Picture the landscapes of Southeast Asia and your imagination will likely conjure up images of sloping rice terraces, white-sand beaches and thickets of dense green jungle. But equally omnipresent are the region’s dramatic limestone cliffs, which pepper the countryside from Myanmar to Indonesia.
Ever since rock climbers caught wind of this in the early ‘90s, the sport has steadily grown here, and today there’s no shortage of staggering rock formations that await adventurous travellers who dare to scramble their way up to jaw-dropping views.
From beginner-suited faces overlooking the beaches of southern Thailand to tricky, technical crags in Laos and Vietnam, here are the best rock climbing destinations to add a shot of adrenaline to your Southeast Asia itinerary.
1. Railay & Hat Ton Sai, Thailand
Climbing in Thailand’s Krabi Province is the stuff of lore, and, with massive cliffs that rise over white sand beaches and turquoise waters, you simply won’t find a more stunning place to climb than Hat Ton Sai and adjacent Railay.
This beauty comes at the cost of crowds, with guided groups lining up to wait their turn on the easier sections during high season; but more experienced climbers will be able to escape the masses and enjoy classic routes while ascending to epic views over the Andaman Sea.
Where to stay: You’re going to find better quality options in Railay, like Railay Garden View Resort, than in Ton Sai, which is more suited to the proverbial ‘dirtbag’ climber, with plenty of budget-friendly options like Chill Out Bungalows.
Best time to go: December–April
2. Huu Lung, Vietnam
Climbing the rugged karst formations in Huu Lung, Vietnam, a remote village roughly 110km outside of bustling Hanoi, is still very much under the radar, but it won’t stay that way for long. Currently, the area boasts over 100 routes with plenty of tufa, pockets, and overhangs that can challenge all abilities.
The surrounding community remains very rural and you’ll often have to cut across private lands to reach the crags, so it’s advised to contact VietClimb, the climbing gym based in Hanoi that’s developing the area, for detailed access information. It also provides guided trips and gear rentals.
Where to stay: Accommodation in the area is very limited, but if you’re open to an authentic experience, VietClimb works with a local family that operates a homestay in a traditional wooden stilt house a few minutes away from the climbing areas.
Best time to go: November–April
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3. Tha Khaek, Laos
Located in the thick of the Laotian jungle, the otherworldly landscapes of Tha Khaek (sometimes spelled Thakhek) has over 400 bolted routes, including several multi-pitches.
Beginners will find guides and gear rentals available at Green Climbers Home, which is sited directly in the valley below the towering limestone walls. This laid back climber’s camp is complete with rustic bamboo bungalows, dorm rooms, and tents, allowing you to wake up just a few steps away from the crag each morning.
The climbing itself varies quite a bit, from steep overhangs with stalactites in caves to slab climbing up pitches that are less than vertical.
Where to stay: Green Climbers Home is the obvious choice, but if you want something a little more upscale, Inthira Thakhek Hotel is located in town, a few kilometres away.
Best time to go: December–March
4. Cantabaco, the Philippines
At the striking limestone crag above the village of Cantabaco, you’ll find over 60 routes on high quality rock, with some sections full of jugs and tufa that novices can hone their skills on, and others with tiny crimps and pockets that demand precise technique. Gear rentals, guides, and guidebooks are best procured by contacting the Cebu Rock Climbing Community.
Where to stay: There's a slim selection in Cantabaco; a few guesthouses (such as Ate Yolly’s) offer basic lodging, but day trips from Cebu City are also a possibility.
Best time to go: January–March
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5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
If you’re going to be in Kuala Lumpur, chances are a visit to the temples and shrines at Batu Caves is on your hit list. While you’re there, you might as well tie in and scale the walls surrounding the religious complex for a truly unique urban climbing experience.
The Damai Wall on the north side is a popular option for beginners with over 100 routes maintained by Gua Damai Extreme Park, which offers guiding services and rental equipment. There are several other areas, including Nyamuk Wall, where you’re likely to find the local climbing community congregating on the weekends.
Where to stay: Hotel Richbaliz is a comfortable option that’s close to Batu Caves. For a cheaper alternative right in the downtown area, check out Paper Plane Hostel or The Longhouse near Chinatown.
Best time to go: December–February
6. Nam Pha Pa Yai, Thailand
Nam Pha Pa Yai, in Saraburi, is the perfect antidote when the hustle and bustle of Bangkok starts wearing you down.
Roughly two hours outside of the city by car (or three hours by train), there’s a down-to-earth camp with bungalows, treehouses, and tents just across the river from the main climbing wall, which is accessed by zip line to get the adrenaline pumping before you even tie in.
The limestone varies from sections with slabs and jugs that beginners can have fun on, to more challenging vertical faces and overhanging test pieces.
Where to stay: Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp is relaxing and convenient, albeit a bit rustic. If you need a few more creature comforts, the nearby Supalai Pasak Resort is a comfortable (and quirky) option.
Best time to go: November–March
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7. Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
There are plenty of climbing opportunities to be found here, from an inland crag at Butterfly Valley to deep water soloing (climbing without ropes over water) in Lan Ha Bay. Langur’s Adventures and Cat Ba Climbing are two reputable services located in Cat Ba Town that provide guided tours, rentals, and can assist with accessing deep water solo areas.
Where to stay: For cheap, clean rooms right in town, Hai Binh Hotel has you covered, or you can spend a little extra and immerse yourself in nature at Cat Ba Eco Lodge.
Best time to go: March–May