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If you are not going to read this whole thing, please skip ahead now and read the DRINKING WATER
section and then return and read until you give up on this long intro. If you are going to read all of this, they you have the best information I can offer after several trips here and will likely have a blast.
Conditions and even facts change over time. Please leave updates here in comments and they'll be appreciated by others and perhaps integrated into the main body text by myself or an admin.
Chiang Mai is a medium sized but rather developed city in Northern Thailand, up towards the border with Burma and Laos. It is considered Thailand's 'Second City,' second of course to Bangkok. This perhaps owing to it's population, and perhaps to it's feel and nature. Although there are certainly metropolitan areas much larger than Chiang Mai with it's population of perhaps a quarter-million, such as Korat (2 Million people). These larger metro areas are actually clusters of smaller cities. Chiang Mai, as such retains it's title to second largest despite a relatively small-town feel, size wise.
Chiang Mai does however have a large town feel in other ways.
It is similar to Bangkok in it's large markets, including the night market there which is one of the worlds largest; I could compare it to the famed Street Bazaar of Cairo. Thailand is famous for it's markets, and this is one of the big ones.
It is similar to Bangkok in it's Ex-Pat presence. Expect to see many 'fahrangs' (foreigners) in Chiang Mai. The closer to the markets and bars you get, the more you will see. Some are fully resident, some are long term visitors, and others simply tourists.
And like in Bangkok, due to the large presence of Expats and tourists, there are all kinds of bars and nightclubs... and when I say all kinds, I mean all kinds, which as you know brings us to the other similarity...
For those who were unaware, AIDS is running rampant in S.E. Asia. If you want to get a massage, get a legit one. It will be $10 or less and will be relaxing too... Lodging:
There are hotels and guest houses galore in town. If you want 4-5 star accommodations, stay at a major hotel, if you want a lower price place and like large hotels, search a travel website on line for a bargain. If you prefer a guesthouse, then choose more carefully. Typically you choose by environment and neighborhood. The East end of town by the old city walls is where all the nightlife is and might be a little 'seedy' for some people's standards, whereas the west central area inside the old walls is relatively quiet. Within a block of the climbing shop there are more than 1/2 dozen guesthouses with rates from $10-20 per night. The ones I recall are the TK guesthouse, the Same Same guesthouse, the J&J guesthouse and the Julie Guesthouse. I stayed at the J&J in an AC room for $15 per night and it was clean and comfortable. The Same Same had the best fast and cheap breakfast on the block, and there were convenience stores and very cheap internet places all over. The Julie was definitely the popular place... but it had a bit of a crowded, noisy, ehhh... hippie feel to it. If dreads and drum circles are your thing, then that's your place.
My most recent stay was at the TK Guest House
was pleasant and I found the owner/manager to be honest and pretty helpful. They will also help you arrange tours without gouging. Try to use cash here not a credit card, or expect to pay the extra 3% that they loose to the banks. Eating:
Hawkers are in many places. Watch how food is prepared before ordering something. If it is well cooked and does not mix a lot of sauces (IE: marinades) in after cooking, or add suspect 'fresh' ingredients, it is probably fine. Most Thais are aware of how to cook hygienically and make excellent tasting and reasonably healthy food. In a few months of working there and eating from street stands, I was never sick.
Restaurants are everywhere and again, mostly safe. Order well cooked food and of course, bottled water. Better yet, bring your own safe water from a sustainable water source (refer to later note on sustainable water).
Snacks are generally available too. Perhaps one of the reasons that Thais are not fat like Westerners, is that agriculture is cheap and processed foods are expensive. A whole cut pineapple or an entire bunch of bananas will likely cost 1/2 as much as the bag of Doritos you are thinking about. Go with the healthy food for a change...
Meals are delivered daily to the crag by the driver of the bus from the climbing shop to the wall. You can arrange for them to bring you a hot meal that is filling, tasty, and safely cooked. The price is very reasonable and you are supporting the local community businesses as well as strongly associating your money spent with climbing- which makes the entire community all the more happy to have the climbers visit. Amenities:
There are many ways to use the phone in that area. If you will be there for a while, consider getting an international cell phone, with prepaid minutes. This can be done at any number of stores.
Local internet shops also sell phone time.
Speaking of internet shops, there are such "cafe's" all around, with fees being pretty cheap- on the order of a dollar an hour. This can include video chat, and if you go to such a shop, amuse yourself by watching the 'send-away-sweetie" type girls next to you chat up middle aged men from Europe and the USA.
