Railay was a world away from Crazy Horse Buttress outside Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, the destination from our previous climbing trip to Thailand. Crazy Horse was quite, serene and pristine. Railay has a very different character. A climbing destination literally on top of a major beach resort in the heart of the hedonistic beach resorts of southern Thailand. Beautiful but bustling and home to hordes of tourists and Gen-Y backpackers.
“We have two seasons. Hot and f*cking hot”. We chose to go in the latter i.e. low season. On our first morning this looked like a bad decision. It was balls hot. The passage of time and the large number of climbers has polished the limestone leaving many holds with a smooth finish like marble. Add the heat and sweaty hands and it took some getting used to. Chalk balls were next to useless – they don’t dispense chalk liberally enough – a local guide advised that large amounts of loose chalk was the way to go.
We’d heard of queues in high season to climb the most popular routes. In low season there were still a lot of climbers about, mostly tourists who weren’t in Railay to climb specifically. There was a real sense of climbing as an industry. Tourists come to enjoy the beach and island hopping and many take the opportunity to try climbing for the first time. Crowds. Maybe Railay is not for me.
Lunchtime brought rolling thunderstorms and driving rain – there were several loud bangs and puffs of smoke as the fixtures on several power lines exploded in the rain. After the rain the rock dried quickly and the temperature lifted. Diamond Cave Wall delivered several great routes recommended by a friend.
The next day got off on the right foot. Climbing in the shade at the impressive Pha Nang Beach Wall on Pha Nang Beach. Several great routes in a beautiful setting. Postcard perfect views. Then on to Esher World Wall with more great views from the top.
Adjacent to Esher World Wall is the entrance to Lhak Chui Cave. The cave consists of a series of pitch black chambers, complete with bats on the roof, linked by fixed lines and bamboo ladders that comes out in the middle of the Thai Wand Wall overlooking Railay West Beach. A 20 metre abseil from fixed anchors at the end of the cave and a short walk took us back to Railay West Beach for lunch. Fantastic morning. Maybe Railay is not so bad after all.
Back to Diamond Cave Wall after lunch and several more great routes completed a great day. Apparently your feet can swell in the tropics as blood vessels dilate to aid heat loss and salt loss due to perspiration makes it harder for your circulatory system to recoup blood from the tissues. Climbing shoes are not comfortable to begin with and after lunch they were agonizing. If I go again in low season I will take a pair of “afternoon shoes” a full size bigger.