Crazy Horse Buttress : North of Thailand
What: Rock Climbing Area
Where: District of Mae On (in Ban Sahakon village), 35km from Chiang Mai.
How: Car, motorbike, OR by the red truck (songthaew) service offered by CMRCA.
Budget: Free for rock climbing.
Crazy Crazy Horse!
When I told people I was going climbing in Thailand they all assumed I was going to Krabi but for this trip we decided not to visit that area. We thought it would be pretty busy in the south due to the Christmas season and as I fear mass tourism like the plague we decided to restrict our visit to central and northern Thailand. I am glad we did as that meant spending more time at Crazy Horse; it was a bloody good idea!
First discovered in 1998 by Kraisak Boontip (Pi Tom) and later on developed by several other people, Crazy Horse Buttress is one of the ‘’must do’’ places to go for climbing in Thailand.
The crag is extremely well maintained; quality bolting, accessible, parking and organised area with belay platform and so on. An incredible community of climbers revolve around Crazy Horse, keeping the area clean of rubbish and spreading the good word about it. The book A guide to Rock Climbing in Northern Thailand (note: the only area it covers is Crazy Horse) is an absolute must-have; we particularly enjoyed the 9 pages of instructions dedicated to ‘’how to use a squat toilet’’ …
The very diverse crag contained about 200 limestone routes and 16 different walls. The area is big enough so it never gets annoyingly crowded and there is always a wall with shade (or a cave to cool down!) for when the sun gets a little too intense. No matter if you are starting to lead and are looking for an closely-bolted route to get more confident or if you are doing loads of overhangs, crazy caves with impossible challenges or just cool, fun and easy chimneys; you will find something there. Some walls might look a little over bolted – I questioned many times the idea of having one bolt every metre (and the first at head-height) but it’s a mild annoyance compared to the quality and diversity of the routes. Good to know: the guide (3rd edition) is not totally accurate regarding the number of bolts; there are often more bolts on the wall than indicated in the book (we had to run it out near the top on a couple, having left the ground with not enough quickdraws!).
An Example of ‘’Eco –Sustainable Tourism’’
Crazy Horse is a perfect example of a sustainable long-term project that works. Working with the locals, a lot of great ideas have been put into action over the years to keep the usage of the site respectful, sustainable and profitable for the locals. We enjoyed the toilet, trash management, and even the Chiang Mai water refill app. It might be a fragile balance but everything is put into place to make it possible.
Getting to the Crag: Driving in Thailand…
As the guide mentions, the only way to get to Crazy Horse Buttress is to drive. It’s possible to organise a transport for a minimal fee with the CMRCA (Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures is the reference for climbing around Chiang Mai). You can also rent a motorbike or a car. We rented a car as we intended to sleep in Mae On and continue further north later on.
About the car… I am not sure what part was the most stressful; the renting agreement, the driving or the return. The rental company first asked us to leave our passports for the rental – which we successfully negotiated not to do! Than they forgot to tell us that the street they are based on was going to be close on the day of the intended return making it impossible to return the car… By the way did you know that there is at least one street in Chiang Mai where you suddenly have to drive on the right? Saying that, driving in Thailand is not as crazy as it appears and Thai people generally do not drive very fast. Stay alert at all times and watch out for motorbikes and people who have no idea where they are going… it should be manageable.
Camping is firmly prohibited at the crag in order to encourage small businesses from the area to benefit from the visitors. A lot of people stay in Chiang Mai and do day trips. We slept at La Bhu Salah, a nice mid-range (800baht/night) artist house near the crag. Sleeping close to the village was a fun experience as it allowed us to visit an area we would not have visited otherwise plus; this village of 3000 has kept a real feeling of authenticity. As we did not see a single westerner there, our 3 sentences in Thai were quite useful..
Our guesthouse La Bhu Salah was also a restaurant and after spending all day long at the crag we greatly enjoyed having dinner there. There is a local market at the village for fresh fruits and veggies. Fried bananas wrapped in an ‘’unknown substance’’ are amazing! Our guesthouse included coffee and Thai soup for breakfast, which is, again, a total delight before a long day of climbing. Rice soup for breakfast is a MUST TRY and I promise to post a recipe soon!
Finishing the trip at The Rooftop
My personal favourite route was on The Rooftop wall. We ended our trip there as recommended in the book guide. It’s a perfect spot to admire the sunset and finish a day with a classic slabby route featuring a varied crack system, A Route with a View (5c+), or the slightly overhanging Skycraper (6a).
Yep! I guess Crazy Horse Buttress is just one of another of those mystical things about Thailand that make it worth going back over and over again. There is so much to say about Crazy Horse that I can only recommend going there and seeing for yourself. Beware that if you spend too much time in the country though you might get stuck with white-boy dreads, loose elephant-print fisherman’s pants, and beer brand t-shirts as your only clothes…