In early January we had our first friend from home come to visit us in Thailand! Hooray! Mackenzie is my old climbing and hiking buddy from San Diego. She’s a natural adventurer and in super great shape– she’s basically Superwoman! I knew she would love Thailand, and I guessed correctly that the world famous rock-climbing peninsula of Railay Beach and Tonsai Beach would be her favorite spot!
Coming back to Railay after our previous quick visit last October was a great opportunity to go straight to the climbing routes we knew we could tackle, and to fly our brand new drone! Yes, that’s right, we bit the bullet and purchased a DJI Mavic Pro. Get ready for some next-level travel videos as we’ll now be adding drone footage of every destination video we make from here on out!
We stayed in Tonsai Bay on this trip, which is the super-hippy Burning Man-esque village on the beach full of dirtbag climbers, reggae bars built out of driftwood, cheap/sketchy Thai food, and fire-spinning slackline shows!
Here’s a 10-minute vlog all about our adventures with Mackenzie in Railay and Tonsai! We think it’ll give you a sense of how laid-back and beautiful this peninsula is! And we hope you’ll notice we got better at climbing! We even crushed a 5.10a!
Ahh, yes, the infamous “Penis Cave”. As I explained in the video, this cave has been filled with phallus figurines by locals as a way of summoning both fertility and success in fishing! No disrespect to Thai beliefs intended, but it’s definitely a unique site and a hilarious place to visit!
It was great to feel way more comfortable on the walls of Railay and Tonsai! And we always feel at home in the hippy vibe of Tonsai Beach so we can’t wait to come back for another visit!
After a wonderful time in Penang, Malaysia we bought a van ride to Krabi, Thailand for Thai climb time! For 60 Ringgit each we were speeding across the bridge from Penang back into mainland Malaysia before dawn. The van trips are cheaper and faster than the bus, and they take you across the border which is convenient. You can charter the vans at most hotels and hostels. The border crossing was quick and easy. We got a visa stamp for 30 days on arrival and no one asked for our onward ticket. About onward tickets: every country officially requires them but they are rarely asked for. The only time they generally ask is when you check in for an international flight, but when you cross into a country by land they rarely ask. Our new trick is to screen shot an old flight itinerary and simply change the date on Photoshop to sometime within the visa requirements.
Our van stopped at Hat Yai, the first city in southern Thailand. We had to change vans there so had a break to get some Thai Baht (33 Baht = $1USD) out of an ATM and grab a few snacks. Hat Yai is generally not the best city for tourists, so we didn’t plan to linger. We’ve heard its very popular for Malaysians who like to party and enjoy the lax prostitution laws. Not really our scene though.
A little after 1pm we rolled into the Krabi main bus terminal excited for the next day’s Thai climb time. From there we got a “sŏng tăew“, a cheap pickup truck shared taxi where you sit in the covered truck bed on benches along the side. It’s a fun and cheap way to get around, charging about 1/3 of the regular taxi price. We got our first views of the amazing cliffs that we came here to see, green tops dropping sharply into the ocean and rivers. We got off at Khong Kha Pier where longtail boats depart for Railay Beach whenever six people are ready to go. It costs 150 Baht per person and took about 45 minutes to get out to the beach.
Once on the boat we of course had to stop for gas, then after the gas run the boat wouldn’t start and we almost got stuck drifting under a pier for a moment. But eventually the old longtail boat started and we were on our way, spilling black smoke into the air and speeding very inefficiently in the direction of more cliffs and some very ominous looking storm clouds.
The views were out of this world, it reminded me of something but I didn’t find out til later that this was the site of filming for “Dr. No”, one of my favorite James Bond films! Within moments of arriving it started to downpour. We hurried down the floating pier, passing many Russians on holiday with their rolling suitcases and high heels, trying hilariously not to slip and fall straight into the ocean. After waiting for a bit at the first shelter we found, we walked down the beach walk to a stairway which led to our guesthouse. Rapala Rock Wood Resort had cheap bungalows, no frills but everything we needed. Little shacks with palm roofs and mosquito nets and fans are what makes us happy. As soon as we had set our stuff down the sky cleared and it was a beautiful afternoon.
Being super hungry, we set off on what was suppose to be a short walk to Mama’s Chicken. It turned out to be quite an adventure since it was on the other side of a little jungle. We first went to the west side beach (Railay is a peninsula with two sides, sunrise and sunset) then we hiked up though a little muddy trail, over some rocks, and onto Tonsai Beach. The overhanging rocks here we impressive but we were on a mission for food. At the other end of this beach we found the small road to nowhere that led past some sleepy guesthouses and a few dark climbing shops. All the way around on the other side we found Mama’s, a super rustic open-air restaurant. We got some pad thai and fruit shakes and filled our empty bellies.
After eating we continued up the path which lead through the jungle and back to Railay, a much faster way. We went around town to a few climbing shops and rented a rope and gear from one of them for 1200 Baht for a day. That was about half the price of the guided tours and we were confident that we could do it on our own. Before bed I had a beer at the bar near our bungalow. The bartenders were super friendly and made me feel very welcome. I learned how to say “thank you” in Thai (“korp kun krup!”) and was pumped about my first glimpses into the famous Thai hospitality.
