NOTICE: Climbing at Crazy Horse is currently closed.
When most people think about climbing in Thailand, Tonsai is the first place that comes to mind. But nestled in the foothills of the Himilayas in northern Thailand is the other face of climbing in Thailand. And many would argue that the offering in Chiang Mai trumps that of Krabi in quality, especially at the moderate grades.
The Chiang Mai climbing scene has a fairly recent history, but that means the routes have been developed with modern equipment (titanium glue-ins) and a modern sport-climbing mindset. A 60 meter rope is sufficient for most climbs, but a 70 and about 16 draws will cover everything. The climbing at Crazy Horse is on sharp, pocketed limestone that differs in character from that of the southern beaches. The holds here tend to be bigger and more plentiful, and as a result there is a plethora of excellent climbs in the 5.10-5.11 range. Once you reach 5.12, the offering quickly reduces, though the easier 5.12’s are all high in quality.
All of the climbing in Chiang Mai is located on the outskirts of the city at Crazy Horse Buttress, which is about 35 km directly east of old town. If you’re staying in town, there are a variety of options for getting to the crag:
- Motor scooter – At about 150-300 Baht per day, this is probably the cheapest and most convenient option, as you can leave anytime you want and climb until dusk. If you don’t have an international diver’s license with you, watch out for the police checkpoints though. Getting nabbed will cost you about $15 USD, but you can save the ticket for a few days to convince the next checkpoint that you’ve already paid your dues.
- There is a pretty nice shuttle bus with air conditioning that leaves at fixed times from the market area just west of the Ping river (see map). It’ll drop you off and pick you up again later in the day at Jira homestay (if you tell them Jira, they’ll know where you want to be dropped).
- The Climbing Shop in Chiang Mai runs a shuttle service that leaves the store at 8:30 am, and heads back to the city from Crazy Horse at 4:30 pm, for 400 Baht per day. Though this option is a bit pricier, you save on stress and will meet other climbers on the way to the crag.
The other option is to stay near the climbing in the Mae On valley at a handful of homestays out there. The closest and best is Jira homestay, which is almost across the street from Crazy Horse (10 minute walk total), and they have incredible food at amazing prices. A lot of climbers stay here, so this is a good place to meet climbers if you’re traveling solo and need to find a partner.
Anxiety State Crisis
Specific mention should be made of the climbing in the Anxiety State Crisis cave. The namesake route for which the cave is named, Anxiety State Crisis, links two unique and incredibly exposed 5.11d pitches from the upper entrance of the cave, straight into and across the roof, and out into a beautiful, sunny dihedral finish outside the cave. While the climbing is not particularly difficult and the grades may even be slightly soft, the experience of climbing here with 200 feet of air underneath you is mind-blowing, and totally worth trying if it’s within your pay grade. Falling off, either on lead or following, will leave you dangling in space, so bring a prussik or two!
- It’s Got to Be Funky 5.10b
- Hot Headed 5.10d
- Anxiety State Crisis 5.11d
- Intensify 5.12b
Fall and Winter (Nov-Feb) are the best times to climb in Chiang Mai. Spring becomes insufferably hot and eventually gives way to the rainy season, which lasts through the end of August. It’s fairly hot in Thailand year-round, so be prepared to sweat and bring plenty of chalk.
As with many climbing areas in Asia, the local accomodations are so cheap and good that no one really camps. The city of Chiang Mai has more hotels, hostels, and guesthouses than you can imagine, so take your favorite pick there. Some personal favorites are H Hotel Phrasing, Baan Thalang, Hotel Montha, and ZZZ House.
Closer to the climbing, Jira Homestay is the place for climbers, as well as a few other similar places in the vicinity. If you stay at Jira, you won’t need a scooter, as the climbing is a short walk away.
Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Association has graciously initiated a program to fill reusable water bottles at the crag with fresh drinking water. Please consider making a donation to them if you opt for this – they’re the ones helping to keep the climbing open for everyone’s enjoyment.
Too many to name, the food in Chiang Mai is some of the best in the world. Jira has excellent food on the cheap if you’re close to the climbing, otherwise choose from about 30,000 options in the town of Chiang Mai.
Jira has showers, as well as all the hotels and guesthouses around.
The options for non-climbing activities in Chiang Mai are as good as the climbing itself. If you’re staying near Crazy Horse, the Muang On cave is close by and definitely worth a look. You’ll be greeted by a huge reclining Buddha in total silence about 300 feet underground. Smile Organic Cooking School is also close by, and offers fun and reasonably priced Thai cooking classes. It turns out, it’s actually pretty easy to make Pad Thai if you have the right ingredients.
If you’re staying in town, there are tons of beautiful temples to check out, the best of which is probably Wat Phra That on the way up Doi Suthep. You can either take a red truck up for pretty cheap from the Chiang Mai Zoo, or for a challenge rent a proper road bike at NK Bike Rentals (see map) and climb about 2000 vertical feet from the Zoo to the temple to earn your views.
The mountain biking in Chiang Mai is some of the best in the world, and there are several companies that will take you out. The best one is probably Trail Head, and they’re conveniently located right near the climbing shop so stop by if you’re curious.
By Tyler Wellman, Cauli Xiang