I was frightened when they recommended it. There we were, relaxing with a couple of beers at Modern Times Brewery in San Diego. Our friends, Katherine and Romeo, were sharing advice for our upcoming trip to Thailand. It was then they uttered the words, “Rock climbing excursion.” I’m not a rock climber. But before I knew it I was emailing their guide about a Phuket Thailand Private Rock Climbing Trip to Railay Beach.
I admit it was exciting to try something new and out of my comfort zone especially because I knew how happy it would make the person I love. Sometimes you make sacrifices for the greater good of the team and it was OUR trip to Thailand, after all, not just his or mine! I awaited a reply from Gecko Thailand’s guide named Aon (pronounced “On”), the person our friends raved about and even posted about on their travel site, Travel the World. I was anxious to hear what he had to offer and what our options were.
It took a few days to receive a reply – to Aon’s credit he apologized for the delay, which was due to sickness, and said he’d be in touch soon. (Note Aon’s English is a bit broken, which is absolutely fine with me – I don’t speak a word of Thai so any English he speaks is 1,000 times better than my Thai.) Perhaps communication via email isn’t his strong point but we soon found out what is: rock climbing, humor, his passion, smiles and giving us the BEST day of our entire two weeks in Thailand. And in person his English is quite good!
What is included in the tour with Aon of Gecko Thailand:
For 5500 Thai baht, which is approximately $160 USD per person, we received the below:
- Roundtrip transfers to/from our hotel in Phuket (Westin Siray Bay) to Krabi beach, then from Krabi beach to Railay Beach
- Climbing equipment, including shoes, helmets, harnesses, ropes, carabiners and chalk bags
- Climbing basics and safety teaching
- Private trip
- National park entrance fee and insurance
I was apprehensive. It was a costly excursion, at about $320 for us to both participate, at a time when money wasn’t exactly flowing like waterfalls. But we talked about it a lot and decided to book. Candidly, we also shopped around for other options and even asked him to compromise on the price (bargaining is common in Thailand) but he stood firm. Once on the tour, I quickly regretted even doubting the cost and questioning the tour’s value. As the day unfolded, my partner and I tallied up costs in our head, wondering what, if anything, Aon’s profit margin was.
This tour was befitting for us for a few reasons:
- The “two thumbs up” approval our trusted friends, who travel often and everywhere, spoke volumes.
- Having pick up and drop off completely coordinated from our hotel was a huge benefit; when you are at a remote resort in Phuket you quickly realize how much time, money and energy it can cost to get from one location to another.
- All equipment was rented. We didn’t have to bring anything with us but sunscreen and appropriate clothing.
- Aon was the lead climber. You need a lead climber to set up the course and rope for those who follow. We weren’t at all advanced enough to have done that on our own.
- It was a private tour which meant we’d get better one-on-one instructions, better and more plentiful climbs and an all-around better experience as the guide’s only climbers for the day.
Here we are on Railay Beach, actually at the end of the tour when we felt incredibly accomplished, elated and tired!
What transpired below equated to our NUMBER ONE memory from Thailand…
We were promptly picked up at our hotel between 5:45/6:00am as promised. Aon arrived with a driver in a very nice van, which was comforting because the drive from our hotel to Krabi Beach was two hours. He had breakfast, snacks and water for us, which was such a welcomed surprise. Aon was friendly and professional and in great spirits – something I truly appreciate, especially at such an early hour of the day (one I’m usually still in bed for).
* Note the photos in this post are from my iPhone – I did not want to risk bringing my professional gear with me (and I recommend you don’t either.) I also brought a GoPro with a helmet mount for fun, which we used on some of our climbs. *
From Krabi beach we were transferred to a long tail boat, which then drove us the 15-20 minute journey to Railay Beach. I can’t reinforce enough how seamless the operation was, from each pick up to transfer point to walks to get to the climbs.
The long tail boats were lined up ready for the day’s work and Aon (on the right in green) and his friend both greatly helped us throughout the day. The scenery was incredible on Krabi and Railay Beach. Look how aqua the water was and how lush the limestone is!
We arrived to the beach in awe of its beauty. We were like little kids in wonderland as we gazed every which way. If we looked down we saw our feet walking on beautiful sand, to the right we saw the splendor of the ocean, and ahead was the exterior of a cave we were about to attempt to climb. Even at 9:30am there was another couple already prepared to scale the limestone rock. Everyone we encountered that day was friendly no matter where they were visiting from, from the United States, to Siberia, to England. The climbing culture is quite amenable.