Rental Cars are available, like many other places in the world, but for a short visit not very cost effective and worrisome. You have to not only find your way, but adapt to local driving habits, find parking, etc... It is not really recommended when cabs and Tuktuks are so cheap!
Scooters are a somewhat viable alternative. If you are at the point were you are going to be there long enough to know your way around, a scooter can be rented for a few dollars per day, plus extra for insurance. These are more easily parked, but you may be taking your life into your hands riding one in traffic. The local car drivers will presume that you 'know how to drive' in local traffic. If you don't, that will be your loss. I saw a lot of bump-and-wipe-outs in Thailand. Drivers hit and run since the Thai law puts medical treatment costs on the offending driver. Also be aware that they will try to have you taken to the cheapest possible public hospital- which is not a good deal for you. Forewarned is forearmed. Drinking Water: (SUSTAINABLE Water).
A few notes on that. The world has more than enough plastic bottles in dumps, but the developing world does not have safe drinkable water. This is a problem for which there ARE some solutions. Josh and the crew at the climbing shop run a sustainable water program. You can fill water bottles at the shop for a small donation of a few Baht per liter. Their suggested donation is considerably cheaper than buying a bottle of water anyway! So consider taking a few bottles or saving a few from your first purchases that are big enough to last a day, then last a night. You can go into the shop and fill up daily, or fill up at the trail head of the Crazy Horse Buttress main trail. Please do leave a donation at the shop and keep this program going.
There are primitive flush toilets at the crags. Please read the directions carefully and use them properly. Take hand sanitizer for yourself if you can, as these are not exactly western toilets. Do NOT use the forest. The man who runs the trucks from the climbing shop to shuttle climbers in and out built these and maintains them. Please consider giving him a tip worthy of his efforts to keep the climbing nice there.
Chaing Mai has an airport. Thai air travel is cheap. Combined, these two facts mean that you will probably be flying into Chaing Mai. You can take an overnight bus, or a train, but this will be a sleepless night in perhaps less than ideal quarters, and not be as safe and secure for you or your belongings. Although Thailand is not a dangerous place by most standards, it is a developing nation, and caution or at least awareness of your situation is necessary when traveling there. As well, you are unlikely to save much money by going overland compared to flying. Presently you can book a flight round trip from Bangkok to Chain Mai on Air Asia (www.airasia.com) for well under a ninety dollars if you have some flexibility on your travel dates and times. The flight is under two hours and Air Asia is a pretty new fleet with good services. Expect to pay $3-5 extra to check a large bag if you can't carry on what you have.
Once in Chaing Mai, there will be cabs a plenty at the airport. They are tightly regulated and on the level. They will not scam you if you know where you are going. It is a flat rate into town, at present exchange rates, about $10US. Do not expect your driver to know your destination in English unless it is a major hotel (I.E. Sheraton or Meridian) or the most popular guesthouse in town (Julie Guesthouse). Have your destination name and address ready when you touch down. A phone number would also be handy- the driver will have a cell phone and can call for directions.
Maps are marginally useful in Thailand. They might be good for you, but the locals don't use them. Orienting by map for them, even written in Thai, is a foreign concept and practice. They don't get the 'North' thing, nor will they recognize what anything represents. I have not yet figured out if the problem is illiteracy or the entire concept, but every time I've tried to show a driver something on the map, I gave up after 15 or more minutes of them flipping the map around and driving 1/2 block only to do it again. They will not, in fact, tell you that they do not know where you are going. This may be to try to make you happy, and may be to be sure not to miss out on a fare. The point is, make sure that you know where you want to go and make sure that the driver knows the place- use facial expressions and other social cues to be sure, or have a phone number.
Once in town, Cabs will be harder to find, but the three-wheeled Tuk-Tuks are omnipresent. They are not metered, but do have standard fares to go about anywhere. Around old town the fee will be 40 Baht, maybe 60 to the airport (it is presently 33Baht/$US) but they may ask for more. It is up to you to decide if you will shake your head politely and let them see that you know the real going rate, or to pay the extra and make them entirely happy for $.30 extra. Personally, I let them know that I am aware of the going rate, but I'll give them the extra in a tip if they are gracious and friendly or get there trouble-free.
To go to and from the climbing area, arrange to ride on the bus from the climbing shop or rent a scooter (unpreferred if you are only here for a short time), but more on that later...
