The Best Rock Climbing in Ton Sai, Thailand
Krabi, the southern state of Thailand where most of Asia’s world class climbing can be found, has been the highlight of Thailand’s beach scene for years. But for those of us who are always thinking of the next dream line, Ton Sai is where the real action is. Hidden between towering limestone cliffs, this tropical utopia is almost exclusively populated by climbers who have come from far and wide to test themselves on some of the best rock in Asia.
It’s not hard to see why Ton Sai has been Asia’s climbing mecca for decades. Towering limestone walls, white sandy beaches, and an abundance of beach bars all await. With over 700 bolted sport routes, there’s an endless number of projects to keep you busy here. It won’t take you long to strike up a conversation with a fellow climber who has been returning to Southern Thailand every season for another chance to bag a dreamy Ton Sai line. You might even bump into some climbers who have been taking a pilgrimage here for decades.
Apart from the perfect limestone walls and endless supply of stalactites and stalagmites, the friendly community and peaceful atmosphere all contribute to making Ton Sai a world class climbing destination.
This climbing paradise is sandwiched between Railay and Ao Nang, two of Krabi’s tourist hotspots, so don’t be surprised to meet plenty of fellow adventurers. The downside to all this climbing is that the most popular routes are now super polished, so be prepared for a slip or two.
Specific Description of Climbing Style
Sport climbing is the name of the game. From the second you jump off the longboat – which is the only way to access both Ton Sai and Railay – you are faced with an overwhelming choice of perfect limestone sport climbs right on the beach.
Ton Sai Roof and Wall is the first crag that will catch your attention. Before your feet even touch the sand, you will notice short, overhanging routes tempting you from across the beach. Sport routes start at 5c and go up to 8c+, the highest grade in Thailand. There’s also plenty of multi-pitching to sink your teeth into, including Lord of the Thais (7b), which is considered one of the best multi-pitches in the world.
One of the main reasons I went to Thailand was to experience some of the world-class deep-water soloing. In all honesty, the DWS scene isn’t what it used to be. Due to an unfortunate death caused by a massive belly flop (yes, seriously), the Thai government has banned DWS in all their national parks. That said, there are still a few companies (like Basecamp Ton Sai) that still run DWS trips to the few areas that are still classed as suitable.
There isn’t much bouldering up for grabs in Ton Sai. The Temple, an amazing 100ft limestone cave, is the main spot. There is a range of bouldering problems, traverses and endless link up opportunities with a total of about 20 to 30 routes that range from V2 to V11. There isn’t a huge amount of information online about The Temple but this article has some great information on bouldering in Ton Sai that definitely helped me.
Since Wi-Fi and electricity isn’t always easy to find, it’s a good idea to grab a hard copy guidebook. You can find the latest one here.
If a climbing trip to Krabi is on your bucket list, you should ideally plan a trip between November and March. February is the optimal month to go. Going during Thailand’s dry season ensures lower humidity and fewer rainy days.
Southeast Asia is always humid, and the temperature generally stays between 25 to 35°C all year round, so don’t expect perfect sending conditions. The obvious bonuses and pitfalls of going anywhere during peak season also apply. Be prepared for busier crags, higher prices and more parties.
If you want to take a gamble during the off season, there’s a few things you need to know. Try your chances of going in April or October and you may be in luck. The days can be sunny but don’t be surprised if there is a tropical storm or two in the afternoon. However, between April and October there’s no electricity during the day. The generators are only turned on between 6 PM – 6 AM.
Climbing Grade Range
While Ton Sai is known for its dreamy 7b+ lines, climbers looking for more humble grades shouldn’t be put off. It’s certainly not unusual to spot beginners pumped on their first climbing adventure. While grading in Ton Sai starts at 5c, there are plenty of 5+ beginner friendly routes in Railay just a stone’s throw away.
If you are a seasoned climber and looking to get some serious sends under your belt, it won’t be long before a dreamy project entices you. If you are feeling brave, the hardest route in Ton Sai is Greed, an 8c+ minefield of mono pockets and heinous crimps.
Best Local Spot
Two words – Mama Chicken. This family run restaurant is hidden in the backstreets of Ton Sai and is unquestionably one of the best stops to grab a bite to eat after a long day climbing. Even before my first trip to Thailand, I had heard several fellow travelers preaching the good word of Mama Chicken. Don’t let the plastic tables and chairs outside this family’s house deceive you into thinking this is a second-rate restaurant. Make sure to try the chicken burger – you won’t be disappointed!