Thai climb time! In the morning it rained and I was having some stomach issues, so we didn’t get out to climb as soon as we wanted to. When we did get to a climbing spot everything there was a little above our level then we got frustrated and had a fight. Not gonna pretend everything is always perfect between us on this blog! We are human after all! I was so excited about climbing that I got crazy and ended up slipping in the mud and pacing around in a rage. The rains were coming in again now so we had to go back to our bungalow. Oh, the frustrations. I eventually calmed my crazy self and we went back out and found a few routes on the 1,2,3 Wall and Muay Thai Wall.
It was important to find walls with the new Thaitainium Project bolts, as the original steel bolts have become unsafe by the constant exposure to salty air. All these challenges added up and it wasn’t until the end of the day that we each got to climb a few routes, and then we got tired so quickly from being out of shape! I think it was a success in the end, but it was definitely character building. We had a few sends and it felt good to get back on the rocks. The adrenaline made me feel alive again and we couldn’t wait to come back for more. In December WE WILL BE BACK!!!
Here’s a kind-of-lame video of us being kind-of-lame at climbing. Next time we go to Railay we hope to be stronger and have a DRONE to make an awesome video for you all!
If you are climbing in Thailand or anywhere else, Mountain Project is the best online resource for climbers. Enjoy hearing about Thai climb time in Railay Beach? Find more climb stories from California and Arizona in our archives!
The eastern Sierras offer an abundance of outdoor activities and climbing was our main goal for this leg of the trip. Bishop bouldering and climbing is some of the best in the world, and the town was a great home base for exploring the area. We Couchsurfed with a very nice guy named Doug who showed us around town then left for work for four days. It was very generous of him to let us take over his house for that time. Gotta love Couchsurfing! Having just climbed Mt. Whitney, Doug’s house was a perfect place for us to rest our tired bones. I set up my solar panel out back and we made nice meals. Life was grand.
Before leaving on his work adventure hauling oil from the Nevada desert to Long Beach in southern California, Doug drove us around the small town telling us interesting facts. He told us about the Lone Pine earthquake around the turn of the 19th century that left the whole valley to the south 30 feet lower. He also told us about how Bishop could never expand because of the fact that all the land around the town is owned by Los Angeles County. Great amounts of water flow in from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the spring and summer, accumulating in the lakes and rivers around Bishop. This water is collected and diverted into aqueducts that carry it more than 250 miles to the dry metropolis of L.A. It seemed wrong to us, but what do we know.
After Doug left for work we drove north towards Mammoth and checked out a few hot springs near the Mammoth Airport. First we found Wild Willy’s, which was awesome at first but then a van full of adolescent French kids interrupted our scenic soak. But there were more springs down the road and we found a cool group of people at Hilltop Hotsprings, a small pool with an amazing view. Everyone soon left except a guy who owned a ski shop in Mammoth Lakes. We talked about forest fires, as one had ignited nearby. He explained his idea to drop giant fireproof tarps over the fires to extinguish them. Sure, dude.
On our second day in Bishop we headed back towards the north looking for a recommended climbing crag called Clark Canyon. We got off road for a long time then realized we went the wrong way in. Around the other side of the hills the road got bad and we took our rock-crawling Prius to its offroading limits. The area was remote and probably a lot prettier before recent wildfires had blackened most of the trees. Just when I though we could go no further, about six miles and an hour through dirt, we came to the parking spot and geared up. The rock was fun volcanic tuff and we climbed a few routes. Several ways up I found some sketchy bolts and had to downclimb, but in general the area was great and we soon found ourselves worn out and headed home.
For our third day we headed to the famous Happy Boulders near Bishop. Bishop bouldering is extremely hot in the summer, so we got out there around 8 to avoid the heat and quickly found lots of fun rocks. There were hundreds, if not thousands of problems and we hung out for a few hours sending a few popular routes such as Heavenly Path, a great rock with a scary 20+ foot top out. We wore ourselves out early again and relaxed through the hot afternoon, making dinner and catching up on some TV shows. It sure was great having our own house.
Our last day in town we wanted to do some more climbing but all the spots around Bishop had some kind of issues, so we got up in the dark and drove south to try to tackle more routes in the Alabama Hills area near Lone Pine. We wanted to send the Shark Fin rock around sunrise to capture the classic picture of the climb with Mt. Whitney in the background. It was a fun climb and we got the perfect shot. Afterwards we went to the Tall Wall near the Meat Loaf Campsite. This was my first 100+ foot lead climb– super nerve racking but the adrenaline was well worth it. We climbed a little more nearby then went and found a fun chimney but it was nearing 100 degrees and we were tired so we hit up the Pizza Factory lunch buffet in Lone Pine and drove home to nap. We were finally feeling safer climbing and it was great. If only we had a few more months to bum around the States we might actually be good! But this would not be the trip that we became climbing pros, Alex Honnold your title is safe for now.
Enjoy reading about bouldering Bishop? Stay tuned for tales of our adventures in Yosemite, Northern California, Oregon for the eclipse, and back to Black Rock City for the infamous Burning Man!