Even if you do not take the bus, bear in mind that the driver does a lot for the climbing community (refer to the mention of toilets and meals) and tip him like you care. Even if you can afford only a small amount, or even nothing, a heart-felt thanks will go a ways. Without him, we'd have a mess instead of a nice crag, and we'd be wasting money time and fuel all commuting back and forth in separate taxi's. At the end of every trip there I split my "remaining" cash in the water project donation jar, the bolt replacement jar, and with the truck driver. It is paying it back.
-Guidebook sales help CMRCA pay for the expansion and development of Crazy Horse Buttress
- Sam Lightner Jr's Thailand: A Climbing Guide
-100% of the profits from sales of Sam's guidebook goes toward the rebolting effort
Guide Services and Climbing Equipment:
I have no real experience with The Peak, so I can not comment on them. However, I have dealt extensively with CMRCA and based on my VERY positive dealings with them choose to continue to support them and their contributions to the crags and community in the area.
Things to do
- The Chiang Mai Zoo has a nice evening tour or program, if you prefer to do something after climbing all day. Paying a few bucks extra for the 'tour' is probably worth it if you want to know more about the animals and environment. The laser show and 'performance' are pretty cheesy though, so find something to go back and see more of at the time that those are happening.
- Consider an overland and River Tours - the white water rafting there is excellent, well run, and the Thais are a hoot to go with on the river. The lunch it comes with on most packages is just so-so, but it picks up quickly after lunch and the river is great. The jungle scenery around it will have you smiling the whole way down.
- I have not personally been to the Tiger Kingdom but it generally gets good reviews, so if big cats are your thing, it is probably worth seeing.
- Mountain Biking trips are rentals are available, but you'll have to get details on that from someone else.
- There is a Bar Scene - which is... a bar scene. I preferred walking down the street and stopping at a rickshaw bar. The drinks were good, reasonable cheap, and served with a smile. It's also less of a hooker and expat deal than some of the "real" bars in town.
- If you have more time and are staying there for weeks, consider a cooking class. A few mentioned as good by another contributor are Thai Cookery School and Smart Cook
- Some of the Elephant places are cool... (IE Patara Elephant Farm) and I and some friends enjoyed this activity and felt OK about it. But some of the places are less interesting, or even reported to be exploitative of the animals. This is not an area to scrip on - just spend the money to go to a nice place and do it, not an imitation place. Odds are you need to book weeks in advance. I went middle-of-the road and wish I'd gone upper end.
Edit to add... I was asked by a poster to include the following consideration on the elephants, and am adding it in respect of the awareness and do not necessarily endorse the idea wholly:
"One thought I hope you'll take in to consideration- more and more information has come to light on elephant riding and how it's actual a pretty brutal process to train the elephants to allow humans to get on them (chains, beating, you get the idea...). The newer guide books for Thailand recommend against riding for that reason. There are some good alternatives (e.g. elephantnaturepark.org/). Maybe consider editing that part? Thanks for the effort put in to writing this. It's been really helpful on our stay here."
Well, yes, which is why I mentioned exploitation. Some places do this. Others are at least ostensibly NOT exploiting elephants much, but taking retired working elephants (IE from the loggers) or formerly exploited animals on and running a center funded by relatively benign rides. I will endorse the idea that one should at least carefully consider their choices and do their research on all of this before creating demand for the service.
I submit for you: Some (more) 'ethical' elephant places...
Weather station 13.4 miles from here
130 Total Climbing Routes
['4 Stars',16],['3 Stars',46],['2 Stars',45],['1 Star',18],['Bomb',2]
Classic Climbing Routes in Chiang Mai
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in Chiang Mai
Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for Chiang Mai:
Featured Route For Chiang Mai
Flushed 5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c Asia
: ... : The Ant Hill
A total super classic. A steep flaring off width provides the crux. A high step lets your knee fall into the most self congratulatory knee-bar to gracefully cruise on through. Alternatively hideously thrutch and scrape up. Some easier balancey face climbing leads to a 30 foot perfect parallel chimney. Stem to glory. ...[more] Browse More Classics in International
Photo of the "Windy Cave"
monkey coming back from lunch, Crazy Horse
classic 10 at Budda Buttress, Crazy horse
BETA PHOTO: Crazy horse buttress, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Massive beehives on the flanks of Crazy horse.
