If it's rock-climbing you're after, then Ton Sai is the place to be. In fact, there's very little else to do at Ton Sai — or in Railay — aside from lying on the beach: so if you're not into rock-climbing, then perhaps you should be someplace else. Last night I signed up for a comprehensive 3-day climbing course, with Ton Sai-based company "The Rock Shop" — and today was the first day of that course. I've never before been rock-climbing on a natural, outdoor wall; although I did a fair bit of indoor (artificial-wall) climbing many years ago, when I were a 'wee lad (plus I've abseiled down natural cliffs before). It was a sweaty, exhausting introduction to the sport — 9am-6pm, with a 1-hour lunch break — but it was more fun than anything I ever imagined; and I finished the day feeling a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
I rocked up at The Rock Shop bright 'n' early this morning, where I met my two instructors — Let, and his buddy — and where I got geared up with all the necessary equipment. The harness is pretty similar to what I'm accustomed to for indoor climbing (and for rappelling / abseiling). The clips and ropes are fairly similar, albeit slightly more complicated. The shoes, however, were a new surprise for me: I've never worn specialised climbing shoes before; and let me tell you, those things are bloody uncomfortable. The staff insisted on us wearing the absolute smallest size shoes that we could possible fit into (as anything larger would increase the risk of losing one's foothold on the walls): and as a result, they were oh-so-unbearably tight! Anyway, at least you only wear them when you're actually climbing — you remove them immediately upon finishing a climb, as walking in them is damaging both to the shoes and to your feet.
Today's climbing (like the climbing of the following two days) was clearly divided into a morning climb, and an afternoon climb. For the morning climb, I was grouped up with three English lads and one Canadian dude; and the five of us (plus our two instructors) hopped on a long-tail boat over to Railay West, and then walked the short distance to the popular "1-2-3" wall at Railay East. This is one of the classic beginner walls on the peninsula, and it's chockers with easy-to-tackle climbing routes, all of which are fitted with sturdy steel bolts at regular intervals. It's the perfect spot for an introductory climb — the walls are elementary, the view of Railay East is divine, and the north-facing aspect of the cliffs results in their being shady all day long. This does, however, inevitably make "1-2-3" rather packed.
The “1-2-3” wall.
There are few experiences about which I can honestly say this: but from the moment I started until the moment I stopped, I truly did have a blast on the beginner rock-climbing walls. I just found the climbing to be so... well... so natural! The instructors gave us plenty of lecturing on how to secure your harness, on how to fasten your rope, and on how to belay. But for the actual climbing, no lecturing was needed — we just kept feeling around for hand- and foot-holds, and up we went. To anyone who's unsure of whether they believe in the theory of evolution, and of whether we really are descended from apes and monkeys, my only advice is: try rock-climbing. Once you've done it, you'll realise that we're all still tree-swinging primates at heart. At least, I know I sure am :P.
I was quite proud of myself after the morning's climbing: of the 5 or 6 walls that I attempted, I managed to reach the top of all of them, bar one. The quality of the rocks around here also really impressed me: the limestone here in Railay is absolutely perfect for climbing on. As well as looking aesthetically stunning, the rock on the walls is also very sturdy (doesn't break off, chip or crumble easily), resistant to slipperiness, and jam-packed with natural cracks and crevices to hold onto. Indoor rock-climbing is utter bollocks compared with this. However, the climbs are also incredibly hard work: after the morning session was over, all of us were feeling thoroughly buggered, and our arms (and fingers!) were sore and worn-out as can be.
Tackling one of my first climbs.
English guy hanging off the wall.
Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Climb).
Going over to the "1-2-3" wall also meant that I had my first opportunity to check out Railay. Unlike Ton Sai, Railay's quite a glitzy, upmarket resort spot: no low-budget hippies in sight here; only families, yuppie couples, and older folks to be seen. Nevertheless, it is a gorgeous beach, and a very appealing little place. I stayed in Railay for the afternoon, as well. This morning's session was purely skills-free, easy-going fun climbing — there will be more skills-intensive climbing as part of my course as well, but that won't be taking place until tomorrow.