Recollections of Krabi are most often dominated by the majesty of its imposing, jungle-tipped cliffs. From the Andaman, they surge 800 and 1,000 feet to tickle the sky. Their golden walls are streaked with crimson veins that bleed down from misty green summits; long, dripping stalactites linger at the mouths of deep caverns, giving the sun-blasted rock a melting facade and adding to the exotic persona that is the signature beauty of Thailand.
The allure of scaling these rugged cathedrals, to be part of them for a moment, lures many tourists away from more traditional activities like snorkeling and scuba diving.
Increasingly, the boatloads of bronzed sun worshippers landing at Rai Ley try rock climbing for the first time. Some of them are in shape, but most aren't. They don't have the bodies of Baywatch lifeguards, nor do you need one. Here, some of the climbs, called routes, are almost as easy as running up a flight of stairs.
Rock climbing, especially in America, has skyrocketed in popularity, deluging the sport with beginners. According to a 1997 study by the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America, 7.5 million people have tried rock climbing. A senior editor at Climbing magazine recently estimated that there are 300,000 to 500,000 dedicated climbers in the U.S. alone, up from about 100,000 six years ago.
The increase in climbing gymsfrom about 90 in 1994 to more than 200 in 1997has spurred much of the boom, allowing more people to safely try a sport once practiced by fringe athletespeople once judged to be as bright as a 20-watt bulb for their outlandish adventures.
Nowadays climbing has almost become trendy, much to the chagrin of those same fringe athletes who saw once-desolate crags become playgrounds for newcomers.
Krabi is no different. Climbing started here in the late 1980s and has taken off. It's the thing to do. Many tourists come here to bask in the sun, but end up climbing for the first time, enabling several guiding services to survive off the throng of newbies that shuffle through.
Most of the first-timers are guided up the rock blow by blow. The Thais are extremely familiar with these routes, having climbed them hundreds of times, and can point out every nook and cranny to get their clients to the top. And after a few easy confidence builders, guides are more than happy to point out more strenuous stuff. Or clients can keep it light all day, to save energy for sunset beach volleyball and cocktails.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication