I had heard many good things about Railay from other travelers I had encountered throughout Thailand, so I was eager to experience it for myself. Railay is located on a peninsula, and due to the many high rock pillars of karst limestone, is only accessible via boat. The accomodation prices were a little too high for my liking, so I based myself in the beach town of Ao Nang, a short 15 minute longtail boat ride away. The benefit about this was that I got to experience the breathtaking views pulling into the beach each day during my commute to Railay.
What good are all of these towering cliffs without rock climbing enthusiasts scaling their sides? Railay is known to be a rock climber’s paradise, with some choosing to stay for weeks and never getting bored of the seemingly limitless routes. Another option is Deep Water Soloing, commonly referred to as DWS. This involves climbing the formation that jut out over the water with no climbing gear. If you would fall or lose your grip, you would simply fall into the water below, hopefully not on a back flop. Deep Water Soloing is suited to more experienced climbers, and with my only experience climbing a few rock walls indoors, I decided to go the traditional route.
I decided to book a half day course first, with the option to extend to a full day if I wished. At 9am, I met my fellow climbers and our guides at the office of King Climbers located on West Railay. We then went on a 10 minute or so walk to the site where we would conduct our first climbs. As this course was marketed as an introduction, most of the other people were novices as well. Our guides first explained to us the basics of climbing, including how to use the climbing shoes, how to tie the harness to your equipment, and proper climbing techniques. It was then time to attack the wall! One by one, we ascended the 10 or so meters to the designated first stopping point, as our guide shouted tips of where to place our hands and feet. In fact, it reminded me a bit of the board game “Twister”, and it was impressive how they were able to see the little nooks and crevices from their vantage point on the ground.
After mastering the first couple climbs, we then moved on to ones a bit higher and more difficult. There were now a couple of checkpoints on the route up where we would have to unclip our harness from a carabiner to give the harness some more slack. In addition, we began to grow a bit fatigued as the morning went on, adding to the difficulty.
Even though we were clipped to a harness and would not fall to the ground if we lost our grip or footing, my survival instincts would still kick in, and I would grip the rock as in a life or death situation. Sweaty hands are also not an asset when so much depends on being able to grip to a ledge only a few inches deep at best. When the lunch break came, I elected to end there and not continue to the full day course. While I enjoyed the novelty of rock climbing, I do not see myself ever being more than a casual participant in this activity/sport, and I am glad that I got to try it out in this beautiful place!
Hike to the Viewpoint and Lagoon
Railay had a viewpoint and lagoon only accessible via a moderate hike. I had passed the start of the trail the day earlier, but had been advised by someone returning down to only attempt it with shoes. I decided to attempt it in the afternoon after finishing rock climbing. The word “hike” is used loosely here, as it was more of a climb, as I had to hoist myself up rocks, with sometimes a rope to help the ascent.
The viewpoint was relatively easy to reach, only about a 20 minute climb from the base. There I was subjected to one of the more stunning views I have ever seen. Looking out from East Railay and seeing its beach below, West Railay and it’s aquamarine inlet could be seen in the distance, flanked by the beautiful karst limestone cliffs. I took the time to soak it all in and stood there awhile appreciating all that could be seen. Of course, if one got too close to the edge, it would be a straight drop below, so I was careful to watch my step. While I was there, I met a few other people who had just come from the lagoon. “You’re in for a bit of a surprise,” a few of them said, “It’s a tough route, but well worth it.” I thanked them for their advice, and set off in the direction of the lagoon.
While the route up to the viewpoint was all uphill, the route to the lagoon was a direct contrast, a steep hike down. The first 10 or so minutes, it was possible to take baby steps, and holding onto the rocks and tree branches along the way for balance. I thought to myself that this wasn’t as bad as a few of the people had warned me. However, I soon realized that in fact they had downplayed the difficulty that lay ahead!
I stood at the edge of the path and peered straight down. There was about a 6 meter drop, with only a knotted rope to aid in the descent. While it did look difficult, it did not look particularly dangerous, and I went ahead with the descent. Upon reaching this ledge I found another drop, this one a bit more precarious. I again didn’t see any danger in this one either, and took my time scaling down the rope. This third ledge was where things began to get tricky. The rope attached to this leg only reached about halfway down to the ledge, in addition to there not being an easy pathway down. I no longer felt this was safe, and stood at the ledge for a few minutes contemplating my options. I could see the lagoon in the distance down below. I was so close to my intended destination, yet still had a few obstacles in my way. After surveying the area, I noticed there was another rope attached further along the way, with a narrow pathway and a hole in the side of the rock, where it was accessible. I watched a couple ascend this way with big smiles on their faces as they slowly pulled themselves up. This way looked a lot safer than the shortened rope option, and after watching them successfully climb up, I knew that it was now or never.
By taking my time and having a little bit of confidence, it wasn’t bad at all, as I scaled down, putting my legs on the side as support. Compared to the previous obstacles, the remaining few minutes down were a piece of cake. I finally arrived at the lagoon!
Boy was this place amazing! There were four other people hanging there when I arrived, and I was greeted with smiles and “Congratulations”. The lagoon was completely surrounded by the limestone cliffs, and the water was a dark green and very still. I slowly waded into the water, basking in the sounds of nature as tadpoles swam around me. Looking up, the sky high above was shaped like an oval, bordered by the tops of the cliffs. I spent over an hour at the lagoon, enjoying the peacefulness of nature, and the lack of the crowds that seem to accompany most of Thailand’s beaches. It is definitely one of my favorite natural sights of Thailand. As I made my way out of the lagoon and headed back up the cliffs, I thought of how this short journey served as little metaphor for life, how good things often have difficult paths leading towards them and how easy it is to quit or give up when the going gets tough. On the flip side, it often makes success all the sweeter!