Theories About DiscoveryEqually unclear as Thailand climbing's origins is who should be credited with realizing the potential for rock climbing in the Pra-Nang Bay. A few tales have been passed around about the discovery of these fabled cliffs. In one version it was tourists traveling to the Phi Phi Islands for pristine scuba diving and saw the potential, returning home with stories and pictures for their climber friends. Another version is that a post card from the area ended up in the hands of a few climbers.
All are great stories, but perhaps the favorite is dubbed the "James Bond Theory". In 1974 the James Bond film "The Man with the Golden Gun" featured the island Ko Tapu (now known as "James Bond Island"), and its small 20-meter limestone Karst tower. It might be possible that those few scenic shots of Pra-Nang Bay in the film inspired some adventurous climbers to venture out to Thailand and have a look.
1987 Dutch Expedition to Phi Phi DonUnfortunately, we really don't know for sure how climbers ended up in Pra-Nang Bay, but what we do know is this:
As early as 1987 a Dutch Expedition visited the Phi Phi Islands and climbed a few of the larger tower formations in Ton Sai Bay on Phi Phi Don. These first routes were done in more of a mountaineering style of rock climbing with the goal to reach the summit of the towers. The first ascensionist climbed these towers using only natural protection like trees, threads and horns or artificial protection (stoppers and cams). The word ‘Sport’ climbing was barely a term back then and it wasn’t until the next year that the potential for sport climbing was starting to take shape. Instead of looking for the path of least resistance to climb to the top of of the karst formations, a few climbers were looking to the overhanging rock walls sometimes well below the summits, routes that didn’t necessarily finish at the top of a cliff. These faces where filled with pockets and huecos, stalactites and stalagmites which made these steep walls possible to climb. Because of the soft nature of the limestone and lack of protectable natural lines such as cracks and dihedrals, the use of passive and active protection was very difficult.
Golden Age of ClimbingClimbers, especially in Europe, had already started what would become the golden age of sport climbing by placing expansion bolts on the unprotectable faces. Thailand seemed perfect for this new fangled bolt-protected climbing. Serval European climbers like Dominique Potard and Francois Burnier from France came to Thailand in 1988 armed with hammer drills and steel expansion bolts to put up the first sport climbs on Phi Phi Islands.
This continued in 1989 and the early 90′s with the discovery of Railay Bay and the Pra-Nang Pennisula. Areas like the 123 Wall and the Muay Thai Wall on east Railay saw the first routes on the Pra Nang peninsula.