Aon gave us a quick safety lesson and explained the basics of climbing, which I soon realized were best learned through experience. As I briefly mentioned earlier in the post, it’s important to note that unlike a rock climbing gym, the routes are NOT all set for you. Sure, some of them are marked but that’s far different than having a safe rope set up to conquer. Aon was our lead climber and he quite literally paved the way for us to enjoy many routes, setting up rope after rope for safe climbing.
Dan, my partner, knew a bit more about climbing than I did having dabbled in it as a hobbyist for a few years, mostly on indoor walls, so I let him go first. I was all smiles as I watched him in his element. Then it was my turn – I went all in and quickly got the hang of it thanks to the coaching of Aon, his friend and Dan. I found myself grinning during each portion of the experience. After our first climb we even saw the famous Princess Cave, or Phra Nang Cave, which is a phallic fertility shrine to a princess goddess.
We climbed a few routes and with each one I got a little better as I challenged myself to go further than I was able to on the climb before it. Aon and his friend were amazing – they made us feel secure and safe the entire day and even had us laughing for most of it too. A notable highlight was when we took a short hike through the inside of a dark cave in order to arrive at a beautiful vantage point and repel. We paused to admire the beach far below and take some photos then started to head in the direction of gravity, down the side of the rocks to the ground beneath us to reach another course.
For lunch we walked to the little village on the island and had one of the best meals of our trip. Aon simply asked us what we liked to eat, communicated the order to the staff in Thai, and out came a bounty of Thai dishes. After we ate he informed us we’d be continuing with…more climbing! I couldn’t believe it – there was MORE after this meal?! I thought, “How am I going to digest this fast enough?,” but thankfully our walk to our next destination did the trick.
At that point I felt like a rock star and was really getting the hang of it. We each climbed a few more times after that but as the late afternoon approached we grew weary faster. We simply weren’t used to expending so much energy in one day! We decided to head back to main land Phuket around 4:00pm and arrived back at our hotel around 7:00pm.
Here are some final thoughts I had post-trip:
- The cost was WELL worth it. There is truly no need to shop around – if you have the money, contact Aon and book a private tour. His passion, expertise, organization and SPIRIT were priceless. I’m truly not even sure how much he makes from this when all is said and done and everyone is paid – from the van driver to the lunch restaurant to the boat drivers. I sincerely hope Aon ensures he is getting paid as well!
- We emailed Aon a photo of us before meeting him in person. He didn’t ask for it but I figured it couldn’t hurt. My hope was it would assist him in recognizing us when he picked us up at the hotel but also help him gain an idea of our size for the harnesses he had to bring for us.
- He asked our shoe size ahead of time, which is important he know since he needed to fit us with rock climbing shoes, which are very different from sneakers or trainers you may already own.
- Contact him in advance. If you need to follow up with him, do so. It’s worth it.
- Anyone who is relatively physically fit can do this. (Hell, I’m sure I could use more physical fitness in my life – I’m no Jane Fonda). I had ZERO rock climbing experience and found myself falling for the sport with each climb.
- It’s important to go into the day with a can-do attitude. We were very optimistic from the moment we got into the van that morning. I believe in the power of positive energy and feeling such great vibes from everyone throughout the day elevated our experience and I believed helped us power through the climbs.
- If I haven’t said it enough it’s the NUMBER ONE memory we have from our trip. We visited with an elephant rescue camp, had an incredible meal in town in Phuket, saw incredible temples, experienced VIP treatment in Chiang Mai, had heavenly massages…we truly had an outstanding trip. Yet still, this Phuket Thailand Private Rock Climbing Trip to Railay Beach was number one in our eyes.
I went from a feeling of “I’m doing this for Dan” to thinking, “WHY doesn’t EVERYONE who comes to Thailand do this?!” On Gecko Thailand’s website it says a rock climbing excursion will give you a “more exciting life” and I truly feel like a better person for having experienced this. We feel like a better couple for it too.
Aon also coordinates overnight rock climbing trips, trips for solo travelers, sea kayaking, paragliding, rafting, ATV and cycling tours as well. (He’s a one-stop shop for Phuket adventure excursions! If there’s an adventure sport you want to try he’s your guy.) For more information on his offerings, including pricing and sample schedules, check out his new website, Gecko Thailand.
Surely you’ll want a low-key outing the day after you finish any adventure sport excursion with Aon. Check out our experience with a Great Option for a Budget-Friendly Private Tour in Phuket in our article over on Hippie In Heels.
Would you book a private rock climbing excursion?