Josh Dulberger pulling the steep tufas on Crazy Ho...
By T Roper
Mar 7, 2008
great place to climb for a week. the local climbing shop/guide service called Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventure gives rides to/from the crag for 200 baht including a great lunch, fully worth it.
From: Bishop, CA
Jul 18, 2008
Great area for some good limestone sport routes. i went a few years back with the chiang mai rock climbing adventures. the guides gwang and taw (if they are still there) are THE BEST! they also have a small bouldering wall at the store. agreed with the awesome food. just watch out for the biting ants! overall great climbs... i highly recommend 'magic drop.'
Aug 18, 2010
I have been to Crazy Horse Buttress on two occassions now and the place is way cool. Josh Morris and his climbing company have built nice salas and restroom facilities and provide guiding services or just rides to and from incluing hot authentic Thai lunches delivered to the crag at lunch time. A very chill and uncrowded experience compared to the shithole known as Tonsai. A great place to spend your days yet experience the "Real Thailand" in the provincial city of Chiang Mai in the evenings and rest days. You won't regret climbing here and Josh is a great host.
By manuel rangel
From: Tempe, Arizona
Feb 23, 2012
I rode the red truck with CMRCA and rented a motor bike also; both worked fine. I wanted to sleep after eating. The climbing was fun and longer and steeper than it looked. Great lines and good bolts. Thanks for all the hard work going into this place.
By Dean Kure
Feb 26, 2012
great climbing. there are now guesthouses by the crag you can stay at with a local village close by to buy small goods. the houses go around 300 baht (10 bucks) a night and usually have 2 beds and a bathroom. also, the CMRCA has changed there price to 250 baht (comes with lunch and water though) for the ride out and back. watch out for some of your TR's or lowering b/c some of the rock is sharp and you lay it over some edges. just rap down and clean on the way if it is in question! a bigger rope wouldv'e been nice on our trip so i could quit thinking about taking a whipper on sharp rock with a 9.4
By Ryan Williams
From: London (sort of)
Feb 29, 2012
Dean, rapping is not the answer to your problem and neither is a thicker rope. If you rap, then you are subjecting a small portion of the rope to a sawing action as you swing from bolt to bolt while cleaning the route. This is better for the fixed anchor, but actually increases the chances of damaging your rope. Lowering is usually OK as the rope might be running over sharp rock, but the wear is spread over the entire rope and not just a small area.
And whipping over a sharp edge is not an option, even w/ a 10 mil rope. If you are ever in the position where your rope is subject to really going OVER a sharp edge and not just against it, then you have done something wrong.
By Cowboy Roy
From: SLC, UT
Jun 1, 2012
Great Write up love the sustainable water part
By Mark SLC
From: Salt Lake City, UT
Aug 21, 2012
We actually found the climbing up here better than in the south. Less humidity, cooler, less polished nowadays. Anxiety state crisis alone is worth the trip. We were there quite a while back and it still stands out as the most unique, and perhaps the best, sport route I have ever done, anywhere
By Levi Call
From: Moab Utah
Feb 18, 2015
If you are riding there yourself these are the coordinates to the parking lot. The CMRCA bus leaves around 9 daily so you can also follow them. The cost to rent a scooter, pay for gas, and bring your own water can be slightly cheaper than riding the bus where all those things provided for you, but will be more adventurous. If you plan to stay for a few days, there are good places to stay just down the road from the crag.
By Nick Brennan
From: Jackson, WY
Dec 27, 2015
The price for the CMRCA shuttle is now 500 baht -- around $15. It is far, far cheaper to find a guest house out near the crag. The argument that the $$ goes towards equipping routes sounds good at first, but deflates itself when you see the flagrant waste of bolts and anchors at this crag.
Don't expect much help from CMRCA when it comes to making your way to the crag without paying for their shuttle. Business is business I guess. There are options besides the shuttle. Yellow trucks leave from the Warorot market (aka "Chinatown") east of the old city for Sankampang Hotsprings all day, whenever they are full. These trucks generally have their terminus written in white font across the windshield. They are 50-80 baht depending on where you get off. Most locals pay at the end of their trip. Paying in total first sort of signifies you are going to the end of the line.
Take a yellow truck to the bus stand in Mae On, and ask the driver to go further, past the 711 and down the highway. Stop near the climbing (wooden sign marked with flags) and find one of the 3 nearby guesthouses. Do some research and drop some google map pins (or scribble on your paper map) before you get there so you don't land flatfooted.
