...is the ultimate freedom for a climber.
You are unencumbered from rope and gear. You can push yourself to your limit with no fear of consequence. Your flow is not interrupted by placing gear, clipping a bolt or worrying about a belayer. Where else can you climb a first ascent onsight that is 60 feet long and at your limit in less than 5 minutes? Deep water soloing up holds the highest standards and ethics. No bolts or rappel slings. No ice tools or aid hammers marring the rock. No hang dogging. Just you and the rock until the moment you fall and start again.
Thailand’s Railay Peninsula is world renowned for warm water, tropical sandy beaches, palm trees, bamboo bungalows and friendly local people. And now… deep water soloing. There are 100 routes already established with hundreds of possibilities waiting to be discovered. The limestone islands protrude from the Andaman Sea like citadels from a fantasy novel. The rock is that perfect gold and gray limestone with many tufa lines and huge stalactites hanging from the overhanging walls like wax dripping from candles.
In 2004 Tim Emmet, Neil Gresham and Mike Weeks from the UK put up the first documented deep water soloing routes near Railay Peninsula. It was that trip that they introduced Matt Maddaloni to the sport, the author of the first DWS guidebook for the area. Matt has visited the islands on five major trips and has put up about half the routes. “Thailand Deep Water Soloing” is available at www.mattmaddaloni.com
The best way to get to Tonsai Beach is to fly to Bangkok. From Bangkok get a flight to Krabi or bus it for 10 hours. From Krabi grab a taxi to Ao Nang town 20 minutes away and finally get a long tail boat ride out to Tonsai Beach.
Tonsai beach near the town of Krabi is a magic place for climbers. The beach consists of only climbers in an area with about 20 resorts. Tonsai beach is definitely the best place to use as a home base for exploring all the areas listed in the guide. The boatmen already have experience getting climbers onto the walls and Tonsai beach caters for climbers’ needs with 4 or 5 different climbing stores.
Poda Island and Chicken Island
This set of islands takes about 30 minutes to get to by long tail. Boatmen expect to be out for about 4 hours respectively. Make sure to watch the tide intervals to maximize your time climbing. You want to hit high tide about halfway during your 4 - 6 hour trip. The ocean undercuts a lot of routes and low tide can make it near impossible to get on the rock. Ko Rang Kai, The Playdium and Ao Nang tower are the best spots to climb if you’re new to the sport. They have big ledges to start from and a selection of easier routes. Tidal Wave Wall, Ko Ma Tang Ming and Spider Man Wall all offer moderate to hard routes to test your skill. For new route potential check out Sunset Wall, Tidal Wave Wall, Chuk Wao arete on Spiderman Wall, Ko Ya Wa Bon, Ko Ma Tang Ming and Ko Ya Wa Sam.
Ko Phi Phi
Ko Phi Phi Don has a lot of sport climbing and has been developed towards climber needs for many years. It is a great escape from the limited urban activities of Tonsai. Phi Phi has many resorts, way more restaurants and lots of extra stuff to do at night. You can get a ferry from Railay, Ao Nang or Tonsai beach direct to the town of Phi Phi. It takes about 2 hours. Nui Bay has the highest concentration of deep water soloing routes. The rock is very pockety and has that perfect slightly overhanging gold and light gray limestone. To get there find a boatman on Lohdalum Bay to take you out. Takes about 10 minutes.
Phi Phi Lei
The large island south of Ko Phi Phi Don has no permanent civilization and is covered by jungles that are surrounded by sea cliffs. The potential here for new routes is endless but the rock tends to be very blank. Maya Bay has yielded some new route development but nothing has been completed yet. It is worth heading out on a long tail and spending a couple of hours hunting new routes. The islands north of Phi Phi Don have nothing to offer for DWS and the Bida’s south of Phi Phi Lei are made of decomposing rock but they do offer some of Thailand’s best snorkeling.
Ko Hong has seen the least amount of tourist activity of all the areas listed in the guide. Bird nest hunters who will shoot any intruders protect some islands. Make sure to follow your boatman’s instructions carefully. Ko Hong takes about an hour to get there from Railay Peninsula. It also costs more too. Expect to pay at least 100 baht more each person. There is a concession stand on Ko Hong that you can get food and drinks at. There is also a hidden lagoon that makes for great swimming. The northern Andaman Sea around Ko Hong and farther north offers the biggest potential for new routes.
For more information get the 2nd edition guidebook here!
All words and images (c) Matt Maddalon 2011.....