If you are in the mood for a wholesome breakfast before a long day on the rock, Green Valley is another popular choice. Reasonably priced dishes and good-sized portions are music to the ears of cheapskate backpackers like me. They also make an excellent Thai Green Curry.
Top Climbs in the Area
Greed (8c) : Already mentioned in this article, but since it’s the hardest climb in the country it’s worthy of a second mention!
Humanality (6b+): Another popular route right on the beach. A classic 5-pitcher on Ton Sai Wall, right next to Freedom Bar. Prepare for a bit of exposure on the third pitch.
Related Post: Free Solo and Base Jump from Humanality
The Grove Tube (6a): One of the easiest and most popular routes. Found on the Fire Wall, this 2-pitch climb is graded at 6a but is generally regarded as a 5c.
Viking in Heat (6c): A nice climb to start your day. Head up the ladder beside Freedom Bar to the start of the climb. 6 bolts that become increasingly overhung.
Wake and Bake (7a+): A nice 7 bolt crack climb on Dum’s Kitchen, follow the obvious crack up the wall.
Tidal Wave (7b+): A short powerful route on Ton Sai Roof. Move fast through this pumpy climb but take care, the route is well polished.
Superstitious Wildboy (V11): The joint-hardest boulder in The Temple, this roof boulder takes you from a sit start on two small crimps over the massive roof section.
Roofrocker (V11): A massive traverse mixed with slopers and small crimps that covers half the cave.
Touchy Hely (V5): A nice boulder problem for intermediate climbers. A powerful roof climb with nice deep pockets.
Where to stay?
Camping isn’t allowed in Ton Sai, but between the humidity, insects and monkeys you probably wouldn’t want to pitch a tent even if you could.
If money’s tight, there’s plenty of basic huts around for about $10 a night. Don’t expect this to be a luxurious experience, however, as most huts have little more than a tin roof, a few planks of wood, and a mosquito net. If you don’t mind roughing it a bit stay at ‘Chilled Out’. Their prices are cheap and the unique setting and friendly staff more than make up for what the accommodation lacks.
If you enjoy the finer things in life, you will probably want to stay at Ton Sai Bay Resort. This hotel opened a few years ago and offers a variety of more luxurious bungalows and private hotel rooms. It has a private path to the beach along with a climbing shop and general store. It also has free Wi-Fi all day which is a real bonus.
Best Kept Secret
You don’t have to go far to find a slackline around these parts. The chances are you will notice a few lines dotted around the beach. Whether you fancy a shot yourself or want to be horrified by a slacklining/fire breathing hybrid show at a local bar, you can do it all in Ton Sai.
Getting to this beach paradise is probably easier than you think. For most of us, the easiest way to get to Ton Sai starts with getting a flight to Krabi Airport. Flights from Bangkok take 90 minutes and usually cost about $20.
From the airport you can make your way to Ao Nang via taxi or minivan. Ao Nang is about 30 km from the airport and it’s surprisingly accessible. You can book a taxi inside the airport from one of the many travel companies. Once you have paid, you will be taken to a driver who is waiting outside. The taxi should cost around 600 baht and the drive will be about 30 minutes.
If you are trying to stick to a budget, the cheaper alternative is to take a minivan. Like a taxi, these minivans will drop you at your hostel or, if you are heading straight to Ton Sai, it will drop you at Ao Nang beach. Similar to getting a taxi, you will notice the ticket booths when you come out of the arrival hall. You can buy a ticket for 150 baht per person. More people means more stops, however, so don’t be surprised if the journey takes an hour or so.
Once you get to Ao Nang beach, the last step is to get a boat over to Ton Sai. To get the longboat, just head to one of the tourist information stands near the beach. You can buy a one-way ticket for 100 baht. There is no set leaving time and the boat only leaves once it’s full, so be prepared for a short wait. Be warned, getting on and off the longboat is a little challenging, especially if you are carrying a backpack. Be ready to wade out to the boat and climb into the traditional Thai longboat. Once the longboat is ready to leave, the journey to Ton Sai takes no longer than 10 minutes.
It’s also worth remembering that, depending on when you go to Ton Sai, there might not be electricity on the island during the day. Most of the bigger hotels – like the Ton Sai Bay Resort – will have electricity and Wi-Fi throughout the day during peak season. However, even during peak season, it’s not uncommon for businesses to turn their generators off, so be prepared for a spontaneous digital detox or two.
If Ton Sai sounds like your sort of place, I would definitely recommend a trip and I promise you won’t be disappointed. If climbing isn’t your cup of tea, fear not, this secluded utopia is the perfect place to sit back, relax, and just watch the world go by.
Now to You
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