I do recommend buying the guidebook. One person I climbed with described the guidebook saying, "It's like someone xeroxed the rough draft..." but constantly borrowing other people's guidebooks is lame. The guidebook describes amenities in Mae On, gives you a sense of what different sectors are like, etc. Mountain Project has all the worthwhile climbs on it, but some routes are hard to pick out from the veritable sea of bolts that you'll find at crazy horse.
By Danny Paradorn
From: Thailand & SF Bay Area
Jan 4, 2016
I moved from Austin, Texas, to Chiang Mai, years ago. I chose Chiang Mai specifically because of the friendly culture, lower temps and lower cost of living than the south (i.e. Tonsai, et al). I have not regretted it once in my years here.
Crazy Horse is an amazing crag. You see almost zero trash. Free water tanks. Bathrooms. Garbage receptacles. Tables and benches. Belay terracing. Bamboo shade huts, painted wooden signs, and cleared stairways with bamboo hand rails. Thanks mainly to the annual Crag Clean Up Day that CMRCA organizes, and the info and best practices they promote with signage and education at their shop and in the guidebook.
The amount of work that goes into this is amazing, done by both residents like me, as well as travelers that instantly fall in love with crag.
Super varied with all kinds of features, including tufas, aretes, caves, archways, thin faces, jugfests, mixed bags, some sharp holds, and on a few very popular routes.. glassy, balancy feet particularly at Crazy Horse crag. Mostly 20-30 meters long I believe. Lengthy routes. A few multipitch. Some extremely easy beginner climbs are right at the first crag. CMRCA or climbing friends are always adding new routes every year, on bomber bolts. Some anchors are sport clips, but not the majority. CMRCA replaces the old hardware when it's due for upgrades. Lots of different areas to climb. Approach from parking lot is less than 2 minutes to first crag. Longest hike is 30 minutes to Heart Wall, the most recently developed crag. Visit and climb in the caves, they are literally and figuretively cool.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you go on CMRCA's website, they spell out exactly how to get to the crag, and also how to get there by different options, including their shuttle service or via your vehicle. It takes me about 45 minutes from the Old City to drive out there. A little tricky to know exactly where to turn off the road, so make sure you got it pinned on your smartphone or screen capture CMRCA's photos of the map.
Bring a 70m rope if you have one, to get access to more. An 80 gets you everything I think. About 16-18 draws is enough to get you up majority of routes. Bring mosquito spray during rainy season. Do not forget it. You've been warned! Bring a couple of reusable water bottles and pack out your trash and save them for the recepticles at the parking lot; plus, pick up any you see! ;)
By Stephen Troxel
Jul 9, 2016
If you would like to avoid dishing out large sums of cash to transport yourself to from downtown to the crag stay at Jira Homestay. It lies about 150m away from the turnoff to Crazy Horse. I stayed there for about a week and a half and was able to feast and have my own room for just under 10 USD per day. On top of this the food was awesome (and ridiculously inexpensive), plus the owners were especially warm and welcoming. They even allowed guests to borrow guidebooks and use their scooters for free! I cannot recommend this place enough!
By mc kaiser
From: Boulder, CO
Oct 1, 2016
There is now a white bus going to Sankampang Hotsprings that leaves from the Chang Puak Gate and costs 35 THB. It also stops at Warorot Market which is the only place that I've picked it up (here is a dropped pin of exactly where to find it there). You can ask the driver to drop you off near Jira Homestay, and return by flagging the bus on the road outside the Jira Homestay (at least that's what we did). The trip takes about 45 minutes which is ostensibly half the time it takes a yellow songthaew.
I know this is probably not great for the CMRCA who put a huge amount of effort in to making Crazy Horse a sustainable, safe, and accessible crag. I hope folks will continue to support them by buying gear, the guidebook, etc. Maybe if it's your first time roll with them as this will help you get a painless lay of the land.
Bus Times (current as of October 2016)
Chang Puak Gate: 6:30, 7:30, 9:30, 11:30, 13:30, 14:30, 16:30, 18:20
Warorot Market: Ten minutes later than Chang Puak times
Return: 6:00, 8:00, 10:00, 12:00, 13:00 15:00, 17:00, 18:15
Note that return times will be roughly 10 minutes later, as you are picking the bus up somewhat down the road from it's origin at the hot springs.