienced climbers and will take you out alone or in small groups under the supervision of a professional climbing guide. You can also rent equipment here for the day.
Halong Bay & Cat Ba National Park, Northern Vietnam
With over 3,000 limestone monoliths scattered over an area of 1,500 kilometres, Halong Bay is regarded as one of the most beautiful seascapes on the planet and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The karsts of all different shapes and sizes were formed over 500 million years ago. Rising impossible out of emerald green waters, they just beckon to be climbed! However, it is only until recently that the area has opened up to rock climbers.
Half day and full day rock climbing courses will take you by boat out into the spectacular scenery of Halong Bay where you will arrive at a deserted beach to start your climb. Climbing areas in Halong Bay include Moody’s Beach, Offheimer’s Creation and Pyramid Cave. There are also areas to climb on coastal areas of Cat Ba Island itself such as the secluded Lien Minh Village.
For experienced climbers, there are also many opportunities to deep water solo in the area. Although the sport is just taking off here in this area of Vietnam, climbers are already dubbing Halong Bay as one of the best places on earth for deep water soloing!
Best Seasons to Rock Climb in Halong Bay:
It is possible to climb at any time of the year in Halong Bay as it is one of the areas of Vietnam which experiences some of the least rainfall in the country. May to June and September, October, November and December and are considered the best months to climb in Halong Bay, with clear skies, no rain and temperatures which are warm, but not too hot. January to April can get very cold, but if you don’t mind working up a sweat while you climb then this may be the time for you! July to August is the rainy season in Halong Bay with storms sometimes lasting a few days – although with many of the climbs sheltered it is still possible to climb during this time.
An Idea of Prices:
- Half day rock climbing costs around $30
- Full day rock climbing costs $50
- Deep water soloing full day course costs around $30
Rock Climbing Schools in Vietnam:
- Slo Pony Adventures, based on Cat Ba Island is a world of knowledge about climbing in Vietnam and offers rock climbing trips for half or full day in many areas of Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island.
Vang Vieng & Luang Prabang, Laos
Rock Climbing in Laos only began in 2002 when the government offered climbing permits to a small group of German and American climbers. Before 2005 it was difficult for fun climbers to scale the cliffs without an official permit issued by the Laos government which was often hard to get. Now, however it is possible for people to climb after paying a small fee of $5 to the climbing company, Green Discovery which has offices in both Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.
Although many backpackers head to Vang Vieng in Laos strictly for the buckets and the experience of tubing, there is fantastic opportunity of rock climbing here in this remarkable mountainous landscape! The area of Tham Nam Them offers many routes from 6a’s to 8a+’s and continues to be developed with sustainability and eco-tourism in mind. Gear rental, 1 day and 3-day courses are available.
Luang Prabang also offers opportunity for budding rock climbers. Gecko Mountain is located a 25 minute boat ride from Luang Prabang and offers many routes ranging from 5-8a+. The cliffs overlook the Mekong River as it meanders its way through the town and climbing offers wonderful views. There are 1 day and 3-day courses available which can be booked in the town through Green Discovery Travel Specialist. You can also rent full equipment for the day.
Elsewhere in Laos: Although Vang Vieng is the main centre for rock climbing, it is also possible to arrange rock climbing in Nong Khiaw and Muong Ngoi in far Northern Laos. There are also rumours that rock climbing is coming to the small town of Tha Kaek in Central Laos in 2011 – so watch this space! See Green Climbers Home for more information.
Best Seasons to Rock Climb in Laos:
The cool, dry season in Northern/Central Laos runs from November to February and offers some of the best weather conditions for climbers. From March to the beginning of May it gets pretty hot so climbers expect to shed a lot of sweat! Rainy season in Vang Vieng runs from May to October, but it is still possible to climb during this time as rain often falls only in the late afternoons in large timely. downpours.
An Idea of Prices:
- To rent equipment: Rope = $8 / Harness = $6 / Shoes = $6 / Set of quick draws & belay = $10 / Full set of gear for 2 people = $35
- 1 Full day rock climbing costs – TBC
- 3-Day rock climbing course – TBC
*Note: There is a climbing permit fee of $5 for all climbers in Laos.
Rock Climbing Schools in Vang Vieng:
- Green Discovery offers rock climbing courses and equipment rental in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang with a professional, eco-tourism approach.
Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand
Although not as popular as Krabi, Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand offers some great rock climbing routes at the beautiful Crazy Horse Buttress located about one hour’s drive from Chiang Mai city centre. For those traveller’s who want to avoid the crowds of South Thailand during the high season, Northern Thailand can be an excellent option! There are about 180 routes suitable for beginners or more experienced climbers. The majority of the climbs are 6a’s, with more challenging 7b’s and here that have all been developed with sustainablity in mind – many of which have been supervised by Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures and its owner Josh Morris. Full day trips can be organised from Chiang Mai which include transport to the site, lunch and hire of equipment.
Best Seasons to Rock Climb in Northern Thailand:
Although the weather in Thailand has been a little erratic of late, there are said to be three distinct seasons in Thailand. The cool, dry season, which is considered the best time for outdoor energetic pursuits such as climbing runs from the beginning of December through to the end of February. The hot season then begins from March to May where temperatures become as high as 40 C. The rainy season runs from the beginning of June to November where downpours are frequent and the atmosphere is humid. September is usually the wettest month. However, like in many parts of South East Asia during the rainy season – it is often still possible to climb in the mornings with storms coming usually in the afternoons.
An Idea of Prices (at CMRCA):
- Full day rock climbing course costs 2,500 baht
- 3-day course to learn the fundamentals of rock climbing costs 8,995 baht
Rock Climbing Schools in Chiang Mai:
- Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (CMRCA), located on Ratchipakinai Road in the old city of Chiang Mai offers many courses which include transport to Crazy Horse Buttress.
Less well-known than Chiang Mai, head just a few hours north to Chiang Rai for uninterrupted rock climbing and bare cliff faces.
An Idea of Prices:
- A full day climbing trip costs from 1,200 Baht per person, price drops to 700 Baht if you have two people, and continues to drop to 500 baht for a group of ten or more – so take some friends! (All prices quoted are those of Boomerang Rock Climbing and Adventure Park)
- Or a full day of activities, plus overnight camping, costs 1,500 baht per person, or 900 baht for two to nine people.
Rock Climbing Schools in Chiang Rai:
- Boomerang Rock Climbing and Adventure Park, situated just outside Chiang Rai in between two Buddha Caves. They offer activity days packed full of ‘top-rope’ routes, zip lines, caving and Asia’s biggest swing. Check out www.thailandrocks.com.