Koh Tao is a tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand covered in innumerate huge granite blocs, that like the rest of Thailand has areas of outstanding beauty mixed with a slightly scummy back-packing edge. Granite blocs cover almost every square inch of the island, on the beach, in the jungle, or in coconut farms. Offering climbing on a variety of holds, even featuring remarkable sandstone like bands in some of the rock. The ideal place to mix adventure, bouldering, scuba diving and partying!
Best Time to Go & Conditions
It is hot in South East Asia, there is no getting away from that! And there is not too much variability in the climate, the best conditions generally occur from February to May when there are (very) slightly lower temperatures. Tao is affected by the monsoon between October and January (making it the only time of the year to avoid). It can rain in any season, but the blocks dry quickly. Climbing in Tao means early mornings to avoid the heat!
Rainfall - avoid October to January because of monsoonal rains – these are not as bad as those experienced on the other side of the peninsular at Krabi.
Fly to Bangkok. The fastest way to get to Tao is by a combination of bus and boat, ticket are available from Bangkok travel agents (in abundance on Khao San Road – first stop for budget travelers in Thailand). You will need to shop around and haggle for a good price - 800Baht would be cheap. If you are coming from climbing at Krabi, get a bus to Surat Thani and from there a ferry.
The climbing is spread all over the island; there will be some bouldering within walking distance of most accommodation. If there for some time you can move about between accommodation to be closer to certain areas. Less accessible areas or ones further away can be reached by moped.
Accommodation & Provisions
Tao is covered in cheap accommodation catering for the back packing market. Some of which can be very loud at nighttime. Deals can be struck with guesthouse owners for longer stays. The main town Mae Hadd, and the beach Sairee have a massive collection of places to stay of variable quality. Pim’s guesthouse is clean and simple (300b/day 6500b/month) and close to main areas “Backyard” and “Front yard”, for a really quiet stay head towards Jan Som bay but expect to pay a higher price.
There are a couple of paper guides available on the island and a freely downloadable PDF guide is available here; Koh Tao Bouldering Guide. The guides cover hundreds of established problems, but there are hundreds more available for the adventurous.
Grade Spread and Recommended Routes
There is bouldering on Tao for everybody with a massive spread of grades from 3+ to 8A or higher. “Evil Empire” (7B) at Ao Jan Som is a fantastic line; “Mantis” (7C) in the Front yard is amazing. The Front yard and Backyard contain some amazing slabs and wall climbs of easier grades. In short the area is covered in great quality climbing.
- Mae Hadd is Tao’s market place, there are banks, a post office, grocery stores and shops selling scuba gear.
- Take the strongest mosquito repellant available with you, you will need it! Defend your territory with mosquito coils, and be sure to sleep under a net.
- There is no hospital on Tao (there are small medical clinics). More than anything, be careful on bad Thai roads on a moped.
- Use liquid chalk in combination with loose chalk to maximise your chances of not sweating off climbs!
- Forget about the sweatiness of the tropical conditions, they will not improve, ever. Once this mental block is overcome the climbing becomes instantly much more fun.
There is crash pad and rock shoe hire available on the island along with easily available advice. A trip to Tao is a fantastic trip in its own right, but also a compliment to traveling in a truly amazing country; it would be a shame not to visit the rest of